Turn and face the strange changes

Today is my husband's birthday (love you, hon!). He is a year older than me, but looks younger by virtue of his hair somehow remaining as golden as it was on our wedding day, whereas mine gets regularly shellacked with dye. It's rather annoying. My weight goes up and down (mostly up, honestly), my hair started graying before we even met, and yet my Sensible Husband has not changed one bit after almost 18 years of marriage. He hasn't even lost a single (non-gray) hair on his head.

I know it's not a competition. I know I should embrace my changing body, though admittedly these days it's a bit more difficult to get my arms all the way around it. Instead I'll just sit back and bemoan the obvious fact that change can be rough.

As if this past year wasn't bad enough on its own, my family had to endure a scary medical (non-COVID) emergency last winter. Note to all non-sympathetic spouses out there: when your Significant Other claims to be in terrible pain, do not simply tell them they've over-eaten and are being a baby. The next thing you know, you'll be learning all about visiting hours at the hospital and how to administer antibiotics at home through a PICC line. In retrospect, I guess my Sensible Husband had been changing after all, only internally and secretively. Which is just like him.

In his famous poem about growing old, WB Yeats wrote that he loved "the sorrows of (his beloved's) changing face." Which always used to bother me. Why "sorrows"? Why "changing face"? I think I know now.

My father died three weeks ago. After his long illness and physical decline, I had thought his passing would come as a relief, the recognition that at least he is no longer in any pain. But it has not.

He and my mom had just recently celebrated their 60th anniversary, with their characteristic downplaying of the milestone event. The shiny "Happy Anniversary!" balloons, somehow still inflated, have been moved off to the side of the family room. They outlasted Dad; at 92, he was simply too worn out.

My mother, whose hair also started to go gray when she was in her 20s, always used to joke that she would stop dyeing her hair when my father's hair went gray. And although there wasn't a lot of hair on Dad's head in the end, all of it was brown. So now Mom doesn't have to stop applying Preference by L'oreal.

I have not yet processed the absence of my father. Part of me thinks he is merely traveling again, and that I'll see him this weekend, though of course I won't. I'll be celebrating my Sensible Husband's birthday, being profoundly grateful for his improved health, and reveling in the sorrows of our changing faces.

- Susan O'Byrne of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].