Thursday, March 03, 2011
Old love: Romance never dies
This week on the Love Project we're talking about Celebrating Age so I want to tell you a story about the oldest man I ever had a "romantic relationship" with. His name was Guy (pronounced "Gee" with a hard 'G') Goyer.
I met Guy in 1999 at Boulder Manor Nursing Home. I was still married at the time, about to turn 40, busy with 3 kids and getting ready to run my first marathon. I volunteered through my church to help bring the Mass to Boulder Manor on Sundays.
If you ever want to feel young, spend some time in a nursing home. Compared to people in there, you will be a regular spring chicken even if you're 80! As long as you're healthy, you will feel a whole lot younger than the people there, regardless of your biological age. Yes... most people there were very old, very sick, and very... confused. It is not the kind of thing that makes you look forward to getting old... it's downright scary. At first.
But, once you go regularly, like any community, you start to get to know who's who. You start to figure out who will talk gibberish, who will be constantly worried about being near a bathroom, who is shy and who is spunky.
Guy was a spunky one. I remember the first time we met. He came into the room where we held Mass with his motorized wheelchair, oxygen, and sporting a debonair beret. He asked me my name and when I told him it was "Yvette" he was very excited. "Are you French?" he asked. "My mother is part French Canadian and loves French names," I told him. He was from Quebec and he wanted to talk (or should I say flirt!) more. A regular lady's man, despite the very advanced age. I sat next to him during the service and we talked more afterwards about our families and backgrounds.
After that, Guy was my new best friend at Boulder Manor. He always parked his wheelchair next to me, and held out his ever-shaking hand for me to hold during the "Our Father." He was always ready with a smile and told me the news of the day or teased me in some way. One day he asked if I could come back to his room to visit and he showed me his photos and mementos in his small semi-private room. This wasn't creepy or scary at all. He didn't act disrespectful or in any way like a "dirty old man"... more like a romantic gentleman who wanted to "court" me with old-fashioned charm. So, I started visiting for 30 minutes or so after Mass each week.
He asked me for my address once, which I thought was odd. Why would he need that? But that week I received some poetry in the mail from him. It was very hard to read. Guy's hands shook so badly that the handwriting was practically indecipherable... but in those squiggles I saw a romantic soul and it touched my heart, bringing tears to my eyes.
I knew Guy wanted me to visit him more often, but I was busy, and, honestly, I was a little worried that he was becoming too attached to me. Obviously, he knew I was married and that there would be no... um... physical intimacy of any kind... But he was lonely. He was this beautiful man with love to give and just wanted someone to give it to.
I missed the last Sunday I would have spent with Guy because I was in San Diego running that marathon. The next Sunday when I returned, anxious to tell him all about it, I heard that he'd died. Whatever service they'd had was over. I didn't know any of his family or friends to send condolences to. I had no one to grieve with. I wanted so much to see him again. I wanted to tell him something I'd never told him... That I loved him.
I know this love is different from what we all want. We want a partner, not a nurse. We want someone who thinks we're sexy and desirable, not someone who sees us as old and sick. But inside that old person is a heart and mind who still wants to love and be loved. I wish I had given that to Guy.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately... Can we continue to love people even when we are old, sick, and dying? Will they accept it and love us back? Many won't. I know this. I didn't even make the time for Guy... I was worried he would become dependent on me. I had other people in my life. Did I hurt him? I hate to think about it, but I know I may have.
By giving love to others when we don't get it back, will we set ourself up for rejection? Will we just feel more lonely and hurt? I don't know. But I do know that Guy didn't let age or sickness keep him from giving love. His poems taught me that we're never too old for romance and love... (and who needs sex when you're 90, anyway?)