Firstly, the only participant who spoke specifically about death was the one who was younger, on hospice care, and knew he was dying to cancer. Participants did not discuss dying directly, a trend that is relevant in this culture even in dying individuals (Foster, 2002). While there was a lack of diversity in ethnicity and sexuality, as all participants were heterosexual and non-Hispanic, other demographic characteristics varied more so. While 33% (n=3) were Catholic, there were also spiritual, Jewish, and Mormon (n=1) participants. Across educational attainment, three had high school diplomas, three bachelor’s degrees, and three graduate degrees. Further, careers were varied including trucking, business, teaching, nursing, engineering, auditing, and a governmental postal worker. Participants were from around the United States. Overall, this provides for an array of knowledge and experience across the sample.
Further, one third of the sample were male; one participant was Black while one was Native American. Given that men and Blacks have a lower life expectancy than women and Whites, these were ideal rates of each demographic group. Further, Native Americans are a lesser-populated group in the United States, adding to the diversity of the total group of participants (CDC, 2017). While two participants had terminal illnesses and medically assumed shorter life spans, the remainder for over the age of 80. There was a wide range of years married, which further provided six interviews regarding marriage longevity.
Themes of suffering, values, and passion, to include a focus on family as the central value, were founded in narrative analysis.
Suffering. Words to include “pain,” “disability,” “loss,” and “illness” were used to describe the pain in the lives of these participants. Eight of the nine participants, for 18 total times, brought up suffering in ways such as neglect, pain, disability, addiction, and loss.
“I got electrocuted by…main transformer…finger off my left hand, piece of the left hand and took use of both thumbs.” (1)
“I started acquiring back problems from about the age of 19.” (2)
“I actually turned alcoholic…stopped being an alcoholic, but don’t deserve an award for that or anything.” (4)
“I lost three sisters three years ago…I lost three in 30 days.” (9)
Values. All participants spoke about values they held in order to live a good life. Beliefs and convictions specifically came up ten times in nine interviews. Taking care of one’s family – commitment – came up as a central value in five interviews. Part of this means that one be selfless, committed, loyal, and honest (2; 3; 6; 7; 8). Two participants who had been married the longest (63+ years) noted that spouses should be partners and best friends – equal in every way (2; 3). Further, seven of the nine participants spoke of a faith, spirituality, or belief system that kept them strong: “God gave me the freedom to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’” (4). Participants spoke about how so much of life is a choice. We get to choose to hold the values within our marriage that will keep it together, we choose to go for what we want, and we even have a choice in the “inability to see faults that could be a problem in [spouses]” and to “focus on much better times” (2).
Family. This theme presented with topics such as children, spouses, marriage, love, heartbreak, and family. Family was revealed to be the most important part of all participants’ lives. Even for individuals who were without children and/or spouses, family and others who fill surrogate roles for children were a significant part of the interviews. Regrets also surrounded a lack of time with family and an over-focus on work:
“I have a daughter in law who I dearly love…I call her my daughter, I speak to her almost every day, and I wish she was my daughter.” (3)
“My kids…I am so proud of them, let me tell you something…” (9)
“Our family – everyone has achieved a graduate degree.” (2)
“The most important thing I suppose…just my family.” (5)
“The one I’m with now…saw her grandkids grow up…I adored the grandkids.” (1)
One participant talked about the importance of positivity and her distress regarding the different values and unkindness in the world: “I don’t think some people should ever get married, because they make life miserable for themselves and others” (3). This participant further discussed her most important things as a good education, finding love, and having children. Another identified that “seeing children grow up” as the best part of his life (1).
Passion. When discussing what they were most proud of, all participants brought up their careers, things they had completed, or the wish to change the fact that they did not go after what they wanted as their one regret:
“Should’ve been a beautician….I should’ve focused on something that I wanted to do in my lifetime.” (8)
“I’m most thankful that I had the opportunity to go to college and get my degree, to be a part of the teaching profession.” (7)
“Being a Navy Seal.” (1)
Another participant describes that if she could change something, she would “have gotten [her] education and waited on [her] marriage. (9) The order of the important things in life was described as important by more than one participant: “First of all, getting a good education. Secondly, finding love with someone. Thirdly, raising children and being satisfied about it” while” (3).
Six participants had been married for a long period of 25+ years and thus were asked some questions regarding their marriage and marriage in general. Two themes emerged from these questions: 1. Parents were married, and 2. Commitment/hard work. Not much was spoken about how parents’ relationships affected these participants, but of the eight people who informed the researcher about their parents, six of the eight responded that they were married. Further, the other theme presented was that marriage requires commitment and hard work:
“There are going to be times you are not even going to want to talk to your companion – you cook the food, and you walk. That is just how things are.” (4)
A divorced participant spoke about marriage in terms of honoring the vows that each person takes. Loyalty was important and had ended some marriages:
You make the commitment. You think about the things you do. That’s the way I felt. I broke up with the first one. I made a commitment and I stuck to it. I mean I might not have liked it but I was committed…couples were switching with each other…that was the kind of thing that was going on in my group. If I was attracted to a man, I would ignore it because it goes away, that’s something that goes away. But he didn’t. (8)