Elders and Fingerprint Technology

When Old Friends Die

About 200 years, ago, in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Lord Byron wrote:

What is the worst of woes that wait on age?
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow?
To view each loved one blotted from life's page,
And be alone on earth, as I am now.

Well, all right, I am not alone but it is true that if you live long enough one of “the worst of woes” is the inevitable loss of the people who mean so much to you; the inevitable shrinking of our personal worlds.

In the past month, two old friends died. Two. Although neither death was entirely unexpected (one by suicide, the other after years of struggle with a brain tumor) even when the circumstances of a person's life are dire, we hope, don't we? We can't help it.

When hope is dashed, we are left to mourn. Each in our own way. Long before I was old, I had buried too many friends. And my parents too.

Through those years and sadnesses, I noticed a strange and wonderful thing in regard to ones who lived far away: when they died, I didn't quite “get” it. Instead, it was though we hadn't visited in a long while and it continues to feel that way over time.

Back then when I lived in New York, it was usually west coast friends I felt were still there. These two latest deaths are east coast friends and the phenomenon holds – we just haven't visited lately.

That doesn't mean I am delusional. I know perfectly well those people are dead, that another piece of my life has gone permanently missing and of course, that is the awful thing, isn't it.

The woe in losing old friends is that there is that much less companionship, the particular easy familiarity with that certain person, the memories created together and that you can no longer say, “Remember when we...” and laugh or, sometimes, cry together.

That's gone now. There is never any point in trying to tell someone else about what happened back then. It is always something for which you had to be there. Sometimes I wonder, when I am the only one left to recall those events, if they really happened.

Eh. Existential indulgence is what that is.

So I trudge forward, wading through the melancholy one more time knowing it will not be the last and that I am a little bit more alone in the world than I was a month ago.

One of the things that has always bothered me when loved ones die is that people almost always say, “I loved him so much.” “I loved her so much.” How can that be – past tense? I still love them all. That part never ends.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Colleen Redman: Dear Dread


It's been a bad month here. I find I mourn visually.

I know exactly what you mean. I lost my husband last month. There are times, like when I am doing something I would have done alone anyway, that it feels as though he is just in another room watching TV or out on the deck reading a book. But then there are the other times. The pain is so physical. I will love him always.

What do you mean, Mage, about mourning visually?

Loss of dear friends is one of the difficult experiences of later life. Ronni, sending you a warm hug--it may be long distance, but the feeling is genuine.

Two years ago both my brothers (my only siblings) and my husband died within 6 months of one another. I've come to believe the words "you can no longer say, “Remember when we...”' are among the saddest in the language.

Other than my parents, I have lost two women who meant the most to my life, and another dear old friend is probably going to go before long. My father lived to be 91 and every day he lamented the loss of old friends and co-workers. He seemed afraid that there would be no one left to attend his funeral. He was wrong, of course, and almost 500 came.

Thank You! for introducing me to Open Culture and the lovely article about Shakespeare! What a treat.

This is so beautiful. Thank you for putting into words the feelings that I have felt ever since losing my father. Since he had moved away, I always kind of felt that in some small way he was still there and that I would be visiting with him again. I am sorry for your loss.

I need to write this even though it is off topic....last night our 9 year old grandaughter called - she want her Sabee's help with a math problem. What a feeling it gave me - that Syd is so important to her......I love that and then on the other topic - I truly do not know how I would cope if He goes first....can not handle that so I try not to think about it - but it pops up at various times. Oh well.....

This is truth. I remember at my mother's funeral, at age 95, my brothers asked me, "Where are all of mom's friends?" I replied, "She outlived them and she was quite lonely without them. Her world kept growing smaller."

Yes. It is hard when those who shared memories with you are not there. My mother died young and that was 40 years ago. On her birthday my older sister and I would alway contact each other by phone and talk about Mom and remember her. Last year my sister died.....and this year I observed my mom's birthday alone. I didn't even talk to anybody about the significance of the date or about her or about how I felt. It was like an era had passed so long ago that it was useless remembering. Life is going so fast and after 40 years, maybe it is ok to let it go.
I didn't even blog about Mom on her "birthday". I guess the loss of my sister meant the loss of even talking about Mom. But I do love her still.

One thing that made me feel better after my mother died was a discovery I made, months later.

I realized I could still ask my mother what she thought about some problem or new issue I faced. How? Because I knew her so well, I could imagine what she would say about it.

So, it may sound silly, but I still have "conversations" with my mother, who has been dead over 20 years.

I, too, have silent conversations with those who are gone from my life. The pain lessens but it is bittersweet, always.

Last week my closest in age sister and I realized that our remaining aunt and uncle are the only ones left who knew us as kids, and we are part of a few left who knew them when they were young. The loss of those dear people takes a little part of us with them.

