Mourning the Passage of Time

I’ll be a year older next week as far as my license is concerned. That’s a fancy way of saying it’s almost my birthday. Though I wouldn’t say I look upon the day with dread, I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m never terribly thrilled to mark the passage of time.

Whether it’s my dog, my dad, or one of my daughters getting a year older – I greet milestones with mixed emotions. Yes, I know good things come with getting older and that the future is filled with possibilities (yadda yadda), but ultimately, I’m someone who would maybe like to see what it’s like for time to stand still for a little while.

I know those of you who have found peace with the passage of time may be thinking I’m being a little shortsighted, but I suspect just as many of you agree. Whenever Litsa and I hold workshops and ask people about they losses they grieve, inevitably someone shares something like “the passage of time” or “getting older” or “the feeling that memories of my loved one are fading.”

Furthermore, I’d like to point out that a person can be content with the present and/or excited about the future and still mourn the past. For example, I love the relationship I have with my daughter now that she is older and independent, I’m excited for the possibilities that lie ahead of her in the future, but I also miss when she was a cute and cuddly little 4-year-old. If one is to fully embrace life and the people in it at different life stages, then they will also have to learn to mourn the past while also appreciating the present.

Experiencing a sense of loss over the passage of time and, perhaps, getting older is extremely common. Though we can’t present a list of all the reasons why this might be so, we’d like to discuss a few of the more common time-related losses that a person may experience.


1. Deceased loved ones grow more distant.  

Being that we are a grief website, this is the most logical place to start because many of our readers are grieving the death of someone very important and significant. People who are grieving are especially susceptible to feeling grief over the passage of time because they may grapple with the sense that they put more distance between themselves and their deceased loved one with every year that goes by.

Not only may it feel disconcerting to think, “It’s been ‘X’ amount of years since my loved one was here on Earth”, one may also struggle with the sense that their memories are fading.  Though some memories seem vivid, others grow hazy, and it becomes more difficult to recall sensory memories like the sound of their loved one’s voice, the smell of their hair, or the feel of their embrace.

2. Our memories of the past grow more distant.

As noted above, fading memories may feel especially troubling to someone who is grieving because, in many ways, it can feel like this is all a person has.  That said, grief over the loss of memories can impact anyone – grieving or not. 

I, for one, am excessively nostalgic for the past – obviously, because I miss my mother – but I also because really miss shopping malls and phones that attach to the wall and the original Full House.  I don’t like the sense that my memories of the past are slipping away or, in many cases, gone. 

Research has shown that even our strongest memories change and degrade with time and it can feel disconcerting to lose memories for things that seemed significant and important. There is a mournful kind of yearning in trying to reconstruct the people, places, and moments of the past.

3. Time seems to fly by as we get older.

Do you ever feel like the older you get, the quicker time seems to pass?  Well, it turns out there are real scientific reasons for that! Though physical time is an objective fact, ‘mind time’ – i.e. your perception of time – is a little more subjective and as you get older, mind time seems to speed up.  I will let someone much smarter explain it via a quote from this article:

“Time is happening in the mind’s eye. It is related to the number of mental images the brain encounters and organizes and the state of our brains as we age. When we get older, the rate at which changes in mental images are perceived decreases because of several transforming physical features, including vision, brain complexity, and later in life, degradation of the pathways that transmit information. And this shift in image processing leads to the sense of time speeding up.”

And another from this article:

The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass. “Time is this rubbery thing…it stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.””

So yeah, as we get older, it truly seems like we’re losing time faster.

4. Places change.

Some people don’t mind seeing non-human things like places and objects change. I am not one of those people. Not only do I feel that certain places and objects have a spirit all their own, but they are the props and backdrops involved in my most cherished memories.  If you’re like me, you get it.  We’ve written a bit on this topic so if you’re looking for more check out these articles:

5. We change as we grow older.

Aging is a mixed bag.  Many people feel that as they age they become wiser, stronger, less stressed (at a certain age), better at recognizing what matters, better at managing social conflicts, better at managing emotions, and so on.  In fact, many say that their happiness has increased as they have grown older.  

At the same time, aging brings many physical and cognitive changes that may cause a person to mourn for a time when they felt more healthy, independent, and indestructible. Again, a person doesn’t have to feel entirely one way or the other.  It is possible to appreciate the growth you’ve experienced with age, while also wishing you could scan a restaurant menu without your cheaters.

