Was a Horoscope Ever More Wrong?

On a jaunt around the internet, I happened on my horoscope for 2012.

The year 2012 is going to be favorable for you. You will surprise your partner and add some spice to your relationship. Harmony will be there, but you will have to put in more effort on your life partner to keep him satisfied.

An explosion of emotions is most likely to happen in the second half of the year. Neither you nor your life partner will be ready to compromise. If the relationship is already dead, it is no use giving any advice. You will be more inclined to retreat and you will feel more comfortable with some distance between you and the outside world. It is your way of regaining your strength. Your partner might be surprised by your wish for solitude if you refuse to share certain moments with him — that’s why it is essential you talk to him to avoid any misunderstanding.

Well, they got one thing right — the relationship couldn’t be deader. It’s hard to add spice to a relationship when only one of the people in the relationship is still alive, or to satisfy someone who has been dead for two years. There isn’t much space for compromise between the living and the dead. Nor is there any need to avoid misunderstandings.

(I thought I could write an amusing rebuttal to this horoscope, but apparently I’ve run out of “amusing.” I don’t seem to have the knack of black humor, and I see nothing to laugh at when it comes to death. Perhaps death is too important not to joke about, but I can’t make light of it. Death devastates the living, and grief for sure is no joking matter.)

Still Confounded by Grief

For two years, my reaction to the death of my life mate/soul mate has bewildered me. I knew he was dying and I’d spent over a decade preparing myself for that eventuality. I thought I’d accepted the inevitable, but now I see I was merely resigned (and perhaps exhausted). Still, I am independent-minded, always have been. I know how to do things on my own, know how to entertain myself, know how to take care of myself. I’ve never been afraid of being alone, never been one to hide behind pretty lies or protective fantasies. And yet his death devastated me as much as it confounded me. In fact, after almost two years (two years minus two days, to be exact; 729 days) I still feel lost, still feel broken.

Not all deaths affect people the same. My mother died three years before my mate, and my brother died a year before that. My grief for them was what I used to consider “normal.” I missed them and felt bad that they were gone, but my life went on without any major upheavals. But when my mate died, it was a cataclysm, affecting every part of my life. And the strong connection we always had, a cosmic-twin sort of connection, was broken.

The day before my mother’s funeral, I broke my ankle, so I spent her viewing at the emergency room and I spent her funeral at the bone specialist. It turns out that what I had was a very bad sprain, so bad that when the ligaments tore away, they cracked the bone.

I realize now this same sort of thing happened when my mate died. Whatever connection we had was so strong that when he was torn away from me and our life, it fractured me. This fracture had nothing to do with my being weak or too dependent on him or unwilling to face the truth or any of the other snide rationalities people have made about my sorrow. However deep and prolonged, my grief for him is normal and understandable. It takes a long time for a broken bone to heal and regain its former strength. How much longer must it take when one’s psyche has been broken.

And so, I still deal with the fracture his death caused in me, and I still deal with the bewilderment of his death. Perhaps when he died, he took a chunk of me with him, the same way bone still adheres to torn ligaments, and so part of me would be wherever he is, if he is. His death felt like an amputation, and I can no longer feel that part of me where we were attached. Some people still feel connected to those who are gone, but I never do. I merely feel his goneness, his absence, which seems as strong as his presence once did. And I still feel fractured. Still feel lost. Perhaps to a certain extent I will always feel this way, because the cause of this loss, his being dead, will always be a part of me. And that is one truth I wish I didn’t have to face.

Falling into Grief

I wonder how much of grief is hormonal. I often think of the young women who have their lives mapped out, want to accomplish so much, are on the fast track to success and then . . . whap. They meet the love of their life, and all of a sudden, their lives, their plans, their dreams all change. Those sex/nesting/procreating hormones are so powerful, they can derail your life, make you see things in a different light, make you do things you would never do. Women who never wanted kids start dreaming of cradling sweet-smelling bundles, look for houses in neighborhoods with good schools, invest in SUVs. People call this maturity, but basically, it’s just hormones and preprogrammed DNA kicking in. After all, in terms of genetics and evolution, we are just DNA machines, and everything works together to make sure we do our duty.

Grief does the same thing. It makes us see things in a different light, makes us want things we’d never thought about, derails all our plans, makes us do and feel things we never thought possible. Changes us. People think grief is a choice, but it isn’t — it’s something that’s thrust on us. There is no way we can choose to feel things we never imagined possible. I thought grief was a quiet melancholy, a sweet nostalgia, a pervasive sadness. Grief, for me was none of those things. (Well, that’s not strictly true — it’s how I felt when my brother and my mother died, but did not at all resemble how I felt after my life mate/soul mate died.)

