It was November of 2014. Our mouthwatering ribs on the breezy patio of Longhorn Steakhouse tasted even better being near the ocean. If the first item on our ToDo list was eating ribs, the second item was to discuss our future beach condo. This weekend getaway provided uninterrupted, relaxing time to dream. Retirement, my hubby’s reward for a lifetime of hard work, must include the romantic sound of the surf and sand between our toes.
In an instant, my husband’s eyes flooded with tears and he buckled in excruciating pain. He grabbed his napkin and covered his mouth with another moan.
Though we didn’t realize it yet, in that moment, life as we knew it, plus our hopes and plans for the future, vanished. We got through the night with ibuprofen, and headed home in the morning where the dentist confirmed sad news of immediate oral surgery. My husband’s wince of pain had come from a deep crack in a vital tooth. One procedure led to another issue, and in the end he lost all his teeth. I will spare you the details, but bone crushing was only part of it.
Anxiety and depression mixed with physical pain form a terrible force. Engulfed by sadness, we found that even normal hugging and tender kisses had to be suspended because of pain in neck, jaw, and gums. If that weren’t enough, my husband lost his appetite, and worse yet, his sense of taste. Over six months he dropped forty pounds. Also, we both faced a new face – one I saw every day for thirty-nine years, and one he once knew in the mirror whenever he shaved.
A few months later, with the hardest procedure only a week past, time ran out for “the biopsy.” During the holiday season our doctor had noticed his PSA lab numbers rise, putting him at risk for prostate cancer. So, in spring, not able to put it off any longer, he submitted to the prostate biopsy.
When “the call” came, my husband buckled once again.
Notice I said he buckled. I, on the other hand, sucked in my breath, set my (intact) jaw, and moved ahead. This cancer was caught early! We are in great position for complete recovery. We can get through this. We will be fine.
“Come on, Honey, we’ll hear the options and take the one best for us.”
We decided to go the route of radiation. Forty-five treatments, five days a week, nine weeks. As the treatments began, he slipped farther and farther away from me emotionally and physically. Tired to the bone, he fell asleep by eight each night. I inwardly railed. A sort of panic set in. What will become of us?
In actuality it was me. What about me? What about our relationship? What about our plans? Somehow the “us” got lost in the “me.” And the “him” got left out. As a result he felt even more pressure. He asked for space. He asked for time. Time to grieve and to heal. But I didn’t want to give it to him or take it for myself.
Walking the house at night, I planned how to engage and encourage. I cajoled him, and (there it is) I lectured him on “trust” in the Lord. I became that “‘dripping wife” of Proverbs. My situation went on the altar, then off the altar, then back on again. But much more off than on. I didn’t help us, or me, and definitely not him. How could I help when all I could see was my own agenda going up in smoke?
And I finally did it. I reached out. I called the American Cancer Society.
You thought I’d say I prayed. Well, I’d been doing that. Or you thought I meant I found a certain scripture. I have dozens of them, they are all wonderful. No, I called the American Cancer Society because, well, I couldn’t carry on any more without some expert terrestrial input. I needed someone to read between my “going forth” lines, ask the right questions, and get me to face my reality. It took a while to get there, though. Extremely condensed, our conversation went a bit like this.
“Hello, I’m calling about a support group for wives of cancer patients. Prostate cancer.”
“Okay, tell me your situation.”
“Well, I uh, so I like to help people, uh, and if there isn’t a group, I’d like to start one… because I want to know if other wives are experiencing the losses, uh, the problems, we are.”
“My name is Bonnie. Maybe I can help you. What are you feeling?”
“Well, he says he wants space, but I know he needs connectivity more than space…”
“He’s asking for space?”
“Uh, yes. But I just worry that if he sort of drops out of the game now, we might not be ‘us’ again when all the treatments are over.”
“Do you think maybe he’s asking for space, but you are the one needing connectivity?”
“Your husband’s cancer diagnosis, as well as his mouth situation, will mean a new ‘us.’ Can you accept that whatever you thought your life was going to be no longer exists? Will you not give him the space he needs to process that? And also give yourself a time of grief?”
At that, my wall began to crack. She went on.
“What you do have is today. Only today. We can’t mold tomorrow. Your husband needs support. And so do you. But you need support other than his. He has all he can handle on his plate right now.”
