the old man and kindness: slivers of grief


Writing without the deeply personal is not the whole story of grief. To give the whole story, to give as many handholds as possible in the steep climb of grief, we need to hear personal stories. Each Friday, I’ll post something from my own experience of grief and love. It’s an inside look at love, at grief, at life.

This week, a post from last Spring. I’ve been thinking of the old man a lot lately, as I wander my new neighborhoods.


There is an old man who lives up the road from me. Every day, we pass each other, each on our respective morning walks – me with Boris, the old guy on his own. At first we just walked past. Then there was a nod of recognition, followed months later by “good morning.”

Lately there has been a “how are you” spoken as we walk by.

Today as I was walking up the hill, the old man, coming down the hill, pointed at me and smiled. “You and I, we seem to run into each other a lot, don’t we.”

“Every day,” I said.    

“How are you today honey?”

“I’m alright,” I lied. Completely lied. I have already spent most of the morning crying, and just now got it together enough to get outside with Bo.

“And you? How are you today?”

“Well,” the old guy shifted and smiled. “I get out, I’m moving and walking around. That’s what counts, that’s what is each day, that is what I have.”


I feel my eyes well up at this. Thank goodness my sunglasses are quite large. We are somehow still walking in slow opposite directions and yet standing close.


Then he asks, “are you married?”

I choke.

I’m widowed,” I manage to say, though I am clearly crying now – I can feel tears rolling down my cheeks, caught by the lower rim of my glasses.

“Oh honey. Oh honey I am sorry to hear that.”

“Me too,” I said.

“You take each day, you take it by each day. That is all you can do.”

It’s a blur now, how our conversation ended, how that moment passed. We were already passing each other as he asked the question. The surprise of my answer had not slowed us to a stop.

By the time I said thank you and half turned away, I already had tears breaking through the containment of my sunglasses, dripping off their edge. Before they breached that wall completely, he was gone, and so was I.


We see each other again, the old man and I. Our routes are often the same.

Sometimes, we are on opposite sides of the road, and we wave as we pass by. Sometimes, I see him coming, and I am in no mood to stop and say hello; I cut down a side road instead. Often times, I see him before he has seen me, and I watch his form approach, wondering about his life, who he is, who he’s been.

Some days, like me, like everyone, I can see the wear and tiredness in his walk, in the way he wears his hat. We pass, a brief good morning between us, small talk between old friends.


How about you? Are there people in your life who know only this sliver of you? The single, identifying fact of your grief, without any other context at all? Let us know in the comments, or send me an email here.