A Tale of Two Grandmas: Alone & Loneliness

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.

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

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.

Being 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
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.


  1. Joanna Ramirez says:


    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!


  2. Shayna Mallik says:

    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!


    • 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!


  3. Carrie Bayer says:

    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!


  4. Christopher Iverson says:

    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,


  5. Amy says:

    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,
      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!


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