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All the Lonely People

I received word the other day that a long-time acquaintance had died. We had worked together in the beginning years of my newspaper career, and while we hadn't been that close, he nonetheless had represented a link in a circle of friends that was growing smaller every year. I was losing my history.

Join the discussion: Grief and Loss - How do you cope?

lonely man on beach
Courtesy: Lavioe Images Flickr photostream

We were a hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, fun-loving bunch back then, not eating right or exercising or generally taking care of ourselves. Hell, we were in our 30s and didn't spend a moment worrying about how our bad habits were chipping away at our mortality. Life was a party and we were dancing to the beat.

Among those I knew on the editorial staff of the Oakland Tribune, only a few still survive. Most died in their 40s and 50s when the norm of an expected life span collided with a misbegotten lifestyle. At 83, I'm burdened by all kinds of ailments but remain somehow still on my feet, trying to define the world around me. I left the party early and it has given me more years to contemplate.

But there is a kind of loneliness to survival in the slow diminishment of a group. One feels alone and often isolated. I remember thinking about that years ago as my mother-in-law, at age 96, was dealing with the lonely world she had inherited. Her husband had died and so had all of the friends she had known as far back as first grade.

When she visited us in her final years, she would sit alone watching television far into the night, bored by the re-runs but craving the company of familiarity that old shows provided. More than once she had said to me how she missed her husband and friends and how she wished she could join them. As she lay dying a few years ago, we couldn't help but notice the peaceful composure of her final expression.

My feeling and hers at the loss of a husband and good friends represents a form of grieving often difficult to overcome. In her case, she mourned them with the immediacy of a funeral in progress, yearning to be with them. I remember my lost friends with a distant smile and am grateful that my very best friend, my wife of 63 years, remains with me.

Grief counselors tell us to cry when crying is required in the moment of death, but then move on. Adopt new activities, they say. Join clubs. Find new friends. Grief is a natural response to loss, they add, but not a way of life.

We lost our eldest daughter Cindy to cancer two years ago, and hardly a day goes by that I don't think of her. But the tears are long since dry, and when the family talks about her it's with laughter and a kind of joy that reanimates her in the deepest parts of memory. We are left with the pleasure of her company in more ways than we could have ever imagined.


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