Illness and Aging in Mirrors

When I was a young teen I looked older. I had no problem acting older and everyone around assuming I was older, wiser. As time went on my looks and age started to catch up and I appeared the age I was. As time went a little further I began to look younger than my age. I am not one to focus only on my appearance. I would rather people see me for who I am, not what I look like or what age I look. Many would be surprised to see I am nothing like what I look like on the inside. On the outside is a very composed woman, on the inside is one struggling to regain her life.

My husband was one year older than I am. When I first met him he looked older than I was, it must have been in the stage where I looked my age or younger. As time went on, we both aged. He probably aged more than I did in his appearance. Yet, if asked if he felt old he would have answered no. He never felt old until he became sick, even then he said he felt so much younger than his age or how he appeared. I, on the other hand if asked would tell you I feel much older than I look. I would have told anyone that if asked when I was just a teenager. I have always felt old.

During my husband’s illness I think we both aged. He aged a lot more than I did as he was the one that was so sick. I aged from the stress of worrying about him and the work put into keeping him well. At some point it seems we both aged a lot in looks. I would guess this is a natural occurrence that anyone dealing with illness or being ill takes. Illness is a harsh reality. One that brings everything into a clearer focus, a focus we might not want. Yet the alternative is not preferable. So we take our aging with a grain of salt.

My husband had many doctors. As time went by, more illnesses would affect him requiring new doctors in different specialties. Some illnesses were side effects from the medications he needed to stay alive, some were just unrelated or were just progression of the illness affecting other parts of his body. After one such new illness we went to a new doctor. The nurse checked us in (I will probably use the word us, as he never went in to see the doctor alone). When she was done with his info, she mentioned it was nice that I brought my father to his appointments. I told her I was his wife. She had a very odd look on her face and quickly replied “you must be much younger”. I did not bother to correct her as it would only bring more attention to what I not only felt was uncomfortable, but I did not want my husband to be upset by it. He on the other hand told her with a big smile “I got a real looker when I married her”. He did not see that she had been pointing out our looks and ages, rather his impression was she just thought I was pretty.

I am not going to say it was unprofessional of the nurse to have said what she did. I think people are too sensitive when others speak their mind. We need more people who speak their mind, not just tell us what we want to hear. Not be cruel, but be honest. The nurse was just saying what reflections of us looked like to her, she meant no harm. Had I been the one she thought looked older, I would have felt the same way, I would not have been upset. The nurse was not trying to be cruel or offensive. If that were the case, then I would have spoken up and she would have listened. It must be hard for nurses as well as doctors to meet and get to know new patients and their significant others, caretakers.

Another new illness sprung its ugly head almost a year later. This meant a new specialist. Once again after the nurse had checked us in she made a comment. This comment was different. She thought it was nice my husbands granddaughter was taking care of him. Granddaughter? I know he had aged, I know I had aged, but had he aged that much in one year I wondered. I mentioned to the nurse I was his wife and she apologized profusely saying she did not mean to offend my husband. I told her it was okay. By this time my husband had started to pay attention to anything but the fact that he was in the doctor’s office for another illness. He was busy trying to make sure what he said came out correctly, he wanted to be able to joke with the nurses or doctors to make them feel more comfortable and yes, to make himself more comfortable with all that was happening as well. He never heard the granddaughter remark.

He did on occasion catch glimpses of himself with all the mirrors and reflective surfaces in the universities clinics, which are located and attached to the hospital. Sometimes he would ask me if he looked as bad as the reflection. This was a hard one for me, as when I looked at him, I did not see a sick man or an old man, I saw the man I loved. But if he asked then I would have to look at his appearance. I did not want to lie. So I would tell him how we all reflect badly in the surfaces there. He was satisfied with that answer. There were other times he saw things and was more specific with his questions. An example would be, if he looked as skinny as the reflection, with this I would answer he had lost weight but the reflections were still distorted. It was hard to catch a glimpse of myself. It must have been extremely hard on him to see himself in the reflections.

I wonder how many people go into the hospital for long stays with serious, life threatening illnesses come out looking no different then when they first were admitted. I know from my experience, there were some in rooms near my husbands whose loved ones started to age while they were there. All the ill near my husband’s room did not have such long stays in the hospital as my husband did, yet their weariness was evident in their appearance. I never mentioned it to any, they were going through enough worry. I am sure many felt like I did, no longer caring what we looked like, just wanting our loved ones to recover and come home with us.

Now that my husband has died, I wonder if my appearance looks as if I have aged more. I wonder if my face has got the look of someone who is so tired and worn out that even the thought of doing anything makes me feel worn out. I wonder if the blank stare I feel I have all the time appears to others. There are also times I wonder if I look the same as before. For some reason, looking the same is not a comforting thought. It should be, but it is not. If I look the same, I feel as though all that we went through together left no mark on me. As though it never happened. As if my husband was just a passing thought not an every day, important and essential part of my life. For now I will not know what I look like. My husband was my most truthful mirror. He is not here to tell me. As for the mirror, I am not ready to look into one quite yet.