Angel of Grief

The memorials added to Find a Grave® not only document the burial locations or dispositions of those who have passed on, but also memorialize and celebrate their lives. We’ve received messages from you that mention how visiting a Find a Grave memorial has helped with the grieving process. We all know the sadness and loneliness that follows after a loved one dies and are glad that leaving flowers and visiting the memorial helps.

A particular sculpture captures this sadness: the Angel of Grief, which graces the grave of Emelyn Story. The angel is dressed in classical Roman attire. Her face remains unseen unless you are close to the sculpture. The angels’ wings dominate the scene, but even they look to feel the despair as they drape over the altar to the ground. She seems to be abandoning all else as she steps up and falls on the altar of life in mourning. Her body is eternally slumped in bereavement. The laurel branches that she brought to the altar have fallen from her hand and lie at the base, their evergreen leaves, which symbolize victory and immortality, no longer victorious. 

The “Angel of Grief Weeping over the Altar of Life” is located in Campo Cestio beneath the shadow of the once-occupied pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius. It was William Wetmore Story’s last sculpture, made to mark the grave of his wife, Emelyn.

William and Emelyn Story married in their youth and spent their lives together. They had four children: Edith, Joseph, Thomas, and Julian. William was a man of many talents. He was a well-known sculptor, practiced law, authored poems, wrote other literary works, and was an art critic. He also wrote a biography on his father, an Associate Justice for the U.S. Supreme Court. After his father’s death in 1845, he was commissioned to create a memorial statue. It was then that William and his family moved to Italy for his study of sculpture. In Rome, he and his family were well known in social circles and his palace apartments in Palazzo Barberini (which contained forty rooms in total) became a hub for intellectuals, writers, and artists. William sculpted the memorial for his father and continued his artistry with many other famous sculptures.

William and Emelyn enjoyed each other’s company. At one point William was having difficulty finding time to read Ben-Hur, so he and Emelyn decided to read it aloud to one another—all 744 pages. Letters to friends say that they both “felt great regret as they finished the last page.” Theirs was a mature love, gained after being married for fifty years. Emelyn died in 1894 at age 73, and William, in his solemn grief, lost all interest in the affairs of life. He wrote to a friend after her death that Emelyn was “my life, my joy, my stay and help in all things…what is left seems to be but a blank of silence, a dead wall which, when I cry out…only echoes back my own voice.” (The Browning’s Correspondence)

The creation of the Angel of Grief was written about in an 1896 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine: “It was only when his children suggested that he should make a monument to her memory that he consented to resume work; the design he chose was the ‘Angel of Grief’ and it is wrought to exquisite finish, as are the statues modeled in his summer prime. When this was done, he left the studio never to return.”  

William described the sculpture and his feelings to a relative: “It represents the Angel of Grief, in utter abandonment, throwing herself with drooping wings and hidden face over a funeral altar. It represents what I feel. It represents prostration. Yet to do it helps me.”(The Browning’s Correspondence)

After he completed this sculpture for the grave of his wife, he fell into a long illness and died the following year. He is buried underneath the angel, with his wife.

The Angel of Grief left its intended effect, evoking the feelings of sadness, despair, despondence, and mourning alongside its breathtaking beauty and eternal posture. Within a few years, copies of the angel started showing up in other cemeteries around the world and still do to this day. In popular culture the image of the angel has also been used on album covers and in a film.

We found quite a number of Find a Grave memorials that include a statue of the Angel of Grief. You can browse through them here.

The Angel of Grief exhibits the emotions that we feel when we lose someone we love. We’ve added a virtual flower of the Angel of Grief to our Flowers section. Feel free to use this as a token of remembrance for memorials of those that you miss and love.

Additionally, in remembrance, we have created a virtual cemetery for those whose lives tragically ended twenty years ago due to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Our hearts go out to all who are grieving because of the effects of the world-wide pandemic or who have otherwise lost family and friends.

102 comments

  1. Thank you for a reminder of this beautiful story. I have heard it several times, but forgot about it.

  2. How beautiful how much the man truly loved his wife and created such a touching memory. I remember seeing statues like this in Paris. The Pere LaChaise Cemetery should be added as a World Wonder. I remember walking hours visiting the graves and mausoleums. A truly spiritual and awe inspiring day hanging with my bestie.

