Everything changed for author Anne Roiphe when she lost her husband of nearly forty years to a heart attack in 2005. From cooking for one, to hailing cabs, to unlocking her own front door, she had to piece together the practical mechanics of a new life — all while struggling with a grief that seemed unbearable at times. In her memoir, “Epilogue,” Roiphe documents the day-to-day challenges of widowhood and her cautious quest for new love.
It was mid-December of 2005. I don't know why he said it. I don't know if a shadow had fallen across him, something appalling he saw out of the corner of his eye. I don't know if it was just coincidence or intuition that prompted him, but about a week before my seemingly healthy 82-year-old husband suddenly died, he emerged from the kitchen ready to go to his office, his face clean-shaven, his eyes shining, smiling shyly, holding the copy of the Anthony Trollope book he was rereading, and said to me, "You have made me very happy. You know that you have made me a happy man." There I stood in my work outfit, blue jeans and a T-shirt. There I stood with my white hair and my wrinkles and the face I was born with, although now much creased by time, and I felt beautiful.
"What?" I said. I wanted him to repeat the words. "You heard me," he said and put on his coat and drew his earmuffs out of his pocket. "Say it again," I said. He said it again. "You've made me happy." We had been married 39 years. We had held hands waiting in hospital corridors while a desperately ill child struggled to breathe and thankfully recovered. We had made financial mistakes together. We had spent hours out in fishing boats. We had raised the children and then second-guessed our choices. We had stood shoulder to shoulder at graduations and weddings and we were well-worn, but still I had make him happy, and I was proud and flushed with the warmth of his words.
I know I looked beautiful that morning. Perhaps not to the young man holding his toddler in his arms who rode the elevator with me; perhaps not to the friend I met for lunch, a true believer in Botox; perhaps not to passersby on the street; but I knew it for a certainty. I was beautiful.
I don't believe that inner beauty is sufficient in this cruel world. That's the pap one tells a child. I don't believe that positive thinking improves your skin tone or that loving or being loved changes the shape of your nose or restores the thickness and color of hair, but I do know that there is a way of being beautiful, even as age takes its toll, that has something to do with the spirit filling with joy, something to do with the union with another human being, with the sense of having done well at something enormously important, like making happy a man who has made you happy often enough.
Ten days after that morning conversation, my husband and I returned from a concert and dinner with friends and walked down our windy block toward our apartment house when suddenly he stumbled and fell and died within minutes. As I waiting for the ambulance, I remembered his words, a beauty potion I would take with me into the rest of my life.