Tuesday, June 25, 2013
“I’ve never done this before,” Susan says anxiously. “But I think my husband will divorce me if I don’t get myself together. Not really, after 40 years of marriage he’s not likely to divorce me, but he’s certainly getting tired of me. Gosh, I’m getting tired of me. I’m sorry, I realize I’m rambling and you don’t even know what I’m talking about.”
“That’s fine,” I say reassuringly to this attractive, well groomed woman who I guess to be in her sixties. “You can tell your story in whatever way feels best to you.”
“Well, we’re originally from Philadelphia. I taught school there, my husband was a successful businessman. We’d been coming down to Florida for several years during the winters – after I retired from teaching – but then two years ago my husband decided he wanted to move down here permanently. I couldn’t believe it! He was willing to leave our children, our grandchildren and our beautiful home, to come to this place! I don’t know. It’s never appealed to me that much. Too plastic. I hope I’m not offending you.”
I am flooded with more thoughts and feelings than Susan could ever know. I have heard variations of this story countless times since moving to south Florida 20 years ago. Almost invariably the man of the couple wants to move and the woman doesn’t. Almost invariably the husband loves it and has adjusted very well, while the wife continues to long for home.
Those of you who have read my book, Love and Loss, will also know that it is my story, with the added complication of my husband’s health problems pushing us towards a warmer climate. Still, it was definitely not a decision I came to easily. For four consecutive winters I flew weekly between Ann Arbor, Michigan and Key Largo, Florida, continuing to maintain my full-time practice in Ann Arbor. I obsessed and obsessed until my husband’s heart attack when I realized I didn’t want to be separated from him more than absolutely necessary. And so we moved. And I started my practice over in Boca Raton.
Susan continues. “My husband says that it’s been over a year already, that we’ve already gone back several times to visit the children and that my daughter and her family have come to visit us. He wants me to stop moping around. He wants me to start enjoying my retirement, to get out there and make friends. But all the women do here is play cards or golf and I don’t do either. But he’s right, I know I should start making a life for myself here, get involved in politics, volunteer work, something! But I’m not motivated. I feel too sad.”
As Susan speaks I feel myself going back to the time shortly after my move. It was awful. I longed for the friends, patients, and, most especially, my home on the lake that I had left behind. I felt as though I had a wall around me, protecting me from the intensity of the losses, but also disconnecting me from being fully involved in my present life. I had the advantage of my work and a network of professional colleagues, but the wall limited my ability to take in the good that existed around me.
“Tell me about your home in Philadelphia,” I say to Susan.
Tears immediately run down her cheeks. Speaking is difficult. “It was perfect. My son built it for us. He’s an architect. He built it exactly as we wanted: wood floors, cathedral ceilings, glass everywhere. There were woods all around us. It was like living in the trees, like a tree house.”
I am back in my own pain, thinking about the house that my husband built for us, visualizing sitting at the breakfast table looking through the leaves of the graceful elm tree to the lake beyond.
With more empathy than Susan can ever know, I say, “You’re talking about giving up ‘home,’ Susan, giving up a place of peace and safety. That’s a tremendous loss. It’s not something that can easily be forgotten. Or replaced.”
“Oh!” she exclaims. “You understand! And you don’t think I’m being foolish. That’s such a relief. Now I can cry. I can cry without feeling silly.”
I sit with Susan as she cries, fighting back my own tears.