Last week I was in Galveston as part of the team of faculty who were teaching over 500 health professions, medical and nursing students the Synergy course Spirituality in Clinical Care. This course explores patient issues of a spiritual nature and how health care providers can help. During the course we encourage participants to share any personal experiences they have had that relate to the issues we are dealing with. We had a number of stories shared and several of them dealt with grief over the death of a child, parent or other relative. One consistent aspect of these stories was the length of time the grief persisted. People were moved to tears over events that were 10, 20, 40 even 50 years in the past.

Outside of this class I also heard two stories of grief that illustrated how grief can continue to be relevant long years after the event.

A friend of mine was watching a film with a sad ending where someone died and he was moved to tears. It was not about the events of the film but the film reminded him of his wife who died over 20 years ago. All the sadness of her loss to him came back strongly, washing over him. Now my friend is a very mature, spiritual person and he took pains to process his grief and to move on with life. He felt that this grief had been put in its proper place in his memories and was at peace. He discovered it was still there as a raw moment that could be revisited.

The second story concerns the daughter of another friend. She is an X-ray technician and was preparing to scan the broken wrist of a woman in her late 80’s. The woman was resting her arm under the machine and a faded tattoo of numbers was visible on her forearm. The daughter, a woman in her 20’s, asked the patient where the tattoo came from. The woman looked at her, began to cry, and said, “They killed my children.”  The daughter was completely surprised and confounded at this and at a total loss, simply threw her arms around the lady and began to cry also.

I think these stories are typical and not a problem that needs the care of a counselor. Our memories remain always and they come back when triggered. The two articles in the References seem to confirm this too (Baker, 2001 and Pasternak, 1993).  So, remembering grief is another aspect of life that we see with older patients. It probably occurs during times of life review and is a part of remembrance.

Ending with a somewhat less than happy poem from Emily Brontë named Remembrance.

Cold in the earth — and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?

Cold in the earth — and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring;
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.

But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion —
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?


Baker, JE. Mourning and the transformation of object relationships: Evidence for the persistence of internal attachments. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 2001, 18, 1, 2001, 55-73.

Pasternak, RE et al. The temporal course of depressive symptoms and grief intensity in late-life spousal bereavement. Depression, 1993, 1, 1, 45–49.