A Tale of Two Grandmas: Alone & Loneliness

My grandmas lost their husbands within 6 months of each other. One of them had, in her lifetime, sailed across the Pacific Ocean taking 4 years to do it with my grandpa at the helm. The other had lived a quiet & uneventful but very happy life in Leisure World with a few friends & a very happy marriage.

They lost their husbands slowly, each to different illnesses, each having a different world crash down around them as they faced the same husband-less reality.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/RusN

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/RusN

In the throws of widowhood, my sailing grandma began to regularly attend church for the first time in her life, made friends there, joined a widows group and worked in childcare. She, in some ways, changed her life radically. She was doing what SHE wanted to do. It was delightful and interesting to see.

My quiet grandma stayed quiet. She seldom left her house, rose early, went to bed early and kept the television on for all the time in between. My grandpa’s chair was kept where it had always been, expectant of him, in honor of him, a symbol that he had sat beside her.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/totalpics

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/totalpics

Recently, my mom told me about a visit with my quiet grandma. She told me how surprised she was when my grandma expressed interest in visiting a friend, neighbor and widow who lived just 50 feet from my grandma’s front door. My mom (the opposite of quiet and quite the socialite) gladly took her over to visit the friend. She told me about how the two of them chatted and in turn, shed tears together over the husbands they missed. They concluded that they should get together more often.

As we come upon Valentine’s Day, a day I hear so many refer to as “Single’s Awareness Day” – I am reminded not of my young unmarried friends, but of my dear grandmas and most especially, my quiet grandma.

Another thing about her – her previous husband (my actual grandpa) was the fire chief at El Toro Marine Base and on Thanksgiving, 1986 he died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 56 years old. My quiet grandma knew the pain & loneliness that was facing her as her second husband lay dying. She had met widowhood in an instant the first time and in slow anticipation the next.

I think that given that path I would be quiet, too.

She is not just “alone” but lonely; there is a tremendous difference between the two.

This is not to condemn quiet personalities or home-bodies who are happy in their ways, but to look at the heart of someone crushed by grief and without a clear path out. Someone re-tracing old paths worn deep that only they can walk. Someone who’s will to jump out of the hole is gone; maybe it was beaten down by too much grief or maybe it just seemed pointless to jump. Hope extinguished.

I want to offer a few things to those of you who feel loneliness looming over this Friday the 14th:

– Be with others: If you are dreading feeling lonely, take action and do something about it. Valentine’s (just like any day) doesn’t require a romantic interest, but should be spent in a way where you are loving of yourself. If you want to go out call a friend, a sibling, maybe even your grandma and make their day less lonely too.

– Be alone: If you would rather be alone, that’s ok, too. Sometimes, when we have lost someone significant, we need to just be alone as a way of honoring the void their lives filled in ours.

– Be honest: I think that my sailing grandma triumphed in this. She took a look at her life and what she wanted to do with the rest of it and then made it happen. Do what fits you, not what is expected.

– Be healthy: this is where I think my quiet grandma got tangled. Instead of admitting she needed companionship or that she indeed is very lonely, she opted to quietly suffer and filled the people-void with television. Talk to someone, reach out or let those reaching to you in. Sometimes, we are more alone than we think and we fail to see the people around us who care. I think my quiet grandma is starting to see them again.

take-what-you-need-love-hope-faith-nikki-jansenBeing Alone: we are terrified of this idea, but it’s really what we make of it. Being alone is ok, it’s not bad, it’s not easy but it also doesn’t have to be really hard. It’s clear from my two grandmas that on one side there is color, vibrancy and life and the other is darkness, sorrow and stagnation.

Gandalf (from Lord of the Rings – not nerdy cause everyone loves it, admit it, you do, too) says it best, All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

I wish each of you a Valentine’s Day spent in a way that is honest, healthy and just right for you.

Take what you need.

|| what do you think?

How will you be spending Valentine’s Day?

Has your grief journey been similar to either of the grandmas?

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.
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  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Molly,
    My very wise father taught me as others have in the past, “Everything in moderation” I take that as making sure the pendulum sways at least on occasion the other way in your life. If you are wired to be happier alone, that is OK, just do not get stuck there 100% of the time. If you are wired to be a social animal, great, but do not forget to slow down and be alone with your thoughts once in a while. We all have our spots, and as you mentioned Molly we just have to do what is write for us, Valentines day or any other day!

    Love,
    Chuck

    • Chuck, that’s such an important rule to follow and keep as a guide. It’s true for every area of life and if we could master that balancing act in everything I’d venture to say we would be radically different people.

      Thank you for sharing Chuck!

