The Daily ReTORt

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Will to Live

Life is hard. Life is loss. Life wears you down, yet despite those challenges most of us still prefer living to dying. But that’s not always the case.

For instance, statistics show that many surviving spouses die within two years of their predeceased spouse.

An abstract on that very subject published in the American Journal of Public Health produced some interesting findings after studying more than 150,000 cases involving the deaths of one spouse after the other – the abstract defines such follow-on deathes as “excess mortality:”

  • Excess mortality among the bereaved was high from accidental, violent, and alcohol-related causes;
  • Excess mortality was greater at short ( < 6 months) rather than long durations of bereavement;
  • Excess mortality had a higher incidence among younger rather than older bereaved persons;
  • Excess mortality was more common among men than women.
In a nutshell, most deaths by surviving spouses are violent, accidental or involve alcohol; they usually occur within six months of the passing of the predeceased; and occur more frequently if the survivor is younger and/or happens to be a man.

The study investigators theorized the following reasons for these trends:
“The results are consistent with the hypothesis that excess mortality after the death of a spouse is partly caused by stress. The loss of social support or the inability to cope with stress may explain why men suffer from bereavement more than do women.”

Those findings are understandable, but what’s interesting is the role played by stress and lack of a social support network – which are fixable or addressable conditions that don’t necessarily result in death. Many of us have stress or lack a social support network, yet we don't die from either. 

I would propose that these "excess mortalities" suggest a type of resignation or "giving up” of sorts – specifically, giving up on the will to live.

A similar phenomenon occurred during and after the Holocaust amongst Jews who had lost their entire families and experienced “survivors' guilt” which eroded their own will to live. Many who experienced it, died as a result or committed suicide.

More recently, TIME magazine reported in the first week of January 2009 that billionaire industrialist and mogul Adolph Merckle – the founder of Merck pharmaceutical company – jumped to his death in front of a speeding metro train near his home in Germany. Police knew it wasn’t an accident because Merckle left a suicide note for his family.  The TIME article further states that his intentional death was blamed on failed financial investments and losses amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Merckle was not the first, nor the last self-inflicted, economically-derived death. However, dying at one's own hand clearly suggests a lack of “will to live.”

Ultimately, every one of us in life will experience hardship, heartache, pain, trials, tribulations and loss in some manner or form. The challenge is that when you’re faced with the inescapable reality and magnitude of those types of losses, many people fail to see beyond those immediate circumstances – ultimately giving up and losing their will to live.

That death dichotomy is echoed in the ancient proverb, which reads:

“The strong spirit of a person sustains them in bodily pain or trouble, but a weak or broken spirit – who can raise it up?” Proverbs 18:14.
Strengthening a weak or broken spirit, that’s where faith is critically important. One of the greatest definitions of that word "faith" that I’ve ever read states that, “Faith is the evidence, the conviction, the assurance of things hoped for yet unseen.”

In other words, faith is not merely wishing or positive affirmations – it is an inner reserve of strength that allows you to see beyond the "here and now," to a future that's on the other side of the immediate and real loss from which you see no current hope or escape.

Believe it or not, that faith-filled vision that focuses on the other side of the dire circumstances – can help pull you through what you couldn’t endure without it and helps sustain that critical element of life – a will to live. Consider the following faith-filled beliefs:

“I’m ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with strength in my inner being.” Philippians 4:13

“In the day when I called, you answered me and you strengthened me with strength, might and inflexibility in my inner self.” Psalms 138:3
More and more it seems that faith is becoming less and less important in our post-modern life.  I would challenge that growing sentiment, citing the previous hopeless examples above as evidence that faith is critically important - especially regarding the will to live.


  1. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude for this post. It comes in excellent timing. Not only words of encouragement for myself, but in dealing with other deeply hurting people. Unfortunately many people feel alone, overwhelmed, and like they are dealing with more than they can handle. And, alone, that is often so true. It IS more than they can handle. But, it doesn't have to be. There is faith. Faith gives us hope for a future. For some, they need the faith to just see a future for the next minute, hour, day and so on. I agree with you whole-heartedly - faith is absolutely critically important - especially regarding the will to live! Excellent post Tor!

  2. @Laura, thanks for your kind words - we can all use a bit of random encouragement now and then