Times Like These, I Wish You Were Here

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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Times like these – when 'I'm scared and worried – I wish you were here. When the seconds slow and shapes blur, and I genuinely don't know if everything is going to be okay – I could really use your support. It feels silly to say because I'm a grown woman with children of my own, and you died over ten years ago, but sometimes I really need my mother.  

When you were alive, I just liked to be near you. Your mere presence put me at ease. Once I was in my teen years, the affection between us grew less easy, but even then it brought me comfort just to be in the same room as you.  

After I moved away, physical proximity wasn't possible, so I had to settle for phone calls. You 'weren't the type of person who liked to chit-chat, so I always came up with a fake reason to call you. I'm not sure why I felt compelled to do that. I'm sure it wasn't necessary.  

Of course, you were always my first call whenever I was worried or upset. Try as I may to remain composed, the sound of your voice always brought me to tears, but it also always made me feel better. You never hesitated to share my burdens. And even though you were hundreds of miles away, knowing you were in my corner made me feel less alone. 

Ironically, the first time I felt alone with a problem was when you were diagnosed with terminal cancer. Though we both faced the same beast, our battle was different, and I could hardly expect you to help me fight mine. In the end, you died, and I had to figure out how to live in a world where I couldn't sit near you or call you on the phone. 

Through the bleak lens of acute grief, I thought you were gone entirely. I could no longer expect to find you in my corner, or anywhere else for that matter, and I missed your love, comfort, wisdom, and support.

But acute grief often paints an incomplete picture and, in time, I noticed that your sickness and death was the first and the last problem I had to face without you. Not because my life was all of a sudden problem-less, but because I realized you're still here with me in one hundred different ways.  Even today, you are my safe haven, which is not just a pretty metaphor but an actual grief-related concept. 

'Safe haven' is a concept introduced by John Bowlby in relation to attachment theory. Attachment theory describes how children form attachments with their primary caregivers. In this context, the 'safe haven' concept refers to how a  small child might seek refuge with their parent when they are sad or hurt. 

In the context of grief, the safe haven concept explains how a grieving person might seek refuge with a deceased loved one by connecting with their memory for reassurance and comfort in times of strife. An anecdotal example cited by Stroebe et all (1992) describes instances of bereaved individuals conjuring the image of their deceased loved one when facing stressors like major surgery. 

Along with holding a loved one's memory close, a person may also connect with their loved one as a safe haven by considering wisdom they shared in the past, reflecting on their values, or thinking about what their loved one would have done or said if they were still alive. 

Attachments are as nuanced in death as they are in life and so people connect with their deceased loved ones and rely on them in countless ways. So I ran to you, mom, as a child who fell off her bike or had a bad dream and, even though you aren't physically here, I haven't stopped running to you since.


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15 Comments on "Times Like These, I Wish You Were Here"

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  1. Kathy L Wallace  February 21, 2020 at 12:56 pm Reply

    I lost my husband of 38 years ten months ago today. He was diagnosed with cancer then 26 days later he was gone. My best friend, the love of my life, he wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for me. Then two months later my brother was diagnosed with a very rare cancer and he was gone in five months. I lost both of them within 7 months of each other. My husband was 64 and so was my brother. I was put on Lexapro at first because I couldn’t quit crying. I got off of it myself because I dont want to take anything. I feel so alone. I have two children and two grandchildren, they just don’t know how much I loved my husband, they couldn’t imagine. Then my brother who I could always turn to is gone, I was there when both of them died, I can’t watch anybody else die. It doesn’t seem to get any better, I am just exhausted, my kids are always trying to get me out of the house, I have dogs and all I want to do is go home to them and go to bed. I guess I just diagnosed myself with depression, never had it before. Lost both parents that I loved dearly, but nothing this hard. It is scary being alone, my husband took care of man stuff, now I am and everything is breaking. I miss his smile, his joking and I miss his touch. We were always together, we knew each other better than ourselves. I know grief has no time limit, it is just as bad today, if not worse, as the day he left me. He tried so hard to stay, he was so worried about me. I miss him terribly, so much, I think about him 24/7. I miss my brother too. I hear things will get better, I don’t know.

