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Living the Vintage Years: With the loss of a loved one, embrace grief to heal

“How long till I can put all this behind me?” the woman asked.

Fortunately, the filter in my brain stopped me from uttering “forever.”

The woman said her husband had died more than a year ago, and she still was feeling grief.

As one who has been widowed twice, I certainly know grief. I also recognize it is unique to each of us, so I couldn’t tell her I know how she feels. But I could and did tell her I know grief, and I know it becomes a permanent part of us. It does not magically disappear.

She was expressing surprise I seemed happy and able to have a good time. Maybe eventually, she, too, could go on with life, she said hopefully. Yes, of course, she can. We learn to go on with life, but we are forever changed by our loved one’s death.

Living is different from being alive. After we lose our partner, we’re still here. We’re still alive. But we have to make a conscious decision to actually live. Our own lives will end soon enough, so while we’re still here, why not live every moment fully? That is what I try to do. I believe each day is a precious gift to be cherished and enjoyed, and that’s what I told the woman. There is no way around grief. It can’t be pushed into a corner and ignored. We need to feel it in order to heal it.

Pain is inevitable as we move through our grief process. Loss hurts. Most of us, however, do manage to move through it, especially if we consciously choose to keep living and not just existing. It’s not that we ever forget our loved one, nor do we want to. A part of him or her lives on in us.

When we choose to go on with life, we soon realize we cannot move into the future without leaving the past. It’s like trying to walk across the room while clinging tightly to the chair we’re sitting on. We need to let go if we want to move forward.

As time passes, we will get further from the day of death but not further from our loved one.

Death ends a life, not our love - and certainly not our memories. I think of memories as photos taken by the heart to make special moments and special people last forever.

Eventually, the tears generated by our loss will dry. The sadness will fade. But the memories will live on and on.

We can’t avoid loss in our lives unless we avoid all the joys that make life worthwhile - friends, partners, pets, love. As painful as my losses have been, I still choose love and am grateful my life was richly blessed with two special, loving husbands who left this earth too soon.

I share the sentiment expressed by Lord Alfred Tennyson in these lines of a poem he wrote in 1833 after the unexpected and sudden death of his closest friend and muse, who was just 22 years old: “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

I understand his grief. My dearest friend for more than 50 years also died suddenly and unexpectedly just four weeks after my husband passed away. There are no words to describe the pain of losing two people I loved deeply within one month, yet I truly believe genuine love is worth every moment of pain-filled loss.

As time passes, our grief will not get smaller, but we will get bigger. Not every day will be good, but we will find some good in every day.

And remember, broken crayons can still color.