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Yale 62

Reunion Reflections of a Trailing Spouse

By Tim Hall

Tim and Marcy

This is a report from the firing line, reflecting on yesterday’s experiences of being a nonessential participant in the ancient ritual, the Big Decade Reunion (for ancient alums). My wife, Marcy Crary, is a member of the Radcliffe/Harvard Class of 1972, was on the Reunion Planning Committee and chaired one of their class panels. So, she was a central member of the class gathering – and I was anything but. And this distance provided some useful opportunities for me to experience some new thoughts and feelings. And at my age, I have learned to appreciate anything that’s new!

So, since our class is about to stage its own Big Decade Reunion (for even more ancient alums), I thought it might be useful to share some of my observations as a Trailing Spouse, in hopes that it might help give you, my classmates, a different perspective on our upcoming 60th and perhaps help your spouse or partner with our Y62 event.

Here are some reflections on being a Reunion Trailing Spouse, in no particular order:

  • Being a Trailing Spouse in my wife’s gathering of people who have 54 years of history together is a great opportunity to learn humility. As our own Tappy Wilder says, a reunion for people in the vicinity of our age is primarily for “yakking,” and the deeper and further back the yakking goes, the less likely are you, as the partner, to be highly relevant. You work on your listening skills!
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  • I had new experiences of getting lost on a campus that I thought I knew. Most of the events were in Sanders Theater, at which I have attended many events with Marcy over the years. I drove there on my own, since I was not attending some sessions she was doing earlier in the day. I was very relaxed about finding my way from the parking garage to Sanders. Surprise #1: There are many new buildings on the campus since my last visit (which I now realize must have been over 15 years ago), and my usual reference points were gone. So, I got lost in a familiar place. And I had to ask several different people for directions. Surprise #2: Most of the people I asked (who looked like students) couldn’t tell me where Sanders is! (Does that mean they are so focused on their own daily area of activity that they don’t know about other parts of the campus?) Finally, two people who looked like international graduate students, were able to help, after one decided to Google it.
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  • My wife has some “kickass” classmates, people with well-known names who were on panels or who were topics of conversation among her friends. Several people, on panels and in hallway conversations, talked about how easy it was, both as students and now, as 72 year-olds, to feel “less than.” And other informal talk, in many reminiscences peppered with mentions of prep schools, high-status college experiences (working on the Harvard Crimson or being in this “final club” or getting that Oxford scholarship after graduation), was similarly off-putting to someone who had had none of those experiences. It made me wonder how often Marcy has had that reaction at our reunions. And it made me realize that I can get that feeling at my own reunions, as well, although I guess I’ve become a bit numb to it.
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  • When I finally made it into Sanders and was just getting into a seat, I saw Marcy waving to me and coming over to bring me to where she and her freshman roommate, Molly, were sitting. What a wonderful feeling it was, going from Outsider to Included Insider in an instant!
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  • Once I sat down, I realized how relaxed I felt, compared to my own reunions – I had no responsibilities, whether it was a panel I was going to be on or the need to discuss class business with different people or social plans or a promise to a grandkid for some Yale swag, or just the constant need to remember names and not to overlook old friends in a crowd.
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  • This brought another realization: this was a wonderful opportunity for learning. Not only could I sit back and relax to enjoy a panel discussion, but because I wasn’t distracted by a lot of my own friends and memories – and, let’s face it, because I was occasionally a little bit bored – my mind was free to explore, ask myself questions, and think of ways the issues being discussed could apply to me. And I was able to take away personal lessons from the presentations. One example: When Washington Post columnist David Ignatius talked openly about how passionately he had wanted to be editor of the Post, as well as the Wall Street Journal, where he had worked earlier in his career, and how he ended up as a columnist, which he now loves being, it made me realize that some of these “kickass” classmates have also had their disappointments and thus are not as different from me as I had initially thought. And it made me feel more mellow about myself.
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  • As I sat in that session, looking over at Molly on my left, it reminded me that I do know several of Marcy’s classmates, and it helped me feel more at home when I saw them there. And after that first session, as we were standing around talking, those friends would introduce me to other people, and it reminded me from earlier reunions how easy it is to meet people and discover things in common in those situations. So, you do, in fact, go fairly quickly from feeling like an outsider to more of an insider. The people you already know can serve as sort of a “secure base” to be the foundation for getting to know more people.
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  • I also learned (again) the importance of being prepared with good questions to use when meeting new people. This is true in any social situation, and it’s especially important for introverts like me. But in the spouse reunion setting, it’s a great way to learn more about the “other side” or the “prior life” of your mate. Old roommates and other college friends, especially after 50 (or 60) years, remember a lot of things that your better half may have forgotten about, perhaps intentionally, and they are happy to share those stories with you. As long as you’re happy with your spouse’s being the center of attention, you’re good to go!
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  • It was striking to be in a place with so many old people! We live in a house in a neighborhood with a wide range of ages. In fact, we live a few blocks from a very popular elementary school, and a lot of people move here for that reason, so we have a lot of young families. So, it was a bit of a shock to look at all these old people at the reunion. And even more daunting was realization that they were ten years younger than me! And I think this is different from earlier, younger, reunions, where we didn’t see such dramatic effects of aging.
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  • Related to our aging, I noticed a striking variation in abilities and appearance. At Marcy’s 50th, there was much discussion of the effects of hearing loss (one panelist admitted he couldn’t comment on an audience member’s comment because he couldn’t hear it), and mobility challenges and health issues (e.g., Parkinson’s, diabetes, cancer.) It gave me a new appreciation of and gratitude for the abilities that I still have.
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  • And, because the air was full of so many references to the loss of a spouse and how that had affected people’s lives – such as long-standing retirement plans that never materialized, I was filled with a heightened awareness of and appreciation for the blessings and gifts of having a spouse and life partner. And it was sobering to think that I might have been hearing what Marcy might be saying at some future gathering.
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  • So, as a result of this realization, and all of the above experiences, I feel even more grateful for the NOW and the good moments and the days that we have together.