Changing roles and sense of purpose: Another way people change is in the roles they inhabit, so as time goes on a person may grieve the loss of certain roles and/or a sense of purpose. For example, a stay-at-home parent may grieve the loss of this role when their child leaves the home. Another example, a person may grieve their sense of purpose when they enter retirement after a long career.  As they say, when one door closes another one opens, so there may now be time for new roles and purpose, but this doesn’t mean you won’t experience grief over things that have changed.

6. Other people change.

Though you may feel the changes in your own reflection are gradual, the changes you observe in others can sometimes seem rapid. Kids grow into adults and parents grow elderly in a blink of an eye. People get sick, people get born, people die, and our friends come and they go. Such changes can cause a person to experience losses related to death, distance, estrangement, anticipatory grief, and grief over the transformation of a person who is still present.


This is but a few reasons why a person may mourn the passage of time. Share your perspective on this topic in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to subscribe!

 
June 6, 2019

28 responses on "Mourning the Passage of Time"

  1. Michele Martindill, Ph.D.June 11, 2019 at 10:15 pmReply

    My husband of forty-two years died 8 months ago. With each passing month I become more isolated and alone. I have no living family members and no friends. I’ve been practicing yoga for 25 years and started going to local yoga classes to meet people, but just when I think a friendship is starting the person either starts telling me I’m not “healed”–whatever that means–or that I’m not behaving like a proper widow because I want to date and love again. None of the people I meet understand how with each passing day the loneliness grows more profound, how my stress increases because of all the things I have to get done each day. Now it falls on my shoulders to get the truck fixed, to have the swamp cooler serviced, to file legal papers, to pay bills, to get electrical work done on the house…it’s a never ending list. I’ve had to deal with predatory bankers and real estate agents. Of course, these so-called friends tell me to take time to grieve. When, exactly, am I supposed to find the time to grieve? They tell me to travel. Who will get the work done if I travel, and why would I travel alone?

    I have a widow box. Do you know what a widow box is? It’s where I toss all the phone numbers and self-help books people shove in my face right before they run off, claiming they’re too busy to talk. They say to call if I need help, but they know I will never call. Widows never call, nor will anyone call us to offer a few hours of help. One woman I know got angry because I asked for a recommendation for a company to service the swamp cooler. She flippantly said, “My husband does that work. Besides, you don’t need a cooler anyway.” Why did she ever offer to help in the first place? My widow box is a timeline of how a widow becomes isolated and lives in solitary confinement. I’m ready to start marking time scratching hash marks on the wall.

    • I understand very well what you describe. I am going through a divorce after 34 years of marriage. I’m in the eighth month of my separation and I I’m not quite sure how I’ve gotten through even one single day of those eight months, not to mention many years before. It is so sad how people can I mistreat you and like you have some sort of illness that they may catch. And it’s strange how people will give you a few weeks if that to get yourself together and then after that they seemed to think that you should magically be well, and if you’re not there must be something wrong with you mentally. I wish you all the best. And I wish for you the opportunity to start a new life with a new love. And I wish you might find friends who will wrap their arms around you and not wait for you to ask for help but I’ll for it and then act upon it. And I wish the very same things for myself.

    • Burn what you have in your “widow box”! If it’s not useful/helpful to you, why keep it? You don’t need to hang on to those things that weigh you down. Let it go so that you can move ahead with your life. Other’s mistakes & indiscretions against us do not need to be revisited, to keep us in a hurtful state. Set yourself free!

  2. I loved this article. My mother died 28 years ago when I was 15 years old. Wow…sorry….now you have to complete a math problem. 🙂 I remember a lot, and even journaled quite a bit from the time she died until now. I think a good memory is a double edged sword. It’s wonderful to be able to recall something so clearly, but painful when the details are around this subject. Love to you….

  3. The design oof Victorinox is acknowledged immediately.

  4. Time and the tide wait for no man. Well? That’s ok. I just wish they’d stop dragging me along with them, kicking and screaming. I agree with a previous comment. I have a simplified calendar: before/after. Levi’s Mom.

  5. Bereavement steals your future as well as the person you hoped to share it with.

    There is something so infinitely tender about ageing together, still seeing the beauty of the other as you start to get wrinkled and round. P and I talked about getting to what we called “rocking chair land” (though we actually planned a retirement of travel and adventure!) He once sent me a card – a painting of two old people, their hands clasped on top of a patchwork quilt, inside he wrote out Robert Browning’s poem about getting old together. The promise that “The best is yet to be” was broken for us.

