But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

– Jenny Joseph (Click here for the story behind this popular poem)

What is old? This question has been haunting me since the cardiologist told me, “Your husband is a young man, his valve replacement is routine.  He’ll be out of the hospital within a week and feel better than ever.”

That statement was made almost a year ago.  Because of a previously unknown congenital defect in his aortic valve, my husband ended up having two valve replacements and two additional heart procedures while he was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  He was in the ICU and then an acute care hospital for almost two months.

The care my husband received was excellent.  His recovery is an on-going process.  He is at a healthier weight, and in cardio rehab to rebuild muscle.   Last month, we learned that the cognitive issues that he sometimes experiences, are most likely due to a temporary condition which the doctors call “pumphead“.  My husband sees his post surgery self  “old”.

As we prepared to visit his family this summer.  My hubby was concerned about having to go into in-depth explanations about the changes in his physical and cognitive appearance.  As he expressed his concerns, what popped into my head was “When I am old, I shall wear purple.”  What came out of my mouth was,  “Well, if you are feeling old, we could always dye our hair purple.”  Much to my surprise, he said, “Yes, let’s do it!”

Off we went to my hairdresser.  She was not surprised by my request as I had been letting my colored red hair fade into gray while I was care giving for my husband.  At one point during a haircut earlier this year, I joked.  “If I decide to color my hair again, I’ll just go purple.”  My husband’s request was a surprise.  It’s not everyday a 60 something guy walks into her salon and requests a dye job, let alone a purple one.

As current day pop music filled the salon, we patiently sat and waited for purple dye to set on both our heads.  I chuckled to myself.   Was I old at 64?   Based on their song Will You Still Love Me When I’m 64?  the Beatles thought so.  In the 60s, they thought 30 was old.  I didn’t feel much  older than 30,  uh 40,  ok, maybe 50.  If we wear purple, when does practice stop and old begin?

My practical, sometimes impatient husband looked like someone out of one of his sci-fi novels.    Bits of aluminum foil lined his head where purple dye dotted his hair.   I looked pretty goofy, too. It seemed like there was far more purple in my hair than his.  We  grinned at each other, amazed by our silliness. Patience, stillness and not taking life too seriously have been daily practices over the past few months. Does this mean we’re old?

Shampooed, hair cut and dried. We each looked in our respective mirrors.  “It’s really purple!” We said in unison.  At this point, we were attracting polite but curious side glances from the stylish younger women who were getting their hair done.  Our hairdresser assured us it was a fun look as we put our heads together to point our purple heads into the iPhone camera for future documentation.   Can we be old and have a fun look?

When I scheduled our hair appointment several weeks prior, I had forgotten that I had agreed to substitute teach some yoga classes at a retirement center on the following day. I tried to forget about my purple hair as I set up for class.  “Maybe they won’t notice.” I thought.  One spry 90 year old, walked into class and said, “Oh, my, your hair matches your yoga mat.  Did you do that on purpose?”   I briefly shared our purple story.  “I like it.  It really looks good on you.  Maybe I’ll do mine purple, too!” She chuckled.

The next day on our seven hour drive to my husband’s family, we attracted many second glances during our frequent rest stops.  At Bob Evan’s a perky waitress said. “Love your hair.  You two seem like a fun couple.”  Are we fun because we have purple hair, or because we’re old people who dyed our hair purple?

Finally we arrive at my nephew’s house.  He greeted us.  “Purple hair! What fun.”  His 12 year old son, asked, “If they have purple hair, why can’t I have blue?”  My nephew replied.  “School starts next week. No blue hair during the school year.”

After a month of shampoos, my hubby’s hair has no trace of purple.  I have lavender highlights mixed in with my gray.  While neither of us are any younger than when we dyed our hair, we both have a spring in our step.  My hubby’s health continues to improve.  Maybe the purple practice did prepare us to be old.  After all, isn’t old age just a number or a state of mind?

PS.   The title of the poem, When I Am An Old Woman, I shall Wear Purple has run through my mind for several months now.  The repetitive mantra which  pops up several times a day caused me to google the poem.  In doing so, I came across a lovely blog site: later bloomer.com by Debra Eve.  In her blogs, Debra pays tribute to late bloomers “who embrace art and adventure later in life.”  It was on her website that I learned about the poem’s original and its author, Jenny Joseph.

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