There's lots of people in this world who spend so much time
Watching their health that they haven't the time to enjoy it.
Josh Billings

My friend Mary married a man twice her age when she was 35. The couple met in Madrid and who wouldn’t have been captivated by the way Bob lavished her with clothes and gifts, took her to fine restaurants and insisted on booking at least two cruises to exotic lands each year. When Bob proposed, Mary glimpsed a glorious future…not just during her marriage but one day… one gilt edged day….when Bob was six feet under and she could ascend to an opulent cloud nine. She married her lover within the month and told her friends, “It was love at first sight.” No one dared to question her.

Mary’s parents were delighted with their daughter’s new prospects despite the fact that Bob was their senior by almost twenty years. After all, Bob had a huge bank account, very valuable properties and even though his arthritis seemed to hamper them when they went dancing, he seemed to have a lot of life left in him. His parents of course neither approved nor disapproved of the match. They were dead.

The two moved to California and almost immediately Mary became a caregiver. Once Bob gave up responsibility for his own well being, his heart started to act up, diabetes kicked in and renal failure loomed on his horizon. Poor Mary spent the next twenty three years keeping Bob alive. Mary and Bob explored natural medicine supplemented by conventional cures and holistic methods. The two lavished themselves with the most luxurious, opulent cures and retreats money could buy. And why not? Bob was a wealthy man. Indeed, the cost of keeping Bob breathing and functioning became all consuming. Forget about those cruises and theater. Forget society parties and hobnobbing with the upper crust. If they manage to go to a play, Mary would have to wheel Bob into the theater, haul him onto a seat, drag him to the men’s room and wipe his chin when he drank with no time at all for the champagne he had promised her at intermission. The stress of seeing her inheritance dissolve into pills and medications, prostheses and exotic therapies for her husband was so terrifying that Mary began to suffer from nightmares, nausea, hot flashes, and unexplained muscular spasms.

As the years progressed, Mary’s vision of wedded bliss was whittled down to the reality of waking Bob each morning and this was not easy: Bob was a deep sleeper and often seemed almost dead at dawn. Mary had to do a great deal of massaging, rubbing, patting and vaporizing to get his body moving. (But then, wasn’t that what married couples did for one another?).

Once Bob was out of bed and standing on what was left of his two feet, Mary organized his medications for the day before she took her own pills, tranquillizers and moisturizers and lubricants (just in case). Then she prepared a salt free, fat free tasty breakfast for the two to share in the lovely sunny kitchen Bob built for his child bride (if you can call a thirty-five year old fortune hunter a child bride.) The minute Bob digested his healthy properly balanced, tasty breakfast and eliminated it at the expected time in the expected place (and Mary did the same) our lovebirds were off to an exciting and stimulating afternoon devoted to Bob’s therapies. His blood needed to be drained every month, his system purified, his heart stimulated, his kidneys exhilarated and his temper calmed. While Bob was receiving the care he needed, our Mary was getting HER blood purified, her bowels cleansed, her excess hair waxed and her nails done so she could be beautiful and provocative when she served Bob his nightly tasty, salt-free candlelight dinners.
On weekends, these two would vacation from their ablutions to go to a movie or entertain Bob’s friends from his other life before he discovered Mary and ROMANCE.

And speaking of romance, the ailing man became so decrepit within a month after they married that he didn’t dare make any demands in the bedroom. Not that Mary wouldn’t have loved that but the truth was that he was so frail, the act might kill him. (and that wasn’t such a bad idea either, but Mary wanted to wait till property values were high and the interest rates more secure before she donned black lace and exotic perfume to excite her lover.)

When Bob reached his 90th birthday, Mary was so involved with maintaining his precarious health, rushing him to hospital after hospital and sanatorium after sanatorium not to mention her own health farms, psychological retreats and meditations, that she barely had time to buy a new dress or book a cruise. This was so upsetting to our Mary that she decided to divorce Bob. The minute she threatened what was left of Bob with a separation, he made uncomfortable noises about his will and what where his properties and securities would go if the two were not legally bound. Mary, now frantic with the premonition that she would have to maintain this lifestyle another ten years found herself stuck, unhappily sustaining Bob until he breathed his last.

