…but it's better than the alternative.
At least that’s what they say. I’m not sure who they are. They probably have never been widowed and had to live with the idea of getting old without our spouses, when we hadn’t planned on it… and they are definitely not being specific enough. Who wants to live a long life if you’re sick and decrepit? I’m not afraid of dying, and this is coming from personal faith, not hopelessness; I’m more afraid of losing people I love. Being left behind is so much harder, at least for me, than dying…but getting old? Suffering all the ailments and breakdowns of the physical body? I’m just at the stage of life when this reality is crashing down on me. I will never be young again…I will always and forever just be older, and then, just old. And it’s so ever much worse both doing it without Mike, and remembering all the difficulty he had with this.
Mike loved life like no one I ever knew, though I also know Mike was not afraid of death either - he shared my faith in a hereafter. But what he was afraid of was being sick and decrepit while he was here. He hated doctors and hospitals and taking drugs and being attached to tubes and wires. He hated seeing his hair turn gray and fall out of his head. He hated all the pain in his joints and inability to be as active as he wanted.
When he died, of a heart attack in his sleep at age 59, I was so shocked and angry…it has taken me a very long time to forgive him. But I can say that I have now. Totally forgiven him. Most people who knew him never knew how many times we went to the hospital, and how much he hated it; how many problems he really had, and how bad it really had gotten for him. Looking back, I mentally slap myself upside the head that I wasn’t more prepared for the possibility of his death. I just believed he was a true superhero and wouldn’t die on me. It simply never entered my brain. Silly, right? But it should have.
When I met him, Mike was 45, and I was 31. And he had already done quite a bit of damage to his body, and his heart. He was overweight, and never really lost it, despite some yo-yo dieting. It was pretty much the one and only thing we ever fought about. His uncontrollable addiction to food. He could fast; he could not eat anything but kale juice for three months, but could not find a way to eat healthy and minimally. I remember one time, during his last year of life, I cooked a piece of fish and some vegetables for us and put the plate in front of him. He looked up at me and said something like, is that it? Is that all I get? And I said yes, that’s a perfectly healthy meal, it’s all you need. He literally threw his fork down on the table and stomped his foot like a little kid, frowning up at me. I’m sure he escaped later in the week to sneak a cheeseburger. Because that was his MO. When he died, I found fast food and candy wrappers stuffed under the seat of his truck. It broke my heart.
So Mike was an enigma, and he knew it. He hated being sick and didn’t want to go to doctors or hospitals, but he also refused, for the most part, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, at least for the years I was married to him. When he was younger he was the epitome of health and fitness, as a stuntman, and it’s why I was so angry at him for letting himself go like that. When I got him, he might have been more spiritually enlightened, but he was also more physically challenged. I got the zen Mike, not the fit Mike. A happy Buddha-like creature who lived life on his own terms - but then died on them too.
Fast forward to today. My memories of Mike and how he was with food and weight weigh heavily on me, no pun intended. Because I have found it to be so much harder to stay fit at the age I find myself. My body is changing in mid life, and it really, truly sucks. When he died, I was just about to turn 45, the age he was when we met, and had yet to face any of this, but then it started happening almost right away. I partly blame the changing chemical balances in my body at my age, and partly the grief. Honestly, those two things happening at the same time really have been wreaking havoc on me. I kind of wonder at the theory, as some of my counseling has suggested, that the shock of losing Mike actually brought on the changes more rapidly.
It didn’t help that I kind of gave up for awhile after he died, I will admit; the wine and food choices for a long time were based less on health and more on a I don’t care my husband is dead I just want to try to drown my sorrows or enjoy these enchiladas because who knows how long I have either kind of way. That is, of course, after that first week when I wasn’t interested in eating much at all (though the wine appeared right away). Grief definitely can do that, I think. Some people stop drinking or eating, some people lose weight; others pile it on, but either way, for many of us, our daily habits change when we’re suddenly missing our life partner. And, I suspect, our physiology might change as well when we experience a trauma like that. It sure seems to have in my case.
So now, words like metabolism, hormones and thyroid are a part of my daily lexicon. You know those people who say, you better get fit now, because it will be impossible to lose the weight when you’re older? I curse those people, for cursing me. No one ever better say that to me ever again. I don’t need to hear it and it doesn’t help. I’m telling you it sucks to be facing all this without Mike around to understand and support me. He would have really gotten it.
I recently got myself one of those fitness bracelets that tells you how many steps you’ve taken, calories you’ve burned, and how you slept. I am loving this thing. Right now, it’s mere presence on my wrist is making me feel more accountable. I’d better step up my program, because this thing is watching. It’s paired with my smart phone, and the first time my phone rang and the bracelet buzzed my wrist I just about jumped out of my chair. Seriously it felt like I was being shocked. It’s kinda crazy. I started thinking it’s too bad this thing can’t buzz me in a more Pavlovian fashion, say, if I try and eat a bag of chips, or a piece of pizza - or pour myself a glass of wine. Now that would be really something. (And how it seems to be able to precisely determine when I am sleeping and when I’m awake reminds me of some creepy mean version of Santa Claus…he knows, but there will be no gifts…)
I know that ultimately no one can do this for me, not even a bracelet, smart as it may claim to be. I’m doing a cleanse, adding more exercise to my daily regimen, and removing even more things from my diet. It sucks because I already make pretty good choices, at least most of the time, and a lot of that is because of what I learned about nutrition while I was married to Mike. I don’t have a food addiction. I never, ever eat fast food or drink soda. I really do eat a lot of broccoli. I don’t have a sweet tooth. I was already forcing myself through almost daily yoga routines that made my muscles sore. I was already trying to cut back on bread and carbs, including my trusty friend Mr. Wine as well as the occasional slice. I was even cutting back on evenings out with my musician boyfriend (who is supportive of me in this, by the way, which does help). I want to say I was already denying myself and it wasn’t working. But I probably wasn’t denying myself enough.
So I am stepping it up. I am stepping it up because Mike can’t any longer; I am stepping it up in memory of him, and for my own future to be more likely to be free of hospitals and tubes and wires. And maybe, so my life can be longer than 59 years, without the decrepitude.
Because more than anything I don’t want to be decrepit. I share that fear of Mike’s, and I also find I don’t really blame him for sneaking out the back door when his body was starting to become just that, even if it was his own fault. But I’m not going to just let myself go, like he did. For whatever time I have left on this earth, I want to be as fit and able as I can be. I need to find a way to be ok with the idea of getting older, and I need to find a lifestyle that will help me maintain my health. So for a while, I’m setting down the wine glass, and pushing aside the pizza. It sucks. But the alternative really is worse.