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Why I Am Getting Remarried at 71

And no, the bride won’t be wearing white.

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Bouquet of wedding flowers flying in the air
Bartholomew Cooke/Trunk Archive
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By the time you read this, I will be a married woman again. I just giggled when I wrote that sentence and I’m still smiling. I smile quite a lot these days because I’m pretty darn happy, but it wasn’t always like this.

I am a wife-turned-caregiver-turned-widow and Charlie, my soon-to-be new husband, had an almost identical journey. We met on an online dating site mere months after our respective longtime spouses died and pretty much knew from the get-go that we were each other’s “it.”

It was defining what that “it” was that gave us pause. What do you call two people our ages — 71 and 72 — who fall madly in love? Were we soulmates? Partners? Lovers? Best friends? Companions? Confidants? Crazy?

We were all of those things and then some. We both felt we were meant to be together, for now and forever.

We began using the L-word pretty early in our courtship and met each other’s grown children and old friends quickly and uneventfully. I even showed up on his arm at his small-town 50th high school reunion, and a few months later, he traveled 3,000 miles to join me at mine.

The only raised eyebrows we encountered came from a few well-intended people who thought we were rushing things. They told us that our spouses had been dead for only a few months and that the rules are that we needed to grieve for at least a year.

Yeah, well, that didn’t happen. We are living proof that hearts can expand to love new people without pushing out any feelings for those we loved before. I hadn’t cleared out my late-husband’s clothes from the closet before Charlie began coming around.

Charlie and I fell deeply in love, and we did so effortlessly. I don’t quite understand it myself, except to say that we both knew what we wanted and we found it in each other. We like to do the same things — hike and eat great food and drink wine — and we share similar political perspectives. Through our caregiving experiences we had a heightened appreciation for the reality that life is short and a healthy life even shorter.

Before we knew it, our pillow talk shifted to marriage.

Initially, I held up a stop sign. I’m a child of the ’60s; who needs marriage, right? Plus, honestly, to promise anyone that I could again be a caregiver was a promise I wasn’t sure I could make, let alone keep.

Could we have a wedding vow that left out the “in sickness” part? Charlie, being Charlie, knew I needed more time to heal the caregiving scars. So, we waited. We will be married this Spring, four years after our first date. In truth, I have always loved the institution of marriage. I love its absoluteness, its pledge to keep believing, its insistence that working things out trumps the ability to bolt even when you want to. But getting married at an older age is complicated, finances and family being the biggest hurdles.

We tackled those two right off the bat: What each of us brings to the marriage remains our own. My money and assets belong to my two children and his money and assets will go to his daughter. Assets and debts that we acquire together, we will split while we are alive and after that, they also go to our respective kids.

We made sure we had separate family trusts and put our holdings in them. We met with our respective tax advisers, brokers and family lawyers, and did what we could to protect ourselves from the reality that the divorce rate for second marriages is even higher than it is for first ones. Although I would bet that most of those second-marriage failures belong to much younger people.

At our ages, forever looks a lot shorter.

Ann Brenoff and her husband on the beach
Courtesy Ann Brenoff

We sold both our houses and bought a new one together in a California beach community. Somewhere between all the packing and moving boxes, COVID-19 stomped into our lives with a vengeance and complicated our carefully laid plans.

We persevered, even as the pandemic closed down the government office we needed to visit to get a marriage license. We had to convince a good friend that, yes, he could indeed legally officiate at our wedding. Because, hell, this is California and Section 400-402 of the California Family Code says that anyone may officiate a wedding, including those who have received authorization via the internet.

No, we told him, he didn’t need to dress up like Elvis. This wasn’t Vegas.

What kind of wedding could be had with masks and social distancing? The best kind. Our kind. The kind where it’s more about the marriage and far less about the wedding party. Honestly, this seems to bother our friends more than either me or Charlie. For us, it’s always been about committing to how we feel about each other, forever; to put thoughts of each other ahead of thoughts of ourselves; to strive to make each day better than the day before. To recognize, feel, believe and hold dear our love for one another. Hey, I think I just wrote my vows!

So, no, the bride is unlikely to wear white. I may be talked out of wearing my jeans but probably not my flip flops. We are planning to crank up our Zoom account to allow 100 participants and keep the session to under 40 minutes. We may sit on our stools at the kitchen counter or perhaps on the outside patio, surrounded by the garden we planted in our new home. I’m guessing we will pop open some champagne and invite folks at home to join us in a toast to our future.

And please, no gifts are necessary because we both have everything we need: Each other.   

Photo enhancement by Elena Scotti

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