  • Mitch

    Wow what a contrast. We all grieve & do things differently. None of it wrong. just different. We should try to have balance in our lives & if & when we need help don’t be afraid to reach out & ask. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Mitch,

      You’re so right in saying that we do all grieve differently and that wherever we’re at in the process, we need to be there. The advice you give on maintaining balance is the crucial factor and it’s the reaching out that can so often bring us to that middle ground. Unfortunately, so many people feel a difficulty or self-imposed shame in admitting they “aren’t ok” – probably because their life has been out-of-whack for so long that even their relationships aren’t on the strongest legs and vulnerability is uncomfortable. I love your advice, thanks for sharing!

  • Amy

    Molly,
    Isn’t it funny how two people that experience the same thing have two very different experiences. Both my grandma’s did the same one was quiet and one was outgoing. Their paths were very much the same until they were widowed. One stayed quiet and one lived for her.
    I was taught to cherish the moment cause you don’t know who much time you have been granted. I will be enjoying Valentine’s Day with my 2 beautiful daughters who are the love and spirit of my world.
    Thanks for always writing such inspirational things. I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!
    Amy

    • Amy,
      Thank you! Such a sweet comment to read & gives me a sense of purpose behind this.
      It’s so interesting that you experienced a similar thing with your grandmas as they walked into widowhood. One living quietly and as you put it, the other “living for her” – it seems like there’s a story there and I’d love to hear more about it sometime.
      I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s with your beautiful daughters! Thank you again for sharing and being so sweet!

      Molly

  • Christopher Iverson

    Molly,
    Another delightful blog. This will be my first Valentine’s Day spent alone in fifteen years. I will work, go to the gym and then call my single daughters and remind them just how much they are loved by their father and how thankful and blessed I am to own their love. I will say a prayer of thanks for all of the absolutely wonderful Valentine’s Day evenings and dinners that I spent with Liz and then I will sleep comfortably in my aloneness. Celebrating love is something to do daily. I guess I saved a bunch of money not having to buy roses, dinners and gifts. Overall, Friday will be another great day.

    • Chris,
      It’s incredible how from one year to the next so much can change and holidays that may seem set in stone can have their meanings or traditions completely transformed. While it sounds like you will be filling your day with normalcy, some lovely calls to your daughters and time reminiscing, it sounds like this is also going to be a difficult day – a painful day. For any of us walking this path without the partner we celebrated and had on Valentine’s Days prior, that is painful, if not horrible. I just want you to know that even though you’re in a good place and working hard to be positive, you’re in a grief walk of your own and days like these are harder than others. You’ll be in my thoughts tonight,

      Molly

  • Carrie Bayer

    Molly, what a wonderful reminder that being alone & lonely are very different. Thank you for sharing the personal contrast with us! When I was married, I was very lonely & spent most holidays on my own, even though I had a husband. He was always too busy doing his own things to consider including me. I learned to occupy my time without him & am grateful for the learned independence. This Valentine’s Day, I will be with my fiance (OMG, I have a fiance!) having a special dinner for two. I’m very much looking forward to spending this day with him…. Love, Carrie

    • Carrie,
      Isn’t it amazing how time has a way of transforming our circumstances but us as well? It seems impossible that someone with your vibrance and beauty could be alone on holidays (especially this one!) but change has brought not only a wonderful fiance (so awesome!) but also showed you how valuable you are. We are not built to live this life alone but we have to be with the right people to make being alone worse than being with them. I think you know that all too well.

      Thank you so much for reading & sharing – I wish you the happiest of Valentine’s Days!

      Molly

  • Shayna Mallik

    Molly,
    What a contrast! Yes you are completely right alone and loneliness are completely different. How each individual grieves is up to them and no way is wrong. But I do think the people who are grieving should be reminded of all the love they have around them. I agree with Chuck, you should not stay alone 100% of the time, but if you are very social you need to remember to leave time for yourself and your thoughts. I think both are very important. Since I have been with Brad each Valentines Day is similar but special. The first Valentines Day we were together we went to the Spectrum and walked around and saw a movie. This last Valentines we went to dinner and a movie and it was nice because I had the day after Valentines Day off of work to relax and not have to get up early. This years Valentines Day will be different. I am actually going to try on my wedding dress after all the alterations they had to do to see how it fits and looks with my mom. I am so excited about getting to put my wedding dress on again. My appointment is after work at 6pm so it is not going to be a normal Valentines Day. After my fitting, hopefully wont be that long, I will go home and have a nice dinner with Brad. Maybe over the weekend see a movie or something as well. I think that just being with people you love or care about or even just have fun with is what Valentines Day is all about. I hope you have a fantastic Valentines Day tomorrow!

