I don’t have any desire to be young again. Like most older people, I think the world I experienced was the best one. I have no desire to twitter and tweet, have a phone hanging, like an umbilical cord from my ear or walk around town wearing a close copy of long underwear.
But I do envy one aspect of being young: It is the only time in your life when you are confident that you know everything.
And I remember when I was young, when I knew everything.
Way back then, when I saw an old couple in a restaurant, sitting throughout a meal without apparently offering a word to each other, I used to think, “How awful”, and I would vow to myself that I would never be a partner in a marriage like that, two people with nothing to say to each other. How terrible.
How little I knew.
Now, many of those who knew about my husband’s Alzheimer’s (AD) ask me, “Did you have any conversation at all with him?” Well, that depends on how you define conversation.
Not like the ones we used to have which began at breakfast with the arrival of three newspapers and started with a discussion of Washington, Ottawa, New York and Toronto politics. My husband set an intellectual pace, with his knowledge of politics and economics and the breakfast talk would be one in which I was challenged to think and re-think. Then, typically we would part ways and not see each other again until late in the day when we would tell each other about our day, discuss what we had heard, learned, touch on family and finances, and if we were going out to dinner, where and with whom and — if I had initiated the guest list — why! and, if we were staying home, what we were going to eat. The latter could take quite a long time. And so it would go, from breakfast until the lights went out and the last words would be, “Good night, I love you.”
I miss all that, beyond mere words. And I have found that words are just that: mere.
Days would go by when my husband did not say a word, let alone comment on the world outside our doors. But that did not mean that we didn’t communicate. We did. There is a kind of silent communication that is as powerful as any that depends on speech. He could tell me with his eyes that he appreciated what I did for him. He could tell me with a smile that he was pleased to be with me. Without a word, he let me know that he was not happy that I was going out, leaving him behind.
When it was a really good day, if I asked him if he loved me, he would reply “Yes”, and when I ask why, he might answer, as he used to do, “Damned if I know”. And, sometimes, if I was very lucky, if I told him, ” I love you”, he would say, ” I love you too”.
Does anyone really need any more than that?
i have learned to look at that old couple in the restaurant and see them in a very different way. Perhaps they don’t have anything to say to each other anymore. When you have lived a long time, the world around you does tend to repeat itself. Everything that could be said has been said. More than once. There truly isn’t very much new under the sun. So, the general had an affair. Remember, so did Ike! Or so it was said.
But it is also very possible that they have moved beyond words. That what pulses between them is so strong, so deeply rooted, so much a matter of fact, that it just is.
That when you look at them, you might indeed be seeing what it looks like to be an old married couple. And realize that is not something to pity but a state perhaps to even envy, later, when, with age, you find that you don’t know much,let alone everything.
This essay is an excerpt from The Alzheimer’s Diary, one woman’s journey from caregiver to widow – available at your favorite online bookstore. All proceeds front he sale of this book benefit Alzheimer’s drug research.