ELDER MUSIC: More Hooked on Classics
Travel While Old (and Resistance Notes)

When Your Whole World Feels Empty


Fairly regularly, we discuss loneliness at this blog mainly due to the oft-repeated cultural belief that all old people who live alone are lonely. The general media pick up this idea from startling research reports that loneliness in elders leads to early death, as much as by seven-and-a-half years.

I've read that research and it has convinced me. What I do not agree with, however, is the extent to which the media apparently believe all people older than 50 or 60 who live alone are lonely.

Certainly some people are generally lonely all the time but I think for most of us it is a sometime thing that comes and goes depending on circumstances – that for most of us it is not a permanent condition.

That said, I'm here today about a singular aspect or type of loneliness that I don't believe we have mentioned.

A week or two ago, I ran across a quotation credited to a man I had never heard of, Phillipe Aries, a French medievalist and historian of the family and children (according to Wikipedia), who died in 1984 at age 69.

Probably because we do talk about the difference between loneliness and being alone fairly often here, the quotation has been rolling around in my head ever since I first saw it:

”A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”

With each re-reading, my mind, my heart went straight to the handful of times in my life when, as I walked own the street, people were rushing to and fro, couples kissing, car horns honking, panhandlers begging, dogs sniffing at each other, music pouring out of a bar, a cop car's siren wailing and I wanted to scream: "What are you doing being so normal, doing everyday things? Can't you see that my world ended yesterday? That nothing will ever be the same?"

Not only was my world suddenly empty because someone I love died, I wanted the rest of the world to be empty around me.

The quotation is often mis-attributed to Joan Didion who referenced it in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking but is actually from Aries' book, Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present, published in 1975.

In addition, having now looked into the quotation fairly extensively, too often only the first sentence is quoted. It may be true on its own but it is a much richer, more important with both sentences.

Time was when people grieved the deaths of loved ones for a year or more. Widow's weeds and a circumscribed social life especially for widows - not so much widowers - and other rituals to help assuage the loss.

Nowadays, only the most religious Jews sit shiva for seven days. At memorials I've attended for people with other or no religion, we are expected to tell funny stories and, as the quotation shows, get on with life afterwards as though nothing has happened.

We have, beginning in the 20th century, deprived ourselves of our grief. There are any number of psychological treatises on death and grieving but I think those short two sentences from Aries are enough to know that we probably should rethink our reserve about expressing grief.

To get through it without much fuss – preferably briefly (see you tomorrow at work) – is our oh-so-modern way of a loved one's death. To repeat:

”A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”


A few weeks ago I met a woman near my age who is becoming a friend. As we are gradually exchanging life stories and episodes so to come to know and understand one another, I learned that she is a widow of about two years.

What did not happen in that conversation is that I did not say something like, “Tell me about him.” No one ever told me to skim right past such information but I know that it is sort of expected – I've seen it often and I've done it before.

Many of you know this personally and although I was married for only six years many decades ago, I don't I have any difficulty imagining emptiness when a husband or wife of 20 or 30 or 40 or more years dies. I have no trouble imagining that it will be a long time before you feel anything like having a full life again.

One of loneliest thoughts I had when my mother died was that no one was left alive who knew me when I was a little girl. Fortunately for me, I had two or three weeks to clean out her home with my step-brother who was staying with me.

We were together in our grief with plenty of time to talk, without reservation – or sit silently together sometimes - and my emptiness was partially relieved by spending those weeks with Joe. It was a good and healthy and fine time together for us.

It has not been like that when cherished friends have died.

One thing that happens is that other friends and acquaintances who know what happened verbally tiptoe around you for a few days but they don't make room for conversation about your devastating event beyond “Sorry for your loss” and then they move on.

I understand that people often don't know what to say but maybe we're just out of practice. Having given it some thought now – spurred on by a new friend and a quotation from a 42-year-old book – maybe we just need to say something as simple as “tell me about him” or “what do you miss most.”