A friend of mine wrote me: I have done therapy for 40 years. I have worked with people who have lost kids, spouses, parents, dogs everyone and every kind of pet. I had NO clue what it was really like in spite of losing my best friends and parents. I think a therapist who counsels someone in grief should have gone through a loss like you and I have before she/he tries to help someone. God knows there are enough of us out here who REALLY know grief. NOW I am one of them. (I hope she doesn’t mind I passed this on, but it is too important to keep to myself.)

Before people fall in love, they haven’t a clue of its true power, and then it washes over them in a life-changing moment. Before you fall into grief, you haven’t a clue of its true power,  but it too washes over you in a life-changing moment, and all but drowns you. Even though I’ve experienced so much of what grief does to a person, I still can’t believe its power. The way grief reflects falling in love as in a very dark mirror, there has to be a hormonal component. I know stress releases hormones, as does shock. Adrenaline courses through your body, and there are changes in brain chemistry that produce hormones. Your immune system goes on hold.

Do our bodies know we are no longer mated and ratchet back the DNA machine? I do know there is some effect on the limbic system. The lizard brain, which has been slumbering peacefully beneath our consciousness, wakes up and screams, “What?? I could die?? Say it isn’t so!” That’s a bit fanciful, so many of us feel it deep inside, the hurt of an animal who suddenly realizes there is an end. (As if there isn’t enough to contend with when if comes to grief.)

I don’t suppose it really matters what causes the physiological changes of grief — hormones, stress, agony, lizard brains. The primary cause is what matters. Someone we were deeply connected to died, and we fell into grief.

The Shoulder Season of Grief

I had a rough time around the publication of my new book, Grief: The Great Yearning, due partly to the fact that the story of me and my life mate/soul mate has been told and is now contained between the covers of a book, and partly to the realization once and for all that he is never coming back. I already knew that of course, knew it from the moment he died, and I came to that same realization dozens of times afterward, but this time I reached rock bottom of acceptance, and it took. Surprisingly, the last couple of days have been good ones. My emotional state evened out, and I felt light. It wasn’t just that my grief took a hiatus, but also that my anger had dissipated. I’ve been angry for so long, since way before he died, that it became my default state. Because of that, I didn’t even realize I’ve been angry.

For many years, we sustained loss after loss — his health, our business, security — and finally, his life. So many reasons to be angry. I haven’t been furious or enraged, just a quiet anger that went soul deep. So, why did the anger leave me, even if only temporarily? I don’t know. Perhaps because the realization he is never coming back brought the knowledge that the past really is the past. Or perhaps this is simply the latest stage of my grief, a letting go. Or perhaps it’s because spring is almost here.

Whatever the reason, I no longer fear the third year of grief. I expect to experience grief upsurges, but for the most part, I think I’ll be entering the shoulder season of grief.

In the travel business, the time between the high season and the low season is called the shoulder season. I’m coming up on the two-year anniversary of his death. I will probably have some unbearably sad days as the date approaches, but after the anniversary, I could be entering a time of not-grief but not non-grief, either, a bit of a shoulder between the wildness of my early grief and the road to the rest of my life.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, but I feel a quickening of interest. If I let myself, I still panic at the thought of growing old alone, of being old alone, of dying (although the idea of being dead doesn’t bother me, dying does — it can be a terrible thing) but I still have many good years left. I actually might accomplish something. Or not. I’m not sure if I want to “do” or if I want simply to “be”. I do have a new philosophy, though — the platinum rule. If the golden rule is to treat others the way you would want them to treat you, then the platinum rule is to treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you. So, I intend to be kind to myself, to be patient with my deficiencies, to be proud of my accomplishments. And I intend to encourage myself to be bold and adventurous.

Sounds like a good beginning to my shoulder season of grief.

Grief: Love or Codependency?

Heavy winds today reminded me of a walk I took thirty-five years ago. (Weird, huh? Hadn’t thought about that day in a very long time.) It was a lovely spring evening, or rather, it would have been if it weren’t for the winds. But I was too restless to stay inside. This was about six months after I met the man I would spend the next few decades with, and like a homing pigeon, I headed for his store even though I knew he wouldn’t be there. I wanted to feel connected to him, even if in such a minor way.

When you fall in love, such bits of silliness are expected and excused. Apparently, they are understandable in the context of new love. But when you spend a lifetime with someone, and you still have that connection, people start looking askance, thinking that perhaps you’re codependent. And when he dies, leaving you feeling as if half of you died, too, then the pointing figures become more . . . pointed.

