The Death of a Loved One.

I have been asked to write a blog dealing with the death of a loved one. As I have grown older, I have suffered the loss of many a friend and relative. That is a price that we pay for living too long. There are other prices but perhaps none as steep as this one. A friend of mine has joked about my rather cavalier attitude towards death. She has summed up my comments as “Well, we are all going to die sometime.” I realize that my comment and attitude is not very consoling. However, for me it has been a convenient shortcut to simply acknowledging death and moving on. I have also noted that it seems hardly a week has gone by in my last twenty years that I have not witnessed the death of someone who has been a friend or relative. I doubt whether my life is much different than others unless I am a more astute observer of death or unless I am simply less caring.

I read the book “On Death and Dying” many years ago. The stages of grief that were identified as something we all go through upon the loss of a loved one are perhaps interesting and even useful but in some ways are very similar to my comment in that knowing the stages may not be very consoling. It is one thing to have an intellectual knowledge of death but an altogether different thing to have a personal emotional experience of death. For instance, despite all the deaths I have witnessed including my parents many friends and most of my relatives, I have never experienced the death of a life partner. I have gone through a divorce after 16 years but a divorce is not the same as death. True, it encompasses a degree of pain and loss and suffering but I cannot quite equate that with dealing with the loss of a close personal partner that one has lived with for most of their life. I think this would be a very different experience. Whether or not it was expected or unexpected would have some influence on how one dealt with it but maybe less than one would think. The aspect of “expectedness” is another intellectual concept which does not deal with the emotional relevance of death.

One day I was coming in to see Karen, my spouse who loves to sleep late. She is normally a very late sleeper and I am not usually too concerned when she sleeps in. However, it grew quite a bit later than usual and I decided to “peek” in to see how she was doing. When I looked at her prone body, she did not appear to be breathing. I immediately put my head to hers to see if I could detect any breath. I could not. My immediate reaction was to panic and shake her. I started crying. Suddenly she turned over and asked “What was wrong.” I was beyond relief. In that single moment of thinking she had passed away, I had experienced a degree of pain, sorrow, suffering and loss that I have never emotionally experienced before. Karen and I have been living together since 1989 and going together since 1983. I know that someday we will part and on an intellectual basis, I have accepted the inevitability of it. However, I suddenly found that I have not accepted the inevitability on a personal emotional basis and I wonder now if I ever will be able to.

I have to say I do not cry very much but I did that morning. I seldom cry at funerals but I cried at my Dad’s funeral, Sister Giovanni’s funeral and a few friends whose services touched me quite a bit. I have cried every time I have read or seen a production of the “Little Match Girl.” I have cried over the song “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” There is something that evokes sorrow in me that has more to do with loneliness than death. I have never seen any scales of loneliness related to the death of a loved one but I might assume that some correlation did exist. I have a 98 year old Aunt and God-Mother who is one of the most positive older people I know. She has lost two of her three sons and her husband of over 60 years. She continues to love life and other people. I asked her three years ago how she keeps such an attitude when she has seen almost all of her friends and loved ones pass away. Her reply was that she simply makes new friends. I am sure she loved her sons and husband as much as the next wife and mother but she simply chooses to move on. I contrast this with a comment that I heard about Thomas Jefferson who felt that at the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence he was no longer a part of this life. The following is a quote by Jefferson on aging:

1815 February 5. (to John Vaughn). “…nothing is more incumbent on the old, than to know when they should get out of the way, and relinquish to younger successors the honors they can no longer earn, and the duties they can no longer perform.”

I see a vast difference between Jefferson’s attitude on aging and my Aunt’s attitude (at least as reflected in this quote.) My Aunt has not gotten out of the way. She still performs duties and tasks to help others. Indeed, that Christmas when I was talking to her, she was leaving after dinner to serve meals to the elderly at an “Old Folks Home.” I jokingly asked her if she was not “Old” and she pensively replied “Why I guess I am, I just never think about it.” She lives in the present and maybe that is the elusive secret of happiness or satisfaction. Osho says that for too many of us the only thing that exists is the Past or Future. We are either so busy trying to recapture memories of “better” times or else we create possible futures that we hope will bring us “better memories” than we had. I have noticed that all of the great religious leaders have stressed the importance of living in the present. Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-34

Buddha noted: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I could give writings upon writings that speak of the need to live in the present but would this help you deal with the loss of a close personal partner? Good advice seldom deals with emotions. What then to say to anyone who suffers a loss of someone they have lived with, loved with and known for most of their lives? Perhaps nothing! Maybe this is just the time to be with this person. I would suspect that the feelings of loneliness would be almost overpowering. Is it any wonder so many people seem to die shortly after the death of a long term partner? What can you really say in the face of what this person is going through? Almost anything will sound cold or trite. Just feel for a second what this person must now be feeling.