And if it's too soon, undoubtedly the person will tell you and you can let it go for awhile. But I'm pretty sure the time comes when each of us wants to talk about a person who, when they died, made the whole world feel empty.

What do you think?


”A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud."

For me, that would be my late husband who died 11 years ago February. He is the one I still miss even today. When you lose a spouse, you lose a way of life: the daily, weekly, yearly ins and outs of living is never the same. Especially since we'd been married 30+ years.

As for grief, I made a big mistake in that I leaped into action: sold farm, moved, bought another house, etc. Looking back I can say I was staying busy to avoid the grieving -- but within two years, it caught up with me and I went through several years of darkness. I realize now that when I get lonely, I am lonely for him -- not even other family or other people.

Since I'm okay with solitude, I've adjusted to being alone. I think now trying to live with another person would be more stressful than beneficial.

Absolutely. Ask the person grieving about the person they are grieving for. Ask their name. Say it. When the living say his/her name and listen to stories, the grieving person knows they are acknowledged and it helps.

I work with gun violence survivors and learned this from them. There may be tears, but healing tears. You also may laugh together. I hope those who miss me when I die tell lots of crazy stories about me for years to come!

"One of loneliest thoughts I had . . . was that no one was left alive who knew me when I was a little girl." Rings true.

Ronni, thank you for a most excellent posting today.

You are so right about our societal learning of getting on with life. Your words made me think of my recent passing over a chance to have a real encounter with a neighbor regarding her husband's death. I did not do a very good job of what I know would have given her at least one time to fully express what she was feeling.

Mea Culpa. I hope I will do better in the coming days with her and with another neighbor who recently had her cousin of the same age (96) die. They had grown up together, had a 10-day vacation together every year, and talked on the phone at least weekly since living some distance from each other.

I did console a gentleman on a medical-related blog recently--he (91) was saying he had disease related fatigue and wondered if others were experiencing it. He incidently mentioned that his wife had died 6 weeks ago.

It was easier to suggest to him that he was mourning his loss and to let that happen, than to do so to my neighbor who had just lost her husband. I detest the fact of using the internet in that manner; and there I was doing so.

Thank you for the, for me, timely reminder.

Today's thoughts from you hit home because my dear friend of sixty-odd years died 2 wks. ago. We could talk together about the old neighborhood and the innocent fun things we did way back when. We knew each other's family. There was so much history together, including being divorced, having two adult sons, and being in second marriages that had significant problems. She was intelligent, great fun, and one of the kindest hearted people I've known. Yet she spent the last years of her life under tremendous stress married to someone who treated her horribly. That is what I think gives me a very odd feeling of loss because I'm so sad that the end of her life was certainly not what she deserved. It makes her loss more difficult for me to deal with.

"Funeral Blues" by W H Auden is to my mind the most exquisite short piece ever written about loss of a loved one. It's stunning in its simplicity and stark emotional desolation. It rolls around in the back of my mind every time there is a major loss of some kind in my life.

When my mom died I was only in my early forties. Not much experience with funerals, dying and death. I remember to this day how touched I was by the few people who actually took the time to say a few words to me about her. Most people just sent a card and flowers and life went on as usual.

As a result, I now always try to say something personal or drop off a food item if appropriate. I know how much it means to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Just this morning, in my Facebook stream, a good friend posted that her dad died a year ago today. Obviously she is still in mourning for both her parents. I think I"ll ask her to tell me about them (even though I already know a good bit); I think she needs to talk. Thanks for the prompt.

We don't seem to be able to allow ourselves, or accept in others, expressions of many feelings these days, other than anger, and we certainly have a hard time discussing or acknowledging emotions. As a result, I sometimes think that we often don't know what it is we're feeling, nor how deal with it.

