Enduring Love and Death

We marvel when we see older couples display the enduring love that has stood the test of time.  Enduring love turns to extreme pain and confusion when ones’ life partner dies.  The surviving spouse is left to mourn the loss of a partner and so much more.

The love and lives of older couples remind me of a myth I read as a child.  It involved an old couple who entertained a strange visitor.  The couple showed the visitor extreme hospitality although they lived a meager lifestyle.  The visitor chose to bless the couple by giving them everlasting life together.  When the couple died, they were transformed into two distinct trees.  The trees grew together and became intertwined and inseparable.

My family is vicariously experiencing our surviving parents’ responses related to the death of my father and father-in-law.  Both men died in 2011 and within months of each other.  My father and mother were married for 55 years prior to his death.  My in-laws were married for 63 years.  My mother and mother-in-law were both in their early 20s when they married.  They both married in an age when men were expected to take care of them.  Although both women raised children and took care of their families, they also worked and enjoyed professional careers.  They never experienced life as single adults and never made decisions without the input of their husbands.  Now as widows, they have to learn to make decisions on their own; create a satisfying social life; and manage life as a single person.

Research shows that older surviving spouses have increased mortality rates and high suicide rates after the death of a spouse.  Older surviving spouses are at increased risk for ongoing depression and depressive symptoms.  They also have increased incidence of somatic symptoms.  In particular older surviving spouses complained of muscle and joint aches, weight changes and loss of appetite.  They increasingly utilize medical services.  Research has also shown that after a spouses’ death, the surviving spouse may demonstrate symptoms of clinical depression for 1 – 2 years.  They may complain of sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties, memory problems, and decreased interest in social interactions.

It is important for older surviving spouses to socialize with caring friends and to participate in group functions.  Grief support groups are particularly helpful and may be found through hospitals, faith-based organizations, or other community resources.

Our family continues to encourage our mothers to eat properly, to exercise according to their ability, and to follow the doctor’s orders by taking their medication properly.  We encourage them to socialize with friends and to participate in activities outside of their home.  We encourage them to do what they can on their own and encourage them to try new activities.

Older surviving spouses need to be reminded that grief is a process that takes time.  Unlike enduring love, it does not last forever.

  • New Grief Study Reveals Surprising Truths Mourning a Spouse – Counseli… – AARP.” AARP – Health, Travel Deals, Baby Boomers, Election News, Over 50, Online Games, Retirement Plan. N.p., 14 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://www.aarp.org/relationships/grief-loss/info-03-2011/truth-about-grief.html>.
  • “Mourning the Death of a Spouse | National Institute on Aging.” National Institute on Aging | The Leader in Aging Research. Social Work in Health Care, Vol. 29(4) 1999, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2013. <http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/mourning-death-spouse>.

·         Raveis, PhD, Victoria H.. “Facilitating Older Spouses’ Adjustment to Widowhood: A Preventive Intervention Program.” Social Work in Health Care Vol. 29.4 (1999): 13-32. Columbia.edu. Web. 18 Feb. 2012.

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