The Presence of Absence: Saudade


I came across a new word, expression if you will, in my many readings and research on grief and the pain and sadness it brings……

Saudade is a Portuguese expression that is almost untranslatable. The best way to describe it is: the presence of absence. It is a longing for someone or something that you remember fondly but know you can never experience again. It is an awareness of the absence of a person or thing, which puts you in a deep emotional state of sadness. The presence of absence grapples with those who should be here but aren’t. It is a form of homesickness and deep yearning. You are among thousands of people but none is the one you want to be by your side. Saudade is the moment you realize how important people are in your life and the moments you have taken for granted.


According to history, the word saudade came into being in the 15th century when Portuguese ships sailed to Africa and Asia. A sorrow was felt for those who departed for long journeys, and too often disappeared in shipwrecks or died in battle. Those who stayed behind deeply suffered from their absence. The survivors had a constant feeling of something that was missing in their lives.

The word is derived from the Latin plural solitates, meaning solitudes, but it is also influenced by the word salv, meaning safe.


Saudade is not nostalgia where you reminisce about happy and sad emotions. You remember the happiness but feel the sadness knowing you can’t recapture the feeling. Nostalgia expresses a sensation one has for a loved one who has died while saudade is the knowledge that the loved one is absent from your life. Saudade provides comfort because even in your sorrow, you sometimes feel an incongruous rush of joy in the hope of recovering something that will fill the presence of their absence.


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