Loss comes in so many forms -- friends, family, pets, jobs, health, homes, independence, our way of life as know it. It's no wonder that sadness and anxiety seem to be around almost every corner. Maybe what's more remarkable are the moments of peace, comfort and transcendence that still manage to occur, evoking the opening words to Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ." Maybe this has always been so and never really changes. At any rate, building trust and empathy out of our shared vulnerability and experience seems to me to be our best hope.

Well, I just lost a comment that I had struggled over writing. So I will try again, try to remember what I said. I do know I said to Ronni that she had struck a chord.

I had just started to say something about Aries, who has impressed me in many ways, in many books. But more to the point is your discussion today of grief, and how we deal with it - we, the ones grieving - and they, the ones who are outside the grieving and cannot understand. Cannot - I mean that word. I think Americans in general have an uncomfortable time dealing with death, grieving. I also think many of them sympathize - and over time will experience their own grief, and learn firsthand what that means.

In my case, the ongoing grief that is still very much in me concerns the death of my/our son Timothy Nielsen, an enormously talented artist who died in May 2011 far from home, while visiting in Antigua/Guatemala -- he was 38, and he died suddenly of COPD.

His sister and I had just had a wonderful phone talk with him 2 days before, and he had sounded more energized and more excited and happy than he had been for a long time.

Many people helped us, for many weeks afterward. They helped in practical ways, but also in emotional ones, trying - as one does - to find the appropriate words.

But one of those words has stuck with me more than any other. So many people said or wrote to us that they hoped we would find closure soon. And I grew to hate the word. I knew they were saying it because they wanted our pain gone, suppressed, something. But it wasn't until about a month later when a dear friend/colleague died, also much too young - and there was a get-together to be together, to talk about her, to laugh, to cry, this is what people do, and to my mind it is right. Every death is tragic - but to lose a child (or a too-young friend)---this is very hard and not likely to fade away.

I spoke at the get-together for my friend. About the word "closure." Because somewhere in the interim between the two deaths, I put on my linguist hat, and asked myself what people mean with that word closure in the case of death. A closing, of course, a shutting-down of the grief. Like closing a door.

But what if I change the pronunciation? What if I mean close - as "I am close to you"?

Because this is my situation. When I light a yearly candle for Timothy, and spend that May 25 anniversary thinking especially about him - I feel so close to him.

So that's how I manage. Timothy is not gone, not closed off. He is still very much with me, with his sister and his father and his many friends.

I am not a religious person [although I certainly incline towards the Quakers]. But even if it is just my imagination at work, it enables this closeness. And I am comforted.

My two years younger sister and I just talked about how no one but us remembers us when we were under 10. A whole world disappeared along with our parents and grandparents. This was on the heels of someone close to her just dying. I have gotten better about talking to others about their losses. Saying nothing is the worst.

This just rang a bell with me. I lost my husband 3 weeks ago. I know what that emptiness is like. I know that eventually I will work through it and keep his memories with me.

I had to undergo grief counselling for 6 months a year ago after a string of dear friends died rather quickly. My health was suffering and I was in constant pain and a form of immobility. Paralyzed.

I was told by my counsellor that each death we encounter opens up every single loss in our lives. And I can attest to that. Now.

I lost my old dog companion last September. She is my last animal as I am moving to a pet-free apartment. And I am astonished at the depth of grief I am experiencing and feel foolish for both sharing it and feeling it. So I don't. Except here and now. "Just a dog".

My loneliness has intensified with her loss. I never quite felt it this way before. Before I was lonely maybe 5% of the time. Now it's more like 30.

Thanks for this post Ronni, it truly resonated.


A few years ago, a friend of mine lost her husband when she was still in her 50s. She decided that she would go into mourning for as long as it took. She wore black all the time. She put a voicemail on her phone that said something like, "You have reached the home of the widow x. Thank you for your good wishes and your call, even though I will not be returning it." When she was with those of us she did spend time with, she talked about her husband and cried freely.

After about a year, she decided she was ready to rejoin the world. Color returned to her wardrobe and she moved out into the world more often. She began to go through her husband's things and to let go of what she was ready to let go of.