Saying goodbye to Bonnie, I decided to give in to grief. Just because I’m so good at denial doesn’t mean I hurt less. I work and work and fix and fix. I blame. I manipulate. I deflect the real pain of the situation. I put it off for another day – a day when it may be worse and there are hurt people to whom I must apologize. No, best face it head on. The plans, the dreams, irrevocably changed.
Yet that is not to say our future is dashed to pieces, either. To say things will never be the same is not failing to trust God. It is just reality. When I read Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes (“a time for everything under heaven…”) I see loss in a more eternal perspective. Loss can be refining. Loss gives us empathy for others. Loss is a vital part of life.
It seems that in Autumn losses begin to mount up. They actually mount down, because they are really holes. Holes that can swallow our joy and pull us down into their pit of sadness and depression. Yet, does anyone’s life turn out like they thought it would?
So what do we do?
I plan to grieve. I must grieve the loss of what I thought my marriage would be like. Mind you, I give God room to do “above and way beyond anything I could ask or think” for our final years. He’s definitely not through with us yet! But it won’t be like I thought it would. It will be His kind of good, His kind of wonderful, because He is good. Our future may involve ribs by the ocean.
But it may not.
In the refreshment line at a wedding recently, I saw my friend’s face from a distance, smiling her polite public smile. Attractive children of various heights stood close by. Seeming only half present, maybe she was remembering her oldest daughter’s wedding a year before. I stopped to chat. After a few minutes, I leaned in a bit. “We need to get caught up.”
“Yes, sounds great,” she said. “How about coffee next week?”
I often say, “The fifties are the best!” And I believe it with all my heart, even more since I’ve passed that decade. But I knew the stress on my friend’s face. The never-ending drives all over the county to sporting events, big meals to prepare in exhaustion, in the middle of menopause. I remembered wondering how the “prime of life” could so miserably fail to deliver. I remembered the anxiety surrounding my heavy responsibilities.
We’d both made the same decision– to continue bearing children past the forty-year milestone. Why did we do it when the most challenging job of our lives might have been done by the arrival of autumn?
The question has varied and logical answers. For one, motherhood gives most women a profound sense of purpose. The job itself can become a fulfilling identity, one of gargantuan, generational proportion. The sense of its significance can trump all thoughts of “How old will I be when this last one turns 18?”
Also, The Empty Nest (or the idea of it) seems to carry a fear of “oldness” or “doneness.” It leaves a slight sense of being set aside, of having to reinvent oneself. The sole role of grandmother, though a wonderful experience for the “older” woman, doesn’t fit me “just yet.”
And those tiny eyes, so full of adoration, intoxicate! As utterly exhausting the prospect, a baby’s perfect innocence softens the hard crust around our hearts. Infants’ care and nurture produces oxytocin in our brains, and this euphoric hormone makes us feel relevant and alive, even young! Today’s moms can design the day’s agenda, look great with makeup, exercise to boost energy, and choose clothes to make pregnancy and “infant wearing” quite sexy.
Together, Boomers and Gen Xers have pulled off the sleight-of-hand trick of the century- shaving at least decade from the stereotypes of age. Thirty became the new twenty. Forty the new thirty, and fifty the new forty. Those who chose the miracle-working fields of dermatology and plastic surgery led the charge toward the “Fountain of Youth.”
Slick sleight-of-hand? Well, our children don’t think of sixty as old as we did when we were young. They do think of it as old, just not AS old. (Hollywood certainly helped in this area! So the empty nest comes later. Way later. Many women who, at fifty, might have embarked on a new career and enjoyed grandchildren, instead find themselves up to their neck in plans for one child’s wedding as well as the promised birthday party of a seven-year-old.
Sound familiar? It does to me. My daughters came thirteen years apart. To feel young enough to make the older one proud, (who am I kidding?… to feel good) I primped more for an event. My skincare routine made what once took minutes now take almost an hour- an hour I couldn’t quite find in my day. I had to be Super everything…friend, mom, and wife, all in virtual perpetuity.
That’s what I saw in my friend. Heard in her voice. The weight of perpetuity.
