Falling in love again at the age of 47 and getting married a second time at the age of 52 is a miracle. And a little scary.
But, then again, falling in love is always phenomenal and scary.
We take care of each other ― the little things that don’t matter: me, putting the glass of water on her bedside table; him, refilling my coffee as I write in the morning.
We often touch each other, like a shorthand: I’m here. I’m here.
I never doubted we would spend our final years holding hands, having better sex than ever, kissing around the world, and then… eventually… in the far future… the very far future … facing death together.
But then, at age 60, my husband announced that he wanted to have children with a younger woman.
Instantly my hips widened, my breasts sag and my wrinkles deepened. Every internalized belief and vision of what it means to be an old woman, was unwanted, and irrelevant to who I was.
Several years earlier, I started talking about death. I’m not obsessed – I’m practical. Even though I don’t have a specific disease, I am aware that my life is limited – not in the sense that I could get hit by a bus tomorrow (really, how likely is that?) but in the realization that I have more in my past than the disease I suffer from. future. I’d like to complete our wills, fill out a medical power of attorney form and find out his funeral preferences – burial or cremation, darling? Does he want all life-saving measures to be taken or not? I need to take care of these details. So if, God forbid, I get hit by that bus tomorrow, I won’t spend my last moments alive thinking, damn, I never got around to filling out that form.
My husband doesn’t want to talk about getting old and dying. He didn’t want to choose between burial and cremation. He didn’t even want to think about it. Even though everyone who had ever lived on this earth had died, it felt like a personal insult to him. I understand. I even felt it. We were both doing this very aging thing for the first time – like learning a new sport – and we both felt awkward, scared, and inadequate. I just want to get the paperwork done and have confidence again that we will live the rest of our lives together happily.
There is no right way to age. Some of us are overcome with sadness at the loss of our youth. Others try to work their way to eternal life. Others take risks, jumping out of planes or turning to jobs that once scared them. Many fill their schedules with endless doctor’s appointments. There are also those who despair because of regret.
I bought moisturizers, miracle anti-wrinkle creams, and exercise programs that promised to reduce flab and defy gravity. I once read an article that suggested clothing and hairstyles that disguise the signs of aging. I do brain exercises like sudoku to try to prevent forgetting.
My husband chose to have his first baby.
I didn’t expect that to happen.
Sixty is the age of leaving the house and coming back to get the car keys, what age are you looking at my glasses? Age of sudden and unwanted diagnosis. Who is leaving the marriage nowadays?
Turns out there were a lot of people.
The divorce rate among people aged 50 and over in the US is almost double what it was in the 1990s. There’s even a name for this group: Silver Splitters.
When I was young, I suffered from getting older. My fears include everything: being stupid, not knowing my children’s names, having strangers clean me, not being able to move because of a bad hip or knee, or never being awake until the end of the story.
I asked my friends: “What are your plans?” Age in place? Community life? “What is the protocol?” I heard my voice rise in panic. I don’t believe I would react well when asked to hand over my car keys.
But all this planning turned out to be in vain. I can’t choose from my fantasy menu of aging options. Remember the old Yiddish saying: Man makes plans and God laughs? God laughed, and suddenly I tried to imagine what the rest of my life would be like without my husband.
This new phase of life requires a different mindset. Now that everything has blown up and I’m on a new path ― whether I want it or not ― I wonder, what if I treated aging as an adventure, like traveling to a new land? Who knows which way I’ll go or what I’ll find? Imagine how shiny I would be if I filled my cracks like the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, patching broken pottery with gold and silver. Imagine if instead of looking away, I looked at my future – however different it may be now – with awe.
And with this change in perception, the whole world opens up.
When my youngest son, from my first marriage, got engaged, he asked, “So, Mom, do you still believe in love and marriage?”
I want to take my time here – he has witnessed both of my divorces. Each person we love takes a little piece of us, and then they can become careless, forget to look both ways, drink too much, climb a mountain cliff, or otherwise be careless.
