Couples Who Take Care

Elders Weathering the Years with Strength and Love

Lou Dunn Diekemper, Ph.D.

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ISBN: 1-57733-060-9, 244 pages, 6x9, paper, $14.95

From the author of WOMEN Who Take Care and MEN Who Take Care, now comes COUPLES Who Take Care.
   A continuing interest in aging has induced Dr. Diekemper to study the joys, problems, and concerns of couples as they grow old together. In a format similar to her previous books, Dr. Diekemper interviews twenty-one couples and presents their poignant and penetrating responses to such questions as:

Table of Contents

1 Jo and Doug
2 Nancy and Bill
3 Marilyn and Len
4 Faye and Alfred
5 Eva and Joe
6 Maureen and Buddy
7 Pansy and Tom
8 Sefrina and Pete
9 Hazel and J. T.
10 Betty and Glenn
11 Frances and Nathan
12 Jean and Fred
13 Joy and Carroll
14 Anne and Fred
15 Wanda and George
16 Martha and Bob
17 Erma and Earl
18 Sophia and Mark
19 Juanita and Octavio
20 Lois and Brownie
21 Connie and Howard
22 The Power of Love


Jo and Doug

For an interviewer, it is especially heart-warming to meet a couple for the first time and have an immediate interest arise to want to know about them. I certainly felt this with Jo and Doug. Jo caught my attention with the bright colors she was wearing as well as the perky hat. It was quite easy for the interview to begin. Jo (74) and Doug (67) have been married for thirty-two years. Both are retired at this time. Jo refers to her homemaker position humorously as being "overworked and underpaid." For a short time she worked at a bank; Doug is a retired manager of a Santa Fe Railroad regional freight office. He enjoys travel and being a bird watcher (as well as a people watcher). His education was completed with graduation from high school. He fills his days with volunteer work for Meals on Wheels, serves on the board of directors at The Senior Citizens Center; during elections, he serves as an election clerk, and does various work at his church....

This is a second marriage for Jo. She sees Doug as a "very, very affectionate person. He is a caring person. I had lived a rather independent life before we were married. In my first marriage, I was more of a free spirit. Doug holds me in a sort of clutched-bird type of situation, which is wonderful! He is very open with his affection. I write him notes occasionally and that, perhaps, has helped as well as anything. And then, I flirt with him, and I talk about him to my friends, and I'm just ... I'm in love with the guy." As the interviewer, I was aware of the loving glances which they constantly exchanged.

Regarding changes the years may have brought into their relationship, Doug says, "It has gotten more settled over time. We just enjoy each other; we talk with each other, we travel with each other very well, and we just have a big time. I'm a very real person, and Jo is a romantic person, so it's a good combination. We make a very interesting mix, and we keep it that way."

Jo says that she has had to settle down to not being able to dance with Doug as well as having to slow down her walking with him because surgery has limited his abilities. She tries to be a helper and to walk more slowly with him, and admits that she is accustomed to doing everything fast, and for the last eight years has had to adjust to pretty well changing her pace in life. She dislikes having to say, "I am not the very alert, very capable person earlier years allowed me to be. I have to accept the fact that as I age, my alertness is decreasing, my abilities - Doug says I'm an accident about to happen - and this disturbs me greatly because I don't like that part of it. I always thought that I was an excellent driver. And when you go turning into a street going the wrong way, it kind of excites you a bit. And then too, I'm not as alert at remembering things as I once was. So, this has bothered me, and I don't accept it easily. I'm really fighting it."

Doug says that he has always been a hard worker, working day and night, whatever the job called for. Eight years ago a spinal column problem necessitated surgery, and he was told he might not walk again. Doug said, "Well, I am, and I did. I don't do a very good job of it, but I am doing it. I haven't backed off from anything, just because I'm not going to let myself. I'm satisfied with where I am now, but I'm a long way from being what I used to be. The neurologist told me that I am restricted in whatever I restrict myself at. So that's what I've tried to go by."...

