Parting Thoughts

Jennie’s obituary in the newspaper wasn’t exactly a surprise to Ted. It would have been nice, though, if one of the kids had phoned or at least sent a text or email. He was, after all, the last husband she’d had.

And she his last wife. He glanced at the framed color photo on the wall beside him, one their daughter Thea had managed to get for him maybe five years ago. In her early 70s then, snowy white hair, trim, still a handsome woman; before the cancer. Age hadn’t withered her as much as it had him; he was balding and thickening enough that he avoided mirrors.

They’d been in their early 50s, past their prime, when she divorced him, despite his humbling himself. By the time she learned of his brief affair, he’d already broken it off. She’d nonetheless turned a deaf ear to his pleas for forgiveness, his offers to do anything for expiation, redemption, even conditional tolerance.

He read the obit again. Probably Thea’s handiwork: He was mentioned: “She leaves a daughter, Theadore Williams; a son, Alexander Everett; and her former husband, Theodore Everett.” A memorial service would be arranged soon.

Are ex-husbands welcome at their former wives’ funerals? First instinct: Never mind customary; he wanted to pay last respects to the mother of his children, the woman he’d loved.

And then: Perhaps he should have the kids’ approval. He’d best call Thea.

And then, more basic: He’d need a ride. It was only last month that he’d given up the car; he hadn’t had occasion until now to beg for a ride. He’d moved into Harmony Acres earlier in the year, and was delighted to learn that a van that offered rides to a nearby supermarket once a week and, if planned ahead, to doctors and dentists. He had some hearing loss, wore bifocals that were hard to keep focused on the road, and had some loss of feeling in his feet. He’d reluctantly acknowledged that he was an unsafe driver; sold the car to an online outfit that came to get it.


Some women might have forgiven a once-in-a-long-marriage infidelity, but not strait-laced Jennie – and she had manipulated the parting in a way to claim the kids’ sympathy and put him at a sometimes-cool distance from his own children.

It had hardly helped that sex was so central to the whole thing. He doubted she had ever really enjoyed it. Once she’d borne him a daughter and then a son, she became little more than dutiful in bed, often claiming headaches or other ailments, and in later years teasing his need for chemical stimulation. She’d already resumed a fulfilling academic career, and maybe had less need than he for a marriage partner.

He’d needed no Viagra with Carmen. A superbly-endowed, ebony-haired beauty of a secretary, she had accompanied him and two colleagues to an out-of-town law conference, where they almost by chance stumbled into bed. Back home, he managed hotel-room trysts for several weeks. But he began to feel guilty about exploiting a boss-employee relationship; realized that sex wasn’t as important as he’d once thought; and concluded that she wasn’t anyone with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life.

He’d let her down gently, finding her a better job – with another firm – and giving her a parting cash gift. He almost eagerly went back to Jennie, the woman with whom he had a lifetime of experience and interests that he looked forward to sharing into old age, never mind any shortcomings of the flesh.

He never learned how she found out about the affair. When she confronted him, he shame-facedly admitted everything. In retrospect, too much candor, too much detail, succeeding only in fueling her obstinacy. She must have mentioned at least some of his graphic confessions to the kids; neither of them had been willing to intercede with her on his behalf.

So she won the divorce. He agreed to a generous settlement, because he still cared about her, and he could afford it.

Neither of them remarried. Her college career blossomed, so she must have had opportunities. He began to wonder if his brief dalliance was the excuse she’d been waiting for, to be freed from the drudgeries of marital life.

For his part, he never encountered anyone whose interests and accomplishments matched his in the way Jennie’s had. In fact, he never looked very hard. He threw himself into his work, becoming an even more successful lawyer with grateful clients of stature; volunteered on community boards and projects; tried and abandoned three men’s clubs; became an ardent fan and supporter of the University’s basketball teams.

And was lonely.


Loneliness led him to a life care retirement community even before he retired. The Acres, as residents liked to call it, turned out to be a superb choice, populated by several hundred smart and successful people, many of whom he came to like and admire. It had a restaurant-quality dining room, and a tradition of inviting each other to share meals.

He soon had a busy social calendar with both men and women – some couples, but mostly widowers and widows. Ted found himself enjoying – indeed, seeking – female companionship.

He puzzled over that. He had no interest in re-marrying, let alone a sexual dalliance. He was too old for that, and so were all The Acres’ women; the demands of aging bodies made any prospect of physical intimacy daunting. And he had a daily routine that was comfortable. Young people, he mused, enter marriage before setting habits of daily life into stone; they can with minimal effort mesh their lives with a partner’s different habits. Long before the late 70s habits have hardened; accommodating someone else’s seemed a steeper climb.

And yet, and yet: Dinnertime conversation was better with Agnes Warren, a former literature professor, at the table. He was a clumsy player, but enjoyed playing bridge with Marilyn Quimby, who praised his efforts but always won. He had no knack for jigsaws, but always stopped to kibbitz if he spotted Kathy Moore working one of the several puzzles that were put out in lobbies for residents’ enjoyment. He could go for weeks without thinking about Jennie.

Now he put his mind to wondering which of The Acres’ women he might ask to take him to Jennie’s memorial service, if Thea and Alex balked.


And balk they did. Alex would be flying in from Albany, and would get to the church in an Uber rather than renting a car. Thea had to be there early to greet friends and be sure everything went smoothly.

“Besides, Dad,” she tried to placate him, “you’d be uncomfortable. Almost everyone who comes will be a friend from her . . . her single . . . her life after the divorce. You’d hardly know anyone.”

“Still, I’d like to be there,” he insisted. “The divorce was an unhappy chapter in my life, but we had happy chapters together. It will be good to remember.”

“Are you wanting to . . . have a part in the service? Speak?”

“No, no. I’ll be as quiet as a bump on a log.”

“Dad, I’m not sure how we can get you there. It just won’t work.”

So he played his ace. “Maybe I can get one of my Harmony Acres neighbors to bring me. There are several women I have dinner with now and then, and I think most of them still drive.”

“My Lord, Dad! You want to come to Mom’s funeral with another woman? What would people think!”

Not wanting to further upset his daughter, he let it go, said he’ think about it.


The service was set for Friday evening two weeks away, at the campus chapel. A longish drive. He’d have to get serious about finding a ride.

Out of the blue, Agnes Warren phoned. “Ted, in all our dinner conversations I’ve never asked: How do you and classical music get along?”

“Fine. I’m a rank amateur; never played an instrument all through school, so not a very sophisticated listener. But I sang in a college choir big enough that no one noticed my wretched voice. And subscribed to the symphony for years. Why do you ask?”

“I have a spare ticket. I usually go with a friend, but she’s going to be out of town.”

“When is it?”

“Friday of next week. You might join me?”

Wow. Moment of decision. He stalled. “I haven’t paid much attention recently. What are they playing?”

“Brahms. The German Requiem.”

“A favorite. ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.’”

She unhesitatingly offered the next line: “‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’. So you’ll come?”

Problem solved. He could remember Jennie from a distance. What had Brahms written next? Something like ‘All flesh is as grass . . . and the grass withereth.’ Maybe, but he might yet grow a little grass. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll take you to dinner before the concert.”


Published by Discretionary Love in early May 2024


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