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.