The Love We Only Find In Loss

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Litsa


It is nearly impossible to count the people who have shared their reflections on the relationship between grief and love. Just a few . . .

“Grief is the price you pay for love” -Colin Murray Parkes (later famously quoted by Queen Elizabeth II)

“Grief and love are two sides of the same coin” -a zillion people

“Grief can only exist where love lived first” – a zillion more people

“Grief is love with no place to go” – Jamie Anderson

Even Marvel got in on it recently:

“But what is grief, if not love persevering?” -Vision, Wandavision

We’ve even written about it here at WYG, in our article “Grief is Love”.

Listing it out this way, it sounds quite pithy and cliche, doesn’t it? It rings dangerously like something meant to round out the jagged edges of grief. I can imagine the rant of a griever, met with these sentiments from a well-intentioned friend at the wrong moment. These feel like a banal platitude, an effort to quell or distract from the immense pain of loss.

Yet grievers themselves articulate this same sentiment often – that grief is love. I have been thinking a lot lately about how love and grief, it isn’t just a one-for-one exchange. It isn’t that the exact same love we had for someone who was once living now transforms into the grief we have for them once they’re gone. They consumed a space in our lives, they left a gaping hole, but grief feels somehow immensely bigger and greater than simply the hole. I think that might be why grievers talk about the relationship between love and grief in a different way than those offering banalities.

The Presence of Absence

Absence allows us to tap into a new depth of love, one we didn’t know existed. It feels like a depth we simply couldn’t access while they were still alive. It is a type of love predicated on the void they left in the world. When becoming a parent for the first time, so often people reach for words to explain that bringing a child into the world has opened the door to a type of love they didn’t know existed. Strange as it seems, I find myself believing that losing someone we love so deeply does something similar.

We’ve talked before about yearning in grief. Yearning is actually one of the most common grief emotions, and yet it is one people often struggle to label. In 2007 grief researchers Paul K. Maciejewski and Holly Prigerson placed yearning front and center, citing findings that it’s actually a more dominant characteristic after a death than those emotions we most typically associate with grief like anger and sadness.

And when you think about it, it makes sense. Yearning, as the Oxford Dictionary defines it is to, have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from“. Researchers who look at yearning are even more specific:

“Yearning is an emotional state widely experienced in situations involving loss, focused on a desire for a person, place, or thing that was treasured in the past.”

O’Connor and Sussman (2014)

The Language of Love and Loss

There are words in other languages that point to this same sentiment and add to it. They add the piece that I suspect is crucial to understanding yearning in grief. It is a longing or yearning for something you know that you can’t (or probably can’t) get back.

In German, sehnsucht: A high degree of intense (recurring), and often painful desire for something, particularly if there is no hope to attain the desired, or when its attainment is uncertain, still far away.

In Portuguese, saudade: A deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again.

When someone dies, their absence becomes its own presence. We come to love and hate their void. It represents all that is gone, all that we loved, all that miss. We hate the reality it represents – that they are physically missing from the world. But we also love the reality that it represents – that our love for that person is so great that they are still “here”, even when they are no longer physically here. We grab ahold of their absence and cling it as tightly as we can. We still visit and revisit our memories, knowing they hold both the deepest joy and the deepest pain. We marvel that the depth of our love, our loss, and our grief. We want the grief to end and we want it never to end, all at once.

With their absence, we learn something we couldn’t know while they were living. We learn just how deeply we were capable of missing them. We learn just how much pain their void in our lives could cause. We learn how willing we are to lean into that pain in order to keep them close. Though we can imagine what it will be like to lose someone we love, when it happens, we learn it was actually unimaginable. And in that gap between what we imagined and what we never could have imagined, lies a type of love we meet for the first time in our grief.

The Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo defined saudad as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy”. Some may disagree, but I know that there has been a pleasure in the suffering of my own loss. There has been a wonder that my love could be deeper than I ever knew. There is an awe in feeling feelings that I didn’t know existed, emotions that can only emerge in the vast void of loss.