    A whole new aspect of bereavement hit me when I got to 59, the age P was when he died, and then older, it does not feel right. Now I am 63 and it’s weird that in his last photos he looks young to me now and I wonder if he would recognise my ageing face. The exhaustion and tears of grief aged me very rapidly. I still sleep poorly and am tired all the time. After P died I lost a lot of weight – too much. had to buy new clothes. I hated wearing things that he never saw, especially if someone complimented me, I wanted him to be the one who said, “Wow, you look amazing in that dress!”

    The first time people who didn’t know him came to my house was so difficult, I wanted to tell them to go away, it felt wrong that they should be in our house and not know him. But they had come to help move furniture so I had to invite them back to dinner as a thank you. The man sat in P’s place and i wanted to tell him to move. It was worse when a friend came to stay and came down to breakfast wearing P’s bathrobe that I keep in the main bathroom, not the other one I suggested she use. I wanted to scream at her to take it off lest she rob it of his scent.

    People will tell a widow that their husband would not want them to stop living, and that was certainly true of P, so live I will. That means dealing with the passing of time and with change, and it’s hard, even when good things come around.

    It is nearly 8 years now and I have some positive new things in my life – a different job, new friends and most importantly three years ago I discovered a talent for art – I am selling paintings already. All good things, but even so, they make me sad that P is not here to share them. I so wish he was here to see my art. Actually if he had not died I would never have been on the holiday where I discovered I could paint, so I may never have become an artist – but of course I would rather have P and no studio in the garden. I am about to retire to concentrate on my art and feel so sad for P that he did not get to enjoy retirement.

    He said he’d like to think I would fall in love again, “You are too loving, too precious to live without being loved.” Another time he said, “If you go on a date, wear blue. Blue brings out the beauty of your eyes.” If it feels strange to have new friends, how much more so would it be to have a new lover? Only now am I beginning to think it might be possible – but I feel it would be difficult to be with someone who I had not loved through most of my adult life, sharing the good things and the bad . P shared my other big bereavement, failed infertility treatment and miscarriage. That experience was another where the passage of time hurt, every month my period brought the painful knowledge that time was against us, and then they stopped with all hope gone. Every year there are anniversaries of 7 miscarriages and 7 “due” dates that never happened. I don’t think anyone who has not experienced that loss could ever understand how it can still make me cry, how I feel about never having been called “mum” and never to have grandchildren. Yes, bereavement steals your future.

    (Apologies for the blank comment earlier – it was “Grammarly” blocking me.)

    • ❤️ your note resonated so much with me and has articulated a lot of what I find it hard to find words for. I lost my husband 3 years ago and we were always dreaming of the future and growing old together. We were very in love after 25 years, with two teenage kids and he was my best friend. I’m 2.5 years younger than him and surpassing his age has been another trauma in this foggy storm.

      • Your comment, “surpassing his age has been another trauma in this foggy storm.” got me thinking. I need to watch for this when mom reaches the age dad was when he died. The thought had honestly never occurred to me and now I realize it can be a difficult part of the grief journey and I can be more helpful and thoughtful around that time. Thanks for sharing and I am sorry to ready of your sadness.

      • Sherene, I too surpassed my husband in age recently. He died in Jan 2016, a week before his 59th birthday. We “celebrated” his birthday the day before his funeral. I turned 59 in October 2018. It felt like I entered a territory he will never know – retirement, all the kids graduated from high school, getting old, and older. I’m not at those things yet, but they lay ahead in the near future, and I wish we could share them together.

  6. I mourn what I will become with passage of time after my wifes death last August.
    I mourn that for whatever reason I get to go on without her.
    I mourn that I have lost all enjoyment for life at age 64.
    I mourn that I retired with her and in 2 months she left me alone.
    The passage of time will not lessen anything-It only adds more days to my agony of missing my love married 38 years and in love for 44.
    I mourn that after a year of grieving I simply enter another year of seconds instead of firsts.
    The passage of time?
    Cant end soon enough!

    • My husband of 32 yrs passed away on this past November. My soulmate and the only man that I ever loved sits in an urn by my dresser. God only knows how I have cried & relieved the day he died. On the days that my soul aches and I feel miserable – I bring back all of our happy memories & remind myself of how much he loved me. We had such a wonderful loving marriage. We always said that it was amazing how each of us found their soulmate, for we knew how rare that must be. I know that Ron was a very happy man & had no regrets. He was a Vietnam veteran and had seen horrible things while serving our country. He knew how to appreciate life and loved well. Try to stay strong and remember how well you both loved each other. Sending a comforting hug & wishing you the best.

