I Am a Twelve-Month Grief Survivor

Twelve months.

One full year.

It seems impossible that my life mate — my soul mate — has been gone for so long. It seems even more impossible that I’ve survived.

His death came as no surprise. I’d seen all the end signs: his unending restlessness, his inability to swallow, his disorientation, his wasting away to nothing, the change in his breathing. Nor did my reaction come as a surprise. I was relieved he’d finally been able to let go and that his suffering (and the indignities of dying) had stopped. I was relieved his worst fear (lingering or a long time as a helpless invalid) had not had a chance to materialize. What did come as a surprise was my grief. I’d had years to come to terms with his dying. I’d gone through all the stages of grief, so I thought the only thing left was to get on with my life. And yet . . . there it was. His death seemed to have created a rupture in the very fabric of my being — a soulquake. The world felt skewed with him gone, and I had a hard time gaining my balance. Even now, I sometimes experience a moment of panic, as if I am setting a foot onto empty space when I expected solid ground.

I have no idea how I survived the first month, the second, the twelfth. All I know is that I did survive. I’m even healing. I used to think “healing” was an odd word to use in conjunction with grief since grief is not an illness, but I have learned that what needs to heal is that rupture — one cannot continue to live for very long with a bloody psyche. The rupture caused by his dying doesn’t yawn as wide as it once did, and the raw edges are finally scarring over. I don’t steel myself against the pain of living as I had been. I’m even looking forward, curious to what the future holds in store for me.

Strangely, I am not ashamed of all the tears I’ve shed this past year, nor am I ashamed of making it known how much I’ve mourned. The tears themselves are simply a way of easing the terrible stress of grief, a way of releasing chemicals that built because of the stress. And by making my grief public, I’ve met so many wonderful people who are also undertaking this journey.

I’ve been saying all along that I’d be okay eventually, but the truth is, despite the lingering sorrow, my yearning for him, and the upsurges in grief, I am doing okay now.

I expected this to be a day of sadness, but it is one of gladness. I am glad he shared his life (and his death) with me. Glad we had so many years together. Glad we managed to say everything that was necessary while we still had time. Tomorrow will be soon enough to try to figure out what I am going to do now that my first year of mourning is behind me. Today I am going to watch one of his favorite movies, eat a bowl of his chili (his because he created the recipe, his because he was the one who always fixed it), and celebrate his life.

Grief: Counting Down to the First Anniversary

In three days it will be a year since the death of my life mate — my soul mate. I’ve been counting down the days with tears. I would have thought I’d have finished my weeping months ago, and for the most part I have, but here it comes again. I’ve been keeping busy, not wanting to drown in sorrow. In fact, I’ll be leaving in a few minutes to have lunch with friends. Like me, they lost their mates, and so their presence is a comfort. We’ll laugh and talk, and that will keep the tears at bay, but when I get back to the house, I’ll probably be sad again. And that’s okay. I’m finding that now, after a wave of intense grief, there is a backwash of peace.

The anniversary itself was supposed to have been a good day for me, not a celebration so much as an acknowledgement that I survived the year. And perhaps it will be a good day despite the upsurge in sorrow. My latest book, Light Bringer — the last one he helped me research and edit, the last one I read to him as I was writing it — will be published on his death day as a memorial to him (though the book itself won’t be available for another week or so). The book is his epitaph, his tombstone, the final resting place for our joint efforts. (There is one more book he influenced, but that book is only half finished, and I haven’t had the heart to work on it.)

During all this year, I haven’t been able to eat the foods we fixed together (with the exception of salads. Those I still can eat, though why, I don’t know since salads were a major component of our meals). So I thought a good sign of my healing would be to fix one of those meals I haven’t been able to eat. Today I am going to get the ingredients for his chili, and on the anniversary, I will cook a batch in his honor. I will probably watch a movie that he taped for us, which is what we always did on special occasions.

He would have enjoyed such a day. I wish with everything I have that he were here, but of course, if he were here, there would be no such anniversary to endure, to acknowledge, yes, even to celebrate.