  2. Peggy Lee  September 1, 2019 at 2:16 am Reply

    I relate to everything in this great article and the comments following it. I miss the physical presence of my Mum more than I can say, but I feel her spirit near me most of the time. I “talk” to her frequently and I imagine what her responses may be, which is comforting. However, although I’m in my early 70s, sometimes I feel like a little girl who would give anything for a hug from her Mum – but I guess I’ll just have to wait until we meet again in the afterlife, as I’m sure we will.

  3. Karen  August 31, 2019 at 6:43 pm Reply

    What a beautiful article!
    My mom died suddenly 5 1/2 years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Thank you to all who replied. Your words helped me to realize that I am not alone. Some days, it feels like I saw her yesterday. Other days, it seems like it was about 20 years ago. I miss her so. I owe so much to my counselor and family for helping me through this.
    Everyone, please don’t neglect your life. I think that the best way to honor my mom, is to do what would have made her happy and proud. That would be raising her granddaughter (now 19), being content with my life (work, faith, family) and taking care of myself. Talking about her and sharing memories has helped too. My journey is difficult, but I know she would smile looking at me now.
    If you need a person to talk with, pastors, counselors, and grief workers will help. Please don’t give up. I have been there too. Your loved one would want you to go on.
    My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

  4. Susan  August 30, 2019 at 6:44 pm Reply

    A truly beautiful article which has helped me so much . I so wish I could have shared the grief journey with my mum but I just couldn’t . We focused on having fun times and made happy memories we only had 21 days at home following diagnosis which ended with her passing and I e often felt guilty that I didn’t share her emotional journey with her but I just couldn’t . I hid my own feelings in order to cope . Her last night at home we lay next to each other in her bed holding each other neither of us spoke but our non verbal communication conveyed so much love It was a totally peaceful and beautiful experience . It’s been two years now and I yearn for her prescience daily .

    • Marlene  December 6, 2019 at 7:56 am Reply

      Susan….your comment about” hiding your feelings in order to cope “….hit home with me. My Winston suddenly became ill w/ Mesothelioma…given 2 months to live…then several operations, treatments extended his time…..but it was a constant challenge to manage it all while he struggled and deteriorated. I assumed I was following his lead…..never wanted to discuss feelings, future, details….just get through each day ? I did hear him tell his Hospice nurse ” he didn’t want to go there ” when she asked ? I felt I was doing my best to help him get through each day….but when he could no longer speak..and passed April 16 , 2019….I became depressed about not having had intimate conversations with him . It haunts me with sadness ….on top of the painful loneliness.

  5. Janet O  August 30, 2019 at 4:35 pm Reply

    This is a lovely article. It made me happy to read it because it brought my mom, who died 3 years ago, to mind. Dad just died this past May. While I have sad moments, they both lived long, happy lives and, to be honest, I am glad the pain of final illness and decline are over for them and for me, who was there through it all. I learned much from their final journeys, but I choose to remember both my parents healthy and happy. I honour them both for who they were in life and, in memory going forward, they are a reminder to live life to the full because it is a precious gift.

  6. GaryB  August 30, 2019 at 4:04 pm Reply

    Oh how much I say this to my wife now gone a year!
    Since she left we had added 2 grandchildren- both my daughters and I cried at the misjustice of depriving her of what she had retired to be-the ultimate grandMom !
    My oldest son was ready to get engaged during the year until she was diagnosed and now thats on hold until further notice.
    Those 3 things alone would have made her so happy instead its the bittersweet symphony of grief for me alone!
    I have aches and pains-things I would normally go over with her and I just remain silent. I have postponed a Dr appointment because I care no longer to care for me. I will just deal with and take what comes my way.
    I no longer have her to bounce things off of-no more “good job Daddys” as she always would say to me.
    So many times in this first year alone with wishing she was here for those moments.
    It does not bring me happiness it brings me sorrow. It highlights what she and I are missing. It makes me long for my time to get here already-jealous with envy of those who passed so soon after losing their spouse.
    Yes I wish you were here and I were the one gone.

