Monday, October 5, 2009

Recovering Lost Love

Sometimes it's only when we look in the shadows that we see the light.

Maybe facebook isn't just a waste of time ... maybe it offers us a way to live a healthier and happier life. As the wave of boomers pushes into retirement with more time to reflect on life, there is a rush to reconnect with friends and loved ones from the past. This may be more than curiosity and an attempt to recapture some of the feelings and joy of youth. It may actually be an important stage of growing older.

George Vaillant, M.D.'s book Aging Well discusses this impulse to recover lost loves and states:
"Thus, when we are old, our lives become the sum of all whom we have loved. It is important not to waste anyone. One task of living out the last half of life is excavating and recovering all of those whom we loved in the first half. ... No one whom we have ever loved is totally lost. That is the blessing, as well as the curse, of memory. Grief hurts, but does not--in the absence of conflict--make us ill. What is more, just as rivers expose buried geologic strata, so may the erosion of living uncover life-saving memories of love, formerly obscured by pain, resentment, or immaturity."
This book is based on the longitudinal Harvard Study of Adult Development and provides examples of people who have become archeologists of their own lives, uncovering and reconnecting with people, or even moments of love, that live within the memories of our early years. Reconnecting with this love seems to increase the sum of our lives and make us healthier mentally and physically in our older years.

I've recently experienced this phenomenon of recovering a lost love. My first husband and I separated on painful terms, the victims, as we know now, of a debilitating disease, the ugly side-effects of prescription steroids and not knowing how to communicate across what seemed like an unbridgeable gap. Thirty years of separation were broken when he reached out to me in my time of loss. What started as a simple email led to a new, somewhat bitter-sweet understanding of what happened between us and the offering to each other of forgiveness and relief from guilt. We recovered the love we felt for each other and that healed our hearts. Love is always a miracle and recovering this lost love is a miracle that has helped temper the other losses that seemed to stack up over the past few years.

This last stage of life is very much about learning to deal with loss. Friends and loved ones will leave us. Youthful vigor will pass away. Perhaps it's only through remembering those we have loved, re-treasuring each moment of love that we have felt, that we can heal the grief that seems to be such a mainstay of this period of life. Perhaps this is the only way to keep our hearts young and supple and capable of giving love even when it seems that so much is being taken away.


  1. Lovely post, Joyce. I recently read the long Atlantic article about the Harvard Study, which I found fascinating. (I keep wondering, would the results have been different had the group been 268 women instead of 268 men?) For those of us of a certain age, loss and recovery have become two constants. How wonderful that out of the pain of loss comes understanding, forgiveness, openness. I think Merton had it right when he wrote, "In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything."

  2. Maureen ... actually there are three cohorts in the study ... one male Harvard students; one inner city males and one is 90 women who were part of a gifted children study... IQs all above 140. Women are still under-represented in the study but the primary difference is that most of the women didn't achieve the same level of accomplishment as the men ... of course the study started in 1922 so that isn't too surprising. It is a fascinating study.

  3. Thank you for the extra information, Joyce.

    The Atlantic article was as much focused on Vaillant (who certainly had his own issues) as the study participants. It was striking that so many high-achieving individuals had mental crises.