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They did and they do

By SHERRI STIGLER

 

Your 65-year-old widowed mother comes bounding through the door after a hot date with her steady beau, frantically waving her hand to show off the sparkling diamond he just planted on her finger. Suddenly the roles are reversed and you find yourself lost in a parental-like shock, much like she must have felt when you hit her with the news of your own engagement some 20 years earlier.

So why are people tying the knot later in life?

"Things have really changed for the older population," said Dr. Jean Kaske from the Behavioral Health Center in Grafton. "They are healthier than ever and living longer due to the advances in medical care. It just makes sense that they would want to live happy and fulfilling lives and marrying again may be part of that."

Kaske, who counsels many older adults, says there are many reasons for the surge in second or even subsequent marriages among the older population. Companionship, stability, security and sexual longevity are some of the reasons people cite for their desire to marry again. While most adult children are thrilled that their aging parents are finding love for a second time, there are also some underlying issues of concern, not only for the older couple, but for their children as well.

"Health issues are a primary concern," said Kaske. "Older folks tend to be very focused on medical conditions, so I would strongly advise people to find out about the health of their intended spouse and to decide if they can live with those findings. Is one person going to have to take care of the other? These are things that should be considered up front."

Kaske says she counsels older newlyweds who feel that their spouses are putting a damper on their active lifestyles. Sometimes one spouse may not share the other’s enthusiasm for certain activities.

"The best way to prevent any negative feelings after the marriage is to deal with them openly and honestly before the marriage," advises Kaske.

A second hurdle for folks is the whole inheritance issue. Adult children often seem to be more concerned with this than the couple is. "If, for instance, an older man re-marries after the death of his wife, the adult children worry about where the money will go after their father dies and about whether or not this new woman will share the inheritance with her stepchildren."

Adults often worry about the intentions of someone wanting to marry their older parents and often have difficulty accepting someone new until some kind of trust is established. Blending established and older families can be a challenge.

"Sometimes the problems lie completely with the grown kids," said Kaske. "There is definitely a blending issue to deal with. You have to remember that change is very difficult for many people. Having to accept a new stepparent can be very traumatic for adult children."

Kaske says that change is expected when younger people marry, but is not as widely accepted when people are in their 70s or 80s.

Adults often question why their aging parent feels the need to get
remarried. Some feel that the living parent should stay widowed after the death of the other parent out of respect. Some children may even decide to be unaccepting of their parent’s choice of a new spouse, which can create dissension in the family.

"I would advise people whose parents are in this situation to welcome the new stepparent into the family with optimism," warns Kaske. "They’ve probably buried a spouse and they’ve been through enough. Let them enjoy the relationship, even though it may not be what you want. Be supportive."

There is no doubt that love certainly transcends the age barrier. Proof abounds in the relationship of 89-year-old Wally Barrons and his blushing bride of ten years, Betty Sipos. The two widowers met while both were residents of the Lake Terrace Apartments in Oconomowoc, a senior living complex.

"One day Wally simply came knocking on my door and invited me to play cards with some friends," said Sipos. "We had so much fun together and found out we had a lot in common."

The two enjoyed dating, spending time at their lake cottages, going to movies and playing cards with friends. Wally says he knew she was the right girl for him and asked her to marry him one day when they were out for a walk.

"I didn’t get down on one knee, though," he laughed.

Excitement ran through the senior community as word of the impending marriage was announced.

The night before the big day in August of 1992, Wally and Betty were enjoying a quiet evening together in Betty’s apartment when Betty thought she heard someone fall in the hallway. When she opened the door to investigate, she and Wally were stunned to discover over 100 residents armed with pots, pans, washboards and anything else that made noise, cheerily pounding away, making for one of the noisiest shivarees they had ever witnessed.

"This was a tradition among the old farm families to give the couple a
shivaree the night before the wedding. We were so surprised," said Betty.

The next day, the couple was married at Betty’s son’s home on Golden Lake, a precious piece of property that has been in the family since 1891. The newlyweds honeymooned in Sturgeon Bay.

Betty has five children from her first marriage and Wally has three daughters from his first marriage. The couple say their children have always been supportive of their marriage and feel very blessed to have such wonderful kids.

"My family is very loving and so is Wally’s," explained Sipos. "There was never any problem with our relationship. Everyone was very happy for us."

Wally and Betty say they feel lucky to have each other, too.

Although the two are very much in love, they don’t forget the love they shared with their late spouses, either. "I’ve been blessed with two great husbands," Sipos said warmly.

Jim Morningstar, clinical psychologist and director of Transformations, Inc. Counseling Center in Milwaukee, agrees that marriage for seniors is a good, healthy step. Speaking as both a professional and from personal experience, Morningstar has been witness to the benefits of these relationships.

"My own father remarried at 70," explained Morningstar. "And I can tell you that the marriage gave him a new lease on life. I am so grateful and happy he took that step."

Morningstar also agrees with Kaske in that adult children sometimes do have problems with their older parents getting remarried.

"The biggest problem I see is that adults have got this stable image of how their family is set up," said Morningstar. "Someone new comes into the picture and suddenly things change. It’s tough for many people."

Morningstar says that much of the confusion can be avoided by keeping the lines of communication open with family members and by securing a prenuptial agreement with their intended spouses.

"Prenuptial agreements are vital tools for people of this age," said Morningstar. "So much has already been promised and established in these families that people need to be on the ball and think about protecting these promises."

Morningstar says that doesn’t mean things can’t be changed or "tweaked" a little if necessary, but that it’s important that both of the families involved can feel comfortable and secure with the agreement.

The best advice Morningstar says he has for seniors who are looking for love and companionship is to simply get out and do the things you really like to do.

"It is among those people you will find someone who has the same interests as you do," he explained.

Morningstar’s father Andrew Scholz is now 85 years old and celebrating 16 years of marriage to his wife Ruth. Andrew and Ruth met at their church, where they were both members of the widower’s club. In addition to enjoying many of the same interests, Morningstar says his father has been showered with a dose of culture in the process.

"Dad has discovered my stepmother’s love of opera and travel," said Morningstar. "She has also helped him to put together his book of poetry, which has now been published. I think Dad has learned how important it is to cherish every single day and with Ruth’s love and support, he is living out his dream."