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. Anne Anderson Collins says:

    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.

  2. Mark says:

    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!

  3. neil says:

    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!

  4. Lori says:

    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.

    • 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!

  5. Joe Lavoie says:

    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!


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