I’m not going to sugar coat it. There are some things about growing old that just stink. Some of those things can make or break a marriage. Sometimes our bodies feel quite young, but our minds get on a fast-moving train to nowhere. Some people’s minds are as sharp as the day they were born, but their bodies refuse to work. Even though we know this happens and is quite normal, learning to live with the changes can be challenging and frustrating.
Try to remember that if something is frustrating to you, it is probably equally frustrating for your spouse. I have a metal plate in my right ankle which sometimes causes problems, and my left ankle also has a tendency to give out occasionally. This can happen at the most inopportune times—like while walking through a crowded flea market a long ways away from the car. While I grumble to myself and limp along, I sometimes forget about my husband’s inconvenience. He has to stop with me every minute or so to rest my ankles, and often doesn’t get to stay as long or walk as far as he would like. He is incredibly patient with me. I try to remind myself that if I didn’t grumble so much, it would make his life a whole lot more pleasant.
On the other hand, I need two hearing aids which we can’t yet afford. It would be such a small thing for him to speak up and repeat things when I ask him to do that. Instead, he gets frustrated and tells me I need to listen better—which in turn makes me frustrated and angry. In his defense, he knows he is wrong when he does this and is trying very hard to change his ways.
Patience is the key to growing old together. We need to be patient with ourselves and our minds and bodies, but we also need to be patient with our spouse and his/her ailments. We need to remember that there will be good days and bad days—just as there were in our youth. I think there is a grieving process that goes along with losing our youth. Let’s acknowledge it for what it is so we can move on.
My husband was diagnosed with diabetes many years ago. It is pretty much under control now, but there was a time when it wasn’t because he was in complete denial. He needed to grieve the loss of his good health, and I needed to be patient. Patience is not my strong suit. To make matters worse, orneriness is part of the disease. My husband normally has the temperament of a big teddy bear, but when his sugar levels are high he gets ornery. During the time he was in denial and wasn’t taking care of his diabetes, I thought I was going to kill him. My kids were teenagers at the time. They used to pull me aside and remind me, “That’s not Dad; that’s the diabetes.” While I knew they were right, I wanted to throw something at him. The problem was finally resolved by a relaxing second honeymoon in a cabin in the redwoods and a long talk when we got back home.
Growing old isn’t for the faint at heart—yet even the faint at heart have to endure old age. We can choose to be miserable and to make our spouse miserable with us, or we can choose patience and longsuffering and endure to the end with a smile. We need not fear it if we are prepared. Each phase of our lives brings difficulties. We survived adolescence, so I’m pretty sure we can survive anything—including old age. With faith, prayer, hope, patience, and hard work, we will get through the aging process and endure to the end—together as God intended when he created marriage.
Robert Browning wrote quite a long poem entitled “Rabbi Ben Ezra.” The first stanza is often quoted. As a matter of fact, it hangs on the wall in my home office. I like the last stanza as much as the first, so I leave them both with you to ponder.
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
So, take and use Thy work:
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o’ the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.