Eighty-year-old Peter sought counseling after his wife of almost 60 years died. He had been her caregiver for ten years as she declined with two progressive illnesses that included dementia as part of the progression. Peter wanted to review his life with his wife, review his efforts as a caregiver, mourn the loss of his long-time partner, and figure out how to create the next part of his life in a fulfilling way.
An additional immediate concern was what to do about a woman from his caregivers group who was clearly interested in him. Peter had only been involved with one woman through his whole adult life: his wife, to whom he had proposed at age 19. Our work together initially focused on practical communication skills, dating protocol, and how to disentangle himself from the woman he felt was pursuing him (and in whom he was not interested)—as kindly as possible.
Next we spent a number of weeks exploring the gifts and challenges of his long marriage, the joys and sorrows of caregiving during his wife’s years of decline, and along with these issues, his deep grief about her death and the strengths and skills he brought to learning to live well without her. Finally, we explored the theme of Peter’s “legacy” to his children and his community, and the ways he felt he had fallen short or lived his life successfully.
Soon Peter remarked that he was regularly engaging socially with old friends and that he was planning an international trip with an old traveling buddy. Not long after that he reported having met the mother of a friend of one of his adult children and that they had really hit it off, although she lived on the opposite side of the country and was just visiting for a short time.
Peter soon decided he no longer needed counseling, expressed his gratitude for the support and encouragement, and terminated our work. Many months later our counselor encountered him in a grocery store. He was delighted to see our counselor and reported that he and his new female friend were having regular cross-country visits and had enjoyed several trips together. He said he felt he had the best of all worlds—his home and local community, someone to love and spend time with, and peace with his life. The counselor is truly honored to have been able to share in some part of his life’s journey, and told him so.