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. 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—but ultimately, I’m someone who would maybe like to experience time standing still for a while.
Some of you may think 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 the 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 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 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 getting older is extremely common. Though we can't present a list of all the reasons why this might be, 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 also because I 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 suggests 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. 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:
- Saying Goodbye to a Home and Grieving Places Past
- More Than Just a Teapot: The Items that Connect Past to Present
- Sentimentality and Holding Onto Items
- Small Remembrances and Expressions of Love
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 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.
Another way people change is in the roles they inhabit. 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. A person may grieve their sense of purpose when they enter retirement after a long career. When one door closes, another one opens—so yes, 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; parents grow elderly; people get sick; people die; our friends come and 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!
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: