Food For Thought

'til Death do us Part

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

Fifty-eight years of life together came to an end for my friends Patsy and Russell Hancock, when Patsy passed away June 17, 2008, after suffering a second stroke.

Russell, a retired employee of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, kept his promise to bring her home from the hospital, allowing her to spend her final days in their own home. When Patsy had her first stroke some five years ago, she was paralyzed and required extensive attention. Russell gave up his retired life of fishing and hunting to take care of her every need. He said to me, “She gave me 50 years — the least I can do is give her a few back.”

I guess that’s what the marriage vow, “Till death do us part,” really means. Patsy’s son Allen said to me that his mom and dad were blessed because they never had to face the death of any of their four children, 12 grandchildren or 13 great-grandchildren. Patsy was the first to leave.

The vow, “till death do us part,” is one that fewer and fewer married couples are keeping. There are numerous reasons why people terminate a marriage and I’m not judging human behavior, just stating the facts. Death of a spouse is going further down the list as a reason for terminated marriages. Maybe the phrase should be omitted from the original marriage vows, and reinstated at the couple’s golden wedding anniversary. Seems there’s a better chance of keeping the vow at that point.

Death is a subject I’m not comfortable discussing. I believe the degree of comfort has a lot to do with one’s faith. I probably turn over too many stones looking for that absolute answer that I know I’ll never find. I enjoy writing the lyrics to country songs. One song is entitled “Cowards Die Many Times.” I think that’s what happens to individuals of lesser faith. We die many, many times.

There are 6 billion humans on this earth, and all will face death. How we face our final day on earth is seldom known. Here one day and maybe gone the next. I remember talking with the owner of a local car dealership about one of his employees who had passed away. He told me he thought it was a blessing that God had made death a truly random event. Death is the great equalizer — it doesn’t matter who you know, where you live, what you do, how much money you have or any other factor, you will face death on this earth.

I, too, believe that the day you will die is not predetermined. I do believe that there are times when a higher power steps in to grant the wishes of some to delay the final outcome. I also believe that the decisions you make on this earth can affect your lifespan. It just stands to reason that we humans have some control over our time on earth, just as we have some control over how long we will stay married.

Everyone reading this article has probably faced this subject several times. You expect to lose your parents when they reach a certain age. It’s difficult to accept losing a child or grandchild at an early age. Makes you wonder why and you begin turning over stones searching for answers. I know I’ve spent many hours contemplating why our granddaughter Madi passed away at such a young age. Rachel, our seven-year-old granddaughter, has cystic fibro­sis, which will shorten her life unless medical science finds an answer for her and many other children facing life-threatening diseases.

In August four years ago I wrote a Cooperative Living article, “Cancer: Why Me?” My youngest son Michael was diagnosed with a rare form of germ-cell tumor that was malignant. He was administered the Lance Armstrong treatment and the tumor did respond to the treatment. Many of you took the time to send various forms of encouragement and as a family we’re truly overwhelmed that so many strangers would show so much compassion and concern. Prayer and faith were at the heart of your messages. I gave all the correspondence to my son, who I’m pleased to say is in remission. You can read the Food for thought article at, in the archives under August 2004.

I wrote another column supporting school prayer in the October 2001 issue. I think all the academic discussion on the issue comes to a head when you face death. People pray —  maybe to different powers — but most pray. Seems to me it is just good common sense to take time to say thanks for the time we were given on this earth.

Speaking of time, I was watching a program on the Discovery Channel, a favorite evening pastime, where the narrator kept talking about “billions and billions” of years ago. He talked about the forming of continents, mountains, and the eventual coming of man. I couldn’t help thinking about the miniscule amount of time I’m going to have on this planet. Life expectancy is now somewhere between 75 and 80 years. Scientists say with proper care the human body could last 150 years. If that happens, I don’t think I’ll live up to my “till death do us part” wedding vows, either. I’m sure my wife couldn’t put up with me for 80 more years. Just think of all the great-, great-, great-, great-, great-grandchildren. I have a difficult time remembering the names of eight grandkids.

When you think about life on this earth, it certainly has developed around a great plan. I only hope that when that final day comes for me, someone will say I made a difference and close with a prayer. We will all join Patsy Hancock, so pray that you will go where she is, because if anyone deserved a place in heaven, Patsy did.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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