Why I Don’t Talk about Missing my Beloved

Only months after my life-partner Kate died, a friend called me in need of support. As I listened, she matter-of-factly said that I wouldn’t understand how much she missed her ex-boyfriend. “What do you mean?” I asked her. “Well,” she said, “you don’t miss Kate.”

Photo credit: Michelle Asch (Jen & Kate at South Fork River, 2011)

What?! My beloved recently died and she thought I didn’t miss her?

What are you talking about? I thought. I think about her all the time. Of course I wish I could look into her eyes, hold her hand, hear her laugh. Doesn’t that mean I miss her?

“Of course I miss her,” I said out loud.

At first, I was caught off guard by my friend’s comment. After our conversation, I reflected on what she had said. I wondered what gave her this skewed impression of my experience.

And then I realized – to my friend’s credit – she was absolutely right. I didn’t miss Kate. At least not according to the common connotation of what it means to “miss” someone we love . . .

Is heartache inherent in “missing” someone?

One of the things I realized is my friend had rarely seen me sad in the time following my partner’s death. And this wasn’t because I was in denial or holding back my emotions.

I cried when tears surfaced, but mostly I was filled with gratitude and enthusiasm for life, not heaviness and grief. I attribute this response to a variety of things – including a stellar support team, my spiritual practice, how Kate and I embraced life and death, and a euphoric experience of her actual transition.

For these reasons (and more), I typically talked about Kate with acceptance and a smile on my face. From my perspective, it is because my friend equated “missing” with sadness – and sadness with missing – that she made her assumption. Fair enough. I clearly didn’t miss Kate the way she missed her ex-boyfriend.

Ever since then, I’ve played with what it means to miss someone we love. In my self-discovery, I’ve found there are various layers and types of experiences we tend to call “missing.” It seems to me the missing we most commonly refer to resembles a “longing,” a tugging at the heart when someone has died, is far away or is simply inaccessible.

We wish they were here and then we feel heartache that they’re not.

“Missing” focuses on what’s not there

Language is how we convey our inner experience. It is how we create connection, empathy and compassion. But what if the words we use mean different things to different people? What if we think we’re understanding each other, but we’re actually not?

This is one reason I don’t talk about “missing” my beloved.

My immediate reaction to my friend’s comment was that she was saying I didn’t think about Kate, or that it wasn’t a big adjustment for me that she had died. But when she used the word “miss,” she was referring to an accurate literal meaning. And, though language can be slippery, this meaning aligned perfectly with what she meant:

miss (verb) = notice the loss or absence of; feel regret or sadness at no longer being able to enjoy the presence of.

According to this definition, yes, I regularly “notice the absence of” Kate’s physical being. I literally miss her physical presence in this way. But that is as far as my resonance with “missing” her usually goes. Believe me, this has come as a surprise to me. I expected to miss her intensely most of the time. So why haven’t I?

In my experience, the initial moment of “missing” just happens. On any given day, I can take note of Kate’s physical absence. But then, I get to decide what happens next. What I do with the act of missing is a choice. And this choice point is what determines if I “feel regret or sadness at no longer being able to enjoy the presence of” my beloved.

Choosing to focus on absence or presence

The use of the words “absence” and “presence” in the definition expresses exactly what has become the cornerstone of my process over the past couple of years: Absence or presence.

This is another reason I don’t talk about missing my beloved.

A few days after Kate died, I had a powerful experience in which I realized how much my thoughts matter. I witnessed myself feeling sad, and then decided to see what happened if I deliberately thought certain things. With thoughts such as “I’ll never get to ride my bike with her again. I wish we had traveled overseas together. Who will understand me?” I felt the tears of sadness well up.

When I stopped following these thoughts, and just came into the present moment, I felt more neutral. And when I focused on how much I enjoyed riding my bike with her and traveling in the US and Canada together, or how blessed I was that we were so close and compatible, I felt connected and uplifted.

