The question asked most often



Art Borden and his wife Alice enjoy a card game together at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community’s Oak Lea residence not long before Alice died. Photo provided

Ever since my wife passed last summer I have been asked “How are you doing?” Friends, acquaintances, former colleagues, neighbors and family members have all asked it.

Sometimes they say “How are things going?” or “How are you handling things?” Sometimes it is a statement- question, “It is tough isn’t it.”

I know the question is being asked out of concern and with good intentions. The problem is, I am not sure how to answer the question. I even wonder if I am the right person to answer the question. It might be better to ask someone who knows me well and say, “How is Art doing?”

My usual response is “Things are going well. I feel fine. Thank you.” I believe that is an honest answer and it seems to satisfy most people.

The experience has made me think about a number of things. It dawned on me the other day that for a married person to lose a spouse is a normal thing. It is only in some unusual accident both spouses die at the same time. The normal thing is for one spouse to die and for the other to be left behind. This fact is recognized in the marriage vows we take at the time of marriage. The one officiating says “… til death do you part.” Death will almost always happen to one spouse before the other.

Fifty percent of married people have their spouse die first; however, all married people have to face the question, what will I do if my spouse dies. The loss of a spouse is not the unusual, it is the normal. It is going to happen. It is not a question of “if,” but “when.” Death is a fact of life.

It dawned on me the other day that … the normal thing is for one spouse to die and for the other to be left behind.

This is not something to fear, for it is something all married people should take into account. The death of a spouse is not an accident, even if it occurs in an accident. The death of a spouse is part of God’s plan for our lives.

None of this is meant to say the death of spouse is not a time for sadness. Just as marriage is a time of gain and rejoicing, the death of a spouse is a time of loss and sorrow. It is a time for grieving. However, it is a normal part of life and we need to deal with it as such.

Sadness and unpleasantness is not the same as evil or bad. The separation of a loved one through death does not mean God has turned His back on us. It does not mean it is not God’s will for that person or the surviving spouse. We are all going to die and we need to recognize that. Not everything that comes into one’s life is pleasant. Most of us grow, develop and mature more through our troubles and problems than through the easy joyous times in our life.

Here are several questions to consider:

If you are the remaining spouse, would you rather have died first and left your spouse alone? Would you rather your spouse be grieving for you than you for them? Be thankful your spouse died first and does not have to grieve as you do.

Are you better able to deal with life alone than the deceased spouse? Could your deceased spouse handle the matter of daily living as well as you can?

What are you free to do now, that you could not do before? Is there opportunity for ministry and service that was not there before? Can you do things for others that you could not do before?

How has the death of a spouse helped you grow, develop and mature so as to be a better person than before?

Grieving is a part of living. Since we cannot avoid death, we cannot avoid grief, especially when we care for the one who died. Grieving is caring, remembering, healing and growing. And not all grief need be sad.

When we got married, we developed new patterns in our life. We had to take into account our partner; their likes and dislikes, habits and mannerisms, personality, strengths and weaknesses. When we lose a partner, we are more mature and developed than when we married. We now have to adapt and fill in the gaps that show up without our partner. Over the years we have learned many things from living with our spouse. After the loss of our spouse we have the opportunity to take those things we have learned and put them into practice in our own lives and in our own way.

So how am I doing? I am not always certain. Some days are better than others. One thing I know, though, is that this is life. This is normal life, life we need to deal with, and life all of us need to do our best to prepare for. It is God’s will for me at this time.

ART BORDEN is on the board of Valley Living.



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