Anne Roiphe, author of 15 books including Up the Sandbox and Fruitful, asks in her moving memoir, Epilogue: "If life is a cabaret shouldn't there always be another act, at least until there isn't?" But having been "coupled" for almost 40 years, when her husband, Herman, unexpectedly collapses and dies in the lobby of their New York City apartment building, she is thrust into her new role as widow, i.e., a single woman without a man, and finds it daunting.
Simple things, like coming home from an evening out and opening her own door become poignant reminders that she is flying solo; her husband had always been the one to struggle with the key, unlock the door, swing it open.
Listening to her friends planning trips to exotic places, she withdraws at first. "I do not want to travel without H. I do not want to go out in the world alone." She aches for his physical presence, longs for his touch.
Roiphe frankly admits she is lonely without her mate, but knows he would want her to rekindle her joy in living. Bravely, she ultimately proclaims, "I will not let grief become my constant companion. I will refuse its offer to accompany me to the corner, to the night, to the next month." Her daughters place a singles ad for her in a literary journal: "Widowed novelist, near seventy, ex-Park Avenue girl, ex-beatnik, ex-many other things" and as she treads into new territory—Internet dating, meeting new men—she slowly regains her strength, her sense of self, her place on stage without her leading man.
In sickness and in health
Like Roiphe, Alix Kates Shulman (Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen) experienced the joy of a fulfilling marriage to an intelligent, caring man. Her book To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed is as much a tender portrait of her husband, Scott, both before and after his injury, and her marriage to him, as it is a guide to embracing fate—to love what is.
Like a script from a Hollywood movie, when she is only 17, Shulman has a sweet summer romance with Scott, but life's little subterfuges part them for 34 years, until he calls out of the blue and they reconnect in 1984. When she meets him again, the intervening decades have only improved him in her eyes. He's "a combination of the shy athletic youth I knew and this debonair, patrician-looking man of 55. The old attraction sparked into flames as he took one decisive step toward me." (Talk about romantic!) Two decades of Manhattan happiness later they are off to their remote summer place in Maine where Scott plans to work on his sculptures and Shulman to polish her latest novel-in-progress.
But their idyllic world is shattered when Scott, now 75, falls 10 feet from their sleeping loft in the dead of night. Miraculously, he survives, but as he slowly heals, it becomes apparent that the most insidious of his injuries are those to his brain, his memory.
Shulman faces a harrowing decision—should she devote much of what time she has left in this life to his recovery (which may be an exercise in wishful thinking), or place him in a nursing home.
With incredible bravado, fortitude and honesty about the enormous difficulties, Shulman takes on the role of caregiver. "Everything is a struggle," she writes, and as he improves, "now that his energy is increased, he demands my constant and unwavering attention." Shulman suffers loss, but she gains much, too. Their enduring love for each other shines through these pages, reminding us that while "Loss" is a sad song, it can really help to know the flip side by heart.