Over time, I noticed what the thoughts had in common. Thoughts that generated sadness focused on her Absence – on what was missing, on what wasn’t there or on what would never happen. Thoughts that generated peace or joy focused on her Presence – on what had been fulfilling, on memories I had or on how she is still a part of me.

Instead of noticing her absence, my practice has been to notice her presence. The flip side of “missing” her.

From that point forward, I began asking myself “Are you focused on absence or presence?” The answers to this question have shaped my experience in significant ways. I can choose where I put my energy. And because of this, I can choose my response to Kate’s physical absence.

Making room for the miracle

There is, of course, so much more to say here. But this daily practice of absence or presence has been essential to my wellbeing. I can follow the absence to heartache and “missing” my partner, or I can find her presence in my life and feel connection. When there is connection, the “missing” vanishes.

I’m not claiming every day is easy. Using inner tools requires intention and commitment. Just the other day, I started crying as I drove to a nearby lake to enjoy the evening by myself. When I questioned what was going on for me, I noticed I felt the “absence” of Kate. A classic moment of missing her (even by definition!).

In that moment, I was able to decide what happened next.

I chose to allow the feelings of loss to move in order to make room for the miracle of presence. Through my tears, I was releasing absence. This is different than diving into the absence. For me, the miracle came the second I remembered to be grateful for my life. And for Kate’s role in it.

Often this begins by connecting to a memory, not from a place of wishing things were different now, but from a place of gratitude and enjoyment. “I really miss going on hikes with Kate” (regret or sadness because there will be no future hikes with her) becomes “I really loved going on hikes with Kate!” (calling forth the blessing it was to have had that experience with her).

Can you feel the difference? I get in touch with the joy, and bring that feeling into present time. One thought at a time. We are perhaps more used to memories highlighting what has changed, what is no longer there. But we can choose to use memories as a bridge to connection instead.

Do I choose absence or presence? It’s often that simple.

Being “real” about seeing the sun

Rather than sharing occasional times of “missing” my beloved in the truest sense of the word, it feels much more authentic for me to tell you about the deliberate choices I make that lead me to inner peace and happiness. I’d rather talk about how I choose to not miss my life-partner, even if it’s hard to put into words.

This is yet another reason I don’t talk about missing my beloved.

It feels vulnerable to even say this because sometimes people prefer that I share “challenging” moments so that I am somehow more “real” in their eyes. But any inner struggle is rare and fleeting – and not my primary reality. I believe this is because of my commitment to experiencing the presence of Kate in my life.

Please know I am being real. I’m not hiding experiences of sadness. I want to offer my experience in the most honest, truthful way I can. I want people to know it’s possible to live a life beyond heartache and grief, even after the “missing” begins.

My intention is to share that there are many ways to weather the death of a loved one. We are often told the forecast is filled with clouds, rainstorms, and occasional hurricanes. We are encouraged to get out our umbrellas, to expect a storm. But I am here to say bring your sunglasses, too, because the process can be filled with a clear blue sky, gentle breezes, and colorful rainbows. All of it is real. All of it is possible.

On extra grey days, when either Kate or I could see a very faint circle of the sun in an overcast sky, one of us would point up and say with exaggerated enthusiasm, “Look, it’s the sun!” to confirm it was actually a “sunny” day, despite what others may think.

Yes, we can see the sun through the clouds. It’s a matter of where we focus. This is key to choosing the miracle.

Why I’m telling you all of this

On a hike recently, a friend shared how sad she felt as she missed the physical presence of a beloved who had died two months before. She said she wanted to be with him in person again. I could see the sadness in her eyes as tears gently surfaced.

“You don’t seem to feel that way about Kate, do you?” she asked genuinely.

I told her how – earlier that same day – I had been sitting on a rock, and thinking how much I wished Kate would come hiking into the meadow unexpectedly. How I’d love for her to show up, body fully intact, beaming her smile at me. Yes, of course I’d love to be with her in person again. I could feel her presence, just by imagining it.

“But you don’t talk about missing her,” she said.

“You’re right. I don’t.”

“Why?” she asked.

