Nine years after Evelyn’s death, I stood on the coast of Maine at dusk looking over the Atlantic Ocean, feeling what I have come to know as saudade, a Portuguese word for profound melancholic longing. I desperately yearned to see Ev again, knowing that I never would. She died suddenly, and I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
So much had changed over the years. I’d remarried and was happy again. Yet, in my eyes you could see a certainty, a hardness, perhaps, from my close acquaintance with death. I share more of my emotions than I did before, and I was thankful for this. Hopefully I was also more compassionate for the suffering of others because people had set their lives aside to help me when I didn’t have the energy to ask.
Anyone who loses someone close, whether it’s a spouse, parent, child, or friend, feels an edge to their lives that doesn’t leave, along with residual anger, frustration, and despair. And if someone died young, and unfairly in our eyes, our new awareness of the depth of life can open into a darkness that worries us.
Our lives are constantly being reshaped by changes, with moments of grace, clarity, and unexpected encounters. If we are brave and face them openly, they can nudge our lives in the direction we want to go.
Because of grief, we tend to speak directly now, and we’ve developed a b. s. meter because many people who said they cared and wanted to help, didn’t. They told us what we wanted to hear. But words without actions are worse than useless. They build up expectations and hope where none exist. It would have been better if they had said they couldn’t deal with grief, because then we would still trust them to be honest.
As the years go on, our lives will fill with people we’ve loved who are gone. Even when new people enter, no one replaces the ones we lost. They remain nestled in our hearts.
That night, standing on the shore with the ocean stretched out before me, rather than move on to my next task, I let the feeling of saudade deepen. I lingered and let myself feel the complexity of the moment—both joy and sorrow—as I watched the graceful beauty of seagulls flying low over the water. The ocean was calm because of an offshore breeze, and the lighthouse was sending beams of light from the rocky coast into the gathering dusk, guiding people in to harbors of safety.
In the midst of my gratitude for the present, there was also sadness when I thought about what might have been and the dreams we had that will not be.
As love once changed me, so now does grief.