  7. I think I must be weird. I’m not forgetting but actually remembering more everyday. My son passed 15 months ago and I say to myself and sometimes to my husband or daughters who have their own homes, Johnny would have liked that. If Johnny were here, it would be so much easier. Sure I thought of him many times before but why this,now? I wonder if somehow he’s trying to tell me something.

  8. i want to say that your remarks touched me deeply. not easy to open up about the desolation one feels, your comments made me feel less alone. thank you your honesty kind of freed me

  9. I’m living the same day everyday. I wake up every morning to the vision of his horrible death followed by the unhappiness of the realization I woke up at all. Then I go to bed at night, close my eyes to see the vision of his horrible death and fall asleep hoping not to wake up. The in-between is just empty space filled with my disappointment that so many people on earth that more than likely want to live have died in some way shape or form and I am still here. So finally I make it to the end of the very same day everyday and then it starts all over again! The calendar says its been 541 days – My time has just stood still on this one perpetual bad day.

    • I hear you and feel exactly same on this one. For me its now been 10 months since my wifes disastrous shocking life robbery by hideous cancer. To go to bed at night gives the hope of not waking up and being with her. To wake up does bring immediate disappointment in doing so. I cant say how many times I have said “oh great so you give me another day”? I am 65 and I am retired and I am done. What I have can go to my children and I am fine right now because even with grandchildren and another on the way-its not the same-its done-I am done. I feel as if I have aged an additional 10 years in this past year. I smile-I may laugh- I watch and I put on the face I can to try and not ruin everyone elses times. But I return home to my bedside companion urn and wish I was in there so we both can be put away. My lust and desire for the retirement life we both worked so hard for is gone. All the trips-dinners-celebrations-GONE. She got 2 months after working 40 years-basically so did I as this is now just hell- not retirement! I fear and dread adding more years onto this waiting period I have been forced into. Maybe tonights the night?

  10. It has been a little over 8 months since my husband suddenly passed. It scares me to death that I will not remember his touch, his voice, ect. Part of me wants to get through this pain, but part of me does not as i feel the memories are part of the package. I too count the days that I will be with him even though with the help of a medium that is not at all what he wants for me. I sometimes feel a fleeting moment of peace and tranquility and feel that he is reaching out to me at that point. I read from one of my many books that we are forever connected to our love ones who have passed, and many that they are with us, just operate in another frequency so to speak hence the job of a medium. I am convinced that this is not all there is, and when our journey is done on this earth, we have no idea the good things in store for us, including the grand reuniting with our loved ones including our pets.
    God bless each and everyone of you, and pray we all find purpose in our lives ahead, and feel our loved ones walking with us.

  11. On December 8, 2017, my son Michael was taken from me by a hit and run driver who has never been found. My life and all my relationships have changed since that night. Every holiday, every event, and every day I feel his loss. I closed the door to his room and have not been able to put away his things, except to hold a shirt to my nose to still smell his scent. The passage of time has changed the rawness and I can function in public, but privately, I know there is this black layer of grief that never changes, no matter how I may appear to others. I so wish to go back in time before he was ripped away from his life if only to tell him once again how much I loved him, to feel the greatest hug in the world, to listen again to his laugh, and most importantly, to keep him home that night. The person who killed him stole his past, his present, and his future. He broke our family into pieces which can never be repaired.

  12. This article came in a perfect moment. My husband would’ve been 37 tomorrow, his third without him. I dreaded the exact day when I became older than him and dreaded even more the passing of time without him. I am also dreading the passing of time because I wanted to be a mother and time is running out for me. I refuse to celebrate my birthday because there were so many milestones that I thought my husband and I would reach at a certain point. Now, all of that hope is gone.

  13. I thought I was mainly alone in feeling these ways. There just isn’t anything as soothing as acceptance and validation of one’s feelings…especially when they may be conflicting at the same time. Great clarity and insight here.

    I have been feeling so much of ALL of these of late (and more), so no small wonder I’m also suffering from chronic depression. This also made me recall leaving my first house in great heaving tears. Tears and sorrow not only for myself, but mainly for my adopted furkids’ sake, as they so *loved* the first home they had ever known. And I knew what we were moving to didn’t favorably compare. Now, years later and in conjunction, I also mourn over later discovering that my SO’s lack of any shared tears at the time were *not* the strong supportive gesture I had thought then, but actually a lack of being able to FEEL anything deeply, period. Unfortunately, in hindsight, this newer knowledge also makes my guilt and regret over taking away what my furkids loved, even stronger.