. . . And this conversation prompted me to write these words, a glimpse into the heart of my process. Thank you for receiving my thoughts. I look forward to hearing yours.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a writer, spiritual cheerleader, and change maker. She currently calls both Bristol, Vermont and Mount Shasta, California home (when she's not traveling elsewhere, that is).

Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, Jen offers life-affirming perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. In her personal and unconventional TEDx Talk, “Death is Inevitable – Grief is Not,” she invites us to break free from the limitations and language of a grieving process and change the way we think about and respond to the death of those we love.

Jen is a founding member and organizer of the Ashland Death Cafe and the Living/Dying Alliance of Southern Oregon. As part of the Community Outreach team of the award-winning film Death Makes Life Possible, she has facilitated conversations on death, dying, and the afterlife in the US, the UK and Ireland.

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49 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Talk about Missing my Beloved

  1. Thank you for this great insight .I’ve shared it with Mom and felt Dad’s spirit saying Yes! to his presence instead of his absence!

  2. Thank you 4 your. Great sharing,I may return to these words when I need to remember someone’s presence and also as I am dealing with Mom’s forgetfulness and safety issues .

  3. this was beautiful – thanks for sharing! this is a bit sillier in tone, but you might appreciate this quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, in which the main character describes a certain alien species that he met:

    “The letter said that they were two feet high, and green., and shaped like plumber’s friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings, especially about time. Billy promised to tell what some of those wonderful things were in his next letter.

    Billy was working on his second letter when the first letter was published. The second letter started out like this:

    The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

    When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes.'”

    • I do appreciate this quote! It’s not one I’m familiar with and it’s been decades since I read that book. Thank you!! I will use this quote in the future, for sure. To me, the “and so it goes” isn’t diminishing death or life, it’s recognizing it as part of a bigger cycle. Having a broader perspective (like the Tralfamodorians) gives us new ways of evaluating our lives. And death is a part of this. Thanks again for taking the time to comment and share ; )

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story and your chosen perspective.
    It is very helpful to be reminded that we have a “choice” about how we respond to
    thought-feelings that are triggered to the surface; and we don’t have to suffer
    (..missing, loneliness, regret, loss, grief, depression, absence, disconnection, abandonment, fear.. ) when significant loved one/s no longer physically available to us..due to death, moving away, economics, separation or divorce.
    I’ve been repeatedly “suffering” under the perception of “absence”; and couldn’t see & emotionally grok another way of Being under the external circumstances I’m in.
    So, it was greatly appreciated to read your testimony and be re-minded that I also have another choice….ie the freedom & opportunity to focus on PRESENCE…despite what the mind, body, physical senses and environment think/assume to be logical, normal, & real.

    • Thank you for your honest sharing. I love that you say “re-minded”. . . I haven’t thought of that before. Yes, we “re-mind” and shift our minds again and again. Choosing what we think, how we respond, absence or presence, etc. Thank you for “re-minding” me as well. Namaste, indeed!

  5. Jennifer, you took the thoughts right out of my head. Recently lost my beloved and this has been my exact perspective on his death, as well as how I have grieved. I’ve had to explain to people best I could how i was feeling, but I felt like it was never enough. I’d still get the questions, do you cry? Are you just i shock? It will probably be worse in six months. All good intentioned comments. But, I felt I was being authentic. I really appreciate your outlook and think that it could be so helpful for many others trying to wrap their mind around this type of grieving. It helps diminish the guilt of certain type of “missing.” Rather his death gave me the gift of a certain type of knowing.

    Thank you!

    • I am so grateful for your words because I understand that place of explaining to others what it has really been like for me. When I’ve been met with “suspicion” (so to speak – I know people are good intentioned, as you say), it’s raised doubts within me too. But I feel so clear about my inner experience. That’s why I am sharing it, so various responses to death can be validated. Blessings on your journey and thank you for connecting with me!

