A Story about Growing Old Together
One day I came home from visiting with our ninety-year-old neighbor and said to Taido, Do you realize that if we both live to be ninety that we will spend more years of our marriage alone than with children?
We moved into our house on Cedar Street after five years of living in Rainy Seattle. I was super disoriented at first to be back in Arkansas, but one thing was constant. For better or worse, my life revolved around the needs of three little people. It was difficult for me to imagine a world in which they were not constantly present.
We met our neighbors across the street right when we moved in, an older lady and gentleman. They were as kind as two people can be. He brought over Halloween candy to our kids in the afternoon because they went to bed before the trick or treating hour, and I always knew it was a holiday when I looked out to see him carefully hanging his flag.
We did not know our sweet neighbors long at all before the wife became ill and passed away.
I remember sitting at the funeral and hearing the story of a woman I barely knew and being struck by one detail. This woman had spent the majority of her years alone with her husband.
I was so very young that I still perceived the story of my life to go like this:
Girl is born. Girl grows up. Girl meets Boy. Girl marries Boy. Girl + Boy have children. The End.
I was vaguely aware that eventually the children grow up and leave the home, but I had not done the math.
As I visited with my neighbor in the weeks following his wife’s death, I became aware of how very much he had loved his wife. Again I was struck that here before me was a man who had lived almost ninety years, and so the eighteen years that he and his wife had spent raising a son were small fraction of their life together. They had almost fifty years together after their son left home.
When you have small children, people are always telling you not to blink or you will miss it.
“It goes by so fast,” they say.
“They aren’t babies for long.”
People tell you that the years you have children at home are short, but they don’t tell you that the years after your children have grown up are long.
In other words, there is still a lot of life left after kids.
Maybe people are forgetting about all of these years when they say that you need to fit things in before you have kids. “Travel! Be free! See the world! Have fun!”
I remember when I was pregnant with my first child, my next door neighbor, who had two small children, used to call us when she saw that we were at home in the evenings and say, “GO OUT! Go to the movies! Go to dinner! TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR FREEDOM!”
But there are also years and years of life after kids.
There is life with little kids and then life with big kids, a whole different ballgame, and then there is life after kids.
This year marks the point in our marriage that Taido and I have lived together for more days than we lived with our parents. As I consider this fact, I think about my own children. I am raising these people to ultimately live the bulk of their years apart from me, and to partner with someone else with whom they will share much more of their life than they will with me.
I hope they will still want me around now and then, but it will be their world, not mine.
And here we will be, Taido and me, spinning out thirty, forty, even fifty more years together. While I look forward to those days, they also remain a bit of a mystery to me. I find my otherwise vivid imagination sometimes comes up with somewhat blurry pictures of an old man and woman going for long walks.
Perhaps one of the reasons I had not thought much about the years after children is that they are so impossible to predict.
We say “The End” and “Happily Ever After” because we have no idea what the future really holds.
Our neighbor lived just a few more years after his wife died. Those days were filled with carefully tending his lawn during the week and going to church on Sunday. I wondered at how he must be missing his wife. I imagined that losing someone you loved for so long would feel something like missing a limb. Seeing him without her always made me sad somehow.
When we went to his funeral, it felt like just days had passed since I had attended hers, and something just felt right about their being together again.
It might be morbid to consider, but since then I have always hoped that whatever the next sixty years hold for Taido and me, that people will feel that way about our funerals. Like the time closing between the two deaths, however long or short, will be something of a relief. The world made right again.
PS. Photo for this story is from a Photo Essay that will break your heart.
I love this song and in the video are several shots of older couples holding their wedding photos from years before. So precious.