Jo reports that she has a special relationship with her children. Her son was twelve when his sister was born and she can still see him giving his sister a bottle, propping her up against his knees, holding her bottle. With the death of her first husband, she feels that she developed a marvelous relationship with her son by coaching Little League one summer and doing other things with him. As she says, "We are friends." Her son adored his sister, and Jo added that little sister would follow him around and want to go on his dates when he became dating age. Jo loves her son and sees the daughter as the apple of her eye. Doug did not have children until his marriage with Jo and her children became his children. He believes, "There is no bigger job that a person has to be than a stepparent. Nobody can understand it unless they have been there. You can't fulfill the things their father could fulfill, but you're expected to. It's just a hard job. I've done a lot better job with my grandchildren than I did with my stepchildren. I have a unique thing with extra young, very small children, and I think Jo does, too."

Jo makes friendships easily, an ability which they admit is harder for Doug. Two very special friends have touched her life by filling a need that she had when she met them. She considers them pretty topnotch friends in her life. Her friends also feel close to Doug. Recognizing that as a couple they have friends, Doug says that as an individual he is a hermit. All that he wants, he says, "are four or five very good friends. I don't go out and search. But close friends are very important to me, because if I've got a very close friend, I don't want to be disappointed by them, so I don't make close friends very easily. It came from my background, my raising and everything. I wasn't taught this, but the insinuation was there of not getting too close to them because you may be disappointed. And there's a lot of truth to that, and it really does hurt when you think a close friend does not measure. Jo and I have a lot of couple friends." Jo and Doug like to play the game of Forty-Two! and regularly meet with six couples who share the same enjoyment.

When considering the personal identity and individuality changes that may have developed during their years spent together, Doug says that he has not lost any personal identity or individuality in his marriage to Jo. Jo thinks that she surprises Doug every day. She says, "It looks like he would know what I was going to do or say, but bless his heart, he just says, 'Here we go, again!'" Doug comments, "If we have tried to change each other, we both have failed miserably."...

Neither Jo nor Doug has concerns or fears concerning the future. Jo says, "We live each day at a time." Doug adds, "We have made plans for our older years, and when I say that, I don't mean we have signed up for a nursing home or gone down and bought our burial policy and all that stuff. We haven't done that. But if one of us gets to where we can't (cope), we can trust the other one. If there is any great expense coming about, I think that is covered." Jo expresses her views saying, "Yes, you ought to have goals and you ought to have realistic ideas. But I am not one to look that far ahead. Whatever happens, the Lord will give me the answer at that time. I know that Doug will take care of me as long as he is able, should I be disabled in any way. And I would do the same for him. But beyond that, I am not worried about it." Doug sees that this is a very serious question. For him, "Everybody our age has the same fear - I guess you would call it. I can go into a nursing home, and I want to run out. It is just something that I won't let myself think about, even though I know it is possible. But in the event that it is possible, as far as I am concerned, I can take care of that when it comes." For so many of the elder citizens of this country, the experiences that family members and friends may have had in nursing homes has not been positive.

As to the meaning of their relationship with each other and what they hope it will represent to their family, Doug says, "I just hope, for no other reason, if the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren look back on us, they will look at a rock. They won't look at anything great, anything financially high, or whatever. But I want them to say, 'I want what Grandpa and Grandma had as far as the way they feel about each other, the way they measure what they need each day.'" Jo adds that they have a wonderful relationship with five grandchildren and a great-grandchild. "We try to recognize their capabilities and brag on them." She says that Doug has a special relationship with the young granddaughter who thinks that Doug is a grandpa that nobody else has. "When she gets hurt, she runs to him. He has a unique touch with her. She will crawl up in his lap and hug him." Doug also has a special relationship with the older granddaughter and the grandsons. Jo says, "My greatest desire is for us to represent a couple that loves them, and that we have the greatest hope and wishes for them that they will be able to excel in everything they try to do."

Doug sees that, in living life step by step, each step is a turn, and every time you take one of those steps upwards, you have beaten the odds in today's society. I believe that this truly is indicative of many of the couples interviewed - whatever life brings, it can be met and dealt with....

Doug concludes the interview with these comments: "There is one thing I would like to say. Hopefully, it will be of some good to somebody. Our spiritual life, of course, is the most important. But there are other things to life, and we overlook them. The nature that is out there, whether it is our back yard, or in Big Bend, or in Colorado or Montana or whatever, it is such a big, beautiful world. Everybody in this world is different. People are so different in the way they react to things. You can say something funny to two people - one will laugh and the other may be puzzled or not like it. We need to look at the people around us, and the nature around us. This is our world, and it is wonderful!" With this philosophical statement, the interview ended positively.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2000

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