Stress. And guilt. Because we often feel required to choose between the younger ones and the older ones. With only so much energy, one set would sometimes have to manage without me. How would we not feel guilty? And what does guilt do? It quickens the fade of the younger woman.
She’s standing there in the reception hall in a designer outfit. Her eyes say, “How do I hang in to see the littlest one married – or off to her own life? And isn’t that a terrible question?”
What does she want now? Or Need? (She actually told me. I was grateful for her honesty.)
In two words, More Husband. In one word, Romance.
And I can relate. It has been reported over and over again, that of the many themes of the fifties, a return of interest in romance tops the list for women. In the forties romance often takes a dive due to the raising of kids and teens, plus wide hormonal swings. Afterward, the windfall of extra time in the fifties causes couples to once again notice each other across a crowded room.
Husbands have been patiently waiting for that spark. They want quality time again, like the pre-children era, eons ago. And well they should. For we are all designed for lasting romance. Our hearts long for it, even as hormones settle down. We instinctively welcome a new dawn of enjoying all the hard work of the decades behind us. With or without kids at home, however, this takes intentionality, work.
The following list of helps for the Autumn woman with children still at home comes from the lady who’s been there. Me. These rules of engagement helped my husband and me keep both alive and sane..
1. Take more time for yourself. With older kids to watch the little ones, get the mani-pedi. (Looking back, I wish I’d just spent the money.) Read more books. Delegate all the work around the house you possibly can. Take long baths and long walks. Go to the gym. You need it all, now more than ever.
2. Guard a once-a-week date night with a vengeance. Now you have built-in babysitters. And for goodness sake, don’t come home until all are in bed. (Getting back while the kids are up doesn’t end the date, shall we say, nicely.)
3. Make a household quiet curfew several nights a week. This will allow time for peace and quiet. All will benefit from it! Get the young ones to bed earlier, and older ones to their rooms by nine or ten. The curfew might well extend to mornings on Saturday. (We tried to take one Saturday morning a month for hanging out alone- either in our room or out for breakfast.)
4. Make your bedroom an off-limit zone to all, unless invited. Make it a romantic haven, complete with sofa or soft chairs. Have candles and music easy to set up. Make it a place for you to recharge – alone – at any time. (A lock on the door? Yes.)
5. Reward the older kids, date the wee ones. With more responsibility teens should get some perks, as well as special outings with adults. The young ones love special dates individually. Ours “littles” felt sidelined with all the schedule demands of the older ones, as well as the needs of the married ones! (I wish I had given our “second set” more special time.)
6. Take a Weekend Getaway per quarter (3 or 4 times a year) to set aside time for romance. This means away from home. (An “in town” overnight trip qualifies.) Guard these times to recharge your romance.
Are you raising a second set of kiddos? Don’t let your marriage suffer. If you work hard to set aside time for your husband and you, you will be recharged for the next social event. When someone with all their kids gone (like grown up gone) comes up to you, you’ll smile, knowing that in practically days, it will be you.
As I tweezed my almost invisible eyebrows the other day, I actually drew blood. Ouch! Why do I submit to magnifying mirrors? It’s only in their larger-than-life perspective those wild hairs even appear. I wondered, why does Vanity still hold me hostage?
On this day, suffering this “injury” brought back the memory of tweezing my mom’s eyebrows in her fifties and sixties. As a teen, I’d stand behind her chair with her head tilted back on my rib cage, and gingerly pluck microscopic hairs from her translucent skin. Every once in a while I’d grab a bit of flesh and her little squeal would bring me back to concentration. I would think, “Will my skin ever be this loose? This un-elastic, this wafery thin…? Yet she asks for this torture!
Smiling today, I know. Youth slips away slowly. The thick, dark hairs (which once made tweezing almost a matter of forest control) become pale by years, decades, not months. Gradually they turn in all helter skelter directions, and we continue to pluck in spite of both blindness and pain. We don’t succumb easily to any of it- the lines, the loss of muscle tone, the changing complexion. We push against it with the same stiff demeanor of those very hairs, and with all the seriousness a magnifying mirror can muster!
However, I strongly believe that beauty with aging enriches the world.
We should (and I use that word carefully) stand tall, pull back those shoulders, and go out the door knowing we own the wisdom of, well, years of experience. Not just years, decades of it. Decades of perseverance, mess-ups, successes and failures.