Most of what we desire in life can summed up as: Fame, fortune or power. We strive to accomplish as much wealth, attention or power as we can. We think these three goals will bring us the happiness and security that we all seek. Deep down inside we are all insecure insignificant beings who feel that somehow money, fame or power will bring us the significance that assuages our sense of loneliness and inadequacy. But it never does. The nearest anything ever comes to doing this for us, short of an emotional and spiritual awakening is the love of a close personal partner.

I would not trade all the fans, all the Facebook friends, all the media glory, all the TV fame, all the money in the world or the highest office in the world for the love of my partner Karen who intimately knows me and cares about me. Karen brings me coffee, bandages my cuts, asks me how I am doing and what is wrong, cuddles with me for no reason, walks with me, consoles me when I am feeling inadequate, supports my stupidity, tolerates my quirks and even my sometimes meanness and poor dispositions. How many of the Rich and Famous have anyone in their lives like I do? Those of you who have or had had a long time personal partner or loved one know what I am talking about. How to lose such a partner and go on with life? I am sorry if I do not know the answer or the secret. Give up or trudge on? Can you make a difference for others? Can you help share the pain and help others deal with the pain you are now feeling? What can you leave the world after your partner leaves you?

If you have had a partner like I have, you have experienced the greatest gift in the world. That this gift will someday be taken away from you is inevitable. That it will cause you great pain and sorrow is perhaps also inevitable. In the end, we come back to the beginning. Life goes on. You were loved and you were needed. There are others who are not loved and who could benefit from your love. There are others who are not needed and who could benefit from being needed by you. The biggest gift we can ever give others is the gift of ourselves. When a gift has been taken away from us perhaps it is time for us to find a way to give a gift of ourselves.

Time for Questions:

What is your experience with death and dying? How have you handled the death of a loved one? How have you helped others who are going through this pain? What will you need when you lose your partner or a close loved one? Can you share any experiences with others who might benefit from your experience?

Life is just beginning.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cindy
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 11:00:48

    John, thank you for sharing yourself through this post. I have the kind of relationship you speak of with my husband. When he went through a trauma that very few people survive, I was terrified. Sometimes I would get stuck in the fear. A counselor suggested that I share my fear with others I was close to and invite them to share their fear with me. It was an amazing process and I was soon unstuck and able to function again. Thankfully, my husband survived and able to function nearly normally, although I mourn the part of him that isn’t quite the same.

    A close friend died unexpectedly a year and a half ago. His widow recently commented that certain things in life have become easier – her greatest fear had been that he would die and leave her to raise their young son alone. Her greatest fear has now been realized, so she doesn’t have to worry about that any more. Some days are super tough for her, but she also acknowledges that people have surrounded her with love and support in ways she had never realized were possible.

    So I think you hit the nail on the head – we all need each other. Realize that everyone has pain and fear. Be kind and share your love with those around you every day. Live in the present.



    • johnpersico
      Jun 04, 2013 @ 15:11:55

      Thanks Cindy, I appreciate your comments and I think others will benefit from them as well. Thanks for sharing and I miss seeing you. Good luck with your own battles. I notice your issues on Facebook and I keep you in my heart and prayers. John



  2. Greg Gorman
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 01:31:43

    You’ll have fun tonight after Karen reads this!



