He celebrated his 78th birthday yesterday. His hair once full and brown is now gray and sparse. A gait once quick and easy is now cautious and slower. And sadly a mind that once solved problems instantly and creatively now struggles to do the same.
I am talking about the most important person in my life, my husband, Bill. Age has crept up prematurely and robbed Bill. But as my brother said to me at Christmas time, “Mary, Bill is still Bill. He is loving and kind and sensitive.
“His heart is filled with compassion and he is the most giving person I know. That has not changed.” How lucky I am to have shared life with such a person.
Bill’s health problems took months to diagnose. As we struggled to determine just what was going on, we were both saddened. We felt afraid and kept trying to maintain a healthy positive attitude, grateful for all we have had in the almost 24 years of our marriage. But facing decline is tough for all of us.
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The young do not think about it. I did not think about it until I witnessed my mom’s decline and now Bill’s. But each of us is headed down that path eventually if we are blessed with a long life.
I consider those friends who have died young, as young as 14, and think how blessed we are to have so many years to dance and walk on this planet. Who can complain? And yet I also see some in their 90s mentally alert and out shoveling the sidewalks. I often wonder what secrets they hold. Is it genes that keeps them so strong and alert? Is it diet and exercise? Or all of the above?
What I have learned in my own almost 69 years is that if I had to do life over again, I would surely have developed better habits at a younger age. I would have made exercise a regular part of life when I was in my teens and 20s and kept at it every single day. I would have eaten less junk food and far more veggies and fruits.
Because those habits were not instilled in me at an early age, it has been challenging to incorporate them in adulthood. Maybe I too, will be shoveling snow at age 95 but it will be, for the most part, due to good genes.
Age is a tricky thing. We think about it a lot when we are very young. Sixteen can’t come fast enough. Then we want to be 21. Once we hit that age, we dread 30. After 30, we begin to think we are getting old. It is probably when we hit the late 60s, however, that we begin to see, perhaps for the first time, that life has played a trick on us. It aged us without our knowledge.
Time flew by and suddenly we wake up to realize that most of the chapters of this hopefully long book have come to an end.
How blessed we are to live long lives filled with love. How blessed I am to be sharing life with what I believe is the kindest and most giving man on this planet.
Happy 78th birthday, Bill.
Mary Friedel-Hunt, freelance writer, publisher (Voice of the River Valley) and a licensed clinical social worker, has been a psychotherapist for 32 years. Her column runs weekly in Faith & Values. You may contact her by writing to: P.O. Box 189, Lone Rock, WI. 53556.