Originally published Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 05:59a.m.
Dear Annie: Lord willing, next month I’ll turn 67. In a recent column, you solicited seniors to write about issues they are facing. A big one for me is grief.
I met “Shirley” when she was 15 and a junior in high school. I was a senior. Both of our families relocated the same summer from different states, with us coming kicking and screaming, mad our social lives were being upended. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
She was so pretty I was afraid to ask her out. We became friends, both being the new kids. She would set me up with her girlfriends so we could double-date. After two years, when she was 17, we went out together and were together every day. I dropped out of night school to avoid getting more speeding tickets trying to make it to her parents’ house before her 10 p.m. curfew.
When she was 20 and I was 21, we got married, and we started our family 15 months later. When the children were 7 and 4, we started traveling in a used Volkswagen camper and told people we were growing up with our children. We retired four years before Shirley passed away at age 62. That was 33 months ago.
People give unsolicited kind observations that I am doing so well. I am. To be honest, I am not lonely. I have my children, grandchildren, friends, former co-workers and church members with whom I regularly interact.
But there are times when, for no rhyme or reason, an emptiness comes in and takes over. I’ve learned to face, even embrace, it so the episode passes more quickly and I can heal from the experience and gain a better perspective. But the emptiness is profound. It makes all of life look like vanity.
When I can talk to people about Shirley, it is the next best thing to being with her. All of our life together seems real again instead of being some wonderful, long dream that never happened. “How could it be real?” I often think. It was so good for so long. That never happens. — Rob in Jacksonville
Dear Rob: Thank you for your beautiful letter. I’m sure it will touch many others as it has touched me.
Dear Annie: My sister’s ex-mother-in-law just passed away. My sister’s children were still very young when the divorce happened, barely into elementary school.
Anyway, her mother-in-law thought the world of her, and they got along very well. They saw each other often because of the children.
I am sure it is breaking my sister’s heart. What is the proper etiquette for me to do something for my sister? I am close to this family also and want to know what I can do for them. — Elle
Dear Elle: If you’re looking for something you can do to comfort her, bring over a home-cooked meal. Then sit with her and listen, or just sit with her in silence. When comforting someone who is grieving, it’s not about finding the exact right thing to say or do. It’s about being there.
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