This is one of those posts that either really resonates, or really doesn’t. Either way, leave a comment.

Let’s be grief friends.

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32 Comments on "The Love We Only Find In Loss"

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  1. Patti  September 12, 2021 at 11:51 pm Reply

    Beautifully written about such a beautiful yet painful longing… Such a bittersweet emotion. Thank you. I loved reading it in words.

  2. Leah Reyes  September 5, 2021 at 9:41 am Reply

    I grieve for my husband of almost 40 years. The pain is unbearable and knows no end, but still I hold on to grief just to keep his memories with me until we meet again. The intense the pain , the closer I am to him.

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  3. Cherie A Brooks  August 31, 2021 at 12:45 pm Reply

    Beautiful post.

    I have been on a long lovely journey of yearning for a long time.

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  4. Janice  August 28, 2021 at 6:07 pm Reply

    So many parts of this article resonated with me. I would add that my greatest frustration is being compared to my husband for our grief. I am told that I have dealt with it better because I don’t openly weep or crumble in front of others. They have no idea what I’m like behind closed doors. It is indeed insulting to be told that I am strong and I’m getting through the grief of losing my son faster. People assume a lot about the depth of my grief.

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  5. Sharon  August 28, 2021 at 4:58 pm Reply

    This article is so helpful to me. It helps to understand how I still have the gaping hole of loss, almost 9 years since my husband passed. I am filled with so much love and respect and longing for him still. I miss being in a loving relationship but as much as I hate being alone, I doubt I could ever have another love. My heart would still be longing for him.

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  6. Carla  August 27, 2021 at 11:56 pm Reply

    “When someone dies, their absence becomes its own presence.” – I couldn’t have said it any better. And again, ditto on not knowing or realizing what an impact their absence is until it’s there.

    How, is really my question, in my grief now. How to move forward, how to heal, how to make it hurt less, how to help the ones grieving even more?

    There are no words. And perhaps no answers.

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  7. Judy  August 26, 2021 at 10:18 pm Reply

    I just found your article l lost my husband of 60yrs 8 months ago l loved him deeply and still love him deeply. I talked to him everyday and tell him of the deep love l have for him l know l will love him deeply till the day l die. I found a letter after he passed and it said not to open till l am not here. In the letter he expressed his love for me. I will treasure that letter. I really liked the post Thank you

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    • Beth  August 30, 2021 at 7:05 pm Reply

      Dear Judy, what a wonderful gift your husband gave you – a letter to read, and read, and read. His voice no doubt resonates in your mind as you read his letter to you. A very loving, thoughtful, and treasured gift.

      I’ve wanted to find a letter. I now have ambition to write a letter to my sister, my mom, each person close to me so they never wonder how important they have been in my life.

      Blessings to you Judy.

      Beth

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      • Shawn Goldman  September 2, 2021 at 7:55 pm

        Brilliant! What a succinct articulation of somenof the deeper aspects of intense loss that I have felt over the last few years: the yearning in the midst of the absence is with me every day. Thanks so much.

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  8. Carlo  August 26, 2021 at 4:56 pm Reply

    Probably the most impactful article I have read yet.

    It is more than yearning, loss, or even love with no way of expressing the feeling. It is knowing that we all will move beyond this world, and others will be left behind with the same in-expressible feelings.

    I miss the no needing to converse in order to express myself with my loved one – and even though I can still do this, her presence is ethereal, while mine is still physical. A gap that can never be bridged. The acceptance of this, along with all the loss and emptiness that accompanies it, that is ‘saudade’.

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  9. T Fuerte  August 26, 2021 at 12:53 am Reply

    The hole the death of my sister left was and is huge. I feel like I bump into sometimes trying to do something with someone else that I’d rather do with her.
    My mom died 7 years later and it didn’t create the Sam kind of hole. She was older and in poor health. She actually said repeatedly that she had lived long enough. So when my father made a point to remember mom at our next family event without mentioning my sister, I was very hurt and outraged

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  10. Morgan  August 25, 2021 at 3:40 pm Reply

    This article articulates the very feeling in my throat, and combination of looking at a doorway my mamma will never grace again physically. Like cool aloe to a burn, these written words describe the feelings within my body and are some words to help describe these waves as they crash in. Beautiful, thank you. Xo.

