In last night’s post I said I would do it.  Tonight I will keep that promise, or threat, depending on your perspective.  As I said last night, this is rated PG45 since that number exceeds the ages of our Daughter, Son and their spouses.  As Daughter-in-Law Becky once said when I was only hinting at something that could move into the forbidden area of parents intimate activity — “Too much information!!” 

Since I am old and by some measures (probably most measures) a little stodgy, there is no need to fear too much information.  In saying that, I have, of course, lost all those curiosity seekers who ended up here in hopes of finding something titillating.  I am not sure this old ticker could handle much titillation.  With that said, we old folks still have young folks living inside of us. 

I remember sitting in a movie once, I think it was one of the Grumpy Old Men movies of some years ago.  There was a scene in which Walter Matthau and Ann-Margaret kissed — right on the lips.  Everyone in the theater who was under thirty groaned audibly.  From right behind us I heard at an “Oh gross!” 

I do have to admit that the thought of kissing Walter Matthau full on the mouth is hardly appetizing.  Then again, Ann-Margaret is another story.  What the young among us probably don’t understand is that we old people think other old people are cute, sometimes downright good-looking. 

What is at issue for Caregivers and Carereceivers is how to keep romance alive when meals are often interrupted by bathroom duties and waste management is a routine activity, when arms and legs and stomachs have grown or the skin on them gathered into wrinkles.  How is it possible to get excited about one another when one is tired and annoyed by having to do everything for the other, and the other is tired and annoyed at being followed around and scolded every time there is some behavior the other one doesn’t appreciate? 

Now comes the real problem.  I have just asked the question.  How the heck am I supposed to answer it???? 

Let me start this way.  Mary Ann and I are in our mid-sixties.  When I look at her, I see the cutie whose engagement picture hangs on the wall of our bedroom.  Forty-four years has not stolen from me the feelings that drew me to her.  I would not presume to speak for her.  In fact, I might actually prefer not having her speak to this issue.  I can remember the feelings I had before we met, fell in love and married.  I remember the profound loneliness of being a young single fellow who sometimes felt deeply sad, not sure why.  Once Mary Ann entered my life, never again did those lonely, deeply sad feelings return.  While I don’t fear death, I do fear the return of those feelings, should she leave before me. 

How do Caregivers and Receivers experience romance?  First of all, we do!  Understand, romance is not just about body parts and orgasms and ejaculations.  In fact, those whose understanding of romantic love centers on the biological act of intercourse, have no hope of ever experiencing romance.  By the way, old people actually do know about the biology of conception.   Some of us have had children.  While I happen to have been a pastor at the time and am familiar with the Biblical account of the Virgin Birth, we had our children the usual way. 

I have read many emails from those who are caring for a spouse who has ceased to be the person they married.  They have only memories to draw on for those romantic feelings.  How can they find a way to express their love.   If love was just about body parts and couplings, there would only be sadness left for many. 

The marvel of it is, love, romantic love, has depth and awe and wonder that is only hinted at when people first fall in love.   My favorite movie of all time is no secret to those who know me well.  It is “The Man from Snowy River.”  I don’t know what lies deep in the recesses of my psyche that draws me to it, but I can tell you what I recoginize about it that draws me.  They are simple things.  I love the photography, the scenery.  That movie is the reason one of my dreams has been to visit Australia.  The scenes of running horses will take your breath away.  There are two central themes that draw me to it.  One is the coming of age of a young man who proved himself in spite of the odds against him.  I suppose a 5′ 6″ kid with who had Rheumatic Fever and was not at all popular might understandably enjoy that sort of theme.  The other central theme is the romance that grows between Jim and Jessica.  It is beautiful and touching even to a guy not much into chick flicks.

In the sequel, “Man from Snowy River Two,” the ending is, as with every such story.  Maybe not in so many words, but the ending is, and they lived happily ever after.  “Happily ever after” is what romance is about.  The “ever after” in happily ever after lasts through smelly socks, passing gas, spitting up babies, rebellious teenagers, unsuccessful recipes, stupid comments, throwing up, diahrrea, tragic events, bad mistakes, arguments, hurt feelings.   The love that creates and sustains a relationship after riding off into the sunset can endure waste management, food that lands on the lap and on the floor, caring for bedsores, seeing that blank look of no recognition in the eyes of the object of that love, because of the dementia, hearing harsh and unloving words from the mouth that you kissed in former years. 

That isn’ t pretend love.  It isn’t some poor substitute for the rolling and grunting of biological coupling (which, by the way, is great fun).  It is something that is in its own way, beautiful and meaningful and romantic and intimate beyond anything that could have been imagined when lips touched in that first kiss decades before. 

I will say this much that is specific and personal.  Once or twice a week, I have the job of washing and drying Mary Ann’s hair.  (The Bath Aid does it twice a week also.)  Mary Ann has great hair for which she often gets complements.  While the Parkinson’s has taken much from us, washing Mary Ann’s hair brings wonderful feelings of intimacy.  It is tactile and gentle and relaxing and warming.  Running my fingers through her hair as I dry it is my experience of “happily ever after.”   The other day, Mary Ann gave me a kiss on the neck as I was bent down pulling up the disposable underwear after using the commode.  (Too much information?)  Strangely, in a way, the Parkinson’s has brought more intimacy than it has taken away. 

I would like to think that  Jim and Jessica will grow old together — that their love will grow until they know what it is really like to live happily ever after.

Those of you who are in the throes of caring for a spouse whose chronic illness creates barriers in your relationship, I guess I would like to know what brings real romance into your lives.  How do you cope? 

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