A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t look at strangers in the street and wonder, ‘What are you all about? Anything could have happened to you. You could have had a really difficult life for all I know’. I can picture myself as a young boy with thoughts like that racing round my head and these musings have become even more acute in recent months.
These days I often look at people and ponder whether they can imagine what’s happened in my life from the expression on my face or the bags around my dark and heavy eyes. I look back at them and wonder if, by any chance, they are in the same sad boat.
Nowadays, however, I mostly find myself gawping at old people in the street. It feels likely that they too have felt pain. Age suggests that it’s more probable that they have lost and grieved. Their faces may have dropped not only from the inevitable decrease in natural collagen in their skin and bone density in their skulls but also from the emotions and traumas that have touched their lives.
But then I look at the old people who have apparently lived the dream. They have beaten the statistics of separation, death and divorce and grown old together. They still hold hands in the street and they tell people at the bus shelter that they’ve been married for 50 years, when nobody even asked.
It’s the ultimate measure of relationship success. To me, if they have managed to be mostly happy for all that time, it’s the ultimate measure of success in life. Not necessarily the whole marriage thing and not necessarily the whole boy girl thing either, just maintaining happy relationships that last a lifetime.
But then I can’t help but wonder if these lifers even appreciate what they have. If Joni Mitchell was right and you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone (see Janet Jackson if you’re young and have no idea who the hippy with the guitar is), then do they even know what they’ve got? Am I wrong to look at them and assume that they’ve had it tough just because of their age? Perhaps the lines are all from laughter. Perhaps they haven’t had chance to know what they’ve got because it hasn’t yet gone.
And so then I wonder if they’ve allowed themselves to be truly happy and fulfilled in life. They’ve done it, they’ve grown old together, they’re still holding hands. But is it enough? Without loss have they learned to appreciate what they have? Or do they still pine for more? Does the goal of togetherness change shape when they have had so many years together to take it for granted? And if it does, then what does success and happiness then become? A cruise? A place in the sun? More possessions? More grandchildren?
I suppose it’s a symptom of our age to always want more, perhaps it’s even human nature. But lying here young and already alone, I realise that I’d shed all of the material trappings of financial success and live under that bus shelter with my wife if I were able to tell people, who hadn’t even asked, that we’d been happily married for 50 years.