January 19, 2013 by Judith Liebaert
I don’t know what marketing genius came up with the catch phrase “women of a certain age” to soft soap those of us in midlife and beyond. I only know it never caught me. To embrace the MAD Goddess within is not about a number. It’s not about turning a certain age, it’s about reaching an age of certainty.
Yet here I am, never more uncertain about my life and its unfolding from here.
My husband survived the “Widow Maker” five years ago this month. That is the name cardiologist’s use to describe a blockage in the left descending anterior artery, or the main blood supply to the heart. The odds of surviving such a blockage are astronomical. The odds of living five years beyond aren’t much better.
Twice since then, I have followed a siren blaring, light flashing ambulance to the nearest medical facility, preparing myself for the worst news they could give me upon arrival. Both times my husband spent five days in cardiac intensive care and months afterward recuperating to his new normal, a bit more diminished each time.
He’s been good at beating the odds all of his life. He’s that guy that everybody says has a horseshoe in his back pocket. I just hope the horseshoe is facing up and still holding a good portion of luck, because the odds are really starting to stack up against him.
In two days my husband is undergoing triple cardiac by-pass surgery. Five years ago, they told us he was not a good candidate for this surgery, but now he has three additional blockages (along with the original and a second that were each stented five years ago). Without the surgery, his cardiologists believe he won’t last the year. If the surgery is successful he’ll be given a new lease on life.
What the doctors don’t say out loud, what nobody says out loud, is that there is almost as good a chance that with the surgery he might not make it another day. His diabetes, his COPD, his compromised immune system all combine in a perfect storm of complications raging against his chances.
Losing my husband would mean the loss of many things to me. With his condition putting a premature end to his working life, he is my constant companion and I his. As any wife of a retired man will tell you, too much togetherness isn’t ideal. But with the Grim Reaper stalking our thoughts, it’s far easier to let little annoyances go.
There is more, though. His physical limitations not withstanding, we like (or liked) the same activities and our impetus to do or not to do matches up. Two people can both enjoy bowling, or cycling, or playing cards, but if one wants to do it every waking moment and the other is a once a week kind of player, it’s not a match.
We like to watch the same movies, we like the same restaurants. When we travel, we agree on destinations and what sights we want see when there.
In the bigger picture, we share the same values and goals in life. But, perhaps most important of all, because we are not clones of one another, we respect and support our differences. I hate to use the worn out cliché, but it is true that he is my best friend. He has my back, always.
Like we said when we made it official, for better or worse. And believe me we have had our share of worse. Not just the misfortunes we have no control over, like his health, but the kind of bad that we create ourselves through our own human failings. We have faced off with each others’ ugliness and when the dust settled, we were still standing – side by side. We know things about each other that nobody else in this world knows.
Which brings me to the most important reason he is my best friend; I trust him. Not just to keep my secrets – I trust him with every aspect of my life. So though we’ve only been married for ten years, though we were both married before and know that there can be many loves in one lifetime, I know that with this man I beat the odds and found my soul mate.
It’s uncanny how many times our paths crossed before our eyes (windows to the soul) finally connected. We grew up just four blocks away from each other. We attended the same grade school, though he was ahead of me. We discovered (after finally meeting), that we had in fact attended many of the same celebrations – weddings, birthday parties. We once even sat at the same banquet table completely unaware that of the others’ presence.
In three short days from now, if my life is to continue without him, I have no idea where the path will lead me. His absence will cause tremendous changes, not the least of which revolves around financial security. I quit my job four years ago to spend more of the time left to us with him. In retrospect it was a bad choice, but one I will never regret.
I have put myself in a donut hole. Our income has been his SSDI. My small contribution from creative pursuits amounts to fun money – an annual vacation, a new sofa, maybe a regular car payment. A long, long shot from a living wage.
Because of our age difference I am not yet eligible to receive survivor’s benefits if he dies. It’s right and logical; if I were at least sixty I would be close enough to retirement age that good old Uncle Sam would give me a buy on this one. As it stands, I have five years to go before qualifying for early retirement, more than twelve before I reach my own full retirement age of 68-plus.
Knowing this I spent some of the past four years improving my job skills and earning a degree. Knowing this I have also put my toe in the water of re-employment, sending out resumes and applications for openings in my field. I have not advanced to even one interview.
Scary. Very, very scary. Whether it is the economy, the dismal job market or my age working against me, I am standing on the precipice of being hurled over the cliff into poverty.
My step daughter and a friend have both experienced similar misfortunes in the past year, each losing their husbands to cancer. Each of these women were forced to make the choice of being full time care-giver to their husband at the expense of their job, the expense of their financial security, the expense of having their own health care insurance to fall back on. Each of these women were literally forced by their employers to choose between their jobs or caring for their dying husbands.
It seems unfair. It seems heartless. It seems we are forced to choose between our own best interests and what is best for our husbands and right by our marriage vows to stand by them especially in sickness.
I made a bad choice for my future, but the only choice I could live with. Anything beyond that is uncertain.