Although I have had some relationships the women who have suffered at the hand of abuse, I am committed to their safety and privacy. Therefore, I changed their names. The purpose of these stories is to spread awareness.
Sally and her husband were married for over fifty years, and unless you were up close and personal, you would have never suspected anything was wrong; there was no physical evidence. She didn’t put up a front that they had a perfect marriage; everything seemed normal. Sally was a busy woman who kept her house perfectly clean and organized and always had something cooking on the stove or in the oven. I imagine she did her chores early in the morning, so she could do what she loves the most: gardening. She loved her garden, where she spent most of her free time when her husband was not home. So if you want to know anything about flowers, ask Sally! I made sure to plan to spend a good hour or so with her because I enjoyed seeing her light up when she talked about her flowers. She could name every plant, and every plant was unique to her. Flowers and planting were her “Flow.” However, I noticed she was almost always tired and seemed drained when her husband was around; it was as though he was draining the life out of her with his constant demands, control, jealousy, accusations, and complaints.
Not everyone finds their “Flow” in life, which is a gift from God. I had never heard of this term myself until a few years ago. For those who do not know what “Flow” is, it is the talent you do effortlessly. It is doing what you love. Maya Angelo said, “Do what you love.” Sally found her flow, it was her well-spring, and I believe that is what gave her the strength to press on in her marriage for fifty-plus years.
Most people think about marriage for a significant amount of time as something to be celebrated, and rightfully so for healthy marriages. However, being married that long is like a prison sentence for abused women like Sally. They are held captive in an emotionally abusive marriage. It is like spending a life sentence in a spiritual prison.
Sally and I immediately connected, like kindred spirits.
We had so much in common; she loved gardening, flowers, cooking, baking, and making her home a home. I noticed right away her happy place was planting beautiful flowers; she would spend hours outside making cuttings and grafting her buds into beautiful bouquets. People would drive into her driveway and ask how much she wanted for her flowers; the house was on a little ranch. She would laugh and say those were her flowers. She would not sell her flowers no matter how much money people would pay her. I told her she could make a lot of money, but she insisted she wasn’t ready to let them go.
We spent a lot of time together shopping at the garden stores, but her favorite was going out to lunch, just the two of us. Although she was eighty years old, and I was in my mid-thirties, we were best friends.
Then, out of the blue, she could no longer go anywhere with me, nor was I able to visit with her. I didn’t understand what happened, she just stopped answering my calls, and if I caught her off guard, she made other excuses. Nothing made sense until one day, she called me and told me she was very ill and needed medical attention. Her husband would not take her to the hospital nor allow anyone to take her. So I made a plan to tell her husband I was going to make his favorite meal. He loved my cooking. When I arrived, I told him Sally and I would run to the grocery store to buy the ingredients I needed to make dinner. Because I was in a hurry, I didn’t give him time to respond; I rushed her out the door. I knew Sally had diabetes and felt an urgency; I needed to act on my instincts.
When we arrived at the hospital, I told the receptionist that Sally had diabetes, and a nurse took her in immediately. As expected, Sally’s blood sugar was dangerously high, and she could have died that day. It was good that I listened to my gut this time. Finally, when I was allowed to see her, she opened her robe; I was horrified to see her body covered with a rash.
Later, I learned her husband coerced her into leaving the hospital a few hours later. Eventually, she was hospitalized again and spent time in a rehabilitation center. When I visited, I asked her if she was ready to go home. Most people hate being in the hospital and are anxious to go home, where they feel more comfortable. However, she seemed tense, fearful, and nervous when telling me she did not want to go home. Unfortunately, she died a few weeks later of a massive heart attack. I blamed her husband in my heart for her death because I believe he caused so much stress for her. He did not allow her to have a life outside him; he treated her like property.
The Reality of Abuse amongst the Elderly
Sadly, not everyone pays attention to the victim’s symptoms, nor are they willing to accept the reality that older men are capable of abuse. The truth is painful; love is not a bed of roses, snipped and placed on display for all to see. Like roses, abused women are displayed; husbands have pruned away their wives from their support, such as families, communities, and friends. He places metaphorical thorns around her, keeping everyone away through deception.
Older women silently suffer daily at the hand of their abusive husbands. They suffer silently because no one wants to believe that the elderly can be cruel. Instead, we would look through the rose-colored lenses, thinking how sweet and kind they are in their old sheep’s skin; a wolf is a wolf no matter what coat they wear. We cannot imagine a sweet-looking older man was capable of harming his fragile wife. However, the older an abuser gets, the meaner and more controlling he gets. He holds his victim closer to himself and whispers threats in her ear, threatening to expose the sins of her youth to their children, or he will use guilt to keep her close, such as using his health condition and stating that if she leaves him alone for a short time, he could die of a heart attack and be alone. He also uses his grown-up children to keep her in check by reversing the roles making her either seem crazy or abusive toward him. If you can’t tell who the abuser is, be mindful when you are in their presence. Also, a person who seems ill a lot could be a red flag that they are in a stressful situation.
Sally found solace in gardening; her heart was like a paradise. It was her well-spring of life, and she guarded it diligently. Regardless of her circumstances, her abusive husband could not destroy the joy in her heart, for the joy of the Lord was her strength. I understand now why she would not sell her flowers. Through Sally, I discovered how God sang a love song over her in the garden of her heart; He was with her.
23Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
Before Sally’s death, I had the honor of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with her; she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. When she died, and through my tears, I saw she was finally set free from her captivity and went to be with Jesus. Sally was a sunflower, my favorite flower. It stands tall, yellow, like the sun, and filled with seeds of love to spread throughout the garden, nourishing those in need. She was courageous, kind, and generous, and her beauty reflected the garden of her heart.