Falling in love again at 47 and remarrying at 52 was a miracle. And a little scary.
But then again, falling in love is always phenomenal and scary.
We took care of each other, little things that didn't matter: I put a glass of water on her bedside table; him while refilling my morning coffee while I was writing.
We touch often, as abbreviated:I am here. I am here.
I never doubted that we would spend our last few years holding hands, having better sex than ever, kissing all over the world, and then...someday...in the distant future...formdistant future... together we face death.
But then, at the age of 60, my husband announced that he wanted to have a child with a younger woman.
Immediately, my hips expanded, my breasts sagged, and my wrinkles deepened. Every internalized belief and idea of what it means to be an old, unwanted, irrelevant woman became me.
A few years earlier he had started talking about death. I'm not obsessed, I'm practical. Although I didn't have a specific illness, I was aware that my life was limited, not in the sense of being hit by a bus tomorrow (is that likely?), but in the awareness that I had a past rather than a future . . I wanted to fill out our will, fill out medical power of attorney forms, and find out your burial preference: burial or cremation, honey? Did he want all austerity measures or not to be revived? I had to take care of those details. So, if God forbid I get hit by that bus tomorrow, I wouldn't spend the last moments of my life thinking,Shit, I never got around to filling out those forms.
My husband didn't want to talk about aging and dying. He didn't want to choose between burial or cremation. he didn't even want tothinkAlthough everyone who had ever lived on this earth had died, it felt like a personal affront to him. I have. I even felt it. We were both aging for the first time like learning a new sport and we both felt awkward and scared and inadequate. I just wanted to take care of the paperwork and believe again that we would live happily together for the rest of our lives.
There is no right way to age. Some of us are burdened with the grief of lost youth. Others are trying to find their way to eternal life. Some take risks, jump off planes, or switch to jobs that used to scare them. Many fill their calendars with endless medical appointments. Some are haunted by remorse.
I bought moisturizers, magic wrinkle creams, and exercise programs that promised to reduce sagging and fight gravity. I had read articles suggesting clothes and hairstyles that would disguise the telltale signs of aging. I did brain exercises like Sudoku to try to avoid forgetting.
My husband decided to have his first child.
I didn't see him coming.
Sixty was the age to leave the house and come back for the car keys, the age ofhave you seen my glassesThe era of sudden and unwanted diagnoses. Who left a wedding now?
It turns out that many people.
The divorce rate for people over 50 in the US is nearly double what it was in the 1990s, and there's even a name for this group: silver dividers.
When I was younger, I agonized over how I would age. My fears ranged from being stupid, not knowing my children's names, having strangers clean my body, becoming immobilized with hip or knee problems, or not staying awake to the end of the story.
I asked my friends, "What's your plan?" Age available? community life? "What is the protocol?" I heard my voice rise with a touch of panic. I thought I would not respond well if asked to hand over my car keys.
But all these plans turned out to be in vain. I couldn't choose from my elaborate menu of aging options. Do you remember the old Yiddish proverb: Man plans and God laughs? God laughed and I suddenly tried to imagine what the rest of my life would be like without my husband.
This new phase of life required a different way of thinking. Now that everything was exploding and I was on a new path, whether I wanted to or not, I was wondering:What if you treated aging like an adventure, like a journey to a new land?Who knew what path he would take or what he would discover? Imagine how brilliant it would be if I filled in my cracks in the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, mending broken pottery with gold and silver. Imagine if, instead of looking away, I gazed into my future with wonder, no matter how different it may be now.
And with this changed perception, whole worlds opened up.
When my youngest son from my first marriage got engaged, he asked me, "So mom, do you still believe in love and marriage?"
I wanted to take my time here, he saw my two divorces. Each person we love carries a small part of us, and then they can be careless, forget to look both ways, drink too much, climb cliffs, or be careless.
People die. They fall in love. Are away.
The only way to avoid this pain is to avoid love. But that's a very hard way to live.
