Grieving a loved one as you age

My daughter will never look older. For that, I'm really not thankful. 

Aging feels odd when we notice the loved ones we’ve lost won’t be aging anymore. It feels even stranger when we live beyond their age. Recognizing these moments in our aging process may or may not be helpful or comforting. 

When my daughter first died, I remember thinking “She’ll be young forever.” I don't remember if that brought much comfort at the time. Recently, I was thinking about this while reading Megan Devine’s Refuge in Grief e-letter on the week's topic of getting older. She discusses how, in grief, it may be disturbing when we recognize signs of aging. Her topic helped me think about where I am in the aging process as compared to my loved ones who are no longer here on Earth.

My father passed away unexpectedly, at age 49, of heart disease. My maternal grandmother died at only age 57, from untreated breast cancer. I've outlived both their ages. Tragically, at the young age of 22, my daughter, Lena, walked on unexpectedly.

My personal aging process is in full swing. When I look in the mirror, I see my grandmother. Yup, skipped right past looking like my mother. Each time my heart takes an odd beat, I freak out that I’m having a massive heart attack like my father experienced. More often I forget what I was about to do when I walked into say . . . the kitchen. I’m there, wondering why. I check my hunger needs. Nope, satisfied. Retrace my steps and look for a memory trigger and start again. Just when I think I’m accepting aging, a new body ache or condition crops up.

I don't like how age is changing my look to be less similar to Lena’s.

I recognize the changes caused by aging and try to accept them, but I don’t have to like it. For example, I don't like how age is changing my look to be less similar to Lena’s. It hurts when I no longer see as much resemblance. Her beautiful Native American features came from her father, but I still long to see more of her in my mirror than a grandmother’s face. Thankfully, Lena’s voice and mine are a match. Not a voice in terms of the topics we chose to discuss—hers were much more interesting than mine—but in the texture and inflections, and maybe even our choice of words. It was important to deliver the eulogy I wrote for her celebration of life service in my voice, which is also hers. My voice has aged since then yet the similarity is still there. When I giggle or say something silly is when I hear her the most.

Do you ever wonder what our loved ones see or hear when they observe us from the other side? What might they say or think if they saw us today? I’m convinced they surely do look. And if this is true, do they see this particular bundle of aging human molecules or something else? Metaphysical experts say our loved ones who’ve passed away connect with us through soul energy to our thoughts.  I’m not a medium, but feel there surely is a connection on some level. If this is not so then, for many of us, the loss might seem even worse. 

My muse, out there somewhere channeling while I'm here just trying to make sense of it all.

When I have thoughts of longing to see my loved ones, my hope is that I'm drawing them near. It is an emotionally soothing form of self-support and often manifests in physical comfort as well. While I don't imagine they see me physically, I like to think they feel what is inside my heart. Assuming my thoughts and feelings have energy and being hopeful that my loved ones can feel or sense that energy, then surely the new wrinkles on my face and body are not what they see. And is it not the soul energy, that brings these words to the page? My muse, out there somewhere channeling while I'm here just trying to make sense of it all.

Recently, when Lena visited me in a dream, I saw that she was maturing. She looked to be in her 30's, which is what she would be now had she lived. This dream was the first time where she was not her 22-year old self. While sitting at a vanity doing her makeup and arranging her hair, she said, “I don’t want to get old.” If only she were still here, I'd join her at that dressing table sharing beauty tips.

Grieving a loved one as you age, lifeisaprettyword.com

My experience of aging has definitely changed as a result of my grief. And that change has sometimes been uncertain. For example, my ever-changing decision to or not to color my gray hair. This is likely a reflection of how well I accept aging at any given moment. In a larger way, my experience of aging has changed in how, where and when I choose to spend time. Following Lena's death, my husband and I bought and sold two homes, sold most of our possessions, became expatriates, repatriated, and are planning extended trips around the U.S. and Europe. Holy restlessness, Batman!

Any relief I’ve felt for still being here is offset in knowing it is a very real possibility that I could die young.

What is the driving force of this restlessness? I sometimes tell myself how I want to experience as much as possible for “them” because their lives were too brief. Any relief I’ve felt for still being here is offset in knowing it is a very real possibility that I could die young. And this knowing drives me to seek experiences I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. The restlessness is likely a reaction to feeling and seeing aging changes and knowing time may be short. 

Being mindful of how aging feels in relation to loved ones we're grieving can cause us to pause, consider and remember them. The act of remembering is always good even if it is painful. 

Lena will never need hair dye or wrinkle cream. She won’t ever wear sensible shoes and support hose. I would have rather liked her to be here to point out my gray hairs, help me shop for stylish age appropriate clothes and commiserate about our aching joints.

My daughter will never look older. For that, I'm really not thankful.


blog post, lifeisaprettyword.com

What do you think? Does reaching an age milestone become a catalyst for healing or trigger unpleasant memories for you? How does aging make you feel when you think in terms of those who’ve passed on?

Feel free to comment on these questions or how your aging experience impacts your grief.


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Monica Sword

Monica Sword is an aspiring author and artist living a deeply heartfelt life. Following the early death of three family members, including her daughter, she struggled to balance home and work life. Once she discovered how to apply her conscientious and high-achieving personality to honor her passions, be mindful of her emotional reactions and focus on self-care, she developed a creative mindset that produces her most meaningful life work. On her website, lifeisaprettyword.com, Monica inspires and encourages others to honor their heart and soul in mindful ways.