This weekend I was speaking with a friend about his dad. His father is 86 years-old. My friend’s mother, his dad’s wife of several decades, died two years ago. Recently his dad has begun to volunteer at the local hospital as an escort for admitted patients. I was thrilled to hear this because it means his dad has decided to keep living rather than give up and die because the pain and loneliness are too great, a very understandable option.
When I was growing up, it was common knowledge that when one half of a long-married couple died, the survivor would likely live less than a year longer. This was “fact” that I picked up from conversations from adults, anyway. Movies like The Notebook that romanticize the concept of couples passing away at the same time contribute to the notion that one partner cannot go on without the other. It is somehow comforting to people to think that they will not have to carry on alone for long after their partner has passed. Yet, it is often the case that one partner will survive for a long time after the other has died. Through chance, or determination to live, some survivors discover a purpose that propels them to keep going. Perhaps they live to help others who have lost loved ones, or they will continue on because there are adult children, animals, or a cause who still need them. The decision to keep living is not immediate following death. It can take months or even years. Friends and loved ones need to be patient with the grieving partner as they come to terms with their loss and their new life.
Adults who find a purpose are blessed in the healing of their grief. Time heals most wounds, as is said, even the wound of grief. A reason to get out of bed every day, and joy from fulfilling a need, can help with the healing process. While my friend’s dad was deeply depressed by the passing of his wife, he made a choice to give back and help patients as they anxiously check in to the hospital. The volunteer position hasn’t fixed everything in the man’s heart but he wakes up and shows up to his job. He has made a choice to keep living. He is a true survivor.