    On the flip side of life and death I was requested to not attend my beloved’s funeral, yeah one of those grown selfish children stories. I went to the cemetery it was an icy, windy and cold day, I found his site and the indentation where he lay that it had not been refilled yet. It hit me that he was really gone, I was finally able to begin truly grieving. I was keening so loudly, sobbing so finally and truly prostrate with a deep soul sadness I’m sure anyone around, heard. I stomped and screamed, moaned and wailed from the very depth of my heart and I had the strangest desire to claw with bare through the sprinkled straw, hard dirt and fill, unearth him and hold him just once more. The mourning angel says it all. Four years later seeing the statue evoked those feeling. Now mostly I can think of him and our time together and I feel such gratitude that we both were able to make each other FLY. I know I shared a peace and loving intimacy that not everyone has experienced. Blessed in Michigan

    • I’m so sorry you were denied your grieving. I’ve been there. Different circumstances, but there just the same with my father as a child. I assume you were not yet married. Had you been, it should have been the other way around. And remember, “Requests made do not always mean requests granted”, but that is water under the bridge. I feel for you.

    • One of my earliest memories from a child age 5, was visiting my brother James Wilson grave in Thornaby Cemetery, North Yorkshire, England, with my sister Anne and her friend Gladys Fulton, on the way to the cemetery we passed a house whose garden contained loads of beautiful flowers, one of my two older companions told me to go inside this garden to pick some flowers to place on Jim’s grave which I did, I was age 5, and unaware this was stealing and wrong. The householder soon came out and asked me in a mild temper “What did I think I was doing,” in all innocence I told him we were going to the cemetery nearby and needed some flowers to place on my brothers grave” (who had been killed in a wartime 1941 bus accident), I can only imagine the householders heart melted and both he and I walked around his lovely garden picking the best flowers, I left this property with a huge bunch of flowers in my hands, for years afterwards when ever I saw this man I waved and we became friends, I now think he must have known my sister and her friend had put me up to it. Some 30 years later my sister Anne died and she now rests in this grave along with our father. It may be correct to say the only part of Planet Earth we truly own is our final resting spot, and all the rest is family history.

    • pere la chaise is one of my favorite places in the world. when we were finally too tired to walk it any longer, we went to a nearby cafe where a funeral party was having lunch. although our french was limited, we understood that they were both celebrating and mourning a life. both matter.

  3. Thank you! I never heard this story and it touched my heart. When you are grieving it seems like there is no end. I lost my Mom 19 years ago and my heart is still broken. She was my Mom, my friend and my whole world. This story reminds me I am not the only one that grieves so deeply.

  4. I needed to read this and everyone’s comments on this the anniversary of my mom’s death just 1 year ago. My heart hurts yet feels enlighten by these stories. Thank you.

  5. I have already found & used the “Angel of Grief” in the virtual remembrances. It touched me then & again now as I read the sad story of it’s origin. This angel adorns my younger sister’s grave, since it conveys the emotions one is feeling just dealing with the sorrow of death’s shadow.

  6. we have to thank those who are gone, and through them we learn who we are today

  7. The family plot is what my children and I take care of every year. This year my niece, who has never taken flowers to her grandparents’, great-grandparents’, or great uncle’s grave, decided to put flowers down on their graves and took all of the old decorations we placed there last year and dumped them on the ground on my husband’s grave, next to my mother’s grave. Her excuse was she didn’t know what to do with the old things. Mind you she is bright and very much dislikes our branch of the tree, and we thought this was very disrespectful. Even more so, the cross with Jesus and the lamb on it, a bouquet of flowers and a board with a sister saying on it that I had placed on her mother/my sister’s grave were removed and destroyed by her. My daughter who is very bipolar and struggled with the loss of her father for 30 years wrote an e-mail condemning what she had done which brought my niece’s husband to my driveway threatening to kill our whole family if it was legal. He took an oath to God to tell the truth on the witness stand and lied through his teeth. How do I handle paying respect to my sister if my niece won’t let me???

    • Dear Susan,
      Here is my suggestion since you have asked for input:

      Please end this family feud now, regardless of who is wrong. It has escalated out of control. Do not add a single word to fuel the fire. Pay your respects to your entire family, deceased and living, by not engaging in any conversation with your niece or her husband at this time.

      While the remembrances that you left at the graves should be respected, perhaps it would be wise to plan ahead to remove such remembrances when you think they will have become old and weathered. It is unclear if your niece wanted to “clean” the grave site, but it makes sense that she would leave items for you where she thought you would get them if she is not in regular contact with you. I’m not condoning her behavior, just trying to understand. I have no idea where her venom comes from, evident in her destroying some articles. Whatever the family history is, please do not engage in future battles. It is not healthy.