He did this 4 years ago when Mary was a young (although sadly vibrant no more) 58. NOW she could have that life she thought she would get five years after their marriage. However, that was not to be. After twenty three years of keeping Bob in a semi-conscious state, with every conversation the two had, shouted to make herself heard, Mary’s emotional stability had gone down the drain along with her vision of being a wealthy dowager with young men hanging on her every word in the salons she would hostess each week (in her dreams).

Bob had ruined her life and dashed her hopes and what was worse, she didn’t know what to do with herself now that she wasn’t counting someone’s pills, making doctors appointments, driving to therapies and preparing salt free candlelight dinners to spoon feed to her husband. She was bored, at loose ends and miserable.

At last, the fates solved Mary’s problems: She got Breast Cancer. It was an exhilarating moment for Mary. She called what friends she had (mostly her doctors, therapists, instructors and her Yogi) with tears in her eyes and discussed what she would do to cure herself. She knew she didn’t want to do chemotherapy or radiation. It was too uncomfortable. What she wanted more than anything was to find someone to love her and take care of her the way she took care of her Bob.

So it was, Mary went to Mexico for an unconventional, unproven natural cure that involved a sauna each day, main-lining vitamin C three times a week, daily enemas, massaging the malignant lump, drinking disgusting herbal concoctions and preparing the very same salt free meals but only for herself with no candlelight or shouted conversation. Her appetite has gone. “Sometimes all I can stomach is cabbage and potatoes,” she said, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. Our Mary is determined to be brave. “The trouble is I don’t know what I want to DO with myself, if I get well.”

At the rate she is spending, Mary won’t have many choices to give herself new direction anyway. The cost of her treatments are over $4,000 a week and her inheritance, the one she was going to spend on God knows what (because I assure you Mary does not) is fast disappearing.. Her dreams of selling the house Bob built for her (valued at well over a million dollars) is gone because the market is tight. Her vision of getting someone to love her and be there for her at three in the morning to rub her back and dry her tears doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to reality either, even though Mary has posted on Match .com, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish and E-Harmony. The problem is that no one wants to massage her breast for health reasons and Mary doesn’t want any other kind of massage at this point. She is too tired.

What a waste!!! Bob was a vigorous healthy seventy when he married but the minute he got himself a young bride he gave the reins of his life to his wife and let her make his decisions. Once he lost control of who he was, senility crept in, inevitable as the dawn. His rapid decline was enhanced by his wife’s secret eagerness to accelerate his disabilities in the hopes that her marriage would be brief and reap her the benefits she felt she deserved for being his unpaid caregiver. (Mary did not consider Bob’s considerable wealth and luxurious style of living a salary…after all once married his wealth was hers too, wasn’t it?)

Even worse is Mary’s inability to fashion any kind of independent life for herself. She spent 23 years doing her husband’s bidding and corroding her disposition with anger, guilt and depression. Now she has absolutely no idea what her soul wants her to do. She lost touch with her dreams. The only thing she knows how to do is take care of someone who is sick. Luckily for her, she is sick now and her entire day is taken up with exactly the same activities she did for her husband. Only this time they are for her.

What on earth is she keeping herself alive for?

Do not say she deserves her fate because she was a fortune hunting bitch…we all marry for a variety of reasons that we label love. Do not say that Bob‘s demands ruined her life. We each are the only ones responsible for the quality of own lives. No one else can destroy us or make us happy. We are the only ones who can do that.

In contrast, my friend Ursula lived happily and productively with her husband Hans for 43 years. She was a good wife but an independent woman who wrote books, did garden tours, staged benefits for the needy, traveled alone and with her husband and followed their shared dream. When Hans died, she mourned for a month and then off she went to tour Hawaii, give speeches in Germany and write another book. She had a good married life because she made it fruitful and now she is having a marvelous old age. She isn’t lucky. She is smart.

Would we could all learn for poor Mary. Would we could all profit from Ursula.

In order to change we must be sick and tired
Of being sick and tired.