No 'right' words for times of loss

As we age, we are increasingly more likely to encounter the loss of a loved one. If someone dear to you dies during the holidays, your heart is heavy at a time when the collective spirit of others is light-hearted and buoyant.

It's harder to embrace the Christmas message or welcome holiday cheer and twinkling lights when all you feel is sad and empty.

There are no "right" words for times like these — it may be better just to listen. Listen to your own heart. Listen with your whole being to the words of those closest to the person who passed. Or perhaps listen to the silence. I have known wise and caring people who simply sat for hours with a mourning family and said nothing at all.

For me, the day-after-Thanksgiving passing of a beautiful and courageous friend prompts tender reflection. I am an advocate for listening, but I am a storyteller, too. I hope my words offer solace if you need that right now, and an improved understanding of the power of relationships. I hope these words serve as a remainder to cherish each day and laugh easily and often.

Janet Thornton earned her wings. She fought a valiant fight with ovarian cancer for more than seven years, dying at a young age, beloved by many. She leaves an enormously caring husband, her "soul mate and best buddy," and three strong and lovely daughters.

This admired wife and mom brought good will to the lives of those who knew her. Her laugh was like a gift — it burst forth melodically. Being around her when she laughed was transforming — like a drink of cool, clean water. She was also amazing at initiating a conversation. As illustration, "So, where did you and your husband first meet and how did you feel at that moment?" And then Jan would focus on your response and remember what you said — incorporating it into later conversations in a way that made you somehow a better person.

I once told Jan I would like to write about her after she died. She was initially reluctant but then willing — as long as I educated the reader about ovarian and breast cancer (early detection, genetic testing and thoughtfully aggressive treatment). There are many websites for this kind of information, but you might want to start with and

Perhaps even more importantly, Jan would, I believe, want to share the important power of faith in a time of illness and imminent death. This was a woman whose faith was deeply embedded and sustaining — she was very clear about afterlife. She wrote final affirming and encouraging letters to several friends and family. In mine she said, "When I get to heaven, I will find your mother and tell her what a good job she did."

The writer, Larkin Warren, writes about the death of a loved one in this way, —¦ it punches the soul's passport. The air's different here, so is the scenery. Your knees don't work as well. In fact, you may want to fall to them ... if anyone offers you a hand, hold it."

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or

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