The story was in the news this week of a couple married for 65 years who died within a mere 11 hours of each other. Coincidence? The romantics say not. With the divorce rate as bad as it has always been, it’s a surprise to see these stories. In the present age, it is a spectacular feat to achieve a marriage of over one decade, let alone a marriage that lasts many, many decades. Six decades is a lot. I haven’t read any of the stories in detail, so I don’t know the reasons for the death except, I surmise, old age and the remaining living spouse pining away for the deceased spouse. I don’t know if it’s true. I’ll have to research this and verify my assumptions.
It is almost sappy in this day of independence, equality, political correctness, and progressive idealism, to think of one spouse dying for lack of the other. It just is not done in our world anymore. One does not die for love or lack of it. If a person loses a spouse – slash – life partner, the modern thing to do is to use whatever resources one has in one’s emotional-spiritual-physical survival kit to heal, get over it, and move on.
“She died because she could not bear to live without her true love? What is this, the Victorian era?”
“He kicked the bucket because the (air quote) love of his life (air unquote) died and he was left alone? What a geek.”
We have therapists, Dr. Phil, the Dalai Lama, crystals, and our neo-family tribes to get us through these sad times. Nobody dies over losing love anymore. With humans living longer than ever before, new love is easily found in the later years of life, so it is never too late to find another true love.
The story of this couple dying within hours of each other after a long marriage brought to mind the very first time I ever contemplated living my life without my husband. It happened when my father died. Sometime during the aftermath of the funeral, it occurred to me that if my husband died at 67 as my father had, then I had only 20 years left with him. I went into a panic, and I sobbed on my husband’s shoulder telling him that 20 years more together was not enough. I was reeling with sadness over the loss of my father, an event I had not foreseen and had not expected to deal with for at least 10 more years (I am an optimist). My husband comforted me and told me he loved me. He assured me that though he could not guarantee he’d be around longer than 20 years, he’d certainly give it a try. Better yet, he promised to do his best to make the years we did have together as happy as possible. That wasn’t enough for me. I had just lost my father, so the idea of losing my husband in 20 years was devastating to me.
What I find ironic is that I remember when I was a newlywed at age 19, how I looked down the avenue of our future together and thought way back then that hitting the 20-year mark would certainly be a coup. The number twenty seemed so huge. I knew without a doubt that 20 years was more than enough time to fit everything important into a marriage. With this confident thought, I forged ahead into wifedom and motherhood.
Fast forward 29 years. As I give the matter of 20 more years together some serious thought, I can only say that the past 29 years has not been enough, and certainly 20 more won’t be enough either. I love to wax poetic, to bring on the sap. It’s just how I’m wired. I have the ability to be very melodramatic if I choose. I am a sucker for romance (a la Paula McFadden in The Goodbye Girl), and I am prouder of my marriage and my husband now, and grow even more so with every passing year. It’s not because it has been an ideal life. It’s because it has NOT been an ideal life. It has been a bumpy ride of raising two kids and trying to keep our heads above water. As a couple, we survived the vomit and high fevers of our children in the middle of the night, and fighting over who was going to use the slowly dwindling sick time or vacation time to take the sick child to the doctor (we couldn’t afford a vacation anyway). We survived that middle time when we weren’t even sure we liked each other anymore, when each pet peeve grew into a rampaging rabid dislike or worse (I won’t say it). We survived the era of saying we were over and couldn’t go on anymore in the middle of every fight (I stopped saying it first). We survived this, that, and the other thing. Oh so many other things.
And then one day we woke up and our kids were out of the cootie danger zone. Our vacation and sick time started accumulating again. We were able to begin paying attention to each other without distractions for longer periods of time (baby steps at first). A dinner alone here, a movie and drinks there, we started remembering we were a couple. What was more, we started remembering what we liked about each other to begin with all those years ago. One night I looked into my husband’s eyes over a tequila sunrise at the Riverwalk and I saw that the 17-year-old guy who brought laughter permanently into my life all those years ago was still here, sitting right in front of me. His hair is grayer, but his smile captivates me more now than it did way back then. The tequila sunrise had nothing to do with it (okay well maybe it had a little to do with it), but I realized that we have built an incredible history together, and the icing on the cake of our life is our two amazing twenty-something kids. And believe me, we fought more over raising them than we fought over anything else. The thought that came after that moment was even more solid. It dawned on me that we had grown up together.
Together. That’s what it’s all about. I never could relate to wives who complain that their husbands are underfoot and in the way. If the point is to be alone, or always with the girls, why bother getting married? Given my propensity for writing and the solitude that it requires, this is a bold statement.
It’s not for me to know how long a shelf life I’ve got on this earth. That information is kept under lock and key by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (so sue me, I went to Catholic school for 13 years). I only know I love my husband more than ever after 29 years. I love everything about him. I even love the things about him that irritate me to no end. I wouldn’t trade our life together for all the vacation time in the universe. My lesson in this craziness? Be happy and don’t keep count.