By Norris Burkes Jul 7, 2019
Are you a lonely widow or widower looking for a solution to your solitude?
If so, check out the 2017 Netflix movie, “Our Souls at Night.”
The movie features Jane Fonda and Robert Redford as Addie Moore and Louis Waters. They are long-time neighbors who have little to do with each other until they lose their spouses and Addie tries to make a new connection with her neighbor.
The characters remind me of an East Coast couple I met during one of my speaking engagements. Instead of using their real names, I’ll call them Sam and Jane, per their request.
Like the movie characters, my friends also enjoyed long and happy marriages full of fun, faith, family, flight (travel) and fitness.
Those things diminished when Sam and Jane saw their spouses become sick. In the months that followed, they kept their promises to remain steadfast in sickness and in health. They sat during long hospital stays followed by exhausting home-caregiver responsibilities.
For Sam and his spouse, the end came slowly and painfully, “ending with incredibly deep sorrow.”
Both Jane and Sam went through the inevitable period of grief when they came to realize that “the life experience of marriage and children can never be recovered,” laments Sam. “One is now alone with one’s children, friends, house and memories.”
Neither Sam nor Jane expected to experience that depth of love again. “That being said,” Sam told how, “a different kind of love can be found in one’s 80s, and Jane and I have found it.”
Fortunately, the two of them knew each other through community and church life since 1970. Eventually, they saw the need for companionship if they were to avoid the debilitating isolation that often affects the widowed. They share friends, schools and contemporaries. These connections produce “ready-made” relationships.
Jane says they quickly “learned to fill the empty spots in each other’s lives. We make good companions in dotage, doing many things together, supporting each other with errands, meals or medical appointments. We share each other’s family, attend concerts and travel together.”
I’ve seen their bond blossom during the last few years. They credit their informal four-point relationship criteria and want to share it with you.
First, they’ve decided they won’t marry but will be monogamous in their mutually beneficial relationship.
Second, they are keeping their own homes. They won’t cohabitate, Sam explains with his charming smile. “We are so set in our ways that we cannot tolerate each other 24/7! We both need our quiet times at home alone.”
Jane adds the more serious note. “Our houses represent a large part of our identities. They contain our memories, family pictures and other treasures. Moreover, they provide a setting in which to live out our lives.”
Their third point leans toward the practical side and promises to maintain separate support systems that include children, long-term-care insurance, medical providers and financial resources.
Wisely, this point assumes they will most likely NOT be each other’s final primary caregiver. Sam says, “We’ve been there, done that, and we won’t be able to repeat that exhausting experience in our 80s.”
The final point in their agreement is to commit to being each other’s “traveling companion.” This is where they flourish with flights to the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, San Diego, Hawaii, Cape Cod, Costa Rica and elsewhere.
To which I say, “Go, guys, go.”
Sam and Jane tell me that they still feel the loneliness of their losses. Neither of them has put their pictures away and they continue to wear their wedding bands.
But Sam says their new relationship fills in the blanks as far as that is possible. “We are committed companions and friends who share deep losses and enduring memories.”
If you’d like a copy of the criteria used by Sam and Jane, please request it by email. However, if your religious values don’t allow for this kind of arrangement, you might consider something called a “spirit wedding,” which uses the traditional wedding vows without the use of a marriage certificate.
Contact Chaplain Norris Burkes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail 843-608-9715.