    The only ‘tool’ I seem to have to combat or balance the long passage of time and its related griefs, is knowing I’m now at a point where it is more likely CLOSER to the time I will go join my cherished furkids than not, and where a point where I will experience Time itself to be nothing more than an erroneous construct on this plane. That is what I look forward to the very most, well above any potential earthly delights.

    Thank you so much for yet another piece that helps us not feel like we’re “crazy” for feeling all these aspects of grief. I “get it,” you “get it,” and that assuredly helps navigate it all without feeling totally alone about it. Well done once again, ladies. Now I’m off to read your “transformation of a person who is still present.”

  14. This was a great article and helps put the seasons of change we must endure into a light I can embrace. This is nearing the one year anniversary of the loss of my best friend. It’ll never feel right I know but knowing others are walking along this path and attempting to make sense out of this piece of the journey helps me feel not quite so alone in the abyss. Thank you.

  15. It has been almost a year and a half since my husband has passed away. I’m 45 now, the same age he was when he died. The passage of time feels more ominous when you are mourning. Each new season brings a flood of old memories, yet also reminds me that new ones are being created. My life is marked by before Alex and after Alex. Everything changes, I was just hoping to experience these changes with my Husband. Sometimes, it’s easier to pretend he’s still here, just at work or at home. Summer is coming, it will be my second one without him and I can’t say it’s getting easier, it’s just different.

    • I can really Identify with you Mary. I too seem to Mark time as items that happened before and after the passing of my best friend and companion. Tomorrow is my birthday but also very near the one year anniversary of his passing out of this life and to the next. I see it all as sort of a yin and yang of grief and time. I’m trying to find the good in the present while also honoring the past which was a lovely time in my life until my Tom passed. I send you positive vibes for walking on in this journey.

      • Wow your message stood out because i also lost a Thomas and we all called him TJ its been 2 years since he passed away two years that seem to have went by but the heartache still feels like this morning. Thomas was the love of my life of course loosing him to cancer was horrible he died in my arms at home in our bedroom where i still sleep. Loss comes to and for us all weather we expect it or it tragically arrives its a given. I truly believe his spirit is within all things possible most messages are not always clear but the stillness can be felt. We dont no why things happen the way they do but rest assure when the time comes you will understand i promise. Keep living and share your heart again when the good lord deems the right time for that to happen.

  16. Chris, I wish you never knew the pain and grief you are living through because of the loss of your daughter, Carrie. A gentle hug to you as tears fall. I have just now and will continue to lift up you and Carrie in my prayers; hoping you will experience deep moments of consolation in your sorrow.

  17. Good article—a keeper. Rings true. Will share with clients as well as friends. Thank you!

    Laura and I co-lead retreats to help people deal healthily with these and other identity and lifestyle issues. Laura also contributes regularly to ethicsdaily.com et al. May we dialogue about how WYG and the Landgrafs might support each other’s missions?

  18. I put a bookplate into every one of the books that I read (obviously separating into Fiction and Reference as well). The bookplates carry a quotation by Jorge Luis Borges that expresses my opinion of the passage of time. The bookplates read :

    This book is part of The Caroline Library.
    Dedicated to the memory of my only child
    Caroline Hazel Everest who died in the
    early hours of Sunday 22nd November 2015
    aged 18 years and 233 days.

    “Being with you and not being with you is
    the only way I have to measure time.”
    Jorge Luis Borges “The Threatened”
    The Book of Sand (1975)

    Reference Collection

    In my journal I keep a column in which I number each day since Carrie died (today Thursday 6th June is Day 1292.) It means I have existed for 1292 days without hope, without meaning in my life, without any proof that life IS sacred or important. I try to find meaning in writing and drawing and painting but it is an effort. The passage of Time is simply a chore that I make myself face before I too can make that journej and find the answer (and hopefully Carrie).

Leave a Message

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer

WYG provides general educational information from mental health professionals, but you should not substitute information on the What’s Your Grief website for professional advice.

See our terms and conditions here

See our privacy policy here

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255

PhotoGrief

Share Your Snapshot

Grief In 6 Words

Submit a Story to Us

What's Your Grief Podcast

Listen to our podcast