Even though grief has been with me on and off for twenty-one months, I still don’t understand where it comes from or where it gets its power.
Like most people, I used to assume that grief was merely the deep sadness we feel after the death of someone we loved, and that any feelings beyond that came from an innate weakness, an inability to cope, self-pity, or a desire to create drama and importance in one’s life. When my brother died, and then a year later when my mother died, I felt what I expected to — deep sadness but nothing more, which enforced my idea of what grief is.
But all deaths do not affect us the same. During my life mate/soul mate’s long illness, I thought I’d become inured to the idea of his death. I’d even looked forward to the end of his suffering. I knew I’d feel sad and lonely, but I had no concerns about being able to continue my life. I’m strong and independent, and have never minded being alone.
And then he died.
At first, I was glad his suffering was over. I just sat there numb, waiting for the funeral director to come and collect his body. But then, like an ever-growing tsunami, grief washed over me — grief such as I never knew existed. The continuous onslaught of intense emotions, physical reactions, and psychological torments, along with the inability to understand how totally gone he was made it impossible to sort out any one feeling from the global trauma.
I started blogging about grief when I realized most novelists got it wrong. (I can’t tell you how many times writers have dismissed the grief of their characters with a simple: He went through the five stages of grief. Sheesh. For most of us, the Kübler-Ross grief model doesn’t even begin to explain what we are going through.) I continued blogging about grief when I realized how important it was for me and my fellow bereft to try to understand what we are experiencing and why.
None of us are weak. None of us lack the ability to cope. None of us are self-pitying. None of us are self-indulgent, wallowing in grief for the sake of making ourselves feel important. None of us are drama queens, wanting to draw attention to ourselves or make people feel sorry for us. (We don’t feel sorry for ourselves, at least not often, so why should anyone feel sorry for us?) Nor have any of us chosen our grief. It was thrust on us with such power that we still reel from it months and perhaps even years later. We aren’t dwelling on our grief. It’s dwelling on us. Or in us.
Although everyone’s grief is different, grief does follow patterns of ebb and flow. For many of us in our second year, the eighteen month mark came with a huge upsurge in grief. And now the end of this year — the end of the first full year without our loved ones — is causing another upsurge. I do not know why this is so, I just know that it’s the latest manifestation of the process.
I’ve passed many (maybe most) of grief’s milestones, though I’m sure future milestones will surprise me as I continue this journey through grief. I can deal with these milestones. They come. They go. But no matter how I feel — sad or unsad — he is still and will always be dead. I can understand that he is out of my life, but I cannot understand his total goneness from this earth. Perhaps that unknowableness is where grief comes from. Perhaps that unknowableness is where grief gets its power.
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.