Falling in love and marrying late-in-life, my husband and I shared our hopes and fears very near the beginning of our wedded bliss. We discussed end-of-life issues far sooner than young couples beginning their lives together would.
In our first year, we reconceived our wills, revamped our “Durable Power of Attorneys,” signed up with the Neptune Society for cremation and a partitioned giant urn, and now, as each other’s deciding agents, we are deep in discussions of our final “Advanced Care Directives.” We’re a bit bogged down in defining what “general health-care standards” imply, and what “vegetable” and “irreversible” means to each of us and the law. We are trying to map out all the possibilities of our finales without getting morbid, while joking and laughing and keeping it light.
Besides our age, our marriage faces the challenge of he and I being hypersensitive to one another’s hurts. Whereas he, a psychotherapist, intuits and expands on my emotional pain, I, an actor, acutely feel and overreact to his physical pain. He weeps for my childhood hurt, I sob for his stubbed toe.
My husband has treated trauma victims in intense distress for forty years and knows how to leave it all at the office. But his resonance with my distress at home leaves him no respite.
My sense of his physical suffering gets amplified by his expressive reaction to his princess-and-the pea sensitivities and by my own ability as an actor to feel pain I’ve not personally suffered. Onstage, onscreen, on-mic I’ve given birth, used a colostomy bag, gone undercover as an Arab sheik, I’ve murdered and been murdered in knife fights, and felt it all, then left it all at the studio.
We’re each concerned that the other’s interpretations of our discomfort might prematurely hasten the pulling of the plug or the giving of the pill. Can I trust that my husband will someday accurately put himself in my orthopedic Asics, can he trust me to put myself precisely in his Depends-lined Speedos? We fear our exaggerated empathy for one another out of our very great love for one another might precipitate our demises. My love, my executioner.
Currently my husband is cringing with prostatitis causing twinges of pain in his testicles. He describes a clenching sensation, like something is squeezing him between the legs. Atop the aches of my own aging, absent my own balls from birth, I’m feeling shooting pains in phantom testicles extending from within and beyond my pudendum—a whole new couple of things to hurt. It’s like having an aura radiating out from my head, only this aura is in my underpants. I could never have foreseen such negative consequences of my gifts for sensory recall and space work exercises in acting class. I’m overly talented at viscerally experiencing things I can only imagine.
He feels doubly pained for his suffering causing mine. When he’s at work I can stay detached and dissociated from his body, but I can’t very well shun the man I love because I hurt when he does when he’s at home. Similarly, he adores me too much to avoid getting embroiled in my hurts.
It’s natural for spouses to want to share everything, the good and the bad. A loving young husband will say, “we’re pregnant.” An adoring old wife will say, “we are having prostrate problems.”
Out of love we will learn to temper our sympathetic reactions. We must quell our borrowed pain to avoid any mercy killings. Our great compensation is that in my great sensitivity and receptivity, I amplify his pleasure, and in his great big heart, he amplifies my joy.