Looking back on it from this point, it doesn’t seem as heroic as it did then.
That was back in June, when I was in Week 2 of a six-week post-surgery recuperation. Not mine; it was my wife, Ethel, who was movement-limited: no weight allowed on her right leg after the successful tendon repair on the hip.
While she rested, I cooked, cleaned, shopped, changed bedding, did laundry — in a Tribune Viewpoint I listed most of what nominally goes into being a caregiver, a word that carries nowhere near the weight of the tasks.
I wrote back then of the lessons learned in two weeks and said I wasn’t sure I could do the full six. It turned out to be 12, and more lessons have come.
The work isn’t noble. There’s just a lot of doing, getting it done, going on to do the next one — whether it’s clearing off the bowls and cutlery used to prepare the food and then laying out the dinnerware needed to eat it and then putting that stuff into the dishwasher, the margarine back in the refrigerator and the extras in covered plastic bowls. Check the floor, does it need the mop? And meanwhile, wondering, is she in pain and not telling me? Does she want tea? And is she waiting for me to finish the tasks that are never finished?
Those who have done this work, whether for the newborn in a crib or the grandparent in the recliner, know how it is and what it is. None would call it noble. Dutiful, maybe.
That’s what I found it to be. It’s what people do who love each other, no matter the age, gender, prior experience, physical ability, state of mind or weariness of body.
And there’s something else: Doing it put a value line on being married. It deepened my sense of what being married to this woman is. The substance of 60 years together took on a volume, or perhaps showed itself in a way I hadn’t seen or really understood. The number — 60 — draws comments, usually praise, but 60 is just the surface, a number that tells us how many years we’ve been together. (Aside: Normally we lead active individual lives, and, in this two months we have been actively together more than at any time since our 1954 wedding trip.)
Doing what it took to care for her isn’t heroic, it’s what long-married people do.
That raised the question in my mind: Do people in easy-in, easy-out coupling situations have that kind of “doing?” Do live-in, key-exchange arrangements offer the depth of doing for the other person that marriage — our marriage, one marriage — carries with the words “I do”?
We’re in Week 11 now, my duties are far less as her strength takes hold. Next week I’ll be off with a pal for our annual four-day Yosemite backpack trip. Normalcy returns, but it’s a newly aware normal.