 
We welcome your comments below.

7 comments to Reunion Reflections of a Trailing Spouse

  • Jay Hatch

    Wonderful Tim! Thanks for sharing. I am sure most of us have those feelings but also that few really take the time to reflect on them and ourselves in those contexts. I live in a CCRC where you have to be over 65 to get in. Seeing all of those “old” people on campus is definitely turn off for many checking out the place, even though they are mostly only about 3-5 years younger. Once here you soon get use the visual, especially as you get to share more an more; after 5-8 years people coming in look at you as “old” and they often seem “young.” Jay

    • Tim Hall

      Thanks, Jay. So this reunion experience of mine will be good preparation for how I might react if Marcy and I decide to explore retirement communities. And we have discussed that possibility. I may get back to you about that, if we do! Tim

  • Peter Torreggiani

    Very pleasant read!Thanks for writing it.

  • Tim Hall

    Thanks, Peter! It was helpful — as well as fun — to me to write out my reactions, just to get clearer on the ideas. And it also gave me some new ways of thinking about my own reunions! All the best, Tim.

  • Bill Weber

    Tim,

    Great picture and words. Every man’s dream—a younger and beautiful wife!

  • Tim

    Thanks for the picture roommate. Very insightful comments. Just before we have our own reunion. I’m looking forward to our reunion and I will be there alone. Judi, my wife doesn’t often come to our Yale reunions as she knows almost just my roommates. She went to UConn and I don’t ever remember having a UCONN reunion of her classmates. So, it’s a wholly different experience to read about, but one well-articulated and well enough I could relate to. I enjoyed it. See you guys and gals in a couple of days.
    The BRO
    as in Breault

  • Tim Hall

    Hi, Bill and The Bro,

    Thanks for these thoughts. you should try your mates’ reunions sometime! You’ll learn a lot about your partner, as well as about yourself! 🙂

    Thanks again,
    Tim

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