I Am a Ten-Month Grief Survivor

I mentioned to someone the other day that it’s been ten weeks since the death of my life mate and that I didn’t know how I managed to survive that long, then it hit me. It hasn’t been ten weeks. It’s been ten months. How is it possible to live almost a year with half your heart ripped out? I still don’t know, but I do the only thing I can: live.

After the nine-month mark, I had a respite from grief. I liked the symmetry of nine months of grief (gestation) before being born into a new life, but as happens with grief, the respite was merely that — a respite. A couple of weeks ago, the need to see my mate one more time grew so great it felt as if the yearning would explode from my body like the creature in Alien. The feeling came and went for a while, and now the creature has gone back into hibernation. But still, the yearning lingers.

I’m learning to live with the remnants of my grief. From others who have also borne such a loss, I’ve come to understand this is the next phase of grief — not soul-destroying pain as at the beginning, but blips of varying intensity and frequency. I know I can deal with this new stage of grief because I have been dealing with my grief all along, but still, a part of me rebels at the necessity.

Planning signifies hope and is supposed to be a sign of healing. Strangely (or perhaps not strangely; perhaps it’s to be expected ) every time I make plans, I have an upsurge of grief. Plans take me further away from him and our life. They remind me of similar things we did together, and they tell me that from now on, he won’t be sharing new experiences with me. Still, I am not holding myself back. I need to fill the hole he left behind, and new experiences are one way of doing that.

In the past four months I’ve gone to various art galleries. I’ve seen Mesoamerican antiquities, aristocratic clothing through the ages, local artists, classic art work. I went to a wild life sanctuary where they take care of captive-bred animals that zoos don’t want. I went to the beach. In May, I’ll be going to a writer’s conference where I’ll be a speaker.

All this shows that I’m moving on, and yet . . .

And yet he’s still gone. That goneness is something I struggle with — how can he be dead? I wanted his suffering to be over, so I was relieved when he died, but somehow I never understood how very gone he would be. I don’t want him to be gone, but he’s not coming back, and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.

The Healing Power of Stories

I attend a bereavement group every week, which surprises me, considering that I’ve always been a do-it-yourself sort. I only started going to the meetings because I wanted to know how to survive the terrible agony of grief I experienced after the loss of my mate. I didn’t learn how — it’s something no one can teach another — but I learned that one could survive those first unbelievably painful weeks when I met people who had survived them. I keep going to the group because of those same people. We have something in common, a shared understanding, a survivor’s respect. And now, after five months, I am one of those who, just by being there, show the newly shell-shocked bereaved that one can learn to live with the devastation of a major loss.

Each meeting begins with a lesson, and today’s lesson was about the importance of stories and how they help us heal. The people who attended the meeting today all happened to be women who had lost their mates after decades of being together, and the counselor asked each of us to tell the story not of our mates’ deaths, but of how we met. We all knew the end of each of our love stories — over the months we have told the story of our grief many times. But this is the first time we talked about the beginning of our love stories, and in those stories we found hope, comfort, smiles, a reconnection to our past.

According to the handout we were given, the benefits of telling stories are:

  • Searching for wholeness among our fractured parts
  • Coming to know who we are in new and unexpected ways
  • We can explore our past and come to a more profound understanding of our future direction
  • We can seek forgiveness and be humbled by our own mortality
  • We can discover the route to healing lies not only in the physical realm, but also in the emotional and spiritual realms.

An unexpected result of today’s lesson was a new understanding of the importance of writing. For me, anyway.

These past months, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I have always tried to lose myself — and find myself — in fictional worlds during periods of trauma, but this time it’s not working the way I hoped. I’m not finding healing in current books. The authors seem to be going for the shock effect of not-so-good versus unbelievably-outrageous-evil, for story people who have identifiable characteristics but no character, for fast-paced stories with little substance or truth. How does one find wholeness in such stories? How do we come to know each other or come to a more profound understanding of our future in trite mysteries and unrealistic thrillers?

Perhaps it’s not important. Maybe entertainment is all that counts when it comes to fiction, but I want something more. And I especially want something more when it comes to my own writing. I don’t know where grief is taking me — it is changing me in ways I cannot yet fathom — but I hope I will end up writing stories of truth, of understanding, of healing. I hope I will make people smile. I hope my words will matter.

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