ValSparkle left a stimulating comment on my post about the eighth decade of life:
"The thing I fear is that my husband and I will age very differently. It happened with my parents, but I don't think I have as much patience as my mother. I know I need to prepare to cope with an old man! Of course, it could go the other way..."
I think about what I call uneven aging, too. Though older (by 6 1/2 years) than Le Duc, I am—at the moment—somewhat fitter. What was once a vast, calm sea of middle age is now subject to storms. He had a heart attack a year after our move, and though now recovered, must manage his life differently.
Our friends in their 50s to 70s are beginning to notice that they are aging at different rates. Either an age difference long unnoticed is now now apparent, or health issues have affected one partner, while the other ticks along.
You don't have to be a couple to see the effects. Sue told me about a girls' getaway to a Mexican resort. There, it became clear that a friend now in her early 70s was having noticeable cognitive loss, something she could hide at home, but not there.
Altering living space
If one partner's health suffers, suddenly your home must work differently. While Le Duc recovered, I was grateful that we now live on one floor. I thought of the advantage when we bought, but thought I'd need the ease first.
Hanging on to a house that requires onerous upkeep for the sake of eventual grandkids' visits is a rationale I hear often, but there are other options. Neither of our parents kept those houses, and we visited no less frequently than if staying there. (We used B & Bs, bunked with siblings, rented short-stay apartments and booked the guest suite at my parents' condo.)
Charlotte built a house with a second floor that closes when unneeded, with a master bedroom and bath on the first floor. Though in her 40s when it was built, she had aging in place in mind.
Over the years, we amassed a collection of oriental rugs that my mother parted with as she faced increasing hazards to mobility. The other day I tripped on one. Is it my turn to pass them down?
Staying close to friends
One friend's partner's condition makes getting out for long impossible. Technology gives us another way to connect. While Skype lacks the richness of face-to-face, it lifts some of the isolation.
Some women, out of respect for their partner's privacy, restrict visitors. How much the infirm partner can tolerate varies, but if you have friends in this situation, ask if they'd mind if you dropped by for a quick coffee. Twenty minutes can really brighten a day, and who cares what the house looks like?
("You know what improves a patient's mood like nothing else?" a nurse told me when I worked in a hospital, "Fifteen minutes of good gossip." The same is true for caregivers.)
When Anne's father, Don, was in his last months, she asked her mother, Nora, what was the best time of her long marriage "Right now!", Nora exclaimed. "We have the most wonderful talks."
Nora would listen to Don reminisce about each of his sled dogs, beloved companions during his childhood in the Yukon. "They would each have a glass of scotch in their hands—barely touched—for hours", Anne said, "but that was their ritual, and they stuck with it."
Nora's long, close marriage still inspires and reminds me that you can only cherish the last stretch if you built such love in the preceding years.
The diminished partner can feel crushing guilt. Lynn's father, Stew, told her at 88 that he was ashamed he could no longer keep up with Mim, his 67-year-old second wife. Mim, in turn, became short-tempered with him as a result of exhaustion.
Lynn and her sister persuaded them
to move to a retirement home in their city, a thousand-mile relocation. Until their father died at 92, they gave constant support. (I, in turn, provided many glasses of white wine to Lynn.) Their care saved that marriage.
I've been thinking about uneven aging for awhile, having seen its various effects with my parents and their friends. Now, I'm seeing the first vestiges myself. We are beginning to talk to our family about our wishes, and have recently updated all legal documents pertaining to end-of-life care and intervention.
But those are the tangibles; there is so much that is subtler. One of the most delicate is being open with partners and friends about the changes, both physical and psychological, and the accommodations required.
I will appreciate your advice, and hope we can help one another navigate this unpredictable transition.