As I look back over this past year and the final days with my husband, I have a new appreciation for the phrase “Golden Years.” I think I’ve always thought one’s golden years were more about financial security and being free to come and go, relax, travel, read, volunteer, etc. Yet, after this weekend I am sensing a very new way of understanding “our golden years”. This weekend, dear friends, currently living and working in Cambodia, stopped to visit while on their furlough home. Such a bittersweet visit without my husband’s presence. His absence filled the house. Everything we did, said, thought, or shared seemed framed by his love and pride for this young couple whom he’d mentored through the years.
I woke up this morning with the phrase “golden years” front and center. How can these be golden when I am still tiptoeing past grief and heartbreak into my new reality? I can recall many times when he’d question whether “our golden years” were really a good description for growing old. How golden was retirement when his health issues kept us tied down, unable to do many of the things we’d talked about when we were young?. Our problem, I’m realizing, was viewing “golden years” as if that referred to financial and physical comfort: an absence of pain, discomfort, anxiety, and concern, but most especially, financial security and the ease with which we’ve come to define the good life. While being financially secure definitely is a positive and eliminates a lot of worry, it is only one part of what I’ve come to understand as a golden life, for a golden life is a life filled with love.
Looking back on those precious five months when he was home on hospice and our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors were coming and going, supporting, helping, and just loving us, I can see how the fruits of a life spent caring about and doing for others is coming back to us in many ways. Our children’s willingness to put their work and personal needs aside to come and help care for their father, their presence, their caring and sharing made his last days some of the best times in our 62 years together. His final days, and now even in the aftermath of his death when I am struggling to pick up the pieces of my years with him, are indeed golden for they are so filled with love. Our past has come back to haunt us in lovely and life affirming ways.
Much of what made this weekend visit so very special was seeing the cumulation of years of relationship. We’ve watched this young couple grow and become. We participated in their journey. We assisted when needed, nudged, affirmed, encouraged, suggested as needed. Now the fruits of our love laced interactions and investment in each other is bearing good fruit. It can be so hard to wait for time to work its subtle magic, especially when things are difficult. Those addiction laced years were hell. Yet lasting change takes time. A lot of time. We all have to grow into ourselves no matter how easy or difficult our journey through life. It’s our impatience, our expectations that tend to get in our way, short circuiting our growth and potential, making us short tempted and discouraged. Yet time has this way of healing, of allowing for positive growth and understanding.
One of the great joys of being at this end of parenthood is being able to look back at the ways our children have grown into their adult selves. It wasn’t easy watching them struggle, fail, recoup, fall down and get up again. There were times we despaired, feared for them, even felt betrayed. There were incidents that were difficult to accept, let alone forgive. Yet, taking to heart 1 Cor. 13, we did our best to trust in God to bring joy out of sorrow, faith out of failure, and to accept them for who they were, not who we wanted them to be. We learned through trial and error the truth of Cor. 13’s, “Love is patient and kind, it is not jealous or conceited or proud. Love is not ill mannered or selfish or irritable. Love is slow to anger and does not keep a record of wrongs . It is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up.”