So today I offer my top five reasons why autumn women who keep working on beauty make the world a better place.
- Our Husbands Appreciate It.
Whether we dress up or wear yoga pants and a t-shirt, the amazing fact remains, husbands see us as the young girl he married… a lovely face, a wonderful body (even with ten extra pounds), a winning smile, charm and wit. What miracle keeps us looking very much the same to him over the years? No one can explain it– it remains a mystery. Now, though they appreciate us most when we’re naked, all the original qualities thrill him year after year after year…and when he’s proud of us, he’s a happier, better man.
- The Young Who Fear Aging Need It.
If we work on replacing youthful color and see ourselves vibrant and alive in the mirror, our health improves overall. It’s an attitude. All the makeup and jewelry in the world can’t overcome a negative attitude, but those things help produce a positive outlook. If you never wore makeup, it’s okay. But if you decide at 50 or 60 to begin, you will likely take off a few of those last ten years, and look perkier.
Why look ten years younger? To feel ten years younger! During my trip to Canada I had the pleasure of meeting a 106 year-old lady in the nursing home. She walks with a walker, wears pearls, pink lipstick, and a stylish outfit. You can find her chatting with those who stop at the coffee shop. She’s proud of being a woman, and causes those who meet her to fear growing old a little bit less.
- Our Children and Grandchildren Appreciate It.
Aging parents remind children of their own mortality. They desperately need a model up close and personal. Should we shield them from our aches and pains? Not necessarily. But a smiling, warm, and positive mom or grandmother makes them proud. If we took a reasonable amount of time to be beautiful, they’d love showing us off more. They may even want to be first to run up and introduce us to their friends.
- Workplaces Are Transformed by It.
One of my friends worked in an extremely stressful care-giving job. A key requirement for the job was to wear make-up and keep a stylish haircut. These habits didn’t transform the employees into more productive workers, but somehow showed others they felt more up to the pressure. And thus they became more effective.
In any setting, skill, not hair, gets the job done. But beauty helps make the workplace a more pleasant place. Proverbs author Solomon says, “…beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” Can she be both at the same time? Of course. One just lasts longer. Even while she fears the Lord and honors Him, her radiant appearance puts the icing on the cake. It shows she is aware of her femininity to His glory. She reflects His beauty in her own. What a way to show the world your faith!
- Society Sees God’s Design for Sex in It.
Nothing reflects the sexual dynamic of marriage like a couple in love. So what in the world would this have to do with beauty? A few years back, my hubby and I were touring in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We saw an older couple, each with white hair, zoom by in a red Chevrolet open convertible. Her scarf blowing in the wind and their smiles gave me a picture I kept in my head. “That’s us in ten years, Honey!” I said. They drove past quickly, so their actions had nothing to do with my impression. It was her beauty sitting beside him.
What does this mean? Whether with her husband or alone, shopping, working, an autumn woman’s countenance can show the world the dynamic I admired in the couple above. Of course women who wear makeup and dress beautifully might be single. Or have no love life. But a woman who cherishes her role as her husband’s lover, (or acts as though available for that), and gives off a pleasant aroma wherever she goes, inadvertently broadcasts the purpose of marriage – to reflect the relationship between Christ and the believer, his Bride. That’s a sermon the world craves. Do you know you preach a sermon about aging?
So I’m not just talking about physical beauty. If a woman’s outward beauty becomes her highest priority, she appears shallow and both “deceitful” and “fleeting.” As John Piper reminds us, “He is most pleased when we find our desires filled in Him.”
Good, they’re both home.
He parked the pickup behind his parents sedans already in the driveway. I’ll remember the code when I get to the door. With only a two-day break before second semester started, it seemed right to surprise them. Climbing out of the truck, moist grass welcomed his feet. One easy hop took him up the three steps to the door.
Yes! 9158. Music, ever so faint, leaked from inside, hurrying him in. In the quiet front hall, a familiar warmness flowed over him. So good to be home. He hung his coat on the stair rail and headed in the direction his nose usually pointed him. Mom’s famous soup! The almost intoxicating aroma intensified the closer he got to the kitchen. And the music swelled too. They’re home alright.
