Shortly after they moved from their own house in Darien, Connecticut, into a retirement home near Fort Myers, Florida, Lucinda announced that she didn’t want to be married anymore to Fred, her husband of fifty-nine years. When she told her children this they were first horrified and then dismissive. She could not mean it, they said to her and to each other. She could not possibly be serious. They interpreted it as a sign that she was becoming senile, that her mind and judgment, which had until then remained very sharp, were becoming impaired. They took her to get tested for other signs of reduced cognitive function, but the doctors they spoke with found Lucinda to be lucid and competent, her memory of recent and distant events remarkably intact for someone of her age, which was eighty-three years old.
“But what about this idea that she’s going to leave my father?” her son, Harry, asked the gerontologist who administered the battery of tests. “If that doesn’t count as crazy, I don’t know what does.”
The doctor looked at him and shrugged.
“I can’t comment on whether your mother is making a sensible choice in this matter,” he said. “But she is able to talk about her decision with perfect clarity. Being sane is in no way related to being wise.”
“But what do you think we should do about it?” her elder daughter, Karen, asked.
“There isn’t anything you can do,” the doctor said. “I suggest you take her home.”
So they did and for a while they didn’t hear anything further about Lucinda’s plans to leave her husband. They decided among themselves that her desire must have been a passing fancy, a phase, a strange fit that she was going through as a result of her recent move.
But it was not. About a month later, with the reluctant help of her younger daughter, Cynthia, Lucinda moved her belongings out of the apartment she and Fred shared in the Golden Years Retirement Community and got her own apartment in the same complex. She petitioned for a legal separation. She spoke to a lawyer about filing for divorce.
Her children were furious with her. One after another they came to see her, her two daughters and one son, and they told her how angry her decision had made them, how selfish they thought she was being. How could she leave her husband now? Their father, they said, was old and not very well. He’d been through treatment for cancer a couple of years before, which no one thought [End Page 19] he would survive. But he had survived it and recovered, although he never gained back all the strength he lost during his chemotherapy. Every day during that difficult time, Lucinda had gone with him to the hospital, where he would be wheeled down the corridor to the treatment room by the same strong and friendly nurse with long blond hair and peppermint-pink lipstick. Then Lucinda would wait while he was given the dose of chemicals, and afterward she would accompany him home. In all that time she never faltered, never expressed impatience with him, was as steady and devoted as it is possible to be. When the doctor reported his tumor gone, she celebrated with the whole family, and since then none of her friends or relatives had detected anything significantly wrong or altered between her and her husband. Why, then, was she leaving him now?
Lucinda did not answer them, at least not in the way they wished to be answered. She merely said that it was what she wanted and she was sorry if it hurt them but she had to do what made her happy with what she had left of her own life. Then she smiled and changed the subject to something trivial and pleasant: the flowers she was planting in her window boxes, the outings that she took with her friends to go shopping and to the movies. She seemed content.
For his part, Fred was extremely upset and bewildered by Lucinda’s decision to leave; he...