Engaging and Letting Go: Holding the opposites of love and loss

David and Liz

“I asked Liz to marry me,” my older son David says on the phone. I hear the drone of engine noise, so I know he’s driving home from a weekend trip.

“What did she say?” I tease, already knowing the answer from the joy in his voice.

“She said yes,” David laughs.

“Yes, yes,” I squeal breathlessly. “What could be better than yes?”

What could be better news than the engagement of these two open-eyed and open-hearted lovers who have known each other nearly two years? I sigh with happiness. Liz and David match. They generously provide for each other, laugh and work together, and help each other through sorrow and disappointment. “I’ll talk to Liz about that,” David tells me when he is concerned about something. “David will be able to help with that,” Liz says as she works through a problem.

Richard Nowogrodzki: photo by Steve Smolen

Just a few hours before David’s phone call, I sat beside my friend Richard. He lay in a hospital bed wearing a rumpled Trumansburg Fire Department t-shirt, his hair tousled by wind from an open window, his eyes half-mast. He had just stopped breathing after 2 ½ years of illness. Richard’s wife Barbara, son Peter, daughter Anna, and son-in-law Ian moved in and out of the room or sat near the bed, gently touching one another while they held the quiet mystery tinged with disbelief. I felt the thin veil between life and death, here and gone, that I felt when my husband Vic died.

The day before, I had been with Richard and his family for hours, meditating on breath, Richard’s breath. He was peaceful when he wasn’t hiccuping. Richard’s family, another close friend, and I waited in long silences for his next inhalation—20 seconds, 30 seconds, over 40, then back to 30 by early evening. Henry the dog stuck close by and the family cats wandered through the yard and house. We waited. Shhh… in, in, in, down, he’s going. He’s going… Until Richard tossed his head back, sighed, and breathed, once, twice, or three times. Then more waiting, falling into the quiet space after his exhalations, hoping to hear his sigh one more time, praying he would find the right moment to let go.

As the sun set, Richard whispered, “Pull up,” and his family helped him sit upright. Then he wanted to go outside, so they lifted him into his wheelchair and wheeled him to the back porch. Supported by quiet love and strong hands, he saw the evening sky one last time. Blessings to you, Richard.

And blessings to you, David and Liz. May you love each other a long long time. It’s all so brief, this life, the good times and the hard times. It’s all so precious. Love one another. Live. Thrive.


Have you experienced the juxtaposition of loss and new beginnings? You might be interested in blogs I’ve written about bereavement and end of life and family and friends. For other articles on love and loss, see bereavement.

  1. Beautiful. It so fits to have the balance of one thing ending and another thing beginning. I love you, Elaine, and am so happy and proud you’re my new mom!

    • Wow, Liz. Thank you. I’m grateful to be your mom and to have you as my daughter. It was odd to combine your engagement and love with the end of my friend Barbara’s marriage, but that’s what happened. In the darkest hours, the light peeks through, and in the joyful times, the rough stuff is still around. My great joy for you and David is tinged with sadness because David’s dad Vic is not here to rejoice with us. He would love you, as I do, and be overjoyed that David is blessed with a beautiful partner and relationship.

  2. Contrast. Yet landing in the same internal space, somehow. Love and Death, ancient theme, loss, renewal, the beginningless cycle.

    How this plays out in our families, and in the expanded picture of our culture. What we hope for passes away and the impulse continues, bringing us to life again and again.

    Is there something of this alluded to in the Mayan Prophecy? An end to again and again? The always Now? This is all in us, as is the duration that we ascribe to it all.

    My memories of David are all good. A kind, open, giving soul. That he has met his match requires celebration, and I am so happy for you and for him and for the fortunate lady.

    What a coincidence all those old Bookstore and W.G. photographs showing up around R.N.’s memorial. I’m feeling it all so deeply, with so much gratitude.

    • Thanks for your response, Fred. After getting smacked in the head and heart by losing Vic, love and death feel closely aligned. I knew this from opera, great literature, watching my grandmothers lose their loves, but now I know it in my toes. I agree that the impulse to life is always there for most of us, but if we are conscious of the other pole, it changes our behavior and understanding for the better–or that’s the hope. It is a gift to watch David and Liz together. Two sensitive dynamos.

  3. I read your post via LinkedIn. Thanks for sharing.

    It reminds me of this ~ written by columnist Susan Estrich: “There are times in life when it’s all clear, what matters and what doesn’t, the blessings, the randomness, the sharpness of both the joy and sadness.”

    Blessings your way ~

    • Thank you, Lynne. Susan Estrich’s quote is beautiful and true. I appreciate your blessings and your taking the time to respond. Blessings back to you…

  4. A beautiful poignant sharing,.it truly is so ephemeral and so precious. thank you Elaine…..

  5. I am struck by how you feel the growing, burgeoning collection of images that David and Liz have before them and how diminished and reduced the images are that Richard had. You fill the life basket up during the start and empty it out at the end. But it is not at the halfway point that you start to empty, it is only during the last 1/2 %. Strange balance.

    • Lauren, can you say more? Do you mean that we/I keep collecting images and experiences until those last few days or hours when we pull in to our dying process and lose interest in the world? So that, with Richard and Vic, in the end there is only breath?

  6. I want so much to have an inspirational quote right now or something profound to say or share….anyway, in my own words I’m so moved by your sharing Elaine, by the wonderful news for David and Liz, by the story of Richard’s journey right up to the last breath….and I’m so sad right now too. I know there will be so many more endings coming up for all of us….and I’m scared and yet somehow deep inside I know that it is all about surrendering to what is….and the gifts are waiting once we surrender… I love you Elaine and I thank you. And I thank Vic too. I remember how beautifully he spoke at Bill and my wedding 22 years ago this past Sept. 1. Just rambling now…the gist is LOVE.

  7. Finally got to read your article. Thank you for your depiction of levity and gravity in life, the joy of living and the gift of departing consciously.

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