People die. They fell out of love. They go.
The only way to avoid this pain is to avoid love. But that’s too hard a way to live.
“Yeah,” I said. “I am willing.” I paused and said, “But love alone is not enough – you have to be fearless.”
Courtesy of Virginia DeLuca
The author and almost all of his grandchildren in June 2021.
Because there was a funny incident when I was mourning the death of my husband. I realized that I really like living alone. I found my way back to myself. Of course, it’s hard to describe solitude and happiness without sounding like I’m trying to convince myself that low-fat yogurt tastes as good as ice cream. But there will be a satisfying ending if I align myself with myself, my desires, and the people I love.
People around me started asking, “Are you dating anyone?” I understand their motivation. It was kind of a version of getting back on the horse.
A happy ending to this story of lost love could lead to me meeting another love. That’s not a bad idea. I’m a sucker for love. I’m still the girl who watches romantic comedies. I still have faith.
Friends and family members will relax if I fall in love again. They will stop imagining long, gloomy, lonely nights for me. Probably the only people who don’t care whether I’m in a relationship or not are my grandchildren. I love them for it.
My ex-husband and I have chosen very different paths into adulthood.
Maybe I can’t jump that high. Last week’s conversation sometimes went nowhere. But I appreciated sitting and listening to the twisty story of my granddaughter’s nightmares.
I sat on the floor yesterday playing cars and dinosaurs with my 2 year old grandson. I said, half-jokingly, “I’m not sure how to wake up.”
“Like this, Nonna.” She demonstrated putting both hands on the floor and her butt in the air and pushing.
I laughed so hard I fell over.
My body doesn’t function like it used to, but I’m committed to not letting shame hold me back. I was determined to still get out on the field and play with the car. Even if it means I have to lift my butt in the air to get up.
I strengthened my skills for this new land. I learned to ask for help and be more gracious in receiving it. I learned to express 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 it sooner, but better late than never.) I committed to taking care of myself: taking breaks when tired, being outside more often, and not making daily to-do lists that would actually take three days to finish it. finish.
I’m trying to accept that I can’t create happiness for other people. I could share joy and wonder, crack jokes and laugh along, but I could not develop a sense of calm in others. Despite my years as a therapist and parent, I know I cannot prevent suffering. I can sit with my children, grandchildren, friends and patients. I can hold their hand and offer a shoulder to cry on, encourage and encourage them ― I can soothe feelings of hurt and distress. I can advocate for them and help them find resources. But finding a sense of well-being is their own task. It was an inside job.
And of course that also applies to me.
I had let go of the idea that I would make a big splash and solve the world’s problems. I recycle, protest, and donate, but I really don’t know how to protect endangered species or make the world pay attention to climate change. Or ending poverty. Or child abuse. Or war. Or racism. And still, I want to learn. I want to do what I can, even in my own way.
I enjoy small pleasures. Lily. Planting beans we can eat. I took my novel out of the drawer and cleaned it. At work, I asked for a raise and got it. I focused on the birdsong in the pre-dawn light.
Even though it reminds me of old age, strangers greet and smile at me. I believe it, Ha! They admired an energetic and engaged older woman.
I still carry the image of a graceful and beautiful woman, so I was shocked when I saw the gray-haired and sluggish me in the photo. I told myself that I always take bad photos.
I chose to live with these two fantasies: I was terrible at taking photos, and strangers admired me. There are worse. I can choose to believe that I am in control of the world – or should be – and always be disappointed when things don’t go according to my plan. I could choose to live with the delusion that at 70, the world owes me something and be upset if it doesn’t go my way. I can choose to live with the delusion that aging and death are not in my plans and be horrified by the process. I can choose to live with all kinds of fantasies that will make me upset and afraid.
Instead, I choose to feel graceful and loving – in whatever way I can – and trust that a stranger on the street wishes me the best.
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 Iowa Review, The Writer, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the GrubStreet Memoir Incubator program and has completed her memoir, “If You Have to Go, I Wish You Were Triplets.”