Time for my second in a series of posts about aging, and as they say, “Enough about me.” Let’s talk about my husband!
My husband, Ed, is 70, almost 71 years old, so he is 8 years older than I am. Every time I chuckle at something he complains about in the aging process, he always says the same thing, “Just wait until 8 more years…you’ll see then!” Of course, he has been saying this for 30 years, so I never know quite when we’ll ever be off that schedule of teasing, because by the time 8 years rolls around, assuming I even retain the ability to remember what we talked about 8 years ago, he is another 8 years older and keeps repeating his warning, so I guess it’s the game that will never end until one of us dies.
Ed and I watch PBS a lot, and we sat down the other night to watch a couple of their fundraising specials. Both specials were both celebrating the music of our past - the first one hosted by Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits and Davy Jones from The Monkees. This was from my generation. I enjoyed the broadcast tremendously, as it brought back a lot of good memories. Then we watched the celebration of folk music, hosted by The Smothers Brothers and Judy Collins - and these were Ed’s generation. As a teenager, he adored Joan Baez and the rest of the folk music icons. So there we were, listening to music of our lifetime. Guess what struck me? Everyone was so OLD. The performers were OLD. The audience was OLD. I wonder how the performers themselves felt, as I'm sure they remembered originally performing looking out on a sea of young fresh excited faces, teenagers and adolescents who were applauding and dancing and excited to be watching, some swooning, all singing along because they knew all the lyrics. Now the audiences were full of gray hair (or no hair at all), grandmothers and grandpas, still excited, still happy to be there, still singing the songs along with their icons, but there had to be some kind of switch flipped in the brains of both the performers and the audiences - something along the lines of an out-of-body experience. Close your eyes and the songs are the same, the laughter (“I'm Henry the Eighth I Am”) and the sadness (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”). For a minute, you might forget you have gotten older. For just a few bars, you’re back in college or high school or driving around listening to the car radio, loving the music. For a little while, you don’t feel your muscles aching or your belly jiggling or your feet hurting. For the next wonderful verse, you aren’t thinking about your next doctor’s appointment or how you shouldn’t have eaten that junk food or hoping you remembered to pay your insurance bill. The music just takes the years away. But open your eyes, and there they were - old people singing and playing for old people.
One of my favorite things to do used to be playing piano in local nursing/retirement homes. I would take my collection of Big Band music from the ‘40s and ‘50s, some from the ‘20s and ‘30s, and go to town. I knew the songs those older people grew up with and loved, and those were the ones I played. They’d sing along, they’d turn to one another and laugh, they’d thank me and sometimes say, “You don’t look old enough to know these songs!” So ever since then, I imagine my generation in a nursing home in the near future. Some young pianist will walk in with music from the Beatles and Monkees, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Cowsills, and play those wonderful songs for the exact same reason I played the music I chose - to help the old folks reminisce and wash away the years for an hour or so. Except the old folks reminiscing will be us.
So after Ed and I enjoyed those PBS performances, shocked though I was at the age of the participants, I looked over at Ed. These days he is feeling his age. He had cataract replacement surgeries but unfortunately there were complications and now his eyes are even worse. He can still drive OK, but for how long? He can’t read regular print without a magnifying glass, so we keep one in every room. He has loved to read all his life, and has the collection of books as testament to that passion - books on spirituality, Celtic lore, history, fantasy books about dragons and other civilizations, cookbooks, Mark Twain stories, Lord of the Rings, CS Lewis. He now reads everything on Kindle because he can enlarge the print. He told me we might as well get rid of all his real books because he will never be able to read them again. So we packed up a bunch today and took them to the thrift store. That was so sad for me. It was an acknowledgment that something had forever changed for him. Some of these books I realized we have been moving with us from house to house, from town to town. Some of them he had when I met him in 1972. We moved them from our first apartment to our first house, then when we went into the ministry, from parsonage to parsonage, then finally from Tennessee to Maine. Some of them we researched to see if we could replace them in Kindle version, but most of them are not available. Some we saved for the grandchildren. But many, many of those stories of his life left the premises to be given the chance to go home with somebody else who will enjoy them.
Ed is also diabetic, and although he keeps it under good control, the damage has taken its toll through the years and he has lost feeling in some of his fingers, some just from neuropathy and some from having to prick his fingers to draw blood several times a day. He tends to drop things more than he used to, and this just frustrates him.
He told me one day he looked in the mirror and actually said out loud to his reflection, “Where did you get your Daddy’s legs?” His once muscular legs are now skinny and frail looking. He still can walk the dog a couple of miles a day, but he can’t do what he used to do 20 years ago. He doesn’t like what his body is getting to be, and that frustrates him.
So while I'm having to deal with aging myself, I’m watching him deal with his own aging. We have the shared memories of what we looked like when we got married, when I was just 19 and he was 27. Most young people first married don’t spend a lot of time wondering what it will be like to grow old together. And that is the way it should be. But - if you are LUCKY - the day will come when you don’t even recognize the person you married. Suddenly it hits you - you’re married to an old man or old woman. And not only are you dealing with your own aging and mortality, you’re watching a loved one go through the same thing.
Most people I know are very hesitant to talk about dying. Not me - maybe it’s because I've been in the medical world so long and I’ve transcribed reports of patients through all stages of their lives, including their time in the dying process. So Ed and I will sit around and wonder - who will go first, him or me? How does one handle that? One minute you’re married, the next minute you’re alone. I can’t imagine. I am at the age now where I have friends who have lost their spouses, and I ache for them in their grief. Life goes on and one has to adjust, but I imagine the longer you are a couple, the harder the parting is.
It’s difficult enough with the dog. Every time Ed gets another dog, he does the math of how long that dog is supposed to live, and he does the math about how long he himself might live, because he doesn’t want to die and leave a broken-hearted dog wondering where his Master went, and he also doesn’t want to experience another beloved pet cross that darn Rainbow Bridge. So he always tries to calculate it so “we will go out together.” Yeah, I know - an impossible task but he still goes through the calculations. The problem is, there is no “normal” in life. There is no normal that a man will live to whatever and a woman live to whatever or even a pet live out its expected years. On top of that, Ed has never been good at math anyway.
So the odds are, one day one of us will die and leave the other one bereft. With or without a dog. My best friend and my cousin died prematurely, so I know we should consider ourselves the lucky ones, at this moment in time, the moment that will never come again. The future? “Let It Be.” In the meantime, I sit here listening to “Daydream Believer” and every once in a while will glance over at my sweet aging husband, with his glasses and gray beard and balding head, his shaky hands, and he will glance at me, a woman who looks nothing like she did 43 years ago either. We see it all, and we laugh.