    • Sumita  August 30, 2019 at 9:14 pm Reply

      Hi GaryB,
      I can so relate to what you have written. My beloved husband passed away 3 years and 7 months ago at the age of 65. He had blood cancer. I have been thinking so much about how, in spite of every effort to stay engaged with life, this life itself has become somewhat purposeless without him. My children miss him too and so do all our friends. But he was my everyday. He was the reason home was home. Now I am not sure of anything any more. Where is home? He will never get to see our grandchildren when they arrive. He will never have met our son’s wife, when some day our son marries. We were fortunate in that he at least got to see our daughter married and met our wonderful son-in-law. But my poor son will never be able to share his dad with his wife. What is my future like? How many years of this loneliness will I have to endure? I don’t think any more because there is no solution. I am just floating from day to day, just going with the flow. The new normal is hard although I am trying to embrace it.

      • GaryB  September 1, 2019 at 9:06 pm

        Hi Sumita-
        Thank you -You echo exactly how I feel and have very similar things happening.
        Its tough putting on that “smiley” face and trying to be upbeat when deep inside you die with each moment your spouse has missed. I see older couples together and cry at what I will now miss forever-yeah resent it too.
        I was 64 and her 62-this was supposed to go on. I wonder at times maybe of she had married someone else she would still be alive-it was me- I guess I did not deserve her.
        I ache with why was I the one left behind?
        Life is now over for me-this new normal- is not any normal and not accepted.

      • EdH  September 2, 2019 at 3:34 pm

        I was very fortunate to have a love at first sight experience. She was stunning at 14, but even more so at 40, 50 and even 60. I loved watching her age, which, like everything else, she did beautifully. I was very surprised that she died. Throughout her illness, I held on to the hope that her treatments could reverse her cancer. By the time her death was inevitable, it was too late to communicate with her properly, except emotionally. I cared for her at home, but there was no way to discuss the future, which loomed like a black hole.

        My very beautiful wife, best friend and soulmate of 54 years passed away on 1-29-2018, she had just turned 68 the month before. When she was diagnosed with cancer, two years prior, I was in a fortunate position to retire and be her full-time care giver for 2 years before she passed away. Throughout our marriage we always had a very close and loving relationship, but the last 2 years brought me even closer to this wonderful and loving human being, as I came to love and admire her tenacity and her courage during her illness.

        You know, 54 years is a long time and not all of it was great, but we loved each other deeply, persevered and worked hard to make the best of it during hard times and lived the best of it when there were great times. And, we were fully faithful and dedicated to each other- particularly as I took on the role of her care giver.

        “Last night” I saw my late wife, Judy, but our meeting was brief.

        I told her about all the things she’s missed, all the ways we’ve loved her since she’s been gone.

        She was so real, she didn’t have cancer or bad hair, she didn’t look sick or seem to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders, and she was just Judy. The Judy I knew before all those other messy things came around and took her away.

        I could see her, I could feel her, I could breathe this big sigh of relief because my heart tricked my mind and it was as if she was never really gone. As if somehow this had all been a nightmare and she never really left us.

        I asked her how I was going to explain to everyone that I had lied and that she never really died. I didn’t care because she was here again with me and that’s all that really mattered.

        I wish that I was just making this up and telling you that I am the world’s biggest liar, that my Judy is still here, that she never died and that cancer never came into our lives and took her from me and the “Golden Years” of her life, that she so dreamed of sharing with me.

        But that isn’t the case and that won’t be the post I get to write, “ever” because she did leave us, cancer did take her and my meeting her was all just a dream because that’s the only way I get to see my dear sweet wife, Judy these days.

