Fourth Anniversary of Grief

It’s very windy today, with gusts up to 40mph, but the sun is shining through the clouds.

And so begins my fifth year of grief.

Four years ago today, my life mate/soul mate died without a sound, not even so much as a whimper. His Adam’s apple bobbed once, twice, and then he was gone.

100_1807aThe world is poorer because of his absence. I am poorer. He was the best person I ever knew, kind and helpful to all, not just those who were close to him. (In fact, it was his unfailing kindness to others that cemented my love for him.) He was smart and wise and witty. He was exceedingly knowledgeable about many things — movies, music, mobsters, history, humans, health. It always seemed odd to people that someone so interested in health had physical problems, but his lack of good health is what made him interested in how the body worked and what could be done to make it work even better. He believed in self-discipline and, even at the end, despite pain and debility, he strived to learn, to be better, stronger, wiser.

I’ve gone through a couple of days of sorrow and tears as I neared this anniversary, and I’m glad I did. I seldom cry any more — in fact, I didn’t even know there were tears left in me — and oddly, I miss the tears. Tears kept me connected to him in a way nothing else has since he departed this earth. Besides, he deserves my sorrow now and again. I don’t want to live blithely without a thought for him and what he meant to me.

As always, once the time of his death passed (12:50a.m. MDT), I started to regain my equilibrium. I miss him, but the reality is that as much as I hate it, he isn’t here.

And I am.

Many of my grief mates (those who lost their mates within a few months of when I did) still have relationships with their deceased spouses. Their belief in the continued survival of their soul mates is so strong, they know without a doubt they are still connected; some people can even feel the connection. Others have moved into new relationships. While I . . . I do the best I can on my own, taking each step as it comes, trying not to cling to the past, trying not to fear the future.

And I strive to learn, to be better, stronger, wiser.

It’s what he always did, and I can do no less.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Challenges of the Fourth Year of Grief

The challenges we face during the first year after the death of a life mate/soul mate (or any other significant person in our lives who connects us to the world), are too great to enumerate. It’s all we can do to cope with the seemingly endless chores of laying our beloved to rest while dealing with the emotional shock, the physical pain, the psychological affront that are our constant companions. Sometimes the first anniversary of his death is one of peace when we realize that we managed to survive the worst year of our life, but then we wake up to the second year and find a whole other set of challenges to meet.

The five main challenges we face during the second year after the death of a life mate/soul mate are:

1. Trying to understand where he went.
2. Living without him
3. Dealing with continued grief bursts.
4. Finding something to look forward to rather than simply existing.
5. Handling the yearning.

There are other challenges, of course, some unique to each individual, but all the challenges are dealt with the same way: by continuing to feel the pain when it erupts rather than turning away from it to satisfy the concerns of those who don’t understand; by taking care of ourselves even when we don’t see the point; by trying new things.

In other words, we meet the challenges of the second year by living. It sounds simple, but nothing about grief for a life mate/soul mate is simple. By living, we begin to move away from our pain, but we also move away from the person we loved more than any other. For some bereft, this feels like a betrayal of their love — how can you continue to live when life on this earth is denied him? For others, it seems like a betrayal of themselves — how can you become the person you need to be without betraying the person you once were?

The third year of grief seems to be a year of transition with only one new challenge — beginning to rebuild our lives. (We still have upsurges of sadness, still miss our loved one, still yearn for him, but these feelings are not as prominent as they once were.) Most of us no longer feel that continued life is a betrayal of our love because we understand that we had no choice in the matter, either in his death or in our continued life. Nor do we feel we are betraying the person we once were — we are no longer that person, though we have not yet developed into the person we are to become. Most of us are still trying to figure out who that person is and what that person wants and needs.

You’d think by the fourth year there would be no challenges of grief left, but for most of us, this is the year where we make the necessary disconnect from our loved ones, and that is big though necessary step. No matter how close we were to our mates, no matter how much we felt as if we were two parts to a whole, we realize that in terms of life on this earth, we were two separate beings on two separate journeys. The questions that haunted us, such as the big question of who got the worst end of the deal, seem muted. Our mates had to deal with death and dying, and we had to deal with grief and living. It all seems the same now — life and death — though perhaps it’s more that we’re used to them being gone than that we made any great leap of understanding. We also don’t feel their absence the way we once did. The clawing yearning to see our mates once more has by now muted to a gentler feeling of intermittent melancholy.