  6. Thank you for this. I have always thought there was something wrong with me. From my grandmother when I was 16 through friends and my ex-husband and too many dearly loved pets all the way to my father a few weeks ago, I don’t seem to experience grief and loss the way I see it affecting other people. Your words are powerful and true and resonate at the deepest level for me. Again, thank you.

    • I’m so glad that you can know there is nothing wrong with you, and that deep acceptance – and even connection and gratitude – are valid and real responses to death. The more we share this, the more others will have permission to experience peace rather than grief and loss. Much gratitude for your sharing! More to come, I hope.

  7. This is just exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate recently. Thank you!!! My daughter just left for college – not a death, of course! – but a loss that I had been dreading for all of her 19 years. And after two years of a mindfulness practice I’ve found that I’m not so focused on missing her, but on loving her and being so happy for her and of accepting that this is what this time in life is about. This is a piece of wisdom that I will cherish in the years to come that are sure to be filled with loss and joy. Thank you!!!

    • Thank you! I appreciate how you articulate relating this to your daughter moving away, and the mindfulness practice that has supported you. Yes, a constant practice since – as you say – the years to come will certainly include loss and joy.

  8. Jen,

    Just love having you share your authentic self. How you are handling this “seeming” separation from your partner is an amazing inspiration to us all.

    I lost my brother, Curt, (car accident) in 2002 and my Mom (cancer /dementia) in 2004. And even though I did “know” that they had their eternal aspects carry on, turns out my body missed them…. and for me this meant paradigm shifts at a body / comfort level that took longer than the grief literature would indicate, to process.

    I was very glad to have the tools that helped me be aware of truth, communication between spirits being that of “pictures”, etc., but aspects of the body had to have their “elbow room” worth of space and time to shift, and come into a new balance point.

    Side note: yesterday I hiked in the Mountains to Lake Isabelle and it was so magically beautiful. It brought back memories of hiking with Kate to South Gate Meadows at Mount Shasta. They were warm happy memories, and you are right that the joy is in present time. Just as surely as Kate is accessible in present time.

    Much Love to You,

    • So true! I have been looking at this a lot – how we have the spiritual perspective, and yet still have the physical body experience of the physical loss. So much to learn about our human selves, eh? Yes to “elbow room,” and yay for Kate memories ; )

      Much love to you as well!

  9. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and in analysing my own loses I suddenly realized what direktion my missings have taken.
    In remembering a lost one I often Focus on things that made me happy beeing with that person, that often takes away the hurt of missing, and when talking of the lost one, thoughts and attitudes og that person were surfaced once again.

  10. Hi Jenn,

    Very beautiful writing and I’ve witnessed you being quite happy, even just a short time after Kate’s transition. It’s quite the mastery…
    In my experience, my sadness over the loss of a person ( by death or otherwise ) is a state of
    melancholy and the pain of the heart. It’s an energetic loss as well as physical. However, if I try to feel any kind of sadness, rather than wanting to push it away or not to feel the sadness, it vanishes and a particular state of peace and awareness is present, as long as I’m focusing and embracing the pain. Essentially I think you’re describing the same experience. Since you’re focusing on presence, it’s the embracing of…which is the process, just like with myself I’m embracing or accepting the pain, therefore it’s placing presence on it and surrender.

    Anyway…here it is, my philosophical contribution….much love to you Jenn and what a gift for you to continue life without Kate in this way and shedding light on your experience and helping others by bringing awareness

    much love, Miriam

    • Love your contribution! Thanks, Miriam. I also feel that when I allow sadness, rather than resist it, it is able to move rather than get stuck. And I experience that when I notice that I’m not focused on presence, and then choose it the best I can, I’m still allowing the sadness, but also allowing it to shift. So fascinating how much there is to witness in our inner human worlds. Thanks again!