I think by being so forthright about where she was and how she was feeling, she was better able to bear her grief, and those of us close to her found it easier to support her. I'm not sure if I would do what she did, but I admire her for being authentic and not trying to deny her own pain.

Such a rich subject, Ronni, and so many deeply felt comments in response. Your "no one left to remember me when I was a little girl" struck such a cord for me. My husband and 2 brothers all died within six months of each other, and I felt the loss of my brothers more keenly than that of my husband. First, because my husband had had Alzheimer's and his death was mostly relief. But much more important, without my brothers I felt more alone than I ever had in my life.

Since then, I've formed a closer relationship with one of my sisters-in-law than before my brother died. We don't live close enough to see each other any more, but we spend hours on the phone laughing about family stories -- it's been wonderful to learn he remembered things I didn't and passed them on to her. Now she's too ill to talk on the phone, and I miss those conversations deeply.

Your words hit home for me on so many levels; the outrage one feels as the world continues to spin as if nothing has happened, the value of ritual to give meaning to our lives, the happy-happy-joy-joy parties instead of funerals.

Maybe it’s just me and my equally emotionally repressed WASP-y siblings (I should say formerly WASP-y, before downward social mobility reared its ugly head in the last two generations) , but - I don’t care for Celebrations of Life. They’re funerals, we’re unhappy, there’s been an irreparable loss, we dig the Mason’s aprons out of the cedar chest and listen to the old men speak the words about returning to dust. If its a young person, we’re bereft.

I’ve appreciate the times that the weather cooperated with the occasion and was appropriately terrible; it seemed more like the universe marking our loss - at least for a little while, before the rest of the world surreally went on about its business.

The ritual of the funeral gives us words to mark the occasion when our own words are inadequate, even if it’s only a graveside service. I remember standing at the edge of the cemetery in our little hometown with my sister after her husband’s funeral, killed in a car accident at the age of 30. I went back out with her after the activities were over and the grave had been closed. I remember telling her that we will keep loosing parts of our lives until we finally loose ourselves. I have no idea where those words came from.

Years ago I had a poem "The Elephant in the Room" when I was advocating for victims of child abuse. It's so appropriate. I remember when our son died, most people at the funeral (celebration of life it is now called) were from churches I attended. Only a few actually knew our son. So there are only a few I could speak of him with. I sometimes realize some of the memories are fading as daughter will speak of an event, I don't recall it.

One of the burdens of loss of a loved ones, is the expectation of the time necessary to be over our grief. When my husband died, a few years ago, a friend visited me from Texas. It was in August, he passed in May. Under the guise, of misunderstanding, she was quite surprised that I was unable to vacation and move on. Her expectation, which she shared with my children in private, was that there must be something wrong with me. My husband had been ill for many years and I should be "relieved" and ready to move on. Needless to say, she went home earlier than expected, and our friendship has never been the same. My message is grief has it's own timeline, you do not have to live up to other's expectations. they are sometimes an added burden. It seems to be abnormal to show or experience too much emotion nowdays, by the same token, we live in a world medicated with antidepressants and anti anxiety meds. You can't learn the life lessons if you do not allow the experience to become part of you.

This is such a timely post for many of us. My long-time neighbor's husband died quite recently, and she plans to hold a Celebration of his Life in April (assuming we won't be getting so much rain in Seattle then).

It sounds like a wonderful idea to me. Friends and neighbors will gather at their house in the wonderful garden her husband spent so much time in. We'll bring food and share memories of her husband.

"Tell me about him. What do you miss most?" Yes, that will be of use for sure it hits just the right note.

Why is our culture so scared by so much, unable to help each other more, be more accepting? When my husband of 36 years left, even women I'd known for 30 years said not one word. Most still haven't. With no family, it was a piercingly sad and lonely time. From that experience, I've learned, when someone is going through challenges to at least acknowledge that, saying something like, "I've been thinking about you, I'm sorry you are having such challenges now."

