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Friday, 10 April 2009

Spring Love Among the Elderly

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This story is written by Johna Ferguson, but told in the person of her husband, Huimin Zhou, who didn't think he could write it.]

By Johna Ferguson

How is it that older people fall in love? One would think their hormones or pheromones would be all dried up, yet one is constantly hearing about elderly marriages.

They were classmates years ago and now, alone for some reason or another, they met again at a reunion and fell in love; or they met at a church social or senior’s party and decided to try marriage out rather than live alone; or they live next to each other in a retirement home and somehow that special sparkle developed and they decided to share one room instead of two, after all it's less expensive.

But how is it conceivable that two older people from different countries with contrasting customs and languages could end up falling in love and marrying?

I retired as head of the pathology department and was teaching medical English to graduate students at my hospital in Qingdao. My school also hires foreign teachers to teach spoken English and one was named Jo. I had met her but we never really chatted much.

The following year, 1996, my wife and I visited relatives in Tennessee. While we were there she became ill and we had to return to China. She was hospitalized, had surgery but eventually died of cancer. I was devastated. I decided to go stay with my youngest daughter and her family in Beijing.

I tried to just get on with living; very difficult as any of you know who have been through similar situations. After staying with my daughter for some time, I received a call from my hospital in Qingdao saying they needed me for a short period to write an article and edit a book about the 100 year anniversary of the hospital.

Since I was a graduate of the first class after the reopening of the university after WW II, I felt I could not refuse, so I went back, however it was very sad to live alone in those familiar rooms.

Then I got a call from Jo inviting me to dinner. She was living with a Chinese family I was acquainted with as I had helped the grandmother to get medicines. Grandma had heard through the grapevine I was back. In China it is the quickest and most sophisticated one in the world.

She told Jo that no man should eat alone every night and asked her to call me. Seems grandma expected me to come every night, so I started riding my bike nightly to eat with them: the maid, grandma, mother and father, a young daughter and Jo.

Jo didn’t speak Chinese, although she had lived in China for 12 years. No one in the family spoke English so there was a lot of weird body language going on. When I arrived each evening, Jo finally had someone to talk to. She had previously met my wife and knew all about the situation, so she was a good listening board for me.

Each evening after supper when the entire family went to watch TV in the living room, she and I sat in the dining room talking and talking. We both needed to get a lot out - it was like the floodgates were open. She had gone through a sad divorce in 1984, and had come to China then to teach English. She fell in love with my country and just kept staying on at this or that university, finally ending up at my medical school.

Before I returned from Beijing, a publishing house in Shanghai asked me to translate into Chinese a book, The Endless Frontier, Vaneevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century. When I met Jo at grandma’s dinner table I asked her if she would help me with special idioms and background history of that era if I ran into translation problems. She agreed and we met frequently to discuss parts of the book, and certainly we talked more and more.

We found we had similar backgrounds; both from medical families, both college graduates, each with children. We were both interested in reading, listening to good music, traveling by bike rather than bus or taxi, swimming our favorite sport. Well, the similarities were endless. It seemed that we were fated at that time in that particular period to meet.

After a rather short courtship, we decided to get married and take care of each other in our older age. At that point I was 70 and she was 68. We married in Qingdao in 1998 making everything proper and right for all our children and grandchildren.

That love we all hear about in popular songs, see on the movie screen or in TV serials, happens slowly at our age but it does develop. But with that love comes a feeling of deep compassion perhaps rather than out-and-out passion. It is lasting, heart rendering, sweet and filled with kindness and love for each other.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I was surprised to find, at the end of your story, what I thought was a poor word choice: "heart rendering," when you meant "heart rending." Checked my dictionary: to rend is to tear apart; to render is to create. Sounds like this late love created new hearts, or bigger ones. And I'm sure it will produce some breakage as well.
In my Match.com world, at age 60, I seem to read too much about how at our age, we WANT love, but we certainly do not NEED it. I think we DO need it. I'm happy for you.
Thank you for telling this story.

A wonderful story.

Having a soul-mate to share the beginning and the end of each day is wonderful at every age.

As the song says, "Love is Better the Second Time Around." I am happy for you and Jo. It didn't happen to me, but it would have been nice to have found my soul mate after the death of my husband.

What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

I must say what the others have: it is a wonderful story!

Beautiful story, we need more of these. Romance never ends!

Outstanding story, keep writing more to let the world know that love never dies.

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