Two Years and Two Months of Grief

I never expected to feel so sad two years and two months after the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I never expected to still be so easily brought to tears. But then, I never expected most of what I’ve experienced with grief, especially since I tend to be more contemplative and stoic than emotional. As I’ve learned, though, grief might manifest as emotion, but it is so much more than that — it’s a restructuring of the world as we know it, a reconfiguring of reality. And that takes a lot of energy, both mental and physical. And it takes time. A person who was a major part of our life is gone, ripping a hole in our reality, and our brains are struggling to patch the hole (or at least to figure a way around it), which causes an incredible amount of stress.

Part of that restructuring is a new consciousness of death. We all know we are going to die, but after the death of someone we are profoundly connected with, we KNOW deep within our psyches. This knowledge makes life on Earth seem at once more significant and less vital (or do I mean more vital and less significant?), which is why so many of us bereft struggle for meaning. Some of us will eventually settle back into every day life, but for the rest of us, life will always seem a bit off, as if a part of us knows we are aliens in an alien land.

Mostly, I’m doing okay. If we were to meet, you’d have no idea of my ongoing sadness. I don’t try to hide it, it’s just that the sadness has become such a part of me that it doesn’t impede my living. I can smile and laugh and chat as if everything were fine, and it is, for that moment. But when I am alone and not focused on a task, sorrow percolates to the surface. Sometimes our life together seems very far away, as if it were only a dream born of loneliness, but this ongoing sadness reminds me of the truth — I once was with someone I loved deeply, and now I’m not.

I never feel his presence, but his absence hovers beside me as if it were a living thing. When I make a salad, I am aware that he is not washing the vegetables for me. When I am at the grocery store, I am aware that he is not helping pick out what we need. When I am exercising, I am aware he is not in the room. When I need someone to talk to, I am aware he cannot respond. When I watch one of his many video tapes, I am aware he is not sitting next to me. Every time I use something of ours, even something as inconsequential as a spoon, I am aware that he has no need of the article.

I don’t purposely think of such things. In fact, the awareness is not a thought. It’s just that everything I do and everything I own echoes with his absence. Maybe someday even the echo will die away and all I’ll have of our shared life are fading memories. But no matter how I feel or what I forget, I’ll always be grateful that an extraordinary man shared his life with me.

***

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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34 Responses to “Two Years and Two Months of Grief”

  1. mlfhunt Says:

    Significant post, Pat. Yes, 2 years and 2 months today…first thought this morning. I find myself functioning better while tears sit just behind my eyes. If the right person (i.e. someone who gets it) reaches out…the tears flow. If I have to function, I can. I, like you, am constantly bombarded with reminders…they just pop up. Today I picked some peonies (the rain had beaten down but in a vase…lovely)….I knew Bill would love those flowers. Most of what I do, reminds me of Bill’s absence. Overall I am more accepting, looking at myself and my future, and lonely for Bill all the time. Grateful for his life and love forever.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It used to irritate me no end when people would tell me, “Life goes on.” Yes, it goes on — for me. Not for him, at least not here, so how is that supposed to make me feel better? But life does go on. And here we are, at 26 months, going on with it despite the continued sadness. Somewhere deep inside of me, I can feel the tears. Even when they don’t rise to the surface, I can still feel them. Maybe I always will.

      • mlfhunt Says:

        I do believe we will, Pat…always have sadness in our hearts. Love deeply, grief forever and deeply. And we did love deeply…and were loved deeply…a gift!