        Some day’s grief just sucks. It sucks the wind right out of your sails and takes you two steps back.

        Some days I wake up after one of those dreams and I realize the heartbreak of not having Judy here all over again.

        So today I’ll face the reality that she is still gone, that I was robbed of any additional time with her and I’ll let my grief be what it is today and I’ll remember that tomorrow is a “new day.”

        We had a charmed life. And, I admit, I didn’t do anything particular to deserve this beautiful life; but, nonetheless, I had it with Judy. Our shared life was a fairy tale come true. Suffice to say that my former life was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than being a widower. I want to return to this place in time when I thought about travelling abroad with my wife. Okay, leave the travelling aspirations aside, I want just one thing. I want a wife who is not dead. But, mine is and no amount of wishing will change this.

        I want to be in the club again. I desperately miss being part of a couple because it grants you entrance into conversation. I yearn to live in a reality where I am looking forward to spending Judy’s retirement with her – but, I don’t. All of this stuff is just a daydream in my head because Judy died before I even got to really retire. For us, there will not be any retirement years spent together. There are no more years. There is no more anything. There is nothing.

        There will be no trips abroad together. Judy and I will never lay together on another beach. We will not stroll hand in hand down the cobble stone streets of some far away place. We will not leisurely walk through an open air market in Thailand because Judy isn’t here anymore. We can’t stop to eat some exotic street food made with dodgy ingredients that were harvested just that day because she is gone from this reality. Never again will I hear Judy make one of her impulsive, uncouth, crazy comments as she excitedly experiences all these places we will never go again. I can never witness Judy talking to a man selling doughnuts on a beach in Mexico again.

        In this new life of mine, Judy is only a memory. She can not wake up and have coffee with me in her kitchen or some dreamy place along the Amalfi Coast. We will not sit together on a balcony of a boutique hotel in Santorini. We can not get lost in conversation as we drink red wine while we watch the sun go down over the ocean in Crete. She can not lean over and kiss me and tell me how “Beautiful” I am while we wander through a vineyard somewhere in the South of France. We can not get blind drunk in an Irish pub and stumble back to our hotel room. I can’t stand in the Scottish Highlands with Judy and listen to her tell me about her Irishness. We can not go anywhere in this world anymore because she is gone from here.

        What a cruddy reality this is. My future is nothing like the one we had planned. There will be no cruises with my wife. The year following her death, there was no trip to Hawaii in the Spring and we never went to Ireland like we planned. Sure, I have become self-sufficient. I may sit on a beach in Hawaii; but, while I do this a piece of me will wish that I was there with the woman I love. And, yes, someday I will go to Paris and stand under the Eiffel Tower at night; but Judy will not physically be with me like I imagined. The way I constructed all of this in my head will never come to be. Like you, I have been forced to live a future that is radically different from the one I had planned. In our shared plans, Judy was going to live until she was 99 just like her Grand Dad, except he didn’t.

        So now what? Now, I spend my weekends alone and occasionally I look at the sunset with a bottle of beer and shoot the shit with my dead wife. I guess maybe I am pouting and getting lost in the past. But, it isn’t easy to adapt to this altered reality. I’m trying. I do make plans and engage with my friends, but usually on the drive home from these activities I feel absolutely empty. Being in a loving relationship and sharing your life with another human being is what makes life full. The huge void inside me can not be filled with a well made eggs Benedict brunch or a savory steak dinner at a classy restaurant with a group of friends. All of this rings utterly hollow in comparison to my former life.

