Couples Together in Old Age

Friday I was on a bus in New York City. After having just boarded and paid, the bus lurched. Before I grabbed a pole for stability, I found myself almost in the lap of a petite,  fragile-looking, definitely well-into-her-eighties woman.

An old man, with perhaps a vision problem from the looks of his dark glasses, sat next to the woman. I sat down on her other side. I don’t know what drew my attention towards her lap. The very old-looking hand of the man next to her was on her knee, and a few fingers of her very old feminine hand were on top of his. Sweet, I thought, as I observed her little finger caressing the back of his hand.

They could have been newly weds, but their age led me to believe otherwise. So no doubt they are simply two old people who genuinely care about each other.

We know (how do we know? I’m guessing there are statistics but it seems like it’s just something we know) that when an older person’s spouse dies, the remaining spouse often dies a relatively short time later.

How can we–as adult children–play a significant role in the lives of widowed elders, who no longer have that familiar hand to hold or caress? We often think about trying to fill in and be there when death is fresh, but of course it’s equally important on an ongoing basis. While being supportive and planning some short outings can’t replace a partner of decades, don’t you think it has to contribute to helping the remaining spouse age well.

2 thoughts on “Couples Together in Old Age

  1. My mother lived eight years after my father died at 89. Those were challenging and lonely years for her. She had cared for him and for her five children from a lifetime, once he was gone she didn’t know what to do with herself. We did what we could for her and she had many friends, but she needed to somehow find a purpose and a reason to go on living. That was harder to find and ultimately she gave up. There are so many lessons in her experience for me, but the one I hear most clearly is to spend some time with yourself as early as possible and get to know who you are apart from your spouse. Our generation has been more diligent in this endeavor than her’s, but when you’re a couple for such a long time it’s easy to slip into a duo that forgets a little bit about independence. No one can replace a mate of 30 plus years, but meaning and purpose and a reason to get up in the morning can almost certainly help fill the void ~ along with a few good friends! Love your blog!

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