  11. Loved reading this! So proud of you for all the wonderful things you are doing! Am really looking forward to connecting with you through these writings…

  12. Thank you for this, and for including a sense that there are other forms of very painful separation. I deeply love a man from whom I am separated by a continent and by circumstances. There are no coincidences; I just saw him for a short time – speaking of miracles, it is miraculous for us to even see each other for a few days every year or so – and something astounding came to me: immense, immense gratitude. I am not a religious person – I am deeply in awe about the spirit, though – but I went on my knees several times in absolute gratitude for the treasured nights and moments and meals and words and looks we shared. I asked the feminine in the heavens to give me time with him and what I got was so, so beautiful that now, whenever I find myself painfully longing for what I dont have, that other, so-thankful part of me takes over with joy.

    • I really resonate what you shared here. I have often thought of my beloved being away on another continent – and that I can only communicate across the miles with my heart and inner knowing that she “is there” . . . Yes, different since I cannot see her once in a while in person, or Skype or text, but similar in that it conjures up what you refer to – the miracle that we even get to meet the amazing beings we do in our lives, and to be grateful for whatever time we are or have been together. I appreciate the depth of what you feel, and the trust you exude.

  13. Jen, this is a dynamite piece. It’s a great aid when that challenging time of transition comes, and to all of us it will. It’s surely something which comes from your heart mind rather than your head mind. Your writing exudes wisdom and pure truth. Full trust sets you totally free, and in that freedom we find a way to celebrate the joy and comfort of what had occurred when our mates were alive, or our relationships were intact, or the children, now teenagers, were younger.


    Love, John

    • Your comments remind me of how freedom is an essential part of my process, esp. with Kate. We both agreed that “love is freedom” and this has transferred to the love we share even after her physical body is gone. She is free to continue her life without her Kate Asch body, and I support her spirit’s choice to do that. To me, that is love. We often equate love with attachment (subconsciously, perhaps) rather than with freedom. The freedom points to joy and comfort, as you say. Attachment points us elsewhere. Thank you for your comments!

  14. Thank you Jen. Your thoughts, feelings and everything you’ve expressed in this article has helped me to clarify some feelings of sadness, missing and grief in my life. Love, Shashi

    • Hi Shashi. It’s an honor to hear that my words may have helped you in some way. Thanks for taking the time to let me know. Much love, Jen

  15. Jen, thank you for sharing your deep, inspirational thoughts. I find it deeply heart warming to think of Kate in the way you do and I think of her all the time. In thinking of her in this way, she is always with me, always uplifting and I always smile with gratitude and happiness. It is a powerfully positive way of guiding my thoughts and I thank you for sharing the process in which you arrived at this way of being.

    Thinking of you and Kate right now and am feeling happy and filled with gratitude. Love you. Pete

    • You have been such a great example of being in the present with what life brings your way, and finding the aliveness and gratitude. Kate so appreciated your outlook on life, as do I! You’ve warmed my heart as well, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

  16. Jennifer, thank you so much for this great article. I am grateful that Judith Conrad shared it on FB and she is my friend. You have given me a new way of looking at my feelings and that I can make choices about them with regard to the loved ones in my life that have left this physical plane. I’ve spent way too many years in “missing” them rather than appreciating the time we shared. This is an article I want to keep close to read over and over as a reminder that we don’t have to talk about the “missing” and to do more “appreciating”. Bless you. B

    • We all find our way through differently and yet to connect in the common experience of appreciation for life is so powerful to me. Thank you for sharing your heart and for considering how we can bring more presence of our loved ones into the world. To me, this honors them so deeply, and honors who we are as humans on this mysterious journey on earth. Blessings to you as well ; )

  17. Hi Jen!
    Your thoughts are profound, and your words are very wise. You are sharing a powerful reflection of your own personal healing, and the path you have chosen to walk. We are graced by the beauty of your Love, and how truly present you are throughout the process.
    All healing is experienced only in the present moment.
    All Love is experienced in the Now.
    We are only able to experience the healing power of Love in the now.
    Thank you for reminding us.
    And yes, there is much, much more. 🙂
    Endless Love and Blessings to you.

    • Thanks, Bud! Yes, there is so much more, and at the same time, nothing else to say but LOVE. Now and now and now. And now. Alohahahaha ; )

  18. Beautiful! What a profound life lesson and perspective for experiencing eternity that is always present beneath our shifting emotions.