      • GaryB  September 2, 2019 at 8:16 pm

        I hear you EDH and share alot of what you are going through. We too had dreams to finally get to Ireland after retiring. Also Barbados for a second honeymoon. Get to Nashville and see that great area and its music. We were ready finally to resume 2 week vacations at the Jersey Shore that we had stopped taking in order to make rent payments and afford other more important things. But our life was just beginning-my wife Terry always was talking about her “Aunt Dot” who lived to 101! We were ready to get to those same “Golden Years” as you-after all we too as hard workers did all we could to get to that point. But when it was time she was robbed from me too and now my life also empty and void of life-Its a sleepwalk and days of fake forced smiles. I miss her so much-she was my love at first sight and only true love. We got the royal screw job too her losing her life at 62 after only 2 months after diagnosis. Nut she got to go and I get to stay regretting every minute of it. I see others my age and older enjoying those years they deserved and think why them? What did I do wrong? I resent them and at times resent Terry for dying on me. I talk to the air but get no replys-I have not been visited in the year shes been gone. I doubt that stuff even exists and am doubting alot of things now-even God I have lost faith in. She was so religious and to me he let one of his Angels on earth down when she needed him. But overall losing the life we had planned is the most horrible thing-Now I have no life. Just an empty stare as I get through each day hoping that one day after sleep it is all done for me. I am now 65 but this is just a lousy existence. Why do so many I see get so lucky to have each other for so long ? I just dont know anymore. To lose your spouse in your 60s is total screw job. To lose her just when you were ready to embark on your retirement totally blows! We worked so hard to get to it and she NEVER got to enjoy it. So basically as she once feared she would work all her damn life! How sad to know she actually called her own death with that very statement! I am sorry for your loss. I see you share many of the things I did as well. It hurts . I was always a one woman man and I will wear my wedding ring till its my time to join her in our companion urn and they can put our wedding rings in when its all said and done. I do look forward to that time.

  7. Jody  August 30, 2019 at 1:00 pm Reply

    Beautiful article. It totally explains how/why I felt so much more alone as she was fighting her final battle…..it truly was because I couldn’t lean into her throughout, like we had shared all of our previous challenges. This time I was alone and in grief, it felt like all the rest of my life would be “alone” but after 15 months since she passed, I feel a comfort remembering her voice, memories, photos, and her spirit feels close. So I am not as alone as during that final battle. Whew! powerful stuff.

  8. Donna Maclennan  August 30, 2019 at 11:38 am Reply

    Oh my God,What a beautiful article.
    I lost my mom 5 years ago.We were so close .I called her my best friend even though she had me at 38.My dad passed at 60 when I was 20 which bonded us more.She was smart,funny,loving and ofcourse knew mr better than anyone.I help.her through 2 cancers but the 3rd was not possible.I am back to work as a nurse,now 58 but burning out and still in alot of pain.I told her I was not happy but would be ok.However I have never been ok.I may appear to be but so tired of nursing but need to work for financial reasons.Thank you for this opportnnity to share.I feel others grieving their mother can understand my pain the most.I do not have many to speak to so thank you for this opportunity.Love you and miss you mom.

  9. Claudia  August 29, 2019 at 7:13 pm Reply

    How wonderfully written, thank you! And oh so recognizable! Bittersweet.
    My mum passed away 2 years ago (also cancer) and I miss her wisdom and warmth very much – especially when I’m not feeling well. Every time I was sad, worried or felt helpless and I talked to her, I felt so much better afterwards. Only she seemed to have this ‘super power’. We were very close. She knew me so well. At some point after her death I realized that I would sometimes kind of know intuitively what she would say if I came to her with a specific problem. So, I started writing to her and then writing what I felt she would respond, ask or suggest. It became a dialogue. Although it’s nothing like really calling her, having a long breakfast together, going for a walk together or hug each other, when I write to her I feelba bit as if I really had a conversation with her. Talking out loud doesn’t really work so well for me but writing does. Now I hear her say: “If it does you good, why don’t you do this more often again?” Yes, you’re probably right, mum, maybe I should give it a try again. :’-)

    • Julie Koruna  August 30, 2019 at 12:15 pm Reply

      I love that idea Claudia! I will hit 2 years in October and every word you said I could relate to! Thanks for the idea! I am going to try it:)

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