Now, five years later, at 74, loneliness is rarely present. I truly find great beauty in my solitude most of the time.

How very timely. An excellent article. I have a friend who just lost his wife this morning. I remember thinking the exact same words you wrote each time I have lost a close friend or my parents: how can the world go on as though nothing happened?

Thank you.

It's odd, but I can't remember what, if anything, people said to me after the death of my husband. Was I in shock, denial or relief that he no longer had to suffer? Perhaps all three.

I had no choice but to get on with my life as I had to work to support myself. I saw that as a good thing at the time because it prevented me from wallowing in self pity. Wayne, my husband, had been on the hospice program and my only source of comfort was from nightly telephone calls from a volunteer with that program to see how I was doing. He understood my struggle and it helped enormously. I never knew his full name and he remains a kind understanding voice over the telephone receiver. But he asked the right questions which allowed me to talk about my husband and what he went through. I am sure I also talked about my problems, too, but I did not fully open up. I know that was unfortunate, because he was offering me an opportunity to give vent to my grief.

I am sure I would have been over my loss quicker if I had not tried to 'be brave" and not complain. So, yes, allowing the grieving person to talk and asking if they would like to share is the right thing to do. Just giving the grieving person an opportunity to talk means so much, even if they are slow to do so.

I do not want to imply that you should ask intrusive questions or be insensitive. Just ask if they are doing okay and if they would like to talk about their dearly departed in a kind way is an opening.

Now at 82 so many I have lost. Parents, brother, sister, aunts, grandmother's and friends
At this moment I am alone but not lonely, may be because my son is with me on his
yearly visit from Vietnam. I miss my daughter's, grand children and all so busy.
None live near me and I chose to relocate 40 years ago after my divorce to my country
property, built a cottage and stay busy with gardens, computer, writing and reading.
Now health issues are beginning to happen, just arthritis but now not possible to garden
like I have for years. Again, not lonely, alone a lot but I stay busy with many interest.
Miss many gone before me, grieved for a while but at the moment all is well....

Clearly you hit a chord. A 30 year + friend who lives 3 hours away just told me they may be moving to Mexico in 2 years. After we ended our phone conversation I was so depressed I cleaned my stove. It doesn't matter what happens in the next two years, just the thought of my touch-stone friend leaving sends me into anticipatory grief, a phenomenon we don't "talk" about much in our culture.
My daughter and her husband's close friends are moving to California from Washington. Sally is already fantasizing in her heart about turning their garage into a little cottage for them.
When I worked in hospice and then in mental health programs, because people were always facing loss we addressed anticipatory grief and grief that couldn't be shared with the person we loved and anticipated losing.

Thank you for addressing tough topics Ronnie.

It was not until recently, here at the A.L.F., that they began posting pictures of residents who passed away. For some reason, they wanted to keep "death" from us old folks.
But residents began to get curious about what happened to those folks who, all of a sudden, were no longer around. We demanded to be informed who passed away. The facility capitulated, and now photos of the recently departed are posted in a common area. In addition, a small memorial service is also held.
This has taken away some of the loneliness surrounding the loss of a friend by making the grieving process a collective one.

When someone you loved has died there is that shock to realize that everyone and everything else is just getting on with it, most of them not caring that the bottom just fell out of your world. Then there is the creeping back of a kind of comfort in normalcy, gratitude that the world IS just getting on with it and not falling apart. The normalcy is there for you when you are ready, but for now it’s a kind of padding around you while you grieve. People are afraid to talk about your loss in case they make you feel worse, or perhaps because you might make them feel the grief. When you are, yourself, in grief, you are deeper and rawer, but somehow larger, than those fearful to speak. That’s okay, you think, this is my turn, my time, my being in a place they can’t understand right now. You know you will survive and yourself get back to normalcy, not yet, but sometime. So your thing right now is just to grieve.