      End it now. Stop the cycle.

      Pay your respects to your Sister. If you leave something, remove it later. If it is already gone, imagine your Sister already has taken it up, herself, to be with her.

      Be at peace!
      Lisa

      • Thank you for the advice. I know I have to forgive her but I have difficulty in what she has done and the evil that has been there for so many years way back to when my mother died too early by the actions of a certain person. I just stay away from that family and hope they leave us alone. Everything she does is intentional and mean. I feel for her children.

    • Plant a memorial garden of your own in your yard. A cemetery is only where their earthly bodies dwell. They belong with us in our heart where ever we may be. I feel as though we decorate gravesites for ourselves and show others how much we love them. Decorate a spot for you and your family, they will be there

  8. What a beautiful sculpture. The suffering of grief it represents has rarely been captured with such perfection. I have never seen or heard of this story before and thank you for sharing it.

  9. My husband James dies June 16, 1990 at 30 yrs old and I still feel this pain today. As I look upon this beautiful statue, I can’t help but feel I still have this sadness in my heart. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story and monument with us!

  10. I always loved this memoial marker, Ifirst saw it doing a photo request at Richland Cemetery in Dravosburg, Pa. It is on Suzanne Hutchison’s grave. I use this as my computer home page as it gives me a sence of peace. She died in 2010 @ 43 yrs. On the side are 2 entwined rings married 04 01 2010. How sad.

    Goldengirl
    #48131040

  11. Hello and good health to all, I was out walking the dogs one evening and was feeling a bit sad and for some reason I came up with this in my mind. I do love words of thought or prose.
    If my heart could cry over the ache it feels in missing you, I surely would drown in my own tears.

    May the one who watches over us be close to you forever.

  12. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story. The photos of the memorials are fantastic.

  13. There is a exact one of these monuments in grove hill Cemetary in Dallas texas. It’s near my family’s graves and have seen it for many years.

  14. Beautiful. Thank you. I did not know about this memorial until today. It certainly does evoke strong emotions.

  15. What a beautiful touching story. And the comments brought tears to my eyes-lets me know Im not alone in grieving— for my child-my daughter. When I visit her gravesite and on certain days/or evening when I get missing her the most I just want to lay beside her —she was 30yrs old happy married, with 2 little boys–had it all going for her–she passed from acute myeloid leukemia. Her 2 boys told me many times when young they seen her–once on a occasion it was in a robe–like one theyve never seen before—-I think she was there –and she watchs over them and her parents—-Weve seen her light. And it makes one feel better–not creepy–just a calmness inside–she’s with us:) And that angel of grief which covers over the stone -lets one feel that grief also-

  16. I’d really like to find a place that would donate a small stone or marker to my deceased uncle. . His find a grave is at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/195994450/william-long He was born Dec 21, 1925, and was still born. I cannot afford a stone, and I cannot travel. I’m hoping someone can help, and then send me a picture of his marker. I’ve called other places for help, and they can’t help me. But I grieve every day knowing that my uncle has been forgotten, like no one cares. I hope someone can help. No one should be buried in an unmarked grave.

    • Hello Cynthia,

      I immediately had a connection with your request posted here. A connection mentally, emotionally, and financially.

      I clicked on the memorial link to reach out to you in private to only discover you do not allow anyone to contact you on Find-A-Grave.

      If messaging is disabled by accident, and you have opened up your Find-A-Grave account to accept messages from others, then please feel free to message me about your request.

      You will find my Find-A-Grave profile here: https://www.findagrave.com/user/profile/49240605

      Thank you,
      John G Amero

  17. I don’t get it. Several religions believe in angels, spiritual creatures that serve God. Like God, they “live” in heaven. The faithful adherents of these religions supposedly go to heaven when they die, so it makes no sense for an angel to grieve when a human being dies. Is it because the angel knows that the entombed one went to hell, not heaven?

  18. I saw the photo and thought I’ve seen it somewhere then you mentioned the pyramid and I knew then, the foreigner’s cemetery or protestant cemetery in Rome
    I made many photos from all angles of this so remarkable monument. I couldn’t stop looking at it, is so beautiful and indeed represents all the grief of a loss.