Although my fifth year of grief doesn’t start for another two weeks, I am getting an inkling that this is going to be the main challenge of the coming year — dealing with grief’s absence. Grief was a part of my life for a very long time and the immensity of the loss and the enormity of the pain gave my life a feeling of epic importance, as if I were standing on the very edge of eternity. Well, eternity has retreated, and I am left with the ordinariness of life, and that ordinariness seems . . . well, it seems ordinary. Still, the lessons of grief taught me well, and so I will continue to take each day as it comes. Continue to find something to look forward to rather than simply existing. Continue to look for something to be passionate about, even if it’s just life itself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Few Moments in an Unsettling Dream

I woke too early this morning and a hard time getting back to sleep. When I finally dozed off, I dreamt of my deceased life mate/soul mate. The events in the dream must have taken place at the end of his life when he was so often disoriented, because he was trying to cook something, and he continued pouring whatever it was into the pan after the pan was filled, getting the food all over the stove, him, the floor, even me. I tried to catch his attention so he’d stop, and when I couldn’t, I slapped him to bring him back to reality.

I don’t know where that dream came from. I seldom dream of him, and never once did I slap him in real life, especially not at the end when it took all he had just to get through another hour — or even minute — of life. I never even considered slapping him. I hate women who slap men. If it’s not okay for men to raise a hand to women, it’s just as not okay for women to raise a hand to men, no matter what the provocation.

During those last weeks of his life, I was so eaten up with sorrow for him and for me, so focused on him and his well being, or rather his as-well-as-possible being, that I found infinite patience. (It was the year before that, when I didn’t know what was happening to him, when he became a stranger I didn’t even particularly like, that too often I found myself impatient. But even then I never raised a hand to him, though I did sometimes bristle and clench my fists in frustration.)

Still, whatever the origin of the dream, it’s left me feeling teary and even ashamed as if I really had slapped him. Although I always miss him and never forget him, I sometimes forget that once I lived a different life — a life with him — and the dream reminded me of that life. I do know that if he had continued to live, life would have been pure torture for both of us, and the dream reminded me of that particular reality. But oh, it was so good to see him, if only for a few brief moments in an unsettling dream.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Camping on the Edge of Life

Too often now I feel as if I am camping on the edge of life. To a certain extent, this feeling comes from my current living situation. I am staying with my 96-year-old father to make sure he retains his independence as long as possible, but since his house is fully furnished, that means most of my stuff is in storage. I have my clothes, of course, my computer, my own towels, a few kitchen items, a couple of furniture pieces (such as the table and chair I’m presently using for my desk) — just enough to connect me to the past but not enough to make me feel settled. I won’t be staying here once my father is gone campingand that knowledge also keeps me from feeling settled, makes me feel as if I am just camping in. (Rather than camping out.)

More than that, though, this feeling of camping on the edge of life comes from being single in a coupled world. It’s been three and a third years since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I’m still not comfortable with his being gone. Despite that, quite inexplicably I’m forgetting that I once shared my life, once loved deeply, once felt as if I lived smack dab in the middle of life. As my grief continues to wane, as I move further from him, it seems as if this is lonely existence is what my life has always been — and it should be enough, but it isn’t. Not yet.

We live in a world where movies, books, songs, videos, shows, ads and commercials all extol the virtue of being in an intimate relationship. Love makes the world go round. You’re nobody till somebody loves you. All you need is love. Love makes you feel complete. Love makes you feel fulfilled. Love makes life worth living.

This constant barrage of coupled love and happily ever after is a sad message for many of us — either we lost our love too soon through death or divorce, or never found someone in the first place.

Intellectually, I know that whatever I am doing or feeling is life. Being together or being alone, feeling fulfilled or feeling unfulfilled — all of it is life. And yet, I can’t help feeling that something is missing.

It might sound as if I’m looking for someone to share my life with, but I’m not. I’m just aware of the realities of being uncoupled in a coupled world. I suppose there will come a time when I embrace the freedom of my alonehood, and plunge deep into the heart of life, but for now, all logic to the contrary, I feel as if I am camping on the edge of life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief: “It was a long time ago.”

Last night I watched the 2002 movie Heaven Must Wait. In one scene, Andrew McCarthy tells Louise Lombard that his mother died. She told him she was sorry. He said, “It was a long time ago.”

And I started crying.

I don’t know why that line struck me as being so poignant since I’ve heard the same sentiment in dozens of movies during the past few years. Maybe it was the sadly resigned way McCarthy delivered the line. Perhaps it was the underlying truth of the words — that time passes. Probably it was the reminder that my life mate/soul mate is moving further and further away from me. Or am I moving away from him? Either way, time is separating us.

Certain parts of our shared life are still very fresh in my mind: the day we met, the last time I held him in my arms, the moment of his death. It sometimes seems we parted such a short time ago that he could still be at home, waiting for me. But the years are passing. That first year crept by slowly, as if time itself were reluctant to let him go, but the years are beginning to pass swiftly now. It’s been more than three years since he died. Soon it will be four years, then five. And some day, I too will say, “It was a long time ago.”

Who will I be then? What will I have done? Will I still miss him? Of course I will miss him. I will always miss him. He was a major part of my life for thirty-four years, but with the passing years, his influence on my life might wane. Other experiences will have an impact on me. Other thoughts will change the way I view life. And he will have no part in any of it.