  2. brownbecca17 Says:

    This is exactly how I feel but it will be six years this summer. People say and seem to think that it gets better and easier as time goes by, but I feel it gets worse. I miss him more and more as the days, months and years go by. I have gone through the sad, angry, apologetic, denial stages and I keep finding myself there over and over again. I don’t know what I can do to help myself not feel like this every day. And like you, people wouldn’t know I felt like this because when I’m distracted by things and people, I’m okay. But when I’m around and someone brings him up in a conversation I can feel my eyes filling with tears and I get that huge lump in my throat. You can’t forget or ignore the fact that you lost someone you love but I don’t want to feel like this anymore and I don’t know how to let myself be okay with it. If any of you have any advice I would love some help!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t have any profound advice, but some people have found comfort by writing a letter to their loved one. Tell him/her that you miss him and always will, but you can’t go on feeling like this any more. Put everything you want to say on paper, then ask him for help. Or write a letter to yourself, saying it’s okay to let go of your grief and to feel good. Sometimes writing gets deep down where other things don’t.

      Another thing is to do things that you would never have done with him. That helps get rid of the “echo” and establishes a new territory in your mind. Doing new things is the only way I can make sense of it all. Otherwise it feels as if I’m wasting his death.

      I’ll ask around, see if anyone else has any suggestions.

      This is all so hard, I don’t see how any of us survive it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I left this comment on your blog, just in case you didn’t get it: This is a start, writing about your feeelings. The only way I’ve managed to survive the loss of my mate/soul mate is by writing about it, both privately and on my blog. Because I”ve been willing to open up and be vulnerable, I’ve met many incredible people who are struggling with the same issues of grief and loss.

      Vulnerability is a strength in itself. One reason I stared to write about my grief is that our society thinks that strength is about keeping a oneself in control, but strength comes not from holding ourselves in, but letting ourselves out.

      Grief kept inside will kill you — maybe for real, maybe just your spirit.

      Next time you’re sailing by yourself, really let yourself go. Scream to the heavens. Scream your outrage and grief. (Maybe you already have?)

      You’re also on the right track — think of what brings you joy, or what once did, or what might. A friend who lost her mate about a year and a half ago is clearing out her attics, basement, closets, getting rid of anything that does not bring her happiness. There are some things we cannot get rid of, such as grief, but we can make room for happiness alongside the grief. At least we’re supposed to be able to. I’m not there yet.

  3. Joy Collins Says:

    This post really resonates with me. I too seem “okay” on the outside but I am still a bowl of tears and grief on the inside. And it doesn’t take much for the tears to bubble up to the surface. It’s two years and 4 days for me. Yesterday I bawled and cried to the heavens. I clung to John’s bathrobe and just sobbed. It just came over me. I was just straightening up our bedroom and the feelings that he was no longer physically here, that I couldn’t hug him, couldn’t talk to him and hear his voice [except in my head], couldn’t see his smile, could just “be” with him just overcame me. And it was May 24, 2010 all over again.
    I keep a journal that I write to John. I share things in there with him about my day, my thoughts, etc. And it helps a little but of course it’s not the same. I am planning things to do over the next few months and I look forward to those things. But underneath it all, with every step, with every activity – with every breath – is the overriding thought “John’s not here, John’s not here.” And like Pat, it’s the little everyday things that make the sorrow more intense – making a meal, playing with the furbabies, shopping at Costco. I can’t pass a men’s clothing counter in a department store without getting upset.
    I feel like I am walking around with a huge hole in my chest that you can actually see through. John was “home” to me and now my home is gone. I am a homeless person. All I have are things. I would give them all up and live under a bridge in a refrigerator box if it would bring John back.
    I don’t know if I will ever feel any differently from how I feel now. I’m not sure I want to. I don’t want to feel OK with John’s absence. And the thought of happiness is totally foreign now. There are occasions of okay-ness and if that’s all I get now, I can live with that. I don’t expect more and I really don’t want more. All I want is John and I know I won’t have that again until I leave this world.

  4. Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective Says:

    “I don’t try to hide it, it’s just that the sadness has become such a part of me that it doesn’t impede my living.”

    I think of grief as the process of integrating loss into the fabric of life. The loss and grief don’t go away…they become part of the fabric. This above statement from your blog brought that to mind as I was reading. Well said.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You put it well, Rebecca. That’s what I’ve come to understand, too, that grief is the process of integrating loss into the fabric of life, which is why people who ignore grief sometimