The Return of the Sad Saturday

My life mate/soul mate died on a Saturday, and for a couple of years, I had an upsurge of grief every Saturday even when I didn’t realize what day it was. (Somehow my body remembered.) It’s been a long time since I’ve had a grief upsurge and an even longer time since I’ve had a sad Saturday, but today I am tearful. I seldom dream about him, but early this morning I dreamt that someone we both knew had died. As we looked at the empty bed, he said, “It’s strange that she died right after I invited her to live with us.” I responded, “Maybe that’s what allowed her to die. Maybe the point of life is death.”

I woke then, and remembered that he was dead, and it made me sad. I haven’t been thinking about him much lately. I’ve been keeping myself busy, trying to build strength and rebuild my life, but this morning, my whole house-of-cards life came tumbling down.

I just now returned from a ramble in the desert, so the sadness has dissipated a bit, but all the pieces of my life are still in a heap at my feet. As the next few days progress, I’ll pick up the pieces one by one, and maybe this time the structure I build will have more permanence. Or not. No matter how good an attitude I have, no matter how much I become immersed in life-affirming activities, he is still dead and there isn’t anything I can do about it. I just have to continue on, realizing that my life has worth. I have worth.

At the beginning of my grief, I could not fathom ever being happy again, which was okay since somehow I didn’t think I had the right to be happy, but I no longer think that way. If our positions were reversed, I wouldn’t want him to spend his life mourning for me.

Still, it’s only natural to feel sad and to miss the person who meant more than anyone else, so I’ll remember him with sadness today, remember what he meant to me, remember his courage and his smile.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to go about the business of rebuilding my life and finding whatever happiness I can.

***

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: 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.

Saturday, My Sadder Day

Another sad Saturday — 83 of them since my life mate died. Even when I don’t remember that it’s Saturday, or that Saturday is the day of the week he died, my body remembers, and my usual muted feeling of sadness becomes more pervasive. It’s not that I want to be sad; the sorrow just comes, especially when the weather is as perfect as today’s — warm, still, clear sky, bright sun, gently cooling breeze. I’d worry more about my continuing sadness except that I tend to be of a melancholic bent. And the sadness does reminds me to pay attention. Since he can no longer make note of a lovely day, it’s as if I need to appreciate it twice — once for me and once for him.

If Saturday is a sadder day than normal, that must be a sign that I am doing okay most of the time (otherwise I wouldn’t feel sadder; I’d just feel sad). The world still feels flawed, I still feel the phantom itch from where he was amputated from my life, and I still yearn to talk with him. Part of me (perhaps that fabled inner child?) cannot understand why I can’t call him to find out how he is doing, to see if he needs anything, to ask if I can come home. This yearning flares up every Saturday, as if he’s closer on this day, and it seems as if I should be able to reach out and touch him. But he’s gone, out of reach of even my sadness.

Oddly, in many respects, my life is much better now, at least temporarily, than it was at the end of “our” life. I don’t have to worry about him any more (though the habit of a lifetime is hard to break, so I wonder if he is feeling as lost and as alone as I sometimes feel). I have a lovely place to stay with proximity to wild spaces. I have a respite from bills and other such annoyances. I have time to indulge myself with small excursions and escapes.

But my heart doesn’t care for such things. It wants what it cannot have, especially on Saturday, my sadderday.

A Great Love Story

I’m working on my grief book, typing up my grief journal entries. I thought this would be a book about grief, but it seems more like a love story, which is so very ironic. Soon after I met my life mate — my soul mate — I quit my job to write. I wanted to tell the story of a great love that transcended time and physical bonds, told with wisdom and beauty. I sat down to write, and  . . . nothing. Back then, I thought all one had to do to write was to sit down, pen in hand, and let the words flow. Well the words didn’t flow. So I put off my dream of being a writer and went about the business of living. Years later, while going about the business of dying (his dying) I started writing again just to get out of my head, to get a respite from my life. I eventually learned how to write, but I always wrote slowly . . . until I started a grief journal and posthumous letters to my mate. Those flowed. And now it turns out that this grief book could be that love story I always wanted to tell. Life sure plays games with us!

Several people have told me they envied me my great love, but I’ve hesitated to tell the truth: it didn’t feel like love. We never had much of a romance. After a few brief years of hope and happiness, our love was sublimated by the constraints of his growing ill-health. It seemed that our cosmic love devolved into the prosaic things of life: cooking meals, doing errands, struggling to keep our retail business alive. And then it devolved further into simply surviving. Getting through the days as best as we could. We thought we’d stopped loving each other. We thought we were ready for the coming separation — he to death, me to life alone.

His hospice nurse, who got to know us both very well, told me she didn’t think he and I knew how much we loved each other. And apparently that was true. That mystifies me — how could we not  have known? We always knew we had a deep connection, though we never understood it and at times we both railed against it in our struggle to maintain our own identities, but we took that connection for granted. And what is that connection if not love?

In my foolish youth, I thought I’d still be able to feel his presence when he was dead, but I only feel his absence, and maybe that’s enough to remind me that love is not all hearts and flowers and passion. It is not what you feel. It is what you do. It is being there for each other. And, until the very end, we always were.

Owing His Memory?

I found this paragraph in a book I read recently, and it’s a graphic example of why I want to write a novel about a grieving woman — so few understand the nature of grief:

Jean-Pierre was gone; nothing could bring him back, and her feelings for him, feelings that had risen suddenly, had been ebbing just as quickly as evidence of his involvement with illegal drugs had surfaced. If Jean really had been running drugs, she owed his memory nothing.