I don’t cry much for him any more. Days, weeks go by dry-eyed, though I have occasional upsurges of sadness. “Long time ago” is still a long way away, and yet last night I had the first inkling that such a time is approaching. And so, I cried for the coming years when he will be so very far from me that the tears will no longer come.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A New Permutation Of Grief?

The months keep passing. Thirty-seven of them have come and gone since the death of my life mate/soul mate.

I never imagined I would continue to be so affected by his absence after all this time. And back at the beginning of this bereft life, I never imagined I would survive to this point. The pain and shock of new grief was so vast that it took my breath away. (Grammar Check has underlined that phrase “took my breath away” as being trite. They want me to change it to “astounded me.” Yes, the pain astounded me, but the truth is, it literally took my breath away. I remember gasping for air, unable to suck enough oxygen into my lungs to make them inflate.)

Even now, all these months later, the thought that he is dead still has the power to steal my breath.

I am doing as well as anyone who has lost the one person who connected them to the world, and perhaps a bit better — or worse — than some in my “grief age group.” (Though this is not a contest. We have all lost, and we keep on losing every day they are Low tidegone.) I can get through the days, sometimes quite peacefully. I am lonely, of course, and even more than that, I am lonesome for him, but still, I do okay. I keep busy, both online and off, and I am getting used to his absence. Sort of.

But . . . when I remember the reason that he is absent — that he is dead, gone from this earth, forever beyond the reach of my arms — I again forget how to breathe. I gasp for air that somehow doesn’t make it beyond the tears that are blocking my throat.

Tears always seem to be pooling deep inside, even when I am at my most content, and they spill over at the least provocation. I find myself crying at losses (my own and other people’s, especially if they have lost a soul mate). I cry at changes, including change of season. (I’m not crying because the seasons changed, of course, but seasonal changes create corresponding hormonal changes in the body, and those changes bring on the tears.)

And I cry at movies. I’ve been going through my mate’s movie collection, and it’s rare for me to get through an entire movie without tears. I cry when a character leaves, because it reminds me that he left. I cry when a character returns because it reminds me that he never will come back. I cry at the moments we used to turn to each other and smile in shared enjoyment. The last time I watched these movies, I watched them with him, and sometimes I weep when the movie is over, no matter what the ending, because never again will I watch it with him.

This oversensitivity and tears might be a new permutation of grief (others who have lost their mates around the same time I did are also dealing with this same tendency to weepiness). Or it could be that my grief has changed me in some fundamental way, and now tears are a way of life.

Whatever the reason, this hypersensitivity is just something else to deal with as the months — and years — of this grief journey slip by.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

I Don’t Want Your Sympathy

If you think I write about grief to elicit sympathy or to look for a shoulder to lean on, well . . .  you just don’t get it.

As I’ve said so often, I started writing about grief to make sense of my own feelings, and I kept doing so as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs.

Although I am a private person, not given to airing my problems in public, I thought it wrong to continue the charade that life goes on as normal after losing the one person who makes life worth living. So, over the past three years, I have made it my mission to tell the truth about grief. Even though I have mostly reached the stage of peace, and life is opening up again, at least a little bit, grief is still a part of my life. There is a void in my world — an absence — where he once was, and that void shadows me and probably always will. Although his death changed the circumstances of my life, thrusting me into an alien world, grief — living with it, dealing with it, accepting it — changed me . . . forever. It has made me who I am today and who I will become tomorrow — strong, confident, and able to handle anything that comes my way. (And maybe even a bit tough to deal with at times.)

Would I prefer to have him in my life? Absolutely. But that is not an option. All I can do, all any of us can do, is deal with what lies before us, regardless of a society that frowns on mourning.

But I don’t need sympathy, I don’t need you to bleed for me, and I don’t need your shoulder to lean on. So what if I’m unhappy? Does that diminish your happiness? If it does, then that’s your problem, not mine. And you miss the point of these grief blogs —  to survive a horrifyingly grievous loss by finding my footing in an unbalanced and alien world.

I do want something from you, though. If you are still coupled, I want you to smile at your loved one tonight instead of kicking him or her in the shin as you might prefer to do. I want you pause to hug him or her, and maybe give an extra kiss. This is an incredible gift I am giving you — a memory to cling to if ever you should become one of us bereft.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

My Aching Breaking Heart

My heart is breaking. I thought when my life mate/soul mate died that the organ had shattered beyond repair, but it must have healed because I feel as if it is breaking again.

When I first entered the world of grief, I was stunned by the constant assault of emotions, physical reactions, mental conflicts and torments because I’d never heard of such grief. Well, there was that one old woman who wore black the whole of her life, celebrating her widowhood, and occasionally there would be talk of someone keening in agony at her husband’s funeral. I thought those were isolated cases of unbalanced women, but I am not unbalanced. (And probably they weren’t, either.)

