I was sitting in the doctor’s surgery yesterday, reading a battered WHO magazine that was actually relatively recent, when an old man and his walking stick took a seat nearby. The nurse came out to have a chat with him. She asked, ‘where’s the funeral?’ They talked about how, towards the end, she was so tired, how it was time. He didn’t seem to be asking for any sympathy, didn’t seem to need it. He spoke simply, answered questions. It had been, it seemed, a long time coming and now here he was, on his own and she was gone. He said, ‘did you know we had been married 65 years?’
I couldn’t concentrate on my WHO magazine after that. 65 years is a long time. Some of us won’t live for 65 years, let alone spend it with one person. 65 years is privilege, luck and hard work. Will any of my friends be married for 65 years? Of my immediate circle, none of us will, unless one of us elopes tomorrow and then both parties live until they’re 92. I wondered how many times this man and his wife had moved house, if they ever had at all. If they had had children, grandchildren and if so, how many. What they had worked as, where they holidayed. I wondered what they thought of change, how they talked about it as years ticked by, as so much changed here, around the world.
Hilda, my Nana’s best friend, recently lost her husband. They were married for 60 years. She looked after him right up to the very end, taking his meals to the hospice everyday and feeding him. Even though he didn’t know it was her at times, even though he didn’t know who anyone was anymore. She saw him everyday, she fed him everyday, right up until the last day. I know how many kids they had together – five. One died at 17 and his picture still hangs in their home. Two are special needs and Hilda, at 85, looks after them as she has done their whole lives. I know where they lived – in the same area my Nana grew up, in the same area my Mum did, in the same area I did. Hilda is surrounded by the chaos of a big, sprawling family tree and many great grandchildren . She has strung up every single card she received after John’s funeral around her living room. She is energetic and practical and takes heart in the fact John no longer feels pain and she’ll see him again. In the meantime, she has things to do. She never stops doing.
We’ve all started our 65 years, in fact, we’re all in the middle of it. Some of us may be lucky enough, strong enough to go old and grey with the one they’re with, some of us won’t. Some of us won’t want to. Some of us will know more loss, more sorrow than others. Some of us will never move again, others won’t stop. The world is a smaller, busier place than it has ever been before and we’re all part of it. All of us have time, some not as much as others. So what have you done? What will you do?
What do you want to do?