Fighting to move past tragedy will be vital for many, though difficult
Several years ago the editor of this paper invited me to write a series of columns on the facts of aging. He felt that buried in my eight-plus decades of life I had probably achieved some degree of expertise that might prove helpful to those still on the edge. I agreed with his presumption and was flattered by the offer, so for the following several years I wrote columns on aging that soon morphed into assorted reactions to some of the facts and problems of life in general.
Time has passed and - after sixty-one years of marriage - so has my wife, Eunice. And for the same reason that I was asked to write my column to prepare some of its readers for the next phase, now submit this single piece in preparation for the phase after that.
Unfortunately, I can find no sound preparation for that next phase. The goal in such a long and wondrous relationship, after all, is simply more of same and any variation from that is - or was - beyond my interest or comprehension.
In the same way that old age, for those fortunate enough to achieve it, is simply a late chapter in the affairs of us all, progression onward through death is equally inevitable. At the time of its occurrence, however, it is not necessarily one that is comprehensible. Despite the pain of my loss, it remains a tragedy that awaits most of us and if there is a way to reduce the suffering of the survivor - or at least to limit its longevity - then that should be examined and implemented.
Yesterday, while seated in the lobby at the the University of Michigan’s Physical Therapy building, an elderly man of about 70 or 75 (a youngster by my current standards) hobbled in on his cane and was greeted by the receptionist with a, “Hi, Mr. So-and-so. And how are you today?” The response was an equally hearty, “Great! I’m walking and doing things - with pleasure and not much pain.” Speaking to him as he left the facility I congratulated him on his enthusiasm despite his physical problems and his response was, “Why not? I’m not going to let problems of inconvenience dictate to me what I will or will not do.” He had been crippled by some sort of painful leg and back problem about a year ago and has since been fighting back. After a year of therapy he has reduced his limitations, was now able to walk - slowly and unsteadily - for about two miles and was increasingly anxious to move on.
And that should be an inspirational model for the rest of us. My wife’s death decimated me. I loved her and relied on her presence before she died and on those memories of her afterward. But that must not be the end of the story for the survivors. All those friends who had suffered similar such tragedies have been advising me to find new interests, to continue on. Whether I can or will is still to be determined, but what is already clear is that the fight itself must be undertaken.
The richness of our relationship continues - looking back with pleasure and satisfaction on the friends we made, the children we have and the memories we created. Those decades of joys and love will never be repeated, but their absence should not be allowed to shape the future. And that is what that old man’s enthusiasm teaches all of us - work to embrace moments of the future rather than to rely on comparisons with the past.
At least, that is the theory. I’m not yet sure I can buy it.
Robert Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He previously owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. His wife of more than 60 years, Eunice, died March 20. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.