Or as my cousin put it when we lost yet another older relative, an aunt: "That's one less person who loves me just because I am."

My wife died twenty years ago and with time I have found a way to describe the experience of loss that I hope will bring some comfort to other people who have lost a loved one. I liken the death to a terrible wound that you think will never get better. But very slowly this will heal and form a large scab. In time this will disappear and be replaced by a livid scar. Gradually this will fade until it is almost invisible but it will always be with you as a reminder. This may seem rather simplistic but I feel it describes fairly accurately the stages I went through and I hope will help people who are grieving to understand that their pain will not last forever.

Having just returned from my High School 70th reunion I am acutely aware of how small my world has become. Out of a graduating class of 320, only 24-26 of us made it. (Depending on which count I use). It will be the last time I will ever see any of those left and it is a bittersweet parting.

But,Darlene, aren't we fortunate that we still have each other?

I don't think you and I will ever see each other but that doesn't make you any less important in my life.

I count you and Ronni and a few others who I know I will never meet in person as my true friends and I would be lost without you.

We can all empathize and sympathize, one with another, because others' deaths touch us all. I feel so sorry for all of us.

Thanks for the posting, Ronni, and my sympathies to you, in particular.

The death of our close friends and family members is indeed a terrible loss. The aging process is a lonely road and I always thought that people with grandchildren were the lucky ones.

It's nearly a year since my dearest friend died. I nursed her until the end and I am not over it yet. I still go to pick up the phone or email her to hash out something important - and she would have done the same. There was never any need to explain ourselves; we'd just cut to the chase on any subject and I miss that relationship, which was an accepting of "warts and all". I do have other, long-distance friends, but K was the first to go and there is a huge hole in my life.

Hugs to you Ronni, who more often than not writes about the things I am thinking about.

This is a beautifully written post. It captures feelings my parents had and those I now am beginning to experience. Yet, your ending tells us that life can be viewed as timeless.

As sad as it is ("bittersweet" is a good description), this emotional layering is one of the reasons why the inner lives of old people are often so much richer than those of young people. The irony is that young people have no idea what exists in the heads of old people. Most of them are not terribly interested in it.

By the time they become interested in it, the generation before them is mostly gone.

For me today's post and the comments were so useful in reminding me that loss and grief are part of everyone's life - in some small way it helps with our own loss to know that we are not alone - it is a significant part of the human condition and sharing it brings us all closer together.

A death of a dear friend means that it is impossible to share future events with them. There are only the memories of a shared past. After losing my parents and both siblings, I savour the time we had together -- and I grieve that my future doesn't include them.

I hope that there is eternal life and fellowship within it. Wouldn't that be grand? I mean, we could hang out with old friends and historical figures. I can only hope.

I find when I ask "what is their name" to a person who has lost a loved one to death, I receive a quizzical look.

I don't know how to word this question. Is it better to say, "what was their name" as though they no longer have this name. This seems absurd.

I simply continue to ask they way it makes sense to me; quizzical looks and all.

I think there still is a point in trying to tell someone else. Put it into written language, and save it.

Someone someday may read it, and remember you both.

What wonderful writing! I'm very happy I stumbled upon your web site, Ronni--it helps with the sadness of age.

Last year I volunteered for an extensive, year-long project in my town, thinking I might make a new friend or two.

Turned out almost everybody else working on the project was way younger, and I became accustomed to the invisibility of advanced age. My thoughts and opinions were skipped over as if they did not exist, and
a few foolish or undoable plans proceeded without comment.

However, I consider it a learning process, what happened. Never again will I expect to be accepted into a crowd where I am by far the youngest.

Thanks again for your wonderful, amazing thinking and writing.

B.Y., a new customer here

P.S. Please do not display my name in connection with this comment--

I'm calling my 85 year old parents today, just to say "Hello".

Just called my parents and found out that Mom had a stroke last week, and Dad says they're both having to move to assisted living. Thanx for the heads-up Ronni, before it was too late!!!

My entire life has been full of good-byes: two cousins in 1964, my mom in 1967, my fiancé in 1970, my dad, sister & nephew in 1976, My great-grandmother in 1979, my grandparents in 1984 and 1988, my stepmother in 1990, my step brother in 1997, several aunts, uncles and cousins in 2000-2013...and my daughter in law and unborn grandson last year...and now, I'm out of family (except my son). Recently, I've started losing contemporaries: my therapist, a boss, co-workers, school friends, college friends...my dearly beloved husband survived a stroke last year...God grant that he (and my son) survives me, as I cannot bear one more loss,,,all of the people who loved me just for "who I am" are gone, but they live on in my memories...it isn't "who you loved" that matters as much as "who loved you"...I've had a blessed life, and been loved by many angels and saints...

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