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LATE LOVE: ROMANCE, SENTIMENTALITY AND TENDERNESS COME ALIVE AGAIN IN TWILIGHT YEARS.

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Glen Harker and Geneal Kirkham married three years ago, when he was 83 and she was 75. At the time of their wedding, they'd known each other for more than five decades.

They'd been friends. Fifty years ago, she sang at his little boy's funeral. She and her husband and he and his wife were in a dinner club together, took trips together, were founding partners in their town's first senior citizens' center. "His wife was a lovely person," says Kirkham. "Her husband was my partner in the (horseback) riding club," Harker says.Their spouses died within a year of each other. Instinctively, they understood each other's grief. During the several years they were alone, their friendship deepened.

Still, marriage requires more than friendship. There is the matter of adjusting to another person's habits. A certain amount of flexibility is required in a new marriage, yet flexibility is supposed to diminish with age.

Says Kirkham, "Oh, I am sure we both had adjustments to make. But we've never had a cross word. We are very happy."

In their happiness, in their ability to fashion a new love in late life, this Shelley, Idaho, couple is not alone. They are typical of dozens of couples featured in a new book, "Late Love." The author, psychotherapist Eileen Simpson, says older men and women marry for one reason: Intimacy.

Young marriages move through the predictable stages of building a home and making sacrifices for the sake of the children. Says Simpson, "Young marriages are generative.

"Late love, on the other hand is existential love. It reflects a poignant awareness that all life is transient, that existence is brief, that our days are numbered. Life becomes more precious because it is fleeting and because we can no longer deny our mortality." One woman told Simpson, "We have so little time left, we don't want to waste it quarreling."

The people she interviewed showed her how the more romantic, sentimental and tender aspects of love come alive again in later years.

Salt Laker Michelle Wardle was only a baby when her widowed grandmother decided to remarry. Wardle didn't really think much about it until she was in junior high. Then, at about the time she began to have romantic dreams of her own, she remembers realizing that her grandma had actually married in her mid-70s. The thought made the teenage girl uncomfortable.

She had to mature a bit herself in order to appreciate the true miracle of love: It comes to young and old alike.

Her grandmother, Pearl Davis Wright, and the man Wardle knew as Grandpa, Ed Winder, had 17 years together. He died in 1985. Her grandmother grieved for her second husband, as she had the first. She told Wardle, "You might think it gets easier, but it doesn't."

As an adult, Wardle can look back and say, "Marriage was so good for her. They both enjoyed the same kinds of things. They were very social. Every summer they gave a big party for all their friends. They went on cruises and took all these fun trips."

Ed and Pearl's children and grandchildren got along well, says Wardle. None opposed the marriage. Says Wardle. "It helped that they had a prenuptial agreement." The grown children knew their inheritance would not be affected.

Simpson says a prenuptial agreement is a must in late-life marriages. But such an agreement may need to be updated as the marriage goes on. One man may agree that her house should go to his wife's children. Yet after he has lived with her for 15 years, and made repairs and mowed and painted, he starts to think of it as his home. He starts to worry about where he'll go if she dies first.

In her research, Simpson met people who decided not to marry because their children were so set against it. More often the couple went ahead and got married anyway, and they and the grown children learned to get along.

If she could offer one bit of advice to older newlyweds, Simpson would say, "Be wary of criticizing a spouse's grown children." And "Don't offer unsolicited advice to adult stepchildren."

Even after families come together around the new couple, allegiances can shift again in old old age. Writes Simpson, "I have a suspicion, based on limited evidence, that in those marriages which last into the (spouses') ninth decade, the bond between husband and wife may weaken, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, as the narcissism of old age causes one or both partners to seek renewed closes with their own image in their blood children."

Relationships with each other's children seemed to cause the most trouble in late-life marriages. But Simpson also met couples who had a hard time making room in their hearts for each other's furniture.

One woman who was happy with her house the way it was, deeply resented having to make room for her husband's desk and chair. Another woman eventually stopped spending holidays with her husband at his family cabin because he wouldn't let her change one thing about a decor his mother chose 80 years ago.

Others were more flexible. Several of the men Simpson interviewed were willing to turn over their furnished houses to a married child. They went happily to live in their wife's place.

Geneal Kirkham and Glen Harker are living in her house. It is not the house she and her husband shared, however. It is a house she got after he died. Kirkham says she wouldn't have minded moving in with Harker, except that his house, with its huge flower gardens, had become too much for him to keep up.

As they age, Kirkham says, it is good to know someone will be there in sickness and in health. While several of their children thought the marriage was a good idea, one of Kirkham's daughters was against it. Now, she too is glad they married.

Her husband is a quiet man says Kirkham. With her by his side, they have an active social life. They travel. Without her, she wonders what he would have done to fill his days. She says, "A woman can always keep busy. She can sew. But he didn't have anything like that. Before we got married, he was so lonesome."