You’re just too good to be true….Can’t take my eyes off of you.
You feel like heaven to touch, I want to hold you so much,
You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you.”
The moment seemed sacred, them not knowing he stood watching. His dad swayed his mom to the song as if nothing else existed. She smiled up at him, totally engrossed in his embrace, until he twirled her around and she caught sight of her youngest son in the doorway.
“Uh, hi, Dad, Mom… sorry to barge in, but it is only five, and I didn’t think I’d be… but, dang it, you told me last year to start knocking… I’m sorry… I forgot.”
“Hey, hey, Bud, no problem!” John hugged his boy and then dropped into the closest chair, grinning. “We’re decent, aren’t we? Good to see you, Son! Come on in, sit down…what brings you all the way from Virginia?”
As the three chatted about “the latest” in the tiny den by the kitchen, Jay soaked in his surroundings. This was the life he left behind almost four years ago. Why would he just now see it? They’d always shown love for each other. So why the lump in his throat just now? Could it be the non-breakup, break up he’d just been texted last week? Could it be the series of divorces he’d heard about lately? Or maybe he’d talked to enough girls now- dated enough- to find only a few who said their parents truly liked each other.
“Mom, Dad, I hope I have a marriage like yours. You guys make it look easy to be happy…”
Can there be a higher compliment than this? One of my sixty-something friends shared this story while we chatted over coffee. Her son had toasted a similar version at their 40th wedding anniversary party. Then she said this:
“Our kids are jealous of us. They see us kiss in the kitchen, dance in every room, and laugh wherever we are. They wonder out loud when will it be their turn!”
Growing older isn’t on anyone’s bucket list. But it happens to most of us. And it presents a double challenge. Is my purpose in life bigger than my age, and am I in love with my mate?
Do you have that marriage? Did your parents have that marriage? Who do you know with that marriage? I can’t wait to hear about it!
I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.
When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May…
My girl, (my girl), talkin’ ‘bout my girl…” -The Temptations
Such a simple thing. Hubby comes into the kitchen, brushes past me, and without eye contact or emotion says, “You are one hard-working girl.” Not a hard-working lady. Or hard-working woman. Or even hard-working chick.
Before our marriage, during his career as a professional musician, my husband played that song hundreds of times- often several times in a night. The crowds loved “My Girl” then and the world loves it still. But, why did it pop into my head today as if for the first time? I realized that in thirty-nine years, (That’s how long we’ve been married.) he’s never referred to me gender-wise with any other term. Of course, I’m also those genderless names of Honey, Sweetheart, and Love. But mostly, I am “his girl.”
He would even tell the kids, “Don’t you cross my girl. She’s your mother and my wife.”
As I thought about his consistent use of the tag, I wondered if it’s made a difference over the years. What if he’d used just the other terms of endearment? Or called me by my name or “The Mrs.” These questions brought up a distant memory from VBS teaching days (my mid-forties) when a misbehaving six year-old referred to me as “you old lady.” I immediately burst out laughing, it sounded so crazy. Seems I have been affected by my husband’s pet word, for a long time. But how?
Since reality says I’m way past girlhood, being called Girl has affected my self-esteem. I don’t mean self-worth. I find my worth in God’s view of me. But when women pass the girl stage of life, they may tend to feel “past their prime.” The term “Girl” evokes a sense of freshness, radiance, and warmth. When he calls me that, I feel all those things, even if only for a moment.
“My Girl” speaks of security and belonging. His “Come here, Girl,” sounds more alluring than “Come here, Woman,” or Lady or Chick. Now I admit there are times when the latter references might “stir things up” a bit quicker. But normally, when he draws me into his arms with this playful name, I want to move toward him. I think it’s because I sense he wants me for me. Not for what I have to give him.
Sense of Aging
As hard as it is to admit, I feel more like a girl because that’s exactly how he sees me. Always has. Here I am in my sixties, but besides having (a bit) less agility, the mirror is the sole conspirator against my sense of “girlness.” Denial? Self-trickery? Maybe.
However, doesn’t love see everything in its best light?