So much good thought here! When my first husband died, I was so very fortunate--friends I could talk to, my children, also grieving. I do remember, because my husband had been a public figure, my mailbox overflowing every day, the phone ringing off the hook, etc., and then, suddenly, it all stopped, and I kept thinking it was time to go to the airport and meet him. I still had good people around me. I think my son, who was 12 at the time, had it hardest by far. A terrible age to lose a father. And adolescent boys aren't much help.
Later, my second husband left suddenly. Fortunately then too, I had faithful friends--one of whom was going through the same thing. But what was so very, very hurtful was people who would NOT talk about it with me. Who, if I mentioned it, refused to engage. I think if a spouse leaves you, it is somehow regarded as shameful. That is cruel, because the one left usually has enough shame to last until the grief is gradually worked through. As for closure--a wretched concept. Grief is incredibly hard work. Why should one close the door and march on without weaving that work into the whole fabric of a life?

Wow, Ronni, another hot topic. Although I have organized and facilitated many grief groups, I am “the shoemaker’s kids” when it comes to my own grief care. My husband, died in September after 54 years of marriage and after a very long struggle with Lewy Body Dementia, Parkinson’s and the results of a stroke when he was 51. As he was getting sicker I kept saying that I could write a book entitled “The Thousand Ways I Lost You”…. Dick was my soul mate, my challenger, my best friend, my lover, my confidante, my hero, my companion in crime and my magic. I remember how he danced, walked, laughed, talked, worked, ate and goofed around. As he lived on gradually declining I lived on the edge of anxiety expecting him to be like he used to be and then every day I was faced with the reality of his limitations and what a loss it must be to him. There is nothing worse than being angry at someone for leaving you and having them still there. It was like living with a ghost. After nearly six months since he died, I find that I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that he is “Gone”…..I am relieved that he is no longer suffering so horribly, but knowing that I won’t see him again is just extremely difficult. Another thought that keeps popping up in my mind is that we never got to enjoy any retirement together. We spent the years raising our children, getting educated and working. I would have loved to have had a few years of enjoyment with him at the end. How can 54 years go so quickly? One day when we were out bumming around we each bought the other person a card and it ended up being the same card and goes as follows:
“Someday, when we have been together for a very long time, we’ll turn out the lights and slow dance on the porch in our bathrobes. I’ll write you love notes in large print and tape them to the fridge. You’ll finish my stories and I’ll borrow your glasses. We’ll wonder where the time went, and each night we’ll roll to the middle of our old bed into one another’s arms, where we’ll kiss and dream the secret dreams that only old lovers know…” We had this card framed and I read it every once in a while and know that he would have wanted the same thing had he not been ill.
My kindest feelings to everyone else that has shared their losses in Ronni’s comments and thanks for allowing me to share mine.

Thank you for today's post. I am in complete agreement with you. During the last 3 yrs I have had 4 very significant and painful losses in my life. 4 people I love are gone, and all died suddenly. There have been VERY few people who have truly acknowledged my grief; who have wanted to discuss or share my loss or even their own losses. Our culture encourages us to move on. How silly we are! By questioning other people's losses, I have learned much and have given them space within which to share and grieve. And it has helped me tremendously in dealing with my own grief.

I have been solo for the last 3 years... One thing my friends and I talk about is how we enjoy solitude.. If I have too many days in a row that are busy, I really need a day or two just at home solo... I needed this even when living with a spouse or friends... Email and Facebook and texting keep me connected to friends and family... So +1 for Solitude.

I would like the words "I'm sorry for your loss" to be banished from the vernacular of solace. I refuse to look a grieving person in the eyes and say something so banal. My younger brother died some years ago, and at his wake (we still had wakes then), at which my mother was present, lines of people moved past her, taking her hand and saying, "I'm sorry for your loss" and then moved on. Finally one person came by, took my mother's hand and said, "I'm so sorry Charlie is gone. The world has lost a wonderful man."