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    • Jen  August 30, 2021 at 11:21 am Reply

      Oh wow, you do the doorway thing too? I think about all the places my mother isn’t, a lot.

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  11. Tim Lundell  August 25, 2021 at 2:40 pm Reply

    I recall so vividly the moment I held my Penelope, the love of my life for 42 years, as she took her last breath following four months of living with her terminal cancer diagnosis. We knew it was coming. I had certainty that I would be without her. But in that moment, I had no concept of the freight train of grief and sadness that was roaring down the track and hit me so hard in the weeks that followed…and that is still with me two years later. This essay explains it so clearly and accurately. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  12. Jennifer  August 25, 2021 at 12:40 pm Reply

    I am just….speechless. You described something I had no words for. Beautiful. Thank you so much for this and all the help you’ve given me the past 2 years. ❤️

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  13. Ramona  August 25, 2021 at 12:11 pm Reply

    I am a year and a 1/2 into my grief of losing my husband of almost 40 years I found your site in the middle of a night early on when I couldn’t breathe or sleep. It seems that every step I’ve gone through there’s a new blog post that helps me. This post is exactly where I am. Thank you so much for your insight.

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  14. Lakshmi  August 25, 2021 at 11:55 am Reply

    Thank you for this article. This resonated so much with me esp. about. yearning

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  15. Mary Nicholas  August 25, 2021 at 11:17 am Reply

    Thank you for this article. My first language is Portuguese and I have often had difficulty explaining to people what saudades translate into the English language. You did such a fantastic job! Yes, saudades is my often felt emotion when I yearn for my parents.

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  16. Laurel Van Horn  August 25, 2021 at 10:55 am Reply

    This is so true! My husband’s death six years ago was devastating. He was quite ill and suffering the week before, and I knew for the first time in his long illness that he would leave me and not be coming home as before. As I’ve grieved for him over the years, my love for him has become more profound with every passing year. My memories of him and our life together have become deeper. I know I will yearn for him until I die, but as my love for him grows, I am comforted by his presence always in my heart. Thank for this beautiful article.

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  17. Ceridwen Wiercx  August 25, 2021 at 10:32 am Reply

    Your latest “The Love We Only Find” has eased my concern that I was still tearful and longing so intensely for my late husband, passed 17 months ago. I must lose the guilt that I feel because i am unable to let go of him. Well 65 years together was a long time. We enjoyed a great life together.

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  18. Alfonso Y Reynosa  August 25, 2021 at 9:55 am Reply

    Such a great article. I was floored with,

    “When someone dies, their absence becomes its own presence. We come to love and hate their void. It represents all that is gone, all that we loved, all that miss. We hate the reality it represents.”

    I walk away from this article, realizing, grief allows us to experience a love we never knew, a love we wish we would never know.

    Grief knocks the wind out of us, love breathes it back in.

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    • Thorpuppy  August 29, 2021 at 5:55 pm Reply

      Thank you for this wonderful article! Absolutely what I needed at the right time. My mom passed away two months ago at 71. What I wouldn’t give for just one more day with her. I am fortunate to have had the unconditional love of my momma for my whole life. She will always live on in my heart ❤! This site has really helped me. I look forward to all the articles. God Bless all of you going through the same thing, and navigating thr rough road of grief!

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  19. Jane  August 25, 2021 at 9:52 am Reply

    Thank you for your post. It has helped me gain a greater understand of the anguish I’m feeling after the recent death of my husband of 47 years. The only platitude that resonates with me is a quote from the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “What you love is nothing of your own; it has been given to you for the present.” I’m grateful for the blessing of a happy marriage, and I knew death would end it eventually, but it doesn’t mitigate the pain of its loss.

