When we experience loss, proper grieving is difficult. Sometimes we withdraw, protecting the wound as if to say what we invested was somehow squandered or rejected by another, our selfhood disregarded. Sometimes we go out into the world, still in pain, seeing others through a distorted lens. Sometimes we recognize that what we're experiencing requires extra help, and we ask for it. Sometimes we tuck in and stay quiet, praying and reading until we are well enough to emerge again.

One of the losses we experience is not formally acknowledged by the world, and that is the loss of our youth. In many other cultures, aging people are respected and revered. In American culture, we are dismissed unless we can fit into the currently acceptable trends of coolness and attractiveness. Unless we hide certain aspects of our aging. Unless we fight it and disregard it.

The loss of youth is often compounded by the loss of a partner. As a single person, I meet many people who have begun seeking a new relationship before getting over one that has ended, attempting to fill the void. Having had the children grow up and move away, and the breakup or divorce or death take a partner, we struggle to find meaning and a place in the world. It's natural to want to forget about our pain instead of coming to understand it.

We must try to view ourselves and each other with compassion, understanding that each of us is fighting a hard battle. No one gets close to anyone else without a lot of time and effort, and it is rare for anyone to expend that. We are all frail boats, sometimes enjoying calm seas, sometimes tossed about by life and the pain of loss of purpose.

We must find a new purpose. How do we find this new purpose? What can we offer when our so-called important roles have ended?

We can help each other with our wounds and understand that when someone mysteriously disappears from view, they might need to be gone after. They might need to know they are missed.

We can offer our blood, literally and figuratively. We have wisdom and experience and, sometimes, patience. These gifts are priceless. If we possess a deep knowledge that love is all that matters in the end, we have to share that with those who don't believe it.

We can offer our companionship. Though we may not find another relationship or be as close as we'd like to our children and perhaps grandchildren, we can decide to try to understand other people and be present to them. We can offer kindness, consciousness, work. We can make the lunch, invite the friends over, and share community. We can gather our tools, drive over, and offer the help. We can extend our arms and gather someone into them, giving safe, physical touch to someone who might need it more than anything else.

We can trust God with our pain, remembering that we are called to help others as we limp ourselves, Jesus's hands and feet. Moving out into the world in love doesn't mean we won't need to tuck in again when we know we need healing quiet, but it will remind us of how many other people also struggle. Perhaps we might allow others to help us, as well. Even those who seem too young to know very much.