What a difference!

I could write a lot more on this topic, but I just want to say that much for now. Thank you.

Thank you so much for this column. At 84 yrs, I have dealt with the loss of many loved ones.
People, for whatever reason do not want to catch your grief. I lost my hero, my father, at eight years old. My mother had a break down since they had just lost my baby brother. They left a large family with no-one to help us. The oldest brother was an alcoholic, who could be quiet cruel. He squandered our financial resources and ended up with my mothers proceeds from the sale of the house. Succeeding under those circumstance was so hard but I made it. Ten years ago my husband and I lost our daughter suddenly. She was 45 years old and left behind three children in their early teens. Her husband started a new life shortly afterward.
The death of our daughter was the worst lose and there will always be a hole in our hearts.
I took advantage of all the help I could find from groups to private therapy. This kind of loss one never gets over. You learn to live with that big hole in your heart while you go on with your life, cherishing her memory and feeling the love between you and her. The responses to this column were so close to my heart. It helped me to read them.

Wonderful, heartfelt post, Ronni. So poignant on so many levels. I especially identify with the following two line:

"One of loneliest thoughts I had when my mother died was that no one was left alive who knew me when I was a little girl."

”A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty. But one no longer has the right to say so aloud.”

When I started reading this, I remembered a song from the sixties about a broken love affair. Now that I am beyond that stage but I have experienced the grief so many of the comments have talked about, death of parents, death of two brothers in law, and the deaths of several friends in the past two years, It seems good to know I am not the only one feeling these feelings of loss. I can identify with almost every one of the comments as we face the loss of people important in our lives. I am not alone. A version by the Carpenters of The End of The World, expresses it well.

Than you for such a thoughtful post Ronnie and all the insightful comments. I grieved for over a year when my Mother died and after the initial "allowable" short grieving time, most folks thought I should be over it. This often led to me apologising whenever I burst into tears. Why must we be made to feel guilty for grieving past the accepted time?
Then one day, a stranger came on business and seeing my deep grief, sat me down, held my hand and said a prayer acknowledging my loss and grief, giving me permission to fully grieve and to offer comfort in the process.
I am not a particularly religious person, but his prayer did give me great comfort and made me feel it was okay and not feel I should be getting on with my life as normal.

Thank you for starting the conversation, Ronnie, and for all the thoughtful posts. I want to share a response that comforted me after my husband died. A gruff quiet man I barely knew came up to me at a break in our tai chi class and said, "I didn't know your husband but I read his obituary in the local paper and he seemed like a wonderful man." It was so honest and sincere and I remember it whenever I'm at a loss as to what to say to someone.

I lost my husband 5 years ago. Sometimes the grief is greater now, than at death as the magnitude of my loss hits me. No one to spend my retirement with me, enjoy the grandchildren.... During the hard slog of raising a family, we had no time. Now oodles of time but he's not here.

Thank you for this blog post Ronni..I needed to read it. On March 24th it will be the 12th anniversary of my husbands death. I still grieve and miss him very much.
I did, however have the good fortune to attend a Grief Ritual at Breightenbush Hot Springs (Near Detroit Lake between Salem and Bend). It was held by a wonderful woman named Sobonfu Some, a west African woman who has trained since childhood as a ritual leader. For 3 days 70 people learned how to honor their grief, to acknowledge that we are entitled to feel bad when we loose a loved one, a job, our health or whatever we were grieving.

We played drums, danced, sang and this wonderful woman showed us all how it's done in Africa, where people don't have to keep a stiff upper lip. I've gone back several times to the ritual-it's held the 2dn weekend of February every year-not a fun time to be in the mountains-but we use their steam room and natural hot pools as part of healing-and I always come out feeling like I've taken positive steps toward recovery.

This ritual is held all over the US and in some foreign countries-just google her name if you're interested and you can read about the experience. She also directs other rituals which I've attended.