  19. Thank you Jen, for sharing your beautiful words. And though I am not as clear or intentional with my practice…you do describe my experience with the passing of my mother. … that I can choose to connect with her presence and in a way have a different yet very very close and powerful feeling of her on the other side for which I am so very grateful. so thank you . you remind me that I can intend this connection any time I want. beautiful, blessings and thank you, Cami

    • Cami, I appreciate you sharing that you’ve had a similar experience of connection. Hope to see you in VT this fall, perhaps ; )

  20. Jennifer,

    This is beautiful. Tears of joy! Thank you so much for being authentic and vulnerable by sharing your process. And so articulately. People have such a hard time with death and you have beautifully shown many of the reasons within your post and even more helpful – shown alternatives.

    Attachment is a huge piece, not letting the emotions flow, but getting stuck in them. Although my process & experience was different I had some similarities after the death of my late husband Jeff in 2005. One thing that had an impact on me was anticipatory grief. He had been sick the entire time we knew each other, 8 1/2 years, getting more ill as time passed. Because of this, and the personal work I was doing during this time, I was learning to let go along the way. I feel like this helped me let go more easily and it also helped me celebrate him and all of the good times that we had together and embrace life to the fullest. I did grieve and miss him after he died, but it was not the same as others might have experienced and it was not necessarily what others thought I should be going through. Judgement = another form of attachment.

    After Jeff’s death, I attended a support group locally for others under the age of 30 who had lost someone close to them. I was 29 at the time. After one visit I never went back. I was longing for someone who understood what I was going through, but quickly realized that this group wasn’t it and that I probably wasn’t going to find anyone who completely understood, especially because my experience was so vastly different from the norm. The others in the group were stuck in the emotions and much more in shock and sadness than I. Completely out of my norm, I actually did not share during the group. At the time I felt like my experience of death would not be understood or accepted and might even hurt others in the group. As time passed and even still when I say “my late husband” in conversation I can see the pain flash across others’ faces who don’t know my history. Often people feel the need to apologize for reminding me of his death. Wow! That is so telling of our culture surrounding death. I love to be reminded of him. I try to be very open about the fact that I love talking about Jeff and remembering him and that there is nothing for which they need to apologize.

    Thank you again for sharing and turning your various life experiences into something new and beautiful through your work. I plan to share this post. It is an inspiration and reinvigorating for me. This September would have been 15 years of marriage and 18 years together, he’s been gone 9 1/2 years. I usually celebrate our anniversary with a drive down the Clackamas river, with Tom Petty and Zepplin blaring and lovely nature-filled stops along the way. This was one of his favorite things to do. 🙂

    Many thanks & much love my laughing inch worm friend,


    • Wow. I am so grateful for the time you took to comment here, Andrea.

      Yes, I imagine letting go along the way for so many years had been a powerful process that is, perhaps, unique in it’s own many ways – sometimes easier, sometimes not, I suppose? As you say, embracing life to the fullest is such a gift from these kinds of situations. Since Kate had cancer many years before, and a few times too, I felt we both really celebrated being alive and valued each day. And then, things shift and the aliveness happens in new ways, in limitless and formless ways that expand our understanding of what it means to be both human and spirit.

      I totally resonate with what you said about how you love being reminded of Jeff! I so hope that more and more people really hear that – so that we can openly talk about and laugh about and cry about and remember these amazing beings with which we were so fortunate to spend a portion of our physical lives! Also so great to hear that you celebrate your anniversary still, and with such joy. You are a beautiful model for graceful living, my dear!

      Love and smiles,

  21. Jen, this is so clear and deep and thoughtful. It addresses questions that I have had about your process. It provides me with insights and new possibilities. Thank you…and Kate! Loving you both… Bayla

    • Thanks, Bayla. I’m so glad that this helps you understand my inner process. Not easy to put it into words, and so much more to say! I really do offer this as a way to have more conversations about how we respond to what life brings our way. Loving you too ; )