Changes one cannot ignore.
In the last year my husband and I have felt loss a bit more personally than in other years. Our last parent lost her battle with dementia, leaving us truly the “oldest generation”, we lost one of our groomsmen from our wedding in a plane crash, another friend my exact age passed away without warning in her sleep; a friend who baked cookies for our family every holiday passed away, leaving a void of both a friend and a cherished tradition, and two friends lost their fifty-something husbands very suddenly the same week a year apart. And that doesn’t count the friends battling chronic illness, sudden health incidents and/or facing their own mortality.
For everyone, time marches on, even when you’re desperately trying to anchor it to not move. The immortality of being 20 or 30 or even 40 something has evaporated, and suddenly you’re in your sixties… and you realize your next big birthday (if you don’t count the Medicare hurdle), is seventy. My husband recently celebrated his “medicare birthday”. It felt seminal to me. Okay, so maybe that was colored by being in a cast/boot for weeks (foot surgery, planned) and relying on him to cook, wash, shop, do errands and put up with my kvetching. As I wrote a note to him in his birthday card, it dawned on me that this begins the last chapter of our lives together. It may last 10, 20 or 30 years, but it IS the final chapter. Next year will be our 40th anniversary. And so, in his card, my sentiment was less “gushy” and more pragmatic than my usual message, and it made us both cry (not in a bad way, just emotional). Because we know we’ve beaten the odds, and with a ton of hard work, we’ve reached a point where marriage is easy and brings great joy and friendship. But also because we’ve talked a lot about “what if” and “now what” scenarios, and we are trying to be realistic about where we’re at on the timeline of life. And want to be sure our kids aren’t socked with a lot of decisions that they don’t have answers for. Planning for when we will not be together anymore seems maudlin, but it is actually smart, because you put things in perspective.
Supposedly, retirement, aging and “the golden years” await us. I’m lucky in that I’m married to my best friend, who happens to still make me laugh hysterically and my heart to beat faster, both crucial to getting old together! (hopefully it won’t initiate a cardiac arrhythmia…) I hope that what awaits us is many years with kids, grand kids, travel and family (and we aren’t retired, …yet), but the losses of the past year whisper in my ear not to assume anything. We are lucky that we both love what we do. Like holocaust survivor-turned psychologist Viktor Frankl said:
I thought about this a lot. And I made a choice to be happy and find joy in this stage of our lives, instead of bemoaning I’m getting old (or wrinkled). That said, putting it into practice will involve scaling back commitments, going easy on myself and my perceived “imperfections”, taking better care of myself, and making more leaps of faith to do things that I’ve put off.
With that in mind, I quit a few volunteer commitments I had. And I broached the idea to my husband of an item on my bucket list since a vacation to the UK in 2014: a month living in a cottage in England.
Luckily, the guy I married loved the challenge and we started planning it. We spent a month together in the Cotswolds in England in February, in a town called “Bourton-on-the-Water” doing NOTHING. I have never, ever, had a month with no “to do” list and I was excited and worried that I wouldn’t know how to relax. Or that we’d be so bored, we would want to head home. Neither of us is good at just sitting still. It was a glorious success, and it taught me I can be happy without being crazy “productive”.
The four weeks flew by, with hiking, eating, reading, sleeping, and exploring tiny out of the way villages. Each day was a new adventure, not to mention the stark raving terror as I tried to not only drive on “the wrong side of the road”, but from the “wrong side of the car”. (Yes, “I tried”, because my screaming “Oh my God!” 23 times the first 3 miles he drove caused him to declare me “driver for the month”, effectively relegating him to the passenger side where he calmly and quietly would say every 30 seconds “you’re getting too close, you’re getting too close“). That learning curve was the most stressful, especially when an elderly man screamed at me when I accidentally cut him off at a round-a-bout because they go left and CLOCKWISE in the UK and… let’s just say he wasn’t impressed with my driving skills. Or lack thereof.
But what the Cotswolds unexpectedly brought us were moments to treasure forever: watching 10 day old lambs get fed in a field in the middle of town, public walking paths in and between every town, along fields with horses and idyllic settings, wonderful food (yes, the Cotswolds food is AMAZING) that can occasionally bring you to a moment where your emotions overtake you in a good way. (My mother-in-law called that “Fahklempt”, and there is no other word that describes it better).
You would think anyone who has experienced loss wouldn’t need reminding that every day is a gift, and we shouldn’t waste it. We all speak of that lesson during initial grief, and seem to unlearn or forget it multiple times as life returns to our routine. (unless you lose a child or spouse, and that is vastly different). This year, I’ve been trying to slow down. To say no to busy-ness and yes to friendship and relaxing. Because in the end, I won’t be remembered by what I accomplished, but by how I made others feel.
My nursing school class recently got together for a reunion. It was 41 years, not a milestone, (we sorta missed #40 and had lapsed any type of reunion for 15+ years). Initially, I was nervous. I hadn’t really kept in touch with too many, and I had to get my yearbook out to see who the heck they were. But there were five of us who decided to jump in to the deep end and “just do it”. And we were wildly successful, not only in locating most of our class, but having a reunion with over 50 of our classmates present. There was lots of screaming, and I cannot tell you the memories that suddenly erupted in my consciousness, thanks to shared memories of my classmates. Back to ’77!!!
Happy Memorial Day weekend to all, my thoughts are with those who have experienced great loss. You understand better than most of us that moments are precious.
Are you thinking you’ve never talked to your spouse about “when that time comes”?
Check out this article, and one he links to.