A few days ago I posted my latest chapter of the collaborative novel Rubicon Ranch that I’m writing with eight other authors. In my chapter, I wrote:

Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered her husband when they first met. His hazel eyes had blazed with golden lights as he smiled at her, and young fool that she’d been, she’d been dazzled. They had a great life, or so it had seemed. She’d felt safe with him as they traveled the world over. And free. What need had she of a house, a car, kids when she had him?

Well, now she had nothing but debts. And doubts. Had Alexander ever loved her as she loved him?

Today I had a bizarre little exchange with a total stranger. He wrote: “This excerpt suggests your ‘young’ lady may benefit from CODA; this is like AA for Co-dependency; a peer support group[P2P] that provides support for individuals struggling to devise[and adhere to] a recovery plan[WRAP].”

I responded: “Maybe she simply loved her husband. Not all people who are deeply connected to another human being have codependency issues. Her surviving her spouse’s suspicious death confuses the matter, makes her wonder what was real. Perfectly normal behavior under the circumstances. Grief skews one’s perceptions.”

His response: “Kinda my point! How do we define for ourselves what is real love, or a symptom of dependency? …define for ourselves who is grieving; who is stuck in this codependency conundrum?”

There is no codependency conundrum here. Just because two human beings are depending on each other for love and support, it does not make them a therapist’s subject. And even if only one of the parties is in love, as might be the case in my story’s scenario, it still doesn’t make the one who loves codependent. Unrequited love is still love.

It’s very simple. Love means wanting what is best for the other. You help each other grow. You never expect the other to fix your individual problems, though you often take each other’s advice. You don’t cling, demand, or base your relationship on unrealistic expectations. Together you provided a safe environment where each can be yourself. And you support each other any way you can. No matter how connected you feel or how bereft you are when your mate dies, if the relationship helped make you grow, made you a better person, it is not codependency no matter how it appears to outsiders.

Admittedly, this exchange was about a character in a book, but I’ve had similar conversations with people about my grief, as if grieving for a life mate/soul mate is somehow . . . sick. As if it makes me un-well-adjusted. The truth is, I am very well adjusted, so much so that I’ve been willing to make my grief public in an effort to spread the word that it is okay to grieve.

And it is okay. Don’t let anyone blow off your grief.

Passing the Test of Grief

I am still freaked out by the imminent publication of my book, Grief: The Great Yearning. Still crying intermittently. I knew I was due for a grief upsurge since I’ve been careful to turn my mind to other things the past month or so, and grief can only be denied for so long, but this upsurge is different. It feels like the end of something — perhaps the end of a subliminal belief that his dying was a test. It could still be a test, but the reward for accomplishing this particular task of dealing with the fallout from the death of my life mate/soul mate is not our getting back together, at least not in this lifetime. And maybe not in the next. Maybe the only reward is in what I become because of his death and my grief.

When we met, I still believed in a cosmic plan, and I had the feeling that he was a higher being come to help me on my quest to the truth. But now? I no longer believe there is a universal truth, and I don’t think he’s waiting for me, though I try to pretend that he is. It’s better than believing that he is gone forever.

And perhaps he does still exist in some form. What do I know? One thing I have learned from my grief is that a human life is a spectrum. You don’t notice it so much when you are both alive, because you are both in the moment, both always the people you have become. But when one of you dies, his becoming ceases, and you see his life as a whole. The person he was when you met is every bit as alive in memory as the person he was the minute before he died. The youthful man, the middle-aged one, the healthy one, the sick one are all merely spaces on the spectrum of his life. It’s possible the spectrum of a human life is the same sort of spectrum as light — beginning long before the visible part appears and ending long after the visible part disappears. Of course, the non-visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum aren’t light but sound and radiation and other invisible waves, so whatever exists outside of the visible human spectrum might be something completely different from we can ever imagine.

It’s this sort of speculation that gives rise to the feeling that my grief has been test — a game, perhaps — something that is not quite real. If I keep philosophizing about death and what comes after, then I don’t have to deal with the reality that for the rest of my life, I will have to survive without the one person who knew me, who listened, who helped, who cared about every aspect of my being.

It seems as every step of this journey is worse than the last, and this next part, where I truly understand that he is gone and that I truly am alone is going to be the hardest. It takes my breath away to think of it, and leaves me teary.

Maybe grief was just the pop quiz. Maybe the real test is what I do with the rest of my life.

