Many years ago, I read "What Every Woman Should Know about Men" by the late Dr. Joyce Brothers. In it, she talked about the phases of relationships between men and women, and what changes occur in each of those phases. For men over 60, she described them as needing their wives. In fact, if I recall correctly, she said that not since they were small boys in need of their mothers, has their level of need been as great as it is in these “golden” years and, she added, there’s something to be said for being needed.
As a caregiver to a husband suffering from an incurable disease, his need for me may appear obvious. He needs me to do those things which he physically cannot. I become his arms and legs. He also needs me to assist him in doing things for himself, e.g., fetching items he uses at his desk or work table.
Then there’s his speech. As it deteriorates, his self-confidence has taken a nosedive, and I have become his voice. I arrange appointments, argue with Medicare and converse with physicians on his behalf, looking frequently to Dale for confirmation.
And even while facing extraordinary challenges, Dale still needs to contribute to our marriage and our household. Sometimes, all this takes is a nudge, like placing a bottle of “Round-up” on the floor of his scooter (after all, weeds don’t care how the executioner gets there), or bringing him a screwdriver to perform a “fix” on a door latch. Like lots of married couples, he also needs to borrow my glasses when reading a menu.
All these things are important and I try to do my best to satisfy them, but there are other subtler, more meaningful needs I must fulfill. Dale doesn’t ask, but I know my husband. I have to convey daily through words and/or actions that my love is unconditional, and that I’ll be beside him forever in this world. He needs to know that I think of him as “my guy.” He hasn’t morphed from a man to a creature just because his body is breaking down. He will always stand tall in my eyes, even if confined to a scooter or wheelchair.
Regardless of how much Dale needs me right now, it’s eclipsed by how much I need him. Dr. Brothers didn’t address this aspect. I love him and I can’t imagine life without him, so I don’t allow myself to go there. How could I live without my rock, the one who grounds me when I engage in flights of fancy, like aspiring to become a female James Thurber. He laughs with me when we watch comic Whoopi Goldberg trying to figure out Mick Jagger’s lyrics in "Jumpin’ Jack Flash," and I cry with him every time we see John Wayne die in "The Cowboys."
I happen to be addicted to world affairs and international politics, I can name all the major players in the Middle East, but couldn’t tell you who the mayor of Dallas is. Dale knows, though, and I rely on that. (I think he knows there’s a better chance that I might one day attend a meeting of the Dallas city council than an emergency session of the Knesset.)
Dale and I sleep in the same bed, and we like it that way, in spite of some occasional snoring from both of us. I need to know that he’s beside me through the night, that I can touch him with a foot or an arm and be reassured that the night will pass in peace, and that we’ll awaken to another day to live and love together. When the time comes for a hospital bed, we’ll have to get a queen-size at best, or a trundle at worst – for if either of us goes into “that good night” before the other, we will both "need" to be holding hands.