Appeared in the North Shore News – March 28, 2014
Forget politics. (Oh, gladly?) Talk about life where we live it: If your mate dies before you, which is about even odds in this town of the whitehaired old, would you remarry? I pause to quote, not for the first time, G.B. Shaw’s witty remark that a second marriage is “the triumph of hope over experience.”
Moving on, I lied up in paragraph one: Families are society’s bricks and mortar, far more political than the transient goings-on and scandals in legislatures. The politics of family, marriage, children, death – right down to the misremembered memories, and the gossip of distant cousins — are the most political things on earth.
And the most intimate. Thus, like all intimacies, universal. So at a certain age, if not earlier, do Alice and Harry talk about what they’ll do if one of them shuffles off this mortal coil before the other? Often. Or so I suspect. Those who don’t, simply think about it more. They are gripped by a kind of neo-Victorian horror at the tastelessness of discussing the subject. Others find it more fascinating than curling on television.
“I could never marry anyone else,” Alice, 35 years with one husband, proclaims. Harry is reassured, or maybe not. The habit of marriage is extremely habitual, you might say. One can miss it. (And forget our society’s hugely over-reported matter of sex. No volcano is as extinct as old married sex.) If Alice is happy with one marriage, why wouldn’t she be happy with another? Why shouldn’t she be, and deservedly? Advancing age invites, demands, even pleads for, a close ally. Children may be distant, or too burdened themselves. No less a personage than former top B.C. cabinet minister Pat McGeer told me that his Aunt Ada advised him, “Old age isn’t for sissies.” Aunt Ada must have got around, because since then I’ve heard it from many others.
Anyway, Harry makes no such proclamation himself, or may lie through his clacking false teeth. He lightly fantasizes, assuming Alice’s demise and after a proper mourning period, about connecting with single women he knows, unmarried or widows, even about the attractive wives of men friends if they had the misfortune of reaching the same state of lonely availability.
One has to acknowledge human needs. Male needs, especially. Widows are famously more adaptable than widowers, and statistically live longer. Better cooking only partly responsible.
I’m not sure if the above is ponderously heavy going, or too glib. It’s no accident that there are more jokes concerning marriage and death than about a Catholic priest, a rabbi and a Protestant minister going into a bar.
The serious fact is that death, approaching or accomplished, can heighten family tensions, sharpen tooth and claw, or raise questions about, or by, faithful caregivers or late-in-the-day live-ins who become closer (and more helpful) to the departed than any relative. You know this.
Now, the reason this column has insisted on being written while Great Events (not!) are ignored. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person walking a dog has no lack of casual, and especially warm and kind, conversations, not all with other dog-walkers. I suspect the role of the dog as matchmaker might rival any professional operation in connecting mate-seeking (or lunch-lonely) males and females.
If West Vancouver, with its high ratio of snow-coloured heads, is Lonelyville for many, a dog is the best, most loving and least quarrelsome companion on earth. It’s depressing that many condos and landlords forbid them.
Cats? Fine. A woman told me with utter sincerity that after her husband died, a cat they had got only months before his death “saved my life.” And not in a fire or whatever, of course, but in a healing, metaphysical sense.
You see many old people walking alone on Ambleside Beach’s dog walk, one of West Van’s priceless glories. You can never tell about faces. A sombre and withdrawn face can mask inner ease and a special spirit given exclusively to the old. She who walks alone is not necessarily lonely.
But for those who are: Consider a dog. Or a cat.
Here’s something obvious but needs stating: It does us good to have something to love and to sacrifice ourselves for, after the spouse and children have vanished. Both Alice and Harry know this. They’d never consider divorce. They stay together for the sake of the pets.
Still on animal matters, there’s the disgrace of B.C.’s bear hunt. Dr. Johnson wrote, with his 18th-century eloquence: “It is very strange and very melancholy that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.”
© Trevor Lautens, 2014