Grief Means Never Having to Say I’m Sorry

I found myself crying yesterday morning. Nothing major, just a few tears and a desperate plea for forgiveness from my life mate/soul mate. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I wailed, as if I had done something to make him leave me and now I’m left to suffer the consequences. I did nothing, of course, and he didn’t leave me — he died. But somewhere in the depths of my being, I cannot process his death. I witnessed his last days, weeks, hours. I was there for his last breath. I saw the nurses clean him, wrap him in a white blanket shroud. Accompanied the gurney out to the hearse (a black SUV, actually). Watched the SUV drive away. Picked up his ashes several days later. There is no doubt in my mind he is dead. And yet . . . and yet . . .

I mentioned in my post a couple of days ago that there is an element of blank when it comes to death, a non-comprehension of what it means for him to be so very gone from this earth. I must have assumed that his death would feel as if he’s in another room, or out running errands, or some such. But it doesn’t feel like that at all. It feels like there’s a massive void where once he lived in my mind, my heart.

Last night, when I got the final proof of my grief book, I starting sobbing because the reality of his death really struck home. As I wrote to a bereft friend, “I haven’t cried this long for many weeks, but now I can’t stop crying. All of a sudden it is too damn real. He never is coming back, is he? It really is over. I feel as if I have been playing at grief these past months, and now playtime is finished, and real life begins. I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”

I knew he wasn’t coming back. I accepted that he was dead from the moment he died. But there’s been something unreal about my grief. I am not an emotional person. I’m very staid and down-to-earth, but his death rocketed me out of myself into another persona, and last night I felt as if I’m settling back into my old self. And he is dead for real.

How many times can one man die? When it comes to grief, apparently there are more deaths than one, and we grieve for every single one of them. Knowing that Grief: The Great Yearning is finished, knowing that our story has been told and that it even has an ending, has brought the truth home to me on a deeper level than ever before. No more waiting for him to call to tell me I can come home. No more hoping to meet him for a mountain rendezvous or a swim in a north country lake. There’s just me, now, and the memories that haunt me.

And I am so very sorry that he is gone.

The Final Resting Place for My Grief

I’ve been working on my new book Grief: The Great Yearning for the past couple of months, trying to get it as perfect as possible for publication, though I doubt anyone will notice if there are any typos. So, far, no one has been able to read it without weeping, and tears would mask any imperfections.

The text has been ready for over a month, but for some reason, the printer kept smearing the back cover copy. This sort of delay drove me nuts with my other books, but I’ve been patient with this one. I know it’s important to get it published, and yet I’m ambivalent. Do I really want all those raw emotions let loose on the world? Forever after, I will be a grieving woman. Even if I find happiness in some unimaginable future, my grief will still be there in my words, as desperate and real and profound as the day I felt them.

Today I received the final proof, and it is perfect. (Well, perfect except for the typo or two I have since found, but I am NOT going to worry about those.)

I’m sitting here weeping as I write this. I don’t know why the publication of this book makes the death of my life mate/soul mate final, but it does. His death and my grief are no longer my personal affair, but something real, something books are made of. He has no funeral plot, no memorial, no epitaph engraved for all eternity. Or rather, he didn’t have those things. Now he does — this book is his epitaph, his memorial, the final resting place for my grief.

It’s as if the past thirty-six years, and especially the past twenty-three months culminated in this one moment tonight when I held the book in my hands. Where did it all go? Where did he go? Where did my love go? How can our shared life, begun with such hope and radiance, have ended already?

I know now there are worse deaths than his, and there are worse fates than mine, but still, this wasn’t the way things were supposed to end. We always took care of ourselves, didn’t make stupid or foolish decisions, didn’t act rashly. We were kind to each other, looked out for each other, respected each other. We shared as much as is possible for two people to share. And this is how it ended: between the covers of a 166 page book.

It will still be a few days before Grief: The Great Yearning appears on Amazon in print and Kindle, and a few more days before it shows up on B&N, Apple, and the various other ebook sources, but my part is finished. And suddenly, I don’t want to let go.

Counting Down to the Second Anniversary of Grief

And so begins the countdown to the two-year anniversary of my life mate’s death.

I don’t know why the second anniversary of his death has me so spooked. I can’t imagine there are many surprises left for me when it comes to grief, though everything about grief up to this point has shocked me. I was shocked that I even felt grief — he’d been sick for so long, and I’d been looking forward to an ending for his pain that it never occurred to me that I would feel more than relief at his death. I was shocked by the severity of my grief and its global nature, affecting as it does, body, mind, emotions, equilibrium. I was shocked by the recurring violent upsurges of grief that made it seem as if he’d left the earth that very moment instead of months previously. I was shocked by how long grief takes. And mostly I’ve been shocked and continue to be shocked by how very gone he is.

