Sunday, June 6, 2021

 On Finding A Purpose After Someone You Love Dies

It's been a long time since I wrote ba blog post.  A lot of people have been writing on Grief Speaks Out ( that since someone they love died they feel dead too.  Even after many years they still feel as if there is no purpose to their life.  

When my husband first died I, too, felt dead.  I used to say without thinking, "We died." instead of "He died."  I thought he would come get me.  Then I thought I should go to him.  I only stayed alive not to hurt those who love me.  After about a long short time when the shock was wearing off I wondered what my purpose in life could be.  My husband and I called each other our raison d'être.  That is French for reason for being.  If my reason for being was no longer here on Earth with me what could be my reason for being?  It seemed impossible. 

I thought about my husband.  I wanted to honor him in some way.  I wanted people to remember him.  He was a recovering alcoholic who always made himself available to other addicts and alcoholics.  He ran an AA meeting and sponsored many people.  I thought I could continue his work by making myself available to other grieving people.  I thought if I reached one person it was enough.

I figured out how to write this blog.  After a while someone told me to start a Facebook page.  I hadn't a clue how to do that, any more than I knew how to write a blog, but I figured it out.  Then my Facebook page ;had so many followers a publisher asked me write a book.  (Grief Day by Day: Simple Practices and Daily Guidance for Living With Loss by Jan Warner). I didn't think I could write a book, but I did.  

This morning I was interviewed by someone for a Summit on grief.  I'm also going to be interviewed by someone from a local newspaper.  If you Google Jan Warner and grief you come up with many different things.  The person who interviewed me wanted my website.  I didn't have one so Icreated a website for my book (  I didn't know how to do that either but I figured it out.  

I am telling you all this not to brag about myself but to tell you I am an ordinary person who even 11 years after my husband's death can be pulled into the black hole of grief.  I have a splendid talent for wallowing in self pity.  I miss my husband every day and sometimes the loneliness for him is unbearable and yet I bear it.  However, now I have many more tools for dealing with the dark side of grief.  My grief at the beginning was pitch black all the way through.  Now I can grieve with gratitude and joy as well as sorrow.

A lot of magical things have happened to me in the past 11 years - things I would have hated to miss.  My granddaughter was born 2 years after my husband died.  I didn't know if I could love another human being.  I adore her.  Being a grandmother is a very special thing and I am glad she has a living grandmother to share her life with and to have adventures with.  

If you are struggling to find a purpose think of the person you love who died.  What did they love?  What did they do?  I know people whose children took their own lives because of bullying who work to educate schools how to stop bullying.  If someone loved a sport maybe a local place would have a game or a tournament in their name.  Now that the pandemic is over - maybe if they loved animals you could volunteer at an animal shelter.  Maybe the purpose is being a good mom or dad or a good auntie or uncle or sister or brother or grandparent or friend. (I know I've probably left out some relationships.). Maybe it's helping an elderly neighbor get food or mow their lawn.  Maybe it's to write a book or paint a picture.  Maybe your purpose is to learn something new or to accomplish a task.

In some ways all my suggestions are meaningless because they come from me and not from your heart.  Even in death my husband guides me.  He holds my hand and pulls me forward.  I have a letter from him where he writes that he is proud of me because he watches me falling down and standing up and trying again.  It is my favorite letter because I still try to do that - if I fall - get up and try again. (I might take a nap first. :) )

So many people in this world need help.  Especially with the pandemic.  I have always felt if I am helping someone else I am thinking of their problems rather than mine.  I was feeling more down than usual and I found a virtual class with The Wild Woman Project in Asheville, N.C..  One of the classes was on love - how to plant seeds of love but also how to give them away.  I have to nurture my own ground which is rather rocky and often has poor soil but I can still plant seeds.  I can then take the flowers, vegetables, and ever sturdy trees that grow from those seeds and share them with others.  It can be something big but it can be as simple as saying to the person who is working at the register at the grocery store, "I love your hair."  

I know that anything extraordinary I have done is something that all others can do because I am both ordinary and damaged in many ways. My husband was a supportive healer to me when he was alive. I don't have that any more. It's why I call us grief warriors.  

I hope while you were reading this a glimmer of a purpose started shining through like the sun reappearing after a total eclipse or like the slow but beautiful cycle of the moon from dark to light.  

You accomplish something every day just by continuing to breathe.  I hope the door you find will open and there will be something interesting behind it.  I want my husband's life and our love to matter more than his death.  I have my hands at your back and I am walking with you - wherever we may go.  With love. 


  1. Thank you, Jan. You have put a lot of thought and commitment into your online presence and I appreciate all of it. I follow you on FB and read about this blog, even though I didn't really know what a blog was all about, and wanted to tell you that I've read back through all your entries. Some powerful thoughts and insights in there. There seems to have been so much death and suffering and fear and insanity in this country and in my life that it's become hard to breathe or even function sometimes. I've had to stop checking the news sometimes or skip an article in the news mags when the anxiety begins to creep in. I always seem to preface with "I know there are those who are suffering more or who have lost more..." and I'm trying to quit that. Paul died 4 1/2 years ago and my life as I knew it ended forever. I wanted to go with him, not let him go alone after watching and breathing with him for the previous year or so, every minute it seemed. Now, I'm numb sometimes, dark inside but okay outside, sometimes. I've lost 2 close girlfriends a month apart, couple uncles and then, my mom last October 25. It's a long story but she was in asstd. living with Alzheimer's and because of COVID I couldn't visit or travel to her. So, now I'm stuck again - no purpose other than get up, take hot bubble baths, get the yard mowed and groceries. It doesn't seem like Mom is really dead; just still living in isolation at her ALF. Sometimes it still doesn't seem like Paul is gone, either; like I should be able to call him and that he just left the house. Still no purpose or future plans other than (the good news) my 20 year old granddaughter (yours will be 20 someday!!) is now living with me - and her 2 beautiful cats. She has brightened my life and given me a reason to get dressed. She is terrified to drive so I take her to work and appts., etc. That has helped. But I still feel a large dead spot inside that I can't reveal to my kids or her - it would scare them, it scares me. Juliet was our first grandbaby and was/is terribly loved - her granddad adored her and she him. Anyway, today's just another day but it's okay. Thank you for sharing your deepest feeling and fears; I feel those, too. Damn it.

  2. Thank you, Jan. I’m glad you posted again recently. I wasn’t sure if you were still doing that.

    My beloved wife and soulmate of almost 30 years died just over a year ago. Nancy had seemed to be the picture of health. We were in our late 60s, recently retired, and looking forward to many more years together. Then, two years ago, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, although she didn’t smoke. After a number of twists and turns, things went south early last year. In great discomfort and with little hope of a cure, she decided to end treatment and go home to die. She died at home in my care a month later, with the help of hospice.

    For months after that I didn’t care whether I lived or died. It wasn’t that I was suicidal; I just didn’t care. I went through the motions of living, mostly alone due to the pandemic. The only books I could read were about grief: C. S. Lewis, Joan Didion, David Kessler, and so on. They helped some, but as you know very well, nothing can heal one’s heart in those early months. Maybe not ever.

    Nancy and I didn’t have our own kids, but we hosted a number of international students over the years. One of them sent me your book for Christmas. I decided to begin reading it on New Year’s Day, one day at a time. I’m now more than halfway through, and it’s been perfect for me. Back in January I would cry at every entry. It felt like you knew exactly what I was feeling each time. I don’t cry so much any more, but I still appreciate the loving care you poured into the book.

    So thank you. I trust your memories have slowly turned more sweet than bitter. Mine are slowly doing the same. You’ve helped immensely, and I’m very grateful for that.