I wrote about what I was going through so I could try to make sense of the onslaught, and it helped. Blogging about grief also helped because I met many others on the same journey, which brought me comfort, and a few who were years ahead of me, which brought me hope.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this fathomless grief set me aside from everyone else, and perhaps I even thought I should have special consideration because of my situation. Then others I knew lost someone they loved, and I realized grief didn’t make me special. It just made me . . . bereft.

After three years, I am still sad. I tend to think I’m not making any progress, but then I hear from women who just lost their husbands, and I am drenched in tears, remembering what it was like when grief was new. And I can see how very far I have come. Sail AwayBut I also know what these women are feeling and how much they will have to deal with in the coming months and years, and my heart breaks for them.

How is it possible that so many of us have lost our mates and soul mates? It’s like a bizarre dance of butterflies, where those we love flit into our lives, bringing wonder and color and joy, and then they flit away, leaving us devastated. How can the world survive when it is so awash in grief? (Perhaps that’s where the oceans came from — the tears of the bereft. After all, throughout the ages, billions of people have mourned for their dead.)

Sometimes I see a photo of or an article about a couple who has been married for forty or fifty years. They always have helpful advice about how they stayed together for so long, but the truth is, despite all their ways of keeping love alive, the reason they were together so long is that one of them didn’t die. Not every loving couple gets that opportunity.

And my heart breaks for the ones left behind.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Thirty-Seven Months of Grief

Today it is 37 months since my life mate/soul mate died. It is also a Saturday, and for more than two and a half years, Saturday was my sadder day. He died late Friday night or early Saturday morning, depending on how you look at it, and often my mind/body saw it both ways, with an upswing of grief on Friday that grew to a crescendo on Saturday and didn’t dissipate until sometime on Sunday. Even if I paid no attention to the calendar, grief surged, which always mystified me — how could my body know when I didn’t? And when the date of his death (the 27th) fell on a Saturday, that was always a double whammy of grief.

But today, I don’t feel much of anything. Well, the usual thread of sadness that bastes my life together, but other than that, I am mostly . . . blank. And tired. I am tired of his being gone. Tired of being sad. Tired of being lonely. Tired of this alien world that still, after all this time, doesn’t quite seem normal with him out of it. Tired of trying to be positive and open to new experiences. Tired of trying to find a way to live through the rest of my life. (Hmmm. Maybe I’m just tired?)

Those who still have their mates simply live. We live without. It colors our world and depletes our energy.

I’m sitting here staring at the page, too blank to think of anything to say about grief that I haven’t already said a dozens times before: I miss him. I yearn for one more smile from hm. I hope he is happy. I hope he is. That’s just the way it is, and probably always will be.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Nothing is Trivial When Dealing With Grief

It’s amazing to me how the most trivial things can take on significance when it comes to the loss of the person who connected you to the world.

Yesterday I was clearing out a mini in-basket where my life mate/soul mate kept stamps and related items, such as postage rates and receipts. Up until now, I’ve just left the basket intact. In those first months after his death, I couldn’t bear to use the last stamps we ever bought together, so I set the basket aside and ignored it. Enough time has passed that those stamps now seem like ordinary, insignificant postage, so I dug them out, sorted through the papers in the basket, and threw away the outdated rates and receipts.

One of the things I found in the basket was a simple note he had written: 44¢. That’s all it said. He wrote it in green ink on yellow paper about two-and-half-inches square, so that despite his worsening vision, he could see at a glance what the current postage rates were.

I hesitated a moment before tossing out the note. As unimportant as the paper was, it seemed to be a symbol of how bit-by-bit, his erstwhile place in the world and my life was disappearing. Most of his things are gone now, and attrition has eliminated many of “our’ things — towels worn out, spoons lost, cups broken.

The first time I broke a cup, it about devastated me. I remember crying as if it were my heart and not a piece of crockery that had shattered. As I wrote back then, “I broke a cup today, one more thing gone out of the life we shared. Our stuff is going to break, wear out, get used up. I’ll replace some of it, add new things, write new books, and it will dilute what we shared. Is there going to be anything left of ‘us’? I feel uncomfortable in this new skin, this new life, as if it’s not mine. As if I’m wearing clothes too big and too small all at the same time.”

Still, I did throw out the paper. It seemed foolish to keep it, especially considering that postage rates have gone up since then. And I’m no longer newly bereft, clinging to anything of his to bring me comfort.

If the paper had remained in the trash, there would be story, but a little later, I retrieved the paper and put it back in the basket. My rationale was that someday, perhaps, I’d like to know what the postage rate was on the day he died. But grief has no rationality. I simply could not let go of that newly significant slip of paper.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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