    Love,
    Shayna

    • Shayna,
      I just couldn’t agree with you more! We don’t need crazy huge gifts and over-the-top spending, it’s the simple but sweet time together that we can cherish. THIS Valentine’s day sounds like so much fun! You’ll never have another one like it and what a unique and lovely way to spend it. I’m so excited for you! I hope you guys have a wonderful Valentine’s Weekend together!

      Molly

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Molly,

    Interesting blog. I am not much of a Valentine’s celebrator. The day does noting for me. It is much too much about nothing. That being said, I can only imagine how it makes some feel, particularly when they have lost their loved one. Sometimes people just want to be alone and it is not a bad thing.

    P.S. I love Lord of the Rings.

    • Joanna,
      I didn’t know you were an LOTR fan!! So cool, I love that this blog teaches me things like that.
      I’ll admit that I’m not super shocked that you don’t love Valentine’s Day ; ) I’m not a crazy fan myself but I can appreciate the celebration of relationship and I like taking intentional time to enjoy and be thankful for that. I think with Malia you’re doing that just about everyday without the need of a holiday. Thanks so much for reading!

      Molly

  • Joe Lavoie

    Molly
    I will be spending time with my wife and family on valentines day and helping to celebrate my parents 68th anniversary on that day . My own grief journey has been day by day and to remember to help others as we can with compassion and care. I have leaned on my family to help get me through and there has been times when I do like to be alone and reflect and escape in my thoughts.

    Thanks Joe Lavoie

    • Joe,

      Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so glad this day will be so richly filled with the meaningful people in your life. I know though that even though this will be a mostly happy gathering, that there are still so many complications and pains that go with being with family. It sounds like you’ve been intentional about our grief journey and that’s a really good thing. Your family is there for you but you’re also wise enough to step away and find some solitude when you need it – and we all need it.

      I hope your day is wonderful & I look forward to hearing about it soon!

      Molly

  • Lori

    Molly,
    Interesting that Christmas was hard for me, but Valentine’s Day doesn’t really bother me. I love how you have told the story of each of your grandmothers. I would say if I went through significant loss at this point of my life, I would land somewhere in the middle.
    I love to be out among friends as your sailing grandmother was. I also cherish my alone time, like your quiet grandmother. I guess we all determine what we are made of when the time comes.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Love,
    Lori

    • Lori,
      I think you and I are pretty alike in this. I like being alone but I know that too much of it would lead to loneliness. You follow the healthy rule that Chuck mentions, “Everything in Moderation” – it’s so important and I think your reference to “landing in the middle” is a pretty good place to land.

      Thank you for reading!

  • neil

    Hi Molly –
    I love the quote from Gandalf, regardless of Valentines day or not, we only have so much time in our lives. Regardless of the season we need to choose wisely how we spend our time, there is no wrong answer, in grief, joy, happiness or sadness. LIfe will cycle and seasons will always change.

    • Neil,
      I’m glad you appreciated the Gandalf quote, it’s a great one. As for the “no wrong answer” I don’t 100% agree, I think that my quiet grandmother is an example of a poor answer or unhealthy response to the grief in her life. The problem is, she doesn’t know anything else AND she doesn’t seem to want to change. I agree that there are myriads of emotions in grief and no one can tell you that what you’re feeling is wrong but the way you channel and handle those feelings is SO important. Life’s too short to do it wrong.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Mark

    Hi Molly….Thanks for sharing about your grandmothers…..as I read your blog I was reminded that each person reacts to grief differently….something we all should remember….no cookie cutter on handling grief for the families we serve….I am also giving some thought to your great quote about time…..”All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”……thanks, Mark

    • It’s a great quote, one to take with you every where! It’s what makes Tolkein one for the ages.
      But your analogy for the cookie cutter model we like to ascribe to grief is so true, it’s not like that for anyone, why? Couple things: we are each uniquely made and we each have completely unique relationships with each person we encounter. Our grief is then based upon our relationship’s depth & meaning, but also who we are as individuals. Thank you so much for reading!