Owed his memory? What does that mean? This example seems to have been written by a person who knows little of grief. In all these months of steeping in the world of grief, I have not heard a single person mention owing the dead person’s memory anything.  Memories are all we have left and we treasure them, but we also know that memory is not a living creature to whom we must pay homage. We might feel obligations to those who are gone, obligations such as honoring their wishes as to funerals and disbursement of treasured possessions, but we fulfill those obligations out of love and because we find comfort and continuity in still being able to do things for our loved ones. But owing the memory we have of the person? Doesn’t even make sense.

We bereft are all struggling to find a way to live with the hole in our lives, with the ongoing sadness, with the reality that grief is an unending (though perhaps diminishing) journey. No griever I have met has said, “Wait! I can’t be happy. I owe too much to his memory.” Grieving is a process, something we do, something that happens to us, but it is seldom the choice that is hinted at in the above example. Quite frankly, we are all sick of grieving, of being sad, but the only way not to be sad is to have our loved ones back with us, and since that is impossible in this world, we continue on as best as we can with our shattered lives. But we owe that to ourselves, not to his memory.

My Topsy-Turvy Writing Life

NaNoWriMo is good practice for me, this writing without stopping to think.

I’ve always been a slow writer, but I can also see that the way I wrote and the reason I wrote created the slowness. I used to write at night when all was quiet, then the next morning I would read the work to my mate. The piece had to be cohesive, well written, and most of all entertaining because that is why I wrote — to entertain us. That way of writing taught me to pull someone immediately into a scene, to make characters come alive in a few words, to add a hook or reward on almost every page.

I had my reward in his smile. Whenever I saw his lips curve in a secret little smile, I knew I’d hit the scene perfectly.

He and his smile are gone from my life. I’ve had to find a different way of writing and a different reason. For now, meeting the challenge of NaNoWriMo is reason enough. The very nature of the challenge is helping me find a new way to write. Instead of searching for the perfect word, I write any word that comes to mind, trusting that during the rewrites I will find the right one. If no word comes to mind, I leave a blank space and continue with my train of thought.

I also have no need to write a coherent story from beginning to end for there is no one to follow along as I write. I jot down whatever scene is foremost in my mind. I also write in the morning since it’s quietest here then. Also, by writing in the morning, I can come at the task in an oblique way before excuses begin to get in the way.

Some of what I’ve written will need little revision. Other bits read more like notes for a novel than a fleshed out scene and will need to be completely revised. Other parts are redundant and will need to be junked. But I am keeping up with my word count (probably because I am leaving out the hard bits, like descriptions and sensory details), and that is an important achievement.

I’m getting into the rhythm of this topsy-turvy life. From being one of a couple to being alone. From living near the mountains to living near the desert. From writing at night to writing in the morning. From writing beginning to end to writing whatever scene catches my attention.

I’m still writing the same type of book, though — a non-literary literary novel. The way I understand it, a literary novel is a story that addresses the major themes of life, and the way it is written — the choice of words, the sentence structure, the imagery — is more important than what is written. I fail in the second part — I strive for a simple, easy to read style that doesn’t detract from the story — but I do address major themes, especially in this work. Life. Death. Love. Grief. Relationships. The meaning of life. All while telling a good story. At least, that’s the plan.

I’m hoping someday you’ll be able to tell me if I succeeded.

Wisdom of the Wombats

I belong to an online group called The Writin’ Wombats — a convivial group of writers, readers and critics supporting each others’ work and sharing news, gossip, rants and triumphs. (You can join, too. Everyone is welcome.) The Wombats have been supportive of me in my grief, encouraging me with wise words and virtual hugs. I would like to share with you a comment one of the Wombats left for me on the last thread. It helped me, and perhaps it will help others who are also grieving the loss of a loved one.

“Pat B–Love is so awesome, so overwhelming and filling and all-encompassing. So, too, is grief. It touches all those same places touched by love. When that love was every place in you, you can’t help but be attacked by grief in those same places. And so the grief is overwhelming and filling and all-encompassing as well. But it can’t overpower the love. It can overshadow it. But it doesn’t have the same strength, the same staying power, that love holds. After the grief eases, the love will again shine. No, you won’t have J. And that’s the cruelest, cruelest loss. But you will have his touch all over you, through you, from where his love lived with yours. And it once again will be good.” — E. A. Hill

I’ve come to realize that hate is not the opposite of love, grief is for the very reasons that Ms. Hill stated. Love and grief are the bookends of a relationship. The two clearest memories I have of my mate are the day I met him and the day he left me. After almost thirty-four years, I barely remember who I was before we met, and I don’t yet know who I am now that he’s gone. So much of my life was intertwined with his that it could take the rest of my days to pick the pieces of myself out of  the “us” that we created. And maybe it can’t be done. But as time passes, and I experience things we can no longer share, I will become more of me and less of us. Yet the love will remain. And I hope, as Ms. Hill says, that once again it will be good.

Until then, and long afterward, I’ll be soaking up the wisdom of the wombats.

Searching For Happy Memories

I’ve been searching for happy memories to take the edge off the memory of watching my lifemate die so painfully, and one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is a day I visited him at the store he owned. We spent hours talking — about life, books, history,  moving from one topic to another as easily as if we’d known each other a lifetime instead of just a few months — and then he walked me outside. This is the poem I wrote when I got home that night:

you turned around
and waved to me
after we said good-bye
a small gesture
that told me more
than all the words
we had spoken

I wish I could have just one more word, one more wave from him.

A Tribute to a Fallen Mate

Yesterday I mentioned that once upon a time I wrote snippets of poetry. That time coincided to when I met the man who would share my life, and some of the snippets I wrote are poignant to me now because they chronicle my first feelings for him. A private man, he would be appalled that I am writing about him, but I didn’t want his life to pass unnoticed by all but me. Though written long ago, this bit still fits him:

you give
(not lightly
the figments of this world
but)
your reality
and your radiance
(your soul)

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