If your husband hasn’t used this reference to you lately, and you haven’t thought of yourself this way, here’s my advice to you:
Keep the attitude of being your husband’s girlfriend. You are your husband’s lover, wife, and business associate, all in one package. Concentrate more on the girlfriend part, and tell him you love being his girl. Call yourself a girl when referring to yourself. “I am one tired girl!” “This girl really likes you, Mr. Hunk!” You get the idea. Don’t call yourself Old Girl, though. That’s an automatic penalty.
Finally, think of your grown daughters as your forever girls. My oldest daughter just turned thirty-seven, and she is still my girl. I will always be her mother, and she’s the mother of her own brood. We belong to a sisterhood of girls- for life!
A new class! Hillside Fellowship Church in Bulverde, Texas recently began a class called Autumn Women Engaged. For short, A.W.E. We are thrilled to announce both the classes at the church and the local library, along with an important survey. Today I’d like to share a little bit about both.
The reigning mindset of many autumn women regarding marital intimacy is “Been There, Done That, Stashed the T-shirt in a Box in the Garage”, or “I am full of busy days with work, grandkids, and church activities…lived so long without lovemaking, I hardly remember what it was like.”
Our class purpose is to challenge women according to God’s word in Hebrews 6:12 “…..so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
As far as I have studied and read about the metaphor of Christ and the Church, His Bride, lovemaking in marriage doesn’t have a shelf-life. Instead it becomes more and more necessary as the years go by- that is, if we are to keep from killing each other either with kitchen utensils, or boredom. Really, no amount of travel, or material stuff, or grandkids can fill the void of a lifeless marriage.
So, the challenge becomes, if it’s been a long time since you were interested, earnestly ask, “Is this really what God wants?” And then ask, “Is this what Hubby wants, too?” Have you even asked either one? Or do you think you just know? If he doesn’t seem to care, how does it make you feel? Relieved? Rejected? Or maybe, if the truth were told, his complaint actually is, “It’s been way, way, too long…” And he has more or less given up by default.
Do you have any idea what’s going on out there? Like in other homes of women your age? While most men and women still sleep in the same room at night (I know of many who don’t), they often retire at different times and get up at different times. They have their own side of a huge king-bed and their own regimen of reading, pillow plumping, and drifting off to sleep. Sound like your house? So we have added an important survey to this site. The women involved in A.W.E. would be so grateful if you would go to that page and take the survey. We truly want to know what issues to address in our classes. Link to our survey HERE.
We want to put the left side of the brain into action- the cognitive side, as opposed to the right, creative and emotion-driven side. When it comes to lovemaking we often think that if we’re not in the mood, we are “dead in the water” and nothing is going to happen. Especially if we just don’t want to. We are actually ruled by the “don’t wanna, ain’t gonna, can’t make me” mindset. And if I were to jolt you out of that mindset, I would have to do it on the left side. The side where facts rule, not emotions. So getting the flow of love back into the marriage may have to be considered a mental, emotional, and spiritual discipline. Often we must choose to love a naughty child. God chose to die for us even knowing we have all rejected Him and gone our own way. Can you decide to go to the left side of the brain with me even in this difficult topic?
If so, where would we begin?
Let’s begin by making one basic assumption. Our husbands need respect just as we need love, and respect means many things, sometimes words of admiration or love. But for many respect is spelled s-e-x. If you are willing to accept that premise, even if he shows signs of disinterest**, this class is for you.
Here’s what our classes will be covering. You are invited to read, think, then add your comments.
- First, we’ll cover some of the many benefits of this part of marriage- physiological, emotional, and practical- facts we forgot or never knew. Working on the left side of the brain means using my will to “do the right thing;” but I have to be convinced of the facts. We’ll also learn about the Three R’s from the left side.
- After accepting the benefits of lovemaking, what comes first, a discussion or “making a move?” You’ll decide which, then, based on the Three R’s we’ll help you plan the discussion. Here is where “priming the pump” gets practical.
- Then, how do I “make the move?” This will not be a graphic “how to.” It will be a plan any woman can implement up to the point where a normal husband would gladly take over.
**Some of you suffer with feelings of rejection. I hope to do a series on the problem of a husband’s lack of interest. Right now I can assure you that you must get out of the right side of your brain where anger and pain rule. That is your beginning. We have more to talk about and that’s what our classes will do. We’ll keep a keen eye on what can happen with a new attitude.