I wasn’t sure whether — or how — I would write about this today. I read my past posts about losing Robert, and my past posts about loving Robert. I reread the little book he wrote just before he died: the last thoughts he wanted to share.
Then when I started reading some of the cards and letters he wrote me, I decided I’d let Robert speak for himself. I share some of these to show you that it’s never too late to find your great love, and maybe we shouldn’t settle for anything less.
If your beloved is with you still, please set aside the petty things that annoy you, solve the big issues as best you can, communicate your needs in an honest and loving way, and please let your loved one know your gratitude and appreciation. Surprise your loved one with sweet messages. Make every day together count.
And if you’ve lost your loved one, know that it does get better year by year, especially if you stay active and let people get close to you. It’s all too easy to close down and shut people out. But don’t! Find ways to live with joy and clarity. Keep learning. Use your skills and knowledge to help others.
|Front of postcard|
One the first anniversary of Robert’s death, a grief counselor suggested that I do one thing that honors my memory of Robert, one thing that I’ve never done before, and one thing that helps other people. That turned out to be good advice, not just at year one, but at every anniversary, birthday, and holiday — those days when the pain can be especially sharp.
Moving forward, I’ve learned, doesn’t mean that we’ve left our loved one behind — it means we take with us what we shared, what we learned, and above all, that we know how to love and live fully. Eventually we find that the tears diminish as laughter grows, and when our hearts open, joy can enter.
|Back of postcard|
I welcome your comments.
I never knew Robert as the dashing 50-year-old dancer in the photo — he was 64 when we met (still dashing and still a dancer!), and I was 57. Looking back, we were youngsters. I’m now 71; he would have been 78. How I wish we could have grown old together.
In case you’re new to our story, Robert and I had exactly seven years together — first kiss to last kiss — before we lost him to cancer. Our love story catapulted me into this world I inhabit now, the world of writing and speaking about senior sex. This August, I will have had as many years without him as with him.
Today I bought a new car. I sold Robert’s 2006 Volvo, which I had been driving since he died. It felt like one more letting-go to sell his car. A few months ago, my 16-year-old cat Amo died. Robert had never liked a cat before, let alone loved one. He loved Amo.
I know that my memories of Robert won’t fade just because my cat died and his car is gone, but it feels like some pages of our time together have been ripped out, or maybe I’m living chapters of a new book that doesn’t include him. I don’t know if I’m making sense, or even if it’s a good idea to write this for my public blog instead of my private journal — perhaps you’ll tell me.
And yet, much as I still ache to hold my sweet Robert, to kiss his warm lips and hear his loving voice, I’m never truly without him. He’s here in my house with his art adorning my walls. He sends me bird chirps and flowers and the occasional salamander. He rustles the trees and smiles at me on the dance floor. He tells me how proud he is when I finish a new book — a book he’ll never get to read.
|Brian Rea for The New York Times|
“How we write about love depends on how old we are,” observes Daniel Jones in his Modern Love column in The New York Times, Feb. 5, 2015. He explains:
The young overwhelmingly write with a mixture of anxiety and hope. Their stories ask: What is it going to be for me?
Those in midlife are more often driven to their keyboards by feelings of malaise and disillusionment. Their stories ask: Is this really what it is for me?
And older people almost always write from a place of appreciation, regardless of how difficult things may be. Their message: All things considered, I feel pretty lucky.
This last point hit home with me. As a sex educator, I hear people’s problems all the time. But I also hear the good parts — the humor and joy and sweetness of what happens when we love at our age. Those of us who are lucky enough to have found love at this time of our lives are radiant with joy telling our love stories — even if that joy is tempered with the sadness of loss.
I know I feel that way. On this Valentine’s Day, I’m remembering how my dear Robert made Feb. 14 a true celebration of love for seven years with gifts, cards, whispered endearments, languid lovemaking, and lots of laughter.
As sad as I am that I will never hold Robert again on Valentine’s Day or any other day, that feeling has nowhere near the power of the joy I feel that this love was in my life. It feels like a miracle that we ever found each at all, let alone so late in life.
|Joan and Robert 2001|
What if he had never wandered into my line dance class that eventful night? We might never have met, never have crossed paths.
What if I hadn’t been assertive (aggressive?) about making the first moves? He was content to see me as his dance teacher (which in itself is bizarre, since he had formal training as a dancer since the age of two, and I had no formal training at all), and he thought that was an uncrossable boundary.
What if I hadn’t dared to proposition him? (You didn’t know that part of our story? Read it in Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty!)
What if we had never realized one of the most important themes of our love story: that the ways we were the most different were the ways we most wanted to grow.
You see, at first, we saw our personality clashes and independence as proof that we were too different to ever come together as a couple — it would be too much work, too many compromises, and besides, we were satisfied with the way we were, thank you very much.
|Robert and Joan 2006|
But over the few years we had together, this attitude changed. The closer we got, the more we came to respect our differences — even laugh about them — and the less we felt we needed to resist change. In fact, we discovered that compromise led to change in directions we each wanted to grow.
Once we saw our differences as an opportunity to grow in ways that would be as good for us individually as they were good for us as a couple, we stopped resisting, reframed what we were willing to do for each other, and we blossomed together and apart.
What did you learn about love and about yourself in later life? I hope you’ll share your experiences.
|Joan & Robert line dancing, 2001|
Thirteen years ago today, I kissed Robert for the first time.
Six years ago today, I kissed Robert for the last time.
Sometimes I think that he chose to die on the anniversary of our first kiss, so that I could soften the memory of his death with the memory of our first kiss. But as vivid as that first kiss is is my mind, as clearly as I still feel the magic of the moonlight on the first night we dared to touch, these memories don’t soften the loss — or the harshness of remembering how this gentle, loving, good man suffered from a painful cancer.
On this anniversary, I keep writing sentences and deleting them. I could write in my journal instead, and every word would stay.
|Robert’s last birthday, 2007|
But I’m not just writing for myself here — I’m writing for you, my community of readers, and many of you have suffered your own losses, many fresher than mine. Some of you are with the person whom you love, and you can’t imagine how you could survive losing your beloved. Others have been alone for a very long time. Some of you are losing someone now.
So what would be of use and of interest to you?
Here are some things that I’ve learned over the six years:
1. It does get better with time. Everyone told me that, and frankly, I couldn’t imagine it during the first years. My heart and gut had been sliced into pieces, the elephant kept stomping on my chest, and the most important person in my world was gone. How could this possibly get better? But it did.
2. We are remarkably resilient. We survive. We learn to laugh again. We feel the life force within us filling us with possibility.
3. We gradually find ourselves able to connect with new people. Many of us learn to love again. No, I haven’t fallen in love again, but believe it or not, I feel more open to that possibility than I ever would have predicted. I am able to connect with men now, and that feels good.
4. We can find our beloved in our world if we look and listen. Sometimes I practice being really quiet and watching nature around me. Then a bird swoops close, alights on a branch, and sings. I like to imagine that Robert sent me that bird.Or that iris that I spot on one of my walks that looks like the one in the kimono painting he created for me for one birthday.
5. We carry within us the best of the person whom we loved. I’m not religious, and I don’t know whether there’s an afterlife. But I do believe that the special lessons we learned from our beloved, the ways we grew that would not have happened without this person, these are the ways that our beloved continues to live. And when we pass those lessons on to someone else, this is immortality.
If you lost a loved one, I invite you to share what you’ve learned since that loss that might help others.
(If you haven’t read Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty — my first senior sex book which narrates our spicy love story, learn more here.)