I too feel the loss that Beth and others have felt-so often it's we women who are left behind after our husbands die and our plans of travel during retirement seem to go by the wayside..though attending the grief ritual motivated me to travel by myself-and I had a lot of fun doing it for years, before I broke a few bones and could no longer feel safe traveling alone.

I think one of the hardest things about my husbands death is it came 3 days after the birth of our grandchild..something he had been so looking forward to. My daughter still says that it wasn't fair..childbirth is supposed to be a blessing, but she was mourning her dear dads loss when her only child was born, plus Brianna was born with birth defects in her hips-you'd never know it now as she is a dancer and gymnast but the first year of her life she was in leg braces. It was a sad and happy time for all of us.


So much grief - and so often repressed.

Our macho culture trains us to disown our grief and show always a happy face. Strong emotion that's not expressed has to go somewhere. Too often I think it affects our health.

Ronni, I am so glad you posted on this topic. As you can see from the response, we often feel like sadness is social death and like we're the "only ones" flattened by grief. So we pretend, even though we resent it. It makes desolation so much worse.

Once you hit the AARP zone, loss is a pretty constant companion--parents, friends, siblings, spouses, jobs, pets. I know someone right now who is absolutely gutted over having to trade in a beloved old ... car. And it's not really the car, of course. It's that it was purchased at a much happier time now long ago and served very well in difficult circumstances over the years.

Of course, the loss of an object or a job is not the same as losing a person or a pet. But we lost a LOT at this time of life, and it never gets any easier.

I still mourn my special friend Joleen.
She cared, she believed, and she took action.

We must not suppress grief, even if it makes those sround us uncomfortable. I still grieve the loss of my mother who died at the age of 52, when I was 17, some 41 years ago. I finally found some solace about her death when I went for counseling after my father passed away at age 80 when I was 40. Grief is not something to be gotten over. The loss of someone we loves changes us, and so we always carry them with us in some form.

We are more removed from death than our ancestors, thanks to improved medical care. We are removed from the source of our food -- how many of us eat meat but have never butchered an animal? The modern world offers us grand things, but we should not forget the old ways.

Thanks to tou, Ronni, and all the commenters for this profound meditation on life and loss.

I lived in Brasil for a number of years and witnessed the grieving there where the women wore black for a certain amount of time. I wasn't used to that, but it was a good thing to do. I experienced grieving when my husband of 22 years left me for another woman and, for me, it helped to cry whenever I felt like it and to talk to others about my situation - somehow, letting it out over and over again lessened the pain.

Dear Ronni,

This is an beautiful piece. The ache and awkwardness of being with a friend who is in grief can be intimidating. But, as you say, when you begin with the knowledge that you can't take the pain away, you're in better shape. And when you are mostly present, with a small invitation to talk, I think that--and, with people you know well, as hug, is best.

As Patty-in-new-York said: "Thanks to you, Ronni, and all the commenters for this profound meditation on life and loss." I have read it several times and will keep it for reflection from time to time.

I lost dad the year before John, my fiance. A favorite relative and cat died 6 months after John. Then, mom needed more assistance about 3 years after John passed away.

I did not think I was going to get married. I feel lucky I met John. I did not feel that way after he passed away, tho. I walked in the valley of the shadow of death for a good 2 years.

It was a struggle to keep a FT job and keep up with self care: cooking, cleaning, etc. etc. after John died. I did the minimum for a good 2 years. I was in a grief group for a year which really helped me a lot.

I appreciate any condolence when a loved one passed away. I appreciate the thought. But, life goes on. It's the great love and the great sadness of life. Life goes on.

I lost my husband 3+ years ago and grief takes a long time to work through and we change because of it. I also think as our loved ones and friends begin to die, the grief becomes a little about us as well. Knowing that our time is getting closer too and this may make other people uncomfortable thinking those same feelings and that is why some will not talk about it. It's too close to home. I'm not religious and I believe when you die that's it and that in itself can be a daunting thought.

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