His goneness still affects me, still bewilders me. We spent most of our time together for thirty-four years, and now he’s . . . gone. He’s not just gone from my life, he’s gone from the earth. If he were still here, maybe living with a new love, I’d miss him, and probably would be furious at him for what he put me through, but I could understand that. What I can’t understand is his total goneness. There is a void where he once was, a blankness that my mind cannot comprehend.

Still, this noncomprehension is something I am getting used to. The rough edges of the void are smoothing out, and I don’t always bang my mental shins on that enormous mindblock, though I do occasionally get a freefalling-elevator feeling when the thought hits me . . . again . . . that he is dead.

The countdown to the first anniversary of his death was very painful. It was as if I were reliving the last weeks of his life, feeling everything that I couldn’t let myself feel when I lived through it. This countdown to the second anniversary is mild compared to that, so why am I dreading the anniversary itself? I don’t know, unless I’m afraid grief still has more surprises. Or maybe I’m afraid that it holds no more surprises, and for the rest of my life I will be moving further and further away from our shared life into . . . what? I still don’t know.

For thirty-four years I was constantly aware of his presence. Even if we weren’t in the same room, I was aware of his nearness. For the past twenty-three months, I have been constantly aware of his absence. Even when I don’t consciously remember that he’s dead, there is that subliminal feeling of blank.

This blog might make you think that I have done nothing for the past twenty-three months but sit around and feel sorry for myself, and that is far from the truth. From the beginning, despite the overwhelming agony of my grief, I have taken life into my hands and run with it. I relocated a thousand miles from where we lived to help care for my 95-year-old father. I’ve traveled to new cities, made excursions to museums, fairs, expositions. I’ve walked thousands of miles, lifted weights, eaten in dozens of restaurants, sampled new foods. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts, participated in several different writing projects, read hundreds of books, made new friends.

Yet, here I am, counting down the days to the second anniversary of his death, and I still don’t know where I am going, or if I am even going anywhere. Still don’t know how to live with his ever-present absence in my life.

People keep telling me I need to focus on others, that doing volunteer work and such is how one gets through this, but I’m wondering if perhaps I need to focus on myself. He may be absent, but I am still here.

Grief Update — Twenty-Three Months

Twenty-three months ago my life mate/soul mate died. There are times when his goneness from my life is as fresh as the day he died, and other times, like today, I can take it in stride. Of course, I’m dealing with a bad cold right now, and I need to keep my focus firmly on myself since grief depresses the immune system, so I’m not allowing myself to think of his being dead, and I’m not allowing myself to think of all the lonely years ahead.

Whether I take my new life in stride, or whether I dissolve into tears, it still comes down to the same thing — that he is dead. The world seemed to dim the day he died, and in all these months, the brightness never returned. I don’t know if it ever will.

People keep telling me not to live in the past, yet at the same time, they tell me that he lives in my memory. Seems contradictory, doesn’t it? My memory is the past. (Or is the past my memory?) And anyway, it’s impossible to live in the past. It’s . . . passed. Even if I could go to the past, where would I go? So much of our time together was unhappy. How could it have been otherwise with his ill heath? Even thoughts of our incredible meeting almost thirty-six years ago bring me sadness. I remember how intelligent and vibrant, wise and radiant he was, and then I remember his end where he was so drugged he could barely string two words together. But I loved him at the beginning and I loved him at the end and I still love him today.

They tell me love doesn’t die, and apparently that is true, but what does one do with a love that has no end? It’s like live wire with no grounding. Some day, I imagine, I will find a grounding, perhaps in my writing.

Today, for the first time in a long while, I felt the joy of writing. (And I had the concentration for it, something that has been missing for the past few years, not just since his death, but during the hellacious two years that preceded it.) I’m collaborating with other Second Wind Publishing authors on Rubicon Ranch, and today I had to write my chapter. My character is easy to write — she is struggling to survive the death of her husband, and somehow death keeps finding her. Art imitating life? Or just my finding it impossible to imagine being anyone else but a woman struggling to survive the loss of her mate?

The struggle for survival and autonomy still forms my days. Even when I don’t think of him, I know he is absent. Even when I don’t consciously yearn for him, something deep inside me reaches out for him. We were deeply connected for a very long time, and twenty-three months doesn’t even begin to lessen that bond.

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