My husband and I were in the shower together. He was washing my hair, something he’s never done before. I was moaning with pleasure, but not in any sexy way. There’s nothing erotic about a 55-year-old woman sitting on a plastic stool in the shower swathed in a black Hefty garbage bag poncho. Underneath it, my husband had encased half my bare torso in plastic wrap. I breathed in the fresh, fruity scent of the shampoo; aromatherapy for my foggy mind. It was the first time, since a fall several weeks before, that my hair felt clean.
My husband made a solid attempt at turban-toweling my head, then patiently dried me. I winced in pain and discomfort as parts of my body were broken, rendering me incapable of grooming myself or doing much of anything on my own. And even though we’ve been together for years, I felt exposed in my helpless nudity.
My husband never witnessed the birth of my three children. We never knew each other’s younger selves. Ours is a second marriage, one we embraced in middle age with the hopes and dreams of youth, minus the learning curve newlyweds get to experience alone.
When we moved in together, we were in love, but also struggling. He was raising his two young kids and I was a single mom to my three. There was no honeymoon period. We had very little privacy. And our growing pains as a new couple were not just ours; they involved a houseful of young people who depended on us to do all the emotional work required when combining two families. Some of the kids were defiant teenagers entering high school, some college. One child deeply resented me, pegging me as the quintessential wicked stepmother.
Sometimes everyone got along and we had a lot of fun. Often the incessant demands and obligations were overwhelming and made me feel like quitting. But then, the unexpected would happen — the death of beloved friends, aging parents, one child with a sudden heart condition followed by life-threatening cancer. These would jolt us, and we’d cling to each other for support until the crisis was contained.
In time, these life events fostered a deep bond between Glen and me. Our kids came to love each other, grew up and began moving on, and after 12 years, we recently got married. We survived all the heartaches and stressors that can fortify or fracture a couple and now, the last of our five children had moved out. We were alone at last, happy in our togetherness, content in our companionship. Our long-awaited honeymoon period was finally here!
Except I was temporarily out of order.
A Painful Turn of Events
Our lives were altered on a wintry Friday morning. Glen and I both work from home; he in the basement, me in the upstairs office. That day, I was heading downstairs carrying my breakfast bowl and empty cup of coffee in one hand, my cell phone and glasses in the other, when my foot missed the top step.
I can’t recall the panic as I tumbled like a stuntman in a Western down 12 steps to the landing. But I vividly remember the excruciating pain once the fall came to its abrupt conclusion. An ambulance was summoned. Emergency surgery was required on a shattered wrist. Nothing could be done to repair the damaged ribcage or cracked clavicle. So, after a weekend at the hospital, I was sent home with an opioid prescription and instructions to keep still and rest.
There were cuts and bruises on my face. My right arm was in a cast. My shoulder and chest 50 shades of gray, green and blue. Because my ribs were terribly bruised, I could neither sit nor get up from the ice-packed recliner on my own. In bed at night, floating in and out of consciousness, I was an island of pain surrounded by pillows keeping me anchored squarely on my back.
Dressing with a broken clavicle, a hard cast and throbbing ribs was torture, so I didn’t even bother Glen for help, wearing the same grubby sweatpants, tank top and zippered hoodie as I languished for days covered in ice packs, under the haze of painkillers.
My husband was my primary caregiver, a job spouses sign onto during wedding vows but hardly ever anticipate doing. Not only was he responsible for tending to me, he also had to take care of our puppy, provide all our meals and handle the laundry, grocery shopping and other basic household chores that are typically split between the two of us. By the end of week two, I could tell he was running on empty.
Despite my drugged, miserable state, I felt guilty for imposing on him, which is why I pushed him to take a trip out West to see his family, scheduled long before my fall. His temp replacement was one of my twins, Jessica, who has flextime at her job, which allowed her to bring her laptop for the four days that Glen would be gone. We slept together, so it was Jessica I now nudged every four hours for painkillers.
My daughter gently guided me down the stairs each morning. She made sure I ate and took my stool softener on schedule, and provided fresh ice for my shoulder and ribs. I was bowled over at my grown-up child’s ability to juggle work at the kitchen table and the burden of tending to her feeble mother 24/7. When Glen relieved Jessica, I held back tears as I thanked her; the words trite, grossly inadequate expressions of my gratitude.
Tumbling to a Deeper Union
In the days that followed, Glen worked at his desk and continued to tend to my every need. He learned how to gather my hair up in a clip. He put socks on my feet. He made sure I had a glass of water and straw next to me as I stared mindlessly at the TV. He propped pillows under my cast and covered me with blankets. He helped me get up in the middle of the night, so I could go to the bathroom.
Weeks passed. This man never complained. Friends stopped by to keep me company. Many brought much-welcomed meals. But my body’s repair process was slow. I was beyond bored and frustrated by my inability to do much of anything. I became depressed. One day, completely out of character, I just sobbed uncontrollably. Glen held me — on my good side — and said all the things I needed to hear. Then he wiped down the kitchen counter and vacuumed the floor. That, too, made me weep.
The next morning, we began the tedious process of showering together. Before he Hefty-bagged me, I realized my armpits required attention, and at this point I didn’t hesitate to hand him a razor. He joked about telling the kids of our shattered personal grooming boundaries just as I had a lightbulb moment.
When I missed that top step, I accidentally challenged our status quo as a couple. Before hurtling down the stairs, I had thought we were happily united, sharing a life with the implicit understanding that we’d reached a satisfying, familiar plateau — comfortable and secure.
But this trauma has transported us to an unexpected emotional place. In the endless, torturous months, we arrived at a next level intimacy, a closeness that’s different from what we had before. What a startling surprise to discover, at this stage of our lives, such an intense connection and devotion. My fall wasn’t the honeymoon period I was expecting, but who could possibly have foreseen this exquisite payoff from such a horrendous turn of events?
I gazed tenderly at my groom, bending over my rounded belly, gently drying my hairy legs. He cautiously pulled a tank top over my clavicle and cast. So I didn’t lose my balance, he carefully helped me pull up fresh panties and clean pajama bottoms.
The following day he cut my toenails.
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- The Personal Sacrifices Family Caregivers Make for Their Loved Ones
- Hope Springs Eternal for Boomers and Marriage
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