Reading the Sunday Times this weekend, I was moved by, and screen-snapped, the image above, where Alice was one of the women who participated in an exercise of remembrance from the wearing of a garment that belonged to a partner who they were no longer living with.
It made me think about the words we use to describe our lives and wonder how significant hind-sight is in romanticising the day-to-day grind of dealing with illness and disability over decades of living life.
Although her lifestyle was that of a different time, I’m sure Alice and her husband struggled as we all do with the difficulties of the moments, the days, months and, yes, years when hard times seem overwhelming and endless – and, it’s not just illness and disability that might be the cause of this.
And, how romantic her remembrances sound. I was laughing with D at the idea that either of us would describe our life together as ‘beautiful’ or our personalities as ‘unchanged’ by our experience of decades-long illness and disability but, of course, we have found unexpected qualities both to admire, and not, in each other as we have struggled to manage the circumstances of individual adversity.
I’d like to believe that, like Alice, nearing the end of life, either one of us will be able to look back and feel the beauty and warmth of our – mine and D’s – shared life were, over-arcingly, an experience of joy and love despite the trials and tribulations along the way. Right now, I am not entirely convinced this will be so but I can hope …
We had a beautiful marriage despite his illness. He was in his fifties, and we had been married for 15 years when he became paralysed from the waist down. Life went on. Provided it wasn’t raining, we went to dinner parties. Every summer, we spent six weeks in our summer house near Texas, where my family were from, and then we would visit our three children. We still had cocktail hour every evening. My husband was in the advertising business, extremely successful, and a wonderful man. His personality never changed. It was only when the doctors said he should leave work that he started becoming depressed. I quickly decided he needed to go back to work and we adjusted everything.
He died following a routine operation. I was with him. I spent every minute with him, except when my children made me sleep. Putting the sweater [the chosen garment] on was hard – it still smells of him. I knew the minute I saw it that I was going to cry. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. We were married 45 years and I still think about him every day. I’ll always love him. He was the love of my life.