Grief Doesn’t Have an Expiration Date

The other day I had a most delightful visit with my neighbor across the street. Before I talk about that, however, it might be good to give a little background on this particular neighbor. The neighborhood where I live is primarily populated with Spanish families, and many of the folks don’t speak very much English. That’s is true for this dear lady across the street.

By the way, my Spanish is limited to about five words or phrases.

Consuela is my age, and through the years, with the help of her grandchildren who will translate for us, or what we can communicate by playing our own odd game of charades, I’ve discovered that we have an awful lot in common, in addition to our age.

More about that after a little more background on Consuela.

She lives with her daughter and several grandchildren, taking care of them more than they take care of her. Her health is good and she’s the one out puttering with the flowers, or taking care of other outdoor chores.

On trash days, she’ll sometimes come across to my side of the street with last-minute trash that didn’t make it into their bins before the truck came down the street on their side. Sometimes, she just puts her trash in my can, knowing that it’s okay with me that she does that. But on days when I’m outdoors, she’ll attempt to start a conversation. What’s particularly amusing is that she’ll jabber on in Spanish as if I can understand what she’s saying. Then she’ll give me a quizzical look as if to say, “Did you get that?”

Of course I didn’t, and we end up laughing a lot and hugging a lot and that’s usually the end of our neighborly visit.

However, through her gestures the other day, it finally became clear that she wanted me to come to her house to share a meal.

It was pretty easy to discern that during our usual dance of charades. Her miming eating and pointing to her casa. 🙂

Easy, right!

Have I mentioned that she’s a really good cook? If not, let me say she’s a really good cook, and I hadn’t had lunch yet that day, so agreeing was a no-brainer.

We were able to work side by side in a comfortable silence to finish preparing the meal, and it was quite enjoyable even though we couldn’t chat like two women normally do while sharing a cutting board and a stove.

Later, as lunch was winding down, Consuela’s teenage granddaughter came out of her room to join us. Consuela’s face lit up with delight when the girl sat down and said she was very willing to translate the rest of our conversation.

In a back-and-forth that started with Grandma telling her story of grief, then the girl relating that to me, before telling Grandma what my responses were, I learned about the heavy burden the old woman carried. 

Like me, she’d lost her parents and her husband within a short span of time. She’d also had to leave a home where she’d lived for many years – a place that in many ways still held her heart, even though she’s happy here with her family. Her eyes got glassy with tears as she talked, and it was so obvious that her vein of pain ran very deep.  

In addition to the special bond that formed between us as our stories touched, I also marveled at the total absorption that her granddaughter had in the story. It may have been a narrative that the teenager had heard before, but that wasn’t apparent at all in attention she paid to every word Grandma spoke.

That time with my neighbor lifted my spirits considerably, even though our broken conversation had taken us both down a painful path. There is something life-giving in being able to share those experiences with someone who really knows. Who really gets it.

After acknowledging my sympathies for the difficult things she had faced in her life, she smiled and gave me this bit of advice. “Avanza, no retrocede.” Go forward, not back.

She’s so right about the importance of living life forward from this day, this week, this month, this year, but it is also so important to be able to share the myriad of feeling around our grief. We shouldn’t keep them inside and never stop “telling our stories.”

That’s something I learned in my years of work as a hospital chaplain and during the classes I took to prepare for that awesome job.

Grief has no end. The pain eases. Doesn’t stab us every day in the heart. But the hole in our life where that person we grieve for used to be is always there.

In the years that I have lived here, I have wanted to be able to learn more than a few words of Spanish so I can communicate with neighbors all around me. But unfortunately, the neurological health problems I have make it almost impossible to focus and absorb information the way one does to learn a language. That’s one of the debilitating effects of this trigeminal neuralgia that I don’t often talk about, but it can be just as frustrating as the constant pain.

That’s all from me until next week folks. I’m heading to a book festival and visits with some friends. Whatever your weekend holds, I hope it includes fun times with family and friends. Be happy. Be safe.


If you’re interested in knowing more about my work as a chaplain and what I learned about grief, check out my memoir, The Many Faces of Grief: Stories of Love, Loss, and Hope From a Hospital Chaplain. Available in paperback, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.

2 thoughts on “Grief Doesn’t Have an Expiration Date”

  1. Loved the neighbor story.
    Have planned to write but let stuff get in the way. Like the neighbor visit-it is good to connect
    I am healing from the third fall since September. Repaired cracked knee cap with plate and screws. Thirteen stitches in my forehead are leaving an okay scar. I have added persistent aFib, which is new for me.
    Stroud is 98 and I know ho is old. Finally, it is dawning on me that 86 is also old!. I have been blessed to make it this far without suffering the pain you are living with.
    You inspire me with your commitment to writing despite your burdens.

    1. Always love to get news from you, Myra, even tho we don’t connect often. I’m so proud of you for all you do to care for Stroud, and yourself, and get some writing done. Even if the work time isn’t as often for either of us, we don’t seem to be able to stop writing. Take care and continue to heal. And perhaps stay upright from now on. 🙂

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