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  20. Kay Zanger  August 25, 2021 at 8:55 am Reply

    Thank you for articulating what I was feeling just this morning. I still have a book my husband was reading along with his glasses on the table beside the “empty chair”. I looked at it this morning and wondered what was I doing? Am I trying to fool myself into thinking he isn’t gone? No, his things remind me that he is gone. Not finding an expression for my feelings I read them in your blog this morning. It helps knowing I’m not nuts.

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  21. Nicky  August 25, 2021 at 8:16 am Reply

    Thank you for this article – everything in it resonated with me – and it put into words so well exactly what I am feeling. I lost my Mum eight months ago and I feel exactly as you describe in this article. I have had feelings of love in a way that I didn’t have before, even though I loved her so much. Grief makes you realise things you couldn’t have known when the person was still with you.

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  22. Jen  August 24, 2021 at 12:00 am Reply

    I’ve been thinking about this very topic for weeks now. The awfulness/awe-fullness of my grief. The constant balancing between the two. Thank you for writing this.

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  23. Logan  August 23, 2021 at 10:59 pm Reply

    Listening to the song Visiting Hours by Ed Sheeran helped me discover this website, and I am grateful it did. I am a mental health professional, and this little tool will certainly be something I share with my clients. What a wonderful message. Thank you.

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  24. Maura  August 23, 2021 at 8:40 pm Reply

    I could not understand why when I entered psychotherapy to deal with childhood trauma and loss it unleashed such a powerful sense of yearning within me…yearning for the impossibility of a nurturing relationship with my therapist most of all, to replace what was permanently lost by the passage of time: the ability to be nurtured as a child by loving parents. I have wrestled with this “impossible yearning” for three years now, and it is just now starting to become less searing, less all-consuming, less grief-triggering, all while I try to go about my life as a wife and mother and educator. Thank you for shedding light on this aspect of grief…I hadn’t read anything before that so aptly described the love for the yearning, because to let go of the love for the yearning is to let go of the dream, and that is unimaginable at the beginning of one’s healing journey.

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    • Carm  August 25, 2021 at 12:40 pm Reply

      I’m in a place that my yearning & grief (father, daughter, & husband) has become comfortable enough to be with much of the time but not always. My father passed when I was 19, my daughter when I was 29, and my husband when I was 53. I am 61 now and retired.

      This yearning and grief was so deep at times that in wanting the hurt to go away I’d punch a wall or slap myself to replace that pain with physical pain. No I did NOT want to die and Yes even before that I was seeing a counselor & taking medication. I still do.

      The yearnings in my life still come (& go) and vary intensity. Just over a year ago I had to rebuild the shower in the master bathroom that my husband & I both would have used. And not once did I think about the accessibility concerns (my husband was a paraplegic) that I normally would have had to were he still alive. It was an opportunity to give thanks that my yearning for him was in a comfortable enough place that those concerns did not come to mind. Which actually would have helped make a better choice for rebuilding to have the non-leaky shower I needed. And when I did think of it, I was okay with the thought even if it did come too late (to have non-leaky shower).

      I hope I make a bit of sense. Litsa & Eleanor thank you for your insightful words.

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  25. Vidhi  August 23, 2021 at 12:58 am Reply

    I needed this post today. Thanks 🙂
    it resonates

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  26. Janet  August 21, 2021 at 2:55 pm Reply

    I felt every bit of this. You are so point on. Thank you for putting this into words that I didn’t know how to convey.

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    • Norma  August 28, 2021 at 1:55 pm Reply

      I totally relate to this. My husband died 5 years ago and I continue to yearn for him, daily. I’ve often thought and said to myself (& to him!) that he wouldn’t believe just how much I miss him. The love I felt for him in life, seems to have been superceded by that same love but intensified with this great longing for him. Yes, he was my rock and my best friend and the heartache I feel is often overwhelming! You’re locked in with it and with nowhere to go!
      Yes, the yearning certainly reveals the intense love of losing someone which you would never have realised without a great loss.
      How I wish he was here! 💔

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