  3. Merrilyn Ferranti Holcomb
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 20:17:18

    John thank you for sharing that blog. I was crying at the time I signed onto the computer. I needed an out and something else to turn my mind to. I was going through a few of my mother’s things and I was starting to fall apart again. I moved from CA and have been living here in WA state for the past 7 years steadily. Before that I was back and forth trying to help but finally mother couldn’t be left alone. Mother passed away 2 months ago, but it seems like yesterday. I helped her at times when she couldn’t breath to get her breath again. I took care of her home, food needs and just about everything. Life has been very hard for me these past 2 months and when I try to clean out little things I fall apart again. Yes, unless you have lived the loss of someone you have been very close to it is hard to understand. My husband, like your Karen, has been my rock. He is there for me and was for mother too. I can’t even imagine my love of 45 years leaving one day. I think living in the moment is the best advice one can give because when I think of the past I feel happy but then I feel sad because the person that made for so many happy memories in my life is gone. When I think of the future I feel sad because I know I can never again touch my mother, hug her or say I love you to her. This hurts a lot. I have what feels like a huge hole in my heart right now. Everyone says it will feel better in time, but never go away. Anyway, I’m blubbering now, so I just want to thank you again for sharing your blog. You have helped me to start remembering, when I feel down, to live in the moment not the past or the future. So, I think I will stop what I’m doing now and enjoy some of the beautiful sunshine that we have here RIGHT NOW. Thanks again and sounds like you and your Karen have a wonderful partnership. God be with both of you.



    • johnpersico
      Jun 05, 2013 @ 21:45:35

      Dear Merrilyn,
      I am very sorry to hear about your Mom’s death. I am glad my blog could be some small condolence to you. You sound so caring and you must have been a great comfort to your mother. God Bless you and your husband. Hopefully, we will meet up again sometime.




    • Karen Shepherd
      Jun 05, 2013 @ 23:54:54

      Hi Merrilyn, I read your comments and can relate well to your experience. I travelled a lot back and forth for almost four years whilst trying to juggle the needs of family. It was so hard and friendships suffered. Live for the day has been good advice for me. I walk daily every morning to help clear my head and make an effort to contact a friend everyday..even if the contact is only brief. For me, recognising that things will get better gives me a sense of hope. I know this is a phase of transition and that’s how I move forward emotionally. Trying to move forward doesn’t lessen my respect for the loss of my loved one but it does offer more quality to my day. I hope that makes some sense and helps.



  4. Karen Shepherd
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 23:18:07

    Dear John,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write about the death of a loved one. I can see you have considered the value of a partner in your own relationship with Karen. Death does make you re evaluate your own relationships.

    Spending time at my fathers bedside in the months before he passed away allowed me to say goodbye in an orderly fashion and I was prepared to let him go knowing that he would be free from pain and at peace.In a sense I was fortunate to have had that opportunity. But all along I knew that his passing would bring loneliness to my mother and perhaps that is more my grief now and hers. It’s not that he died but it’s the loneliness his passing has created. That is not intended to sound heartless. You write –

    “There is something that evokes sorrow in me that has more to do with loneliness than death..”

    This rang so true when I read this.

    “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Buddha had some wise words.

    I gently use this approach with my own mother trying to shift her thought process. But I acknowledge that no words of mine will truly alter what her mind has to process in its own time. My words will only serve to tell her that she is loved in this moment.

    I find it difficult moving forward trying to deal with my fathers death because of my mothers loneliness, as I live overseas from her. If I were to concentrate on my own needs moving forward would be easier to deal with, as I accept the sadness of my fathers passing.

    To offer something constructive to your blog – in dealing with my own feelings I try to see each day at a time and try not to look at the big picture. I am truly conscious that things are going to get better and that helps my emotional well being. My father passed away 8 weeks ago. I recall thinking to myself at the time of his funeral .. just deal with today and soon I will be able to look back on it. When I look back I know that with each day, I have taken a step forward. It really helped my mindset.

    You quote – 1815 February 5. (to John Vaughn). “…nothing is more incumbent on the old, than to know when they should get out of the way, and relinquish to younger successors the honors they can no longer earn, and the duties they can no longer perform.”
    Vaughan words are so sad to read – that is the circle of life. However, I too
    think your elderly aunt is a wise one..

    I jokingly asked her if she was not “Old” and she pensively replied “Why I guess I am, I just never think about it.” She lives in the present and maybe that is the elusive secret of happiness or satisfaction.

    Perhaps if my mother were to focus on life in small bites, like living for the day rather than focusing on her life as one big picture – things might fall into place with more meaning and less emotional stress.

    Thank you for your kind words and for exploring this with has been a helpful exercise. Hopefully someone else will find something useful in this.

    Kind regards



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