"I never wanted to grow old on you." My husband says these words as I push his wheelchair to yet another doctor's appointment. A disseminated infection and its treatment have caused dysfunction in many of his bodily systems. He has had to lean heavily on me for physical and emotional support.
In the '90s there was a sarin gas attack on a subway in Japan. I read about one healthy elderly woman who had to be placed in a nursing home after the attack because of her many injuries. Her husband visited her for hours every day. He held her and told her she was beautiful. I was a young woman then and marveled at his love and devotion. And I had questions. Was he giving up too much of his own life for her? Did he resent her? Where did he get the strength to keep going?
I can guess more about that man now. Things are not how they appear from the outside. I realize that my husband, Bob, and I are in an invisible bubble stuffed full of nourishing memories that span more than fifty years. It is not my life, not his life, but our life that is in that bubble. I was a girl from a small farming town when I met Bob in his hometown of Boston. He introduced me to art, symphonies, fine dining. His artist's eye gave me a different way to look at life as he turned each room in our small house and our yard into a jewel box. The girls and I would return home to find a room repurposed into a fairytale setting made of special lighting, garlands and crepe paper. One day we came home to find him waiting outside for us with logs and a cooler. He took us to a deserted fishing cove and we enjoyed a campfire meal as a flock of geese flying south landed on the water in front of us. When we had little money, he would prepare a simple meal and add garnishes and a centerpiece that felt celebratory. There were the camping trips to Mount Dessert in Maine and Cape Cod. And the times he would tell me to pack a bag because we were going to a secret place after work. I could hardly concentrate through the day for the anticipation. And on and on the memories flow. Above and around it all was the dance. We dressed up and went dancing at least once a week. We'd get lost in the beat and the lights and the whirl as we matched each other step for step.
I am not airbrushing our life. I remember the hard times. I also remember that we challenged ourselves and each other during those times so that we ended up better versions of ourselves. Perhaps that is why there is no sting in those memories.
Of course, this is not the life we planned for our old age. But here is what I do have. Bob listens carefully to me when I talk. He wants to show he respects, appreciates and loves me. That is a lot and that deep companionship is a secret I did not suspect about old age. It is enough for me. It was probably enough for that Japanese man too. I am fine.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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