Although I plead guilty to regularly dispensing advice in the newspaper and from the pulpit — I’m paid to do it — the truth is that in my real life, which is to say, my unpaid, day-to-day interactions with friends and family, I dispense hardly any advice at all.
The reason I don’t offer up many words of supposed wisdom is that I don’t know much. My head does hold plenty of opinions, I suppose; it’s just that, quite often, my opinions turn out to be both wrong and ignorant. So I mainly keep them to myself.
But, as you may have guessed, this is a long introductory way of saying there do remain a few topics about which I’m sure I’m right.
One is this: your life isn’t over until it’s finally, truly over.
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Until such time as your heart quits thumping and your breath ceases to fog the compact’s mirror held beneath your nose, you should keep on living. Too many people choose to die long before they’re dead.
Recently, two friends of mine, both well into middle-age, have been slammed by the abrupt breakups of their marriages. Their spouses left them. Apparently for good.
In both cases, my friends found themselves understandably poleaxed. Despondent. Depressed. Despairing.
When I talked with them, separately, they both said they were too old to start over. They believed that at their ages they’d never find someone else to share their interests and their future.
Anyway they looked at it, both friends implied, they were destined to live in misery. They might as well get used to sitting on the sofa alone for the next 20 years, watching game show reruns.
Because I care about them, and because I’m sure I’m correct here, I broke my moratorium. I offered some free advice.
Mourn for a while, I said. Right now that’s probably all you feel like doing. And it’s healthy to mourn, as long as you don’t chug cyanide or snort oxys while you’re at it.
Grieve for all you’re worth. Accept your pain. Work through it. Be honest about it.
But here’s what you need to know. Over time, your soul will get better. If you’ll let it. If you’ll make an effort. We seem to have the capacity for healing built into our human makeup.
As I’ve written here times too numerous to count, I lost my wife when I was 49, to cancer rather than divorce. I absolutely thought my life had ended with hers.
I’m a pot-bellied, middle-aged, Pentecostal preacher, I thought. Who the heck would ever want me? If I did find a woman willing to be with me, I’d mistrust her judgment —for wanting the likes of me. And after many years of an exceedingly happy marriage, who else could I ever care for anyway?
I spent a lot of time just wishing death would come on and get me.
You know what, though?
While I’m still a pot-bellied Pentecostal preacher, and while I’m now so gray I look back fondly on middle age as my fleeting youth, my second wife Liz and I just celebrated our fifth anniversary.
And she’s smokin’ hot for an old schoolmarm. And we share passions for history and religion and literature. And I love her. And she loves me. And I think her judgment in choosing me turned out to be as sound as mine in choosing her.
And thus, life goes on.
Not everybody who loses a spouse will find a new one, I realize. Each person’s story and situation are different.
My point is that what I once assumed was the end, wasn’t.
More than a decade past that supposed end, I’m still living. When I was smothering in grief, I couldn’t see any good thing in my future. Yet good things were there.
This isn’t just my story, either. It’s lots of people’s stories.
I know other people who’ve weathered the death of a spouse, or divorce, or cancer, or bankruptcy, or forced retirement — and come out the other side fully alive.
These men and women who learned to thrive again were the ones who eventually chose someone, or something, new to love: a new wife, their grandchildren, flying, a start-up business, animal rescue work. Something. They decided not to wither up and die before their appointed time.
It’s not easy to heal. It takes a while. If you’ve suffered a terrible loss, you probably miss your former life very much right now. Maybe you’ll always miss it.
But eventually you will feel better. Time really does work miracles on pain, no matter how wrenching that pain is or how deep it goes.
So don’t quit. Don’t ever quit. Mourn as long as you need to, but tell yourself this, because it’s true: it will get better. It really will.
When you’re ready, take a class. Go on a date. Get closer to the Lord. Visit Europe. Learn to salsa dance.
Keep looking until you find a fresh passion. Build yourself a fresh life. If you’re pot-bellied and past your natural prime, invent yourself a brand new prime.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.