till death do us part

Friday, October 17, 2008

Till Death Do Us Part?

There is an interesting article on MSNBC.com about long time married couples dying within a few months of each other. It gives research evidence that the phenomena does exits and a mixture of medical and psychological factors that may explain the phenomena. If nothing else, reading it may just tug at your heart.

As someone who has seen their share of hospice patients, I sure can’t deny that it is possible that a spouses death “causes” the surviving spouses death. We have, no doubt, had instances where the second one was referred for our services shortly after the first one’s death, but I always wrote that off to coincidence and a family’s appreciation for how great hospice can be.

More than anything, I know enough about death to know that I don’t understand it. Do I believe spouses can “die together”? Sure. Do I believe that people can “stay alive” until a loved one arrives? Yes. Do I believe that people can time their death so that they are either surrounded by loved ones or all alone? No doubt. (They often wait until the family has left them alone – even if they just leave the room to refill their coffee so they can continue their vigil.) I digress.

Like I said, interesting article. It’s worth taking a moment to read it.



HG: I’ve worked in hospice for five years, and seen this phenomenon frequently. I also have personal experience in this area. My paternal grandparents were married for 60+ years in relatively good health, spending most of their time travelling together in their RV between their homes in Florida and Maine, and stopping in between up and down the Eastern seaboard visiting all of the members of their family at intervals. They spent many years together in close quarters, and were seldom ever seen apart. In February of 1985, my granddad had a sudden heart attack and died. Almost instantly, my grandmother, whose health had always been as remarkably good as my grandfather’s, began to have health problems and died of heart failure in June of the same year. Her doctor claimed that there was nothing else really wrong with her, and in his opinion, she simply died of a “broken heart”. I still think, after all these years, that she just couldn’t bear to imagine life without him, so she simply made the decision that she would meet him on the other side instead.


Great discussion HG…

Not too long ago I cared for a 50+ year married couple who were both on hospice – bedbound for years, they stayed in “twin” hospital beds in the same room. They passed within 8 hours of each other in their sleep – I am sure one could tell the other had left.

My wife’s grandparents passed within 10 days of each other this past December after 60 years of marriage. He was in poor cardiac health himself, but when his wife died of cancer he laid down and gave up the fight to live.


In your reference to a dying person waiting for a loved one to leave and then deciding to die, I strongly believe that this was the case with my mother. My husband says it was probably because had I been there I would have felt that I had to do everything to prevent her dying, when in reality all she wanted was the peace of death. This way she saved me the decision of what to do.