"No Longer Afraid to Love"
stories & photos by Melanie Occhiuzzo
"No Longer Afraid to Love"
"Making the Best of It"
About the Author
No Longer Afraid to Love
Living in a retirement apartment complex tucked away in Newport News, Va., Ada Ward is a beacon of youthful positivity, despite having some trials in her life, which she describes as having many walks. On a sunny day in February the two of us set off a walk of our own around the area surrounding The Arbors. The sun was bright enough to make us both squint a bit and a wind kicked up her short, white hair in little puffs.
She guides me around the paths and towards a man-made lake that she enjoys sitting by. “Sometimes the ducks come and I feed them,” she says while pointing a finger out across the water. Today, however, there are no ducks as we settle in on the bench facing the lake.
She feels a bit isolated here, but she hasn’t always been isolated, of course with her duties as a wife and mother. She was a stay-at-home mom, she says, and has always put her family first. Yet, she says, “I envy those women who can go out and work. They only have to really put them to bed and they’re work is done. They have it so much easier than stay-at-home mothers.”
Before she met her husband, Don, she worked as a seamstress/retailer of clothing. She married Don at a very young age and started her walk with him quite early. Don was an engineer in the Space Program that NASA in the 1960s. They split their time between home, Hampton Roads, and Florida. Ada’s eyes shine while she talks about her husband and his dedication to his family. “I didn’t think he’d live through it,” she told me, “There were some nights that he wouldn’t get home until one in the morning.”
Her devotion to her husband and children weren’t her only passions though. Ada has a large heart and spent a great deal of her time working with charity projects and helping others. Some of her favorite projects were driving deaf children to-and-from school and working with people with mental illness.
'Afraid to love really deeply for a long time.'
Her walk in life, like that of so many, has had its turns with grief. Both her father and her uncle (who became her surrogate father) died very suddenly when she was young. Those deaths marked her in a sort of way she explains. “I was afraid to love really deeply for a long time. I didn’t let myself love my husband very much until about twenty years into marriage.”
Don died in 1995, very suddenly, of cancer. “It was quite cruel what the doctor said,” she told me. They had gone to several doctors who said he was just fine, but their final doctor told him, “Well I’ve got news for you, you’re dying.” It was rather shocking to lose him so soon Ada says, her gaze to looking past me.
One thing that strikes me about Ada is her ability to talk about the hardships in her life without becoming too emotional. Her husband told her that they had had a good life and that he wanted her to honor him by living the rest of her life. Ada never married again. “I don’t have time for that,” she exclaimed. At first she was very sad. “It was the worst day of my life when they told me Don was dying,” and afterwards she didn’t want to set foot in another hospital again but God had different plans, she said.
Living independently has its appeal for Ada, but one downside—isolation—hadn't occurred to her until a friend fell in her apartment and wasn’t found for three days. That was a wake-up call. Her friend’s sons said that they couldn’t have been checking in on their mother, since she had decided to live so far away from them. This pushed Ada, at first, to move closer to her daughter and then, later, into assisted living. “It was too soon for my taste,” Ada muttered while gesturing around the room. “There isn’t enough stimulation here and I don’t like the limited freedom I’m given.”
Ada spends most of her time taking classes on aging, working crafts and spending time with her grandchildren. And when someone ask about her age? “I never like to tell people my age, they always hold it against you.”
These days, old age is her biggest challenge in life, she says. There are a lot of negatives that she can get caught up in if she doesn’t make an effort to remain positive. She tries to keep herself very busy. “My kids accuse me of never being able to relax. But I thank God every day that I can get up and move some.” ◊
Ada spends most of her time trying to stay busy. She wanted to become more involved in the community after her husband died. “If I didn’t think of today and the future I would live in the past," she says.
When she and her husband were younger they loved photography—he loved to take pictures and she liked working in the dark room developing the photos for him. Seeing her memories preserved in a solid form was always helpful for her. She says she isn’t one for reminiscing because she feels as though that leaves her stuck in the past. Her photos are a way for her to innocently look back on the good times without getting stuck there.
Ada mentions that she was never very sociable, especially with a sizable age gap between her husband’s friends and herself. She does, however, say that now that the stress of raising her children and caring for her mother is over she feels better now than when she was in her thirties.
Her life took on a different meaning after her husband passed. She was no longer the housewife who cared for her family. She was now the independent woman who was ready to live the rest of her life to the fullest. Her husband wanted it that way she tells me, leaning forward a bit in her chair.
Money was tight, and a Medicine-mix up
Her life hasn’t always been easy. There were ups and downs throughout her childhood and marriage but none of that distracted her from the goal of always remaining positive. She remembers when they would be short on money—when she and her husband, Don, were newly weds. Her daughter, Beverly, wanted a Popsicle and Don didn’t have the money to cover it. Times like that were difficult, but they made it through. She doesn’t dwell on these times much, Ada says. She instead tries to make the best of each situation.
When Ada was pregnant with her first child, Beverly, she almost lost her due to a complication with medication. She was given the wrong medication, and that led to seizures and other physical ailments throughout her life.
“Sometimes I feel cheated,” she mutters. The problems associated with the mix-up with her medicine harmed the quality of her life and led to a lifelong mistrust of doctors.
Despite these issues though Ada persevered and had two more children, in addition to her "miracle baby" (Beverly), who made up a lovely family. She spends every Tuesday with her grandchildren and loves that she is able to have this time with them. “I didn’t want to get this old but I am fortunate to be able to spend it with family.” As always, Ada continues to make the best of it. ◊
Making the Best of It
“Living as an older person has its ups and downs. “I wish I could get a card that says I’m competent,” Ada says. She sits in her armchair by the window, playing with a piece of string on the armrest. She explains that older people are hard to deal with sometimes and that makes it worse for the rest of us. “I never share my opinion because they have everyone else’s already.”
Despite the loss of loved ones early in life, and a bad medicine prescription as a young mother, which has caused problems throughout her life, Ada Ward looks on the bright side... and stays focused on the present and future.