Falling in Love in the Second Half of Life

Part 1

Many of us are living in the second half of life. My wife, Carlin, and I have been married for 43 years, which is more than half our lives. She will be 85 in July and I will be 80 in December. Our love has deepened since we were first married in 1980, but it has taken us even deeper since her slip and fall on March 20th.

            Both of us are very physically active. We do a morning series of exercises. I do a morning walk through the neighborhood and Carlin gets on her treadmill, walking forward and backwards in ways I wouldn’t even try. Well, I did try doing her backwards walking a few times and almost fell off the treadmill.

            It was an unusually warm and sunny day on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Willits, California. Following our regular meditation group, I went into my home office to talk to a counseling client on Zoom. When I got out, there was a note from Carlin that she was out for a walk. A half hour later I received a call from her on my cell phone with words no one wants to hear. “I’ve fallen. I need help. I’m near the corner of North street and Mendocino,” she told me. “Hang on, I’m on my way,” I told her, as a grabbed my car keys and ran out the door.

            I was by her side in less than two minutes. She had slipped on a wet spot on the sidewalk and was still down in a puddle of water. A woman from across the street was by her side trying to assist but was agitated and it took me a little time to calm her and access Carlin’s condition. She was clearly in pain and she couldn’t get up.

            Just then a young man came from across the street, said his name was Brian, and identified himself as an EMT and Paramedic. He was very professional and respectful. He asked Carlin if it was OK for him to touch the area on her right hip where she identified the pain. He was soon clear, as was I, that she needed to get to the ER at the local hospital as soon as possible. We could either call an ambulance and wait for their arrival or he could gently lift her into my car and I could drive her myself and get there much faster since the hospital was five minutes away.

            I got her into the ER and the nurses took over, getting her into a bed, and quickly got an X-ray that confirmed a broken hip. “I was surprised that it was broken,” the nurse told us. “You didn’t seem to be in that much pain, but it is broken, and you will need surgery as soon as possible.

            In that moment of truth our worlds changed. I went from thinking my wife fell, bruised her butt, and we’ll laugh about it as I rub on healing creams for a week to Carlin needs hip replacement surgery and flashes of media stories of a broken hip being the beginning of the end for older people.

            It took all my relaxation and meditation skills to calm my run-away anxieties and worst-case stinkin’ thinkin’ to calm myself and realize that it was much more likely that the surgery would be successful and Carlin would fully recover.

            The next few days were a whirlwind of activity—driving back and forth bringing her things she needed and medications that the doctors wanted me to bring from home. The surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, March 22nd and fortunately I knew the surgeon to be top quality and highly trained. I had consulted him a few years back when I tore ligaments in my shoulder.

            We were told she would be in surgery for a few hours, more or less, depending on how things went and whether he would need to replace just the ball of the femur or also the joint in the pelvis. The nurse said he would call me half way through and give me the progress report. I walked the hospital grounds along the trail I had helped build with a whole lot of others in our community.

The call came an hour later and I was pleasantly surprised by the report. “Things went more quickly than expected. She only needed a partial hip replacement and there was very little loss of blood. She will be a bit woozy for some time after she comes out of surgery but she should be back in her room in a few hours.” I was elated, top of the world, relieved and did a little prayer of thanks to all those who brought her through this ordeal, including her own higher power and deep spirit of healing. The doctor told us she would likely be released in a few days and we would start home care.

The crash came the next day following the surgery when I expected we could talk about what she would need coming home. But when Carlin tried to talk, she couldn’t complete a sentence and she couldn’t find simple words to say. I was terrified. How can I take care of my wife if she can’t tell me what she needs? Again fears of a future life together going downhill to the end began to overwhelm me.

Gaining control of a mind that is lost in worse-case what ifs takes discipline that was hard to apply, but I got a little help from neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor and her book, Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Life. I had watched her TED talk and enjoyed her earlier book. This one helped me engage my Character 2, which tends to focus on all the things that can go wrong in life, to reassure this brain Character that I would take his worries seriously and do everything I could to keep him safe.

The doctors and nurses reassured us. “Carlin didn’t have a stroke,” they told us. “Her speech problems are likely the result of aphasia, which is the loss of ability to understand or express speech. This is not uncommon following surgery with anesthesia medications, lower oxygen levels, and other things. It will likely clear up gradually and she should fully recover.”

I was reassured, but facing the reality of her coming home and I wanted to know when she would be back to normal. “I can’t give you a firm answer,” the doctor told me. “The brain heals when the brain heals.” Fortunately, it continues to heal and we are learning new things about life, love, resilience, and community. Often life crises can bring out the best in each other and deepen our love and connection. This is happening, big time, for Carlin and me.

I look forward to your comments. Come visit me at MenAlive.com and please subscribe to our free weekly newsletter if you like to read articles about life, love, resilience, and community.

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