Seniors | Love rekindled: After her husband of 63 years dies, widow pursues her passion for poetry

I’ve always been fascinated by romantic relationships that seem to last forever. When I hear of couples who remain deeply in love after 40, 50, 60 years of marriage, I imagine the thousands of meals they’ve shared together, the thousands of shared conversations, road trips, stories, arguments, conflicts, moments of silence, even moments of boredom that must come from knowing someone so well you can predict their every move.

In today’s dating scene, when a one-hour coffee date can seem like a long ordeal, I marvel at how a couple can go on a few thousand “dates” and still love each other. I mean, seriously, how much is there to talk about?

Well, I met a woman the other day, Norma Zack, who can’t remember ever being bored during the 63 years she spent with her husband, William, who passed away five years ago. Norma is a hopeless romantic. Her love for her husband was so deep that after he died, she had to move to another retirement home because the memory of his absence was too painful. But that didn’t make things any better. The hole in her heart was still there. She missed him more every day.

David Suissa

As simple as it sounds, she needed to find something else to love. She didn’t just miss her husband, she missed the very act of loving him. That act of loving kept her alive. She needed to fall madly in love again.

So she rekindled an old love affair — with words.

At 92, she decided she would become a full-time poet. She gathered some of her old poems and started writing new ones. Each day, she would work on her poems on any kind of paper she could find, from yellow legal pads to the backs of envelopes. After a few years of this, she had accumulated hundreds of papers filled with old scribbled poems and scratch marks.

But who would ever get a chance to enjoy these poems?

As it turns out, a UCLA English student, Laura Rivera, had started a weekly poetry class at the retirement home. She met Norma, fell in love with her poetry, and decided she would edit and publish a book of her poems.

For many months, Rivera met with Norma to go over the random pages of her poetry. She had to decipher the handwriting and the scratchy notes; some of the poems were incomplete. Eventually, they selected 28 poems and published them in a little booklet called, appropriately, “Simple Poems.”

The poems are about love, loss, renewal and simple encounters. In “Will I Be Content,” she wonders how she will cope without her husband: “Will I be content to hear the day’s sounds and songs/And know that he does not?/How can I stop dreams for him/When I have lived within his dreams?”

In “A Fable,” she writes about her search for wisdom: “Come, old man, sit by my side/What’s in the paper bag you hold so tight?/ I will tell you, he replies, if you promise to stay/Listeners are scarce.”

In “Marriage,” she reflects on marital bonds: “I had taken a vow. That was a blanket/To cover all life’s events/Some cracks appeared/Many healed unaided/Others became accepted/We let no space grow too far apart.”

In “Care Giver,” she speaks of the eternity of love: “When we were young lovers/You called me by many names/I answered all with pleasure/Today you call me without a name/I still answer your call.”

In “Unsaid Words,” she laments life’s missed opportunities: “How sad to have crossed paths frequently/Not knowing each other at all/It would not take too long to be strangers no longer/To you, I’d gladly spill all my memories/I’d let them fall as petals shaken from a tree/In exchange/ Talk to me, talk to me/I will clasp your words like/lost children/Close to my heart.”

And in “For Simple Poetry,” she explains her art: “What’s wrong with simplicity/Sincerity enjoyed immediately/I hope that one poem reaches you like a summer breeze/Wonderfully cooling and refreshing/That will lie in your memory like the past/Of some lovely day.”

“I love words; I always have,” Norma told me when I met her at her retirement home. “It’s important to love a lot of things. That’s how I stay alive.”

David Suissa
is president of Tribe Media, which includes the L.A. Jewish Journal.