"Yes," I said. "Yes." I paused and said, "But love alone is not enough, you have to be brave."
Because something funny happened while I was mourning the death of my husband. I discovered that I really liked living alone. I have found my way back. Of course, it was hard to describe being alone and happy without sounding like he was trying to convince me that low-fat yogurt tastes just as delicious as ice cream. But the alliance with myself, my desires and the people I care about can have a worthwhile ending.
People around me start to ask, "Are you dating anyone?" I understood your motivation. It was a version of getting back on the horse.
A happy ending to this saga of lost loves could be meeting another lover. It wasn't a terrible idea. I'm a fool for love I'm still the woman who watches romantic comedy. I'm still a believer.
Friends and family would relax if I fell in love again. You would stop imagining long, sad, lonely nights. Probably the only people who wouldn't care if I was in a relationship or not are my grandchildren. I love you for that.
My ex-husband and I have chosen very different paths to grow old.
Maybe I couldn't jump that high. The conversations of the last week sometimes came to nothing. But I enjoyed sitting back and listening to a meandering story about my granddaughter's nightmare.
Yesterday I sat on the floor with my 2 year old grandson playing with cars and dinosaurs. I half-jokingly said, "I don't know how to get up."
"So, Nonna." He demonstrated by putting both hands on the ground and butt in the air and squeezing.
I laughed so hard I fell down.
My body didn't function the way it used to, but I vowed not to let embarrassment or shame get in the way. He was determined to keep lying on the ground and playing with the cars. Even if it meant I had to put my butt in the air to get up.
I strengthen my skills for this new country. I'm learning to ask for help and accept it more kindly. I learn to reveal what I don't know or when I'm not sure. I try to admit when I'm wrong and apologize. (Of course, I should have tried sooner, but better late than never.) I've made it a point to take care of myself: rest when I'm tired, being outside more, and not actually making daily to-do lists like three last days. to be finished. complete.
I'm working on accepting that I can't create happiness for anyone. I can share joy and wonder, joke and laugh, but I cannot find a sense of serenity in another person. Despite my many years of work as a therapist and mother, I know that I cannot avoid suffering. I can sit with my children, grandchildren, friends and patients. I can hold your hands and offer you a shoulder to cry on, encourage and cheer you up. I can soothe hurt and troubled feelings. I can advocate for them and help them find resources. But finding a sense of well-being is its own task. It's an inside job.
And of course that also applies to me.
I have given up the idea that I will make noise and solve the world's problems. I recycle, protest and donate, but I really have no idea how to protect endangered species or get the world to pay attention to climate change. Or end poverty. Or child abuse. Or war. Or racism. And yet I want to learn. I want to do what I can, in my own way.
I enjoy the little pleasures. daffodils. Grow beans we can eat. I take my novel out of the drawer and dust it off. At work I asked for a raise and got it. I focus on the birdsong in the early morning light.
Despite visible memories of old age, strangers greet me and smile at me. I believe,Say oh! You admire an energetic and dedicated old woman.
I still have an image of myself as an elegant and beautiful woman, so I'm surprised when I see a heavy, gray me in a photo. I tell myself that I've always been a bad photographer.
I choose to live with these two illusions: I take terrible pictures and strangers admire me. There are worse things. I could choose to believe that I control the world, or I should, and always get upset when things don't go as planned. I could choose to live with the illusion that the world owes me something by the age of 70 and fret when it doesn't work out. I could choose to live delusional that aging and dying are not in my cards and be horrified at the same time. I could choose to live with all sorts of delusions that annoy and fear me.
Instead, I choose to feel stylish and loving as best I can, believing that strangers on the street wish me well.
Virginia DeLuca lives in Boston, Massachusetts and works as a psychotherapist. She is the author of the novel As If Women Matted and her essays have appeared in the Iowa Review, The Writer, and others. She graduated from the GrubStreet Memoir Incubator program and completed her memoir, If You Must Go, I Wish You Drillings.
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