In the nine years since his stroke, Leland Miner has been slipping away from his wife — his mind clouded by dementia, his body succumbing to kidney disease and a cascade of other maladies. But then one day, he spoke.
FORT WALTON BEACH — For just a minute, Joan Miner got her husband back.
In the nine years since his stroke, Leland Miner has been slipping away from his wife — his mind clouded by dementia, his body succumbing to kidney disease and a cascade of other maladies.
But on a recent night, as the Miners sat watching TV in their home a few blocks off Hollywood Boulevard, Leland Miner emerged briefly from the shadowed confines of his failing mind and body.
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A movie lover like his wife — it was one of the things that brought them together more than three decades ago — Miner responded to an advertisement for the movie "1917."
"We were watching TV, and he said, ’That looks good. I’d like to see that sometime’," Joan remembered. "It was the most words he’s spoken to me in a long time."
But, with mobility-challenged Leland under home hospice care, going to the movies seemed impossible.
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Impossible, that is, until his Emerald Coast Hospice caregivers heard about Leland’s wish, and with an assist from Suds ’N’ Cinema — where, as it happened, "1917" was on the bill — gave him and his sweetheart a night at the movies.
As shadows fell Thursday evening, Joan, dressed for date night in a pink jacket and colorful scarf over a tastefully accessorized basic black ensemble, fussed over her equally dapper husband. She pressed his hair into place with a few gentle taps and, with a little help, pinned a rose boutonniere to his lapel as hospice workers secured him in a special wheelchair.
Once in the chair, Leland, also with a little help, pinned a rose corsage to Joan’s blouse.
"Just hold it like that, like you’re giving it to me," Joan said quietly, gently guiding her husband’s hands toward her jacket.
"I can’t even remember the last time we went out," Joan said, watching from the living room as hospice workers wheeled her husband to the van for the ride to Suds ’N’ Cinema. "I never thought it would happen again."
Next, Joan fielded with playful good humor the indelicate, but predictable, question of whether the movie might become an opportunity for some amorous interaction between the couple.
"If they sit us in the back, it might," she smiled.
For most couples, a night at the movies is routine, maybe even a bit cliché. But for the Miners, the movies are a touchstone.
"We both love the movies. He usually likes war movies. And, he likes Westerns," Joan said.
"Everybody likes John Wayne," Leland said as he and Joan waited Thursday in their living room to leave for their date night. "I saw almost all of his movies."
The couple’s first date was a movie, and it wasn’t long before their shared love of the cinema became a centerpiece of their shared lives, now 32 years strong.
In particular, Joan said, there’s "Casablanca," the 1942 classic World War II-set romance starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
On one of their dates, Joan said, "He looked at me and said, ’I’m going to marry you if you can name six actors in ’Casablanca’.
"I named seven," she said.
As the Miners pulled up to Suds ’N’ Cinema Thursday evening, Leland Miner was wheeled out of the van under the watchful eye of Caitlin Riddle, an Emerald Coast Hospice caregiver who has known the couple for seven months.
"They love each other so much," she said. "They really needed this night out."
Also along for the Miners’ date night was Chris Keown, Emerald Coast Hospice’s bereavement coordinator. When possible, he said, hospice workers try to provide experiences like the Miners’ date night.
It’s as much for the family of the hospice patient as it is for the patient, he explained, to give them some happy memories amid the saddening decline of a loved one.
"This is what hospice is all about," he said as the Miners were led into the theater.
Inside, the couple were met by Steve Caldarelli, one of the owners of Suds ’N’ Cinema. It was his longtime friendship with Jennifer McDaniel, an Emerald Coast Hospice social worker, that set planning for the Miners’ date night in motion.
"It’s overwhelming," Caldarelli said of the opportunity to give the Miners a special night out. "All the girls who work here were like, ’I’m so excited!"
The Miners, "chaperoned" by a granddaughter, 29-year-old Madelyn Stewart, were seated at a table in front of the screen, with a large American flag on display as an homage to Leland Miner’s four years with U.S. Air Force security forces on the island of Guam during the Korean War.
The table, too, was festooned with popcorn, cookies, American flags, and green plastic Army men which Leland was encouraged to pocket as a memento of the evening. The couple also was treated to free food and drinks.
"It’s really exciting," Stewart said as she and the hospice workers watched over her grandparents. "It’s really nice they got to do this."
As the lights went down in the theater, the Miners, sitting close, were alternately revealed and hidden in the changing light and dark of the flickering screen as the movie unfolded over the next two hours.
"It was pretty good," Leland said as the movie’s credits rolled and the house lights came back up.
Judging from the smile on her face, movie night was more than "pretty good" for Joan — a verdict that clearly had nothing to do with the film.
"It’s surreal," she said. "It’s hard to describe."
"Surreal" and "hard to describe" — just like love.