  • Anne Anderson Collins

    Molly,
    Everyone has to do what feels right. But this IS a day for sweethearts. Those who have been married 30 40 and 50 years understand best what this means. There’s a familiar comfortable-ness that only comes from rubbing the edges of a relationship smooth over time and with care. The result is a deep and lasting love that even death cannot fade. I heard from my sweetheart through journaling. He encouraged me to not be alone today. I am thankful to say a lovely invitation came forth on Wednesday which I quickly accepted. Some prefer their solitude. I doubt I ever will, but I will never forget the love we shared and will take a little quiet time some time today and honor that relationship on Sweetheart’s day.
    On another note, I called a widow friend who I knew would be terribly missing her Charley today even though it’s been years. I emailed her son yesterday and told him to be sure to hug mom double today. I found out from her he brought her flowers yesterday. Yay!! a good son who takes care of his mom in dad’s place! And I got a beautiful card from a girlfriend. It was “God sending me His love on Valentine’s Day”, another cool way to love a new widow.
    Love
    Anne

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Molly,
    Thank you for such an important blog. Your words have me thinking of my dear sister-in-law who is going through her first Valentine’s Day alone. Widowed way too young, I am sure she is remembering the flowers my brother always brought home to her or sent to her work each Valentine’s Day. I love your ideas you offer to those who are alone on holidays like today and I know she is putting some of these into action. She will spend some quiet time alone, allowing herself to grieve outwardly and then she will turn to friends and family who have walked beside her to help fill her void.
    Thank you,
    Becky

  • Michael Thomas

    YEA! GANDALF FOR THE WIN!!

    But seriously, great blog Molly. I especially like the part about letting people be alone. I have a few family members and friends of my own who LOVE their alone time. Its only fair to grant them that and reassuring them that alone time isn’t in any way disrespectful, but rather your way of escape. Awesome.

  • Fitz

    Hi Molly,
    Beautifully written as always. Loved the info on your grandma’s journeys. Thanks for sharing the helpful tips on how to deal with loneliness not only on this day but on any day we have those feelings. Regardless of whether your attached or unattached, we all deal with the feeling of being alone from time to time. Your suggestions are great. The plan for me is to enjoy the beautiful sunset with a sparkler (adult beverage) with Kathryn. Looking forward to it.
    Fitz

    • Fitz, you are so sweet. Thanks for the kind words. It was interesting to look at the two of them from this perspective and given that it’s been 7 years since the deaths of my grandfathers I think the impact of their journeys is far more profound and evident. And yes, we do all have to deal with being alone or being left behind in different ways – we encounter mourning so much more often than we think.

      I hope you have a wonderful sunset to look at tonight & a great weekend!

      Molly

  • Shasta Cola

    Molly, what a very nice blog about your grandmas. It shows how differently people grieve but still so the same. I can’t imagine what it is like for those people who have been married for so long to lose their spouse! It is so heartbreaking for me, and I am sure I have no real grasp on it.

  • Lauren

    Thanks for sharing about your grandmas and for posting something so honest.
    I think my journey through grief is a mix of both of your grandmas. There really is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. I feel that as time goes on we know what we need to help us through that moment; whether to be in the comfort of people or to be alone with our thoughts and/or tv.

  • Jenn

    Thank you for sharing this story Molly, I think it shows a great example on how different people grieve and that one way is not better or more healthy, just different. It is great to be aware of this and not push people in the direction that makes them uncomfortable just because it is uncomfortable for you. If being alone is who they like to be then let them be alone, show them love and be there when they need someone.

    • Well said, Jenn. I think the “letting them be alone” is sometimes harder said than done. I know some grieving people can feel abandoned but others can sometimes feel suffocated. It’s so dependent on who we are as individuals but also on the depth and trust we have in the relationships that surround us. If we aren’t effective communicators of what we need or if our friendships are too weak to hold us when we need it, our grief will suffer all the more.

      Thank you for reading & sharing your insight!

  • Rosemary

    Thank you for sharing your grandmas with all of us, Molly! It is a beautiful view of how grief and the choices we make can impact our lives. I hope that your quiet grandma is ready for a bit more social contact now that she has ventured out and visited her neighbor. Perhaps she just needed more time to process her grief than most people do. I’m so glad she has you and your mother to make the transition a bit easier for her!
    Love,
    Rosemary

    • Thank you so much, Rosemary!
      Your hope is mine as well. I would love for her to break out of the cave she has created for herself but even if that doesn’t happen, I have to recognize that there are reasons for it, pain within it and love her just the same.

      I’m so glad my mom’s there, too. She’s wonderful : )

  • Tom

    Valentinius was alone in jail and a bird stood patiently outside on the windowsill. He took a parchment and inscribed words of love for his wife. The bird carried the parchment to her. There is a time when we need to be with others and a time when we need to be alone. And, being alone or loneliness will lead to death, because we are, by nature social beings.

    • Tom,
      I didn’t know that story, thank you for sharing that.

      Yes, we all have times when we need to be alone and times when we need others to walk the road with. Well said, Tom.

      Thank you for reading!