  19. Thank you, I appreciate the story behind the sculpture. I had the privilege of seeing this sculpture in Rome, and it left an indelible impression on me. It evokes the love and grief of it’s creator.

  20. Thank you ever so much for sharing the Most Touching lives of Mr. and Mrs. Story. Marie Antoinette said: “Perhaps the Great Loves come with Tears.” And I can attest: YES THEY DO—RIVERS AND RIVERS AND RIVERS OF TEARS. It takes time and commitment to find this kind of deep love and devotion…..But, IT IS WORTH IT.

  21. so beautiful, I had never heard the story, but I recently loss my son and I understand clearly.

  22. Thank you for allowing us through your website to visit the graves of our loved ones in other states. It is such a blessing.
    Also thank you for the picture and the story. I have heard it before, but it was nice to be reminded of it. There is one like it at the Sparkman Hillcrest Cemetery in Dallas, Texas. I have pictures of the one in Dallas. It is so beautiful. I have a small paperweight size of the sculpture, plus a larger one about two feet in size. I felt so emotionally connected to the grief the angel represents in our grieving hearts. Grieving is very personal and individual. Going to Grief Share at church was s great help to me. We grieve because we love, it seems the more we love the deeper our grief. As a Christian, I am so thankful to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, that I will see my departed loved ones again in Heaven.
    Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
    B. Hecht

  23. Thank you for the story I never knew. I do use this image in Ancestry for all babies that have died in my family, for which I don’t have a picture. Now I know where it has come from and the sad story that will live forever.

  24. The angel is grieving with the living, not for the newly minted ascendants to heaven. It shouldn’t matter what religion, or lack thereof. Loss of a loved one is universally tragic and beautiful art opens the senses to allow joy as well as grief.

  25. I don’t know where you got your information but I never contacted you about how I felt.

  26. What a love story. One reads about folk from a not so distant time and realizes the great accomplishments they tackled. By today’s standard, it might appear that this incredibly talented man lived many lifetimes. A lawyer, a sculptor, a poet, art critic and author….all whilst finding time for his wife and children. Today we are consumed by television, internet and telephone…all things that apparently limit our true capacity to flourish.

  27. This story touched my heart. A love so deep never dies. A monument that expresses that love lives on forever, even for strangers passing by. Thank you.

  28. I never heard the story before and really enjoyed reading it. Thank You have lost My Mother and 3 brothers in a short time and my last remaining sister will not speak to me and has been that way for may years. I am all she has also.

  29. Hello…
    I love this Find-A-Grave.
    I love the fact you thought broadly to supply something for everyone to use too.

    Find-A-Grave should commission their own version of the statue to be created. Once created it could be applied to those memorial records who have passed away but have no physical grave marker due to poverty, loss at sea, buried at sea, and mass burial.

    Yes it is important to have as a graphic to apply when leaving a note but it is just as important to not have a website of have and have not’s. Those buried in the ground who had the financial means for photography and/or the creation of a stone, along with time to take a photograph before the death of a person will always have memorial records with rich photographs. While those records with no photos…”Well you know they were poor, you know that type of person.”

    That’s what Find-A-Grace has created by not having a guideline or set of stock images/photos to use when there is no gravestone, or when there is no photo of the person.

    And if someone chooses to not put up an image of their loved one they too could use the stock image.

    Graveyards already display the wealth of the have and have nots, Find-A-Grave should do better and provide stock images for all to apply to memorial records if they choose.

    John G Amero

    • Thanks for this feedback and suggestion, John. We passed this image idea on for consideration. We do have something in mind for memorials that don’t have a gravestone. It’s just a little down the line as far as development. We hope you continue to enjoy Find a Grave!

  30. Thank you for this beautiful story. I had not heard it before, but it is very moving. The comments are wonderful too.

    Two years ago our eldest son died and this year our son-in-law passed. Neither wanted to be buried so we placed a box of treasures for my son at his gravesite. Most of his ashes are being kept by his wife, who misses him so much, and some we were given have been sprinkled in our backyard where he played as a child. My son-in-law was also cremated and my daughter and a couple of brothers will sprinkle his ashes at the places that he liked to go during his lifetime.

    I have been to several cemeteries and may have seen this gravestone, but it is truly inspirational and a beautiful story of eternal love. All our loved ones are in a better place.

  31. Beautiful Angel of Grief My brother passed away 4 years ago this month and i miss him very much are love and memories live on . Angels give me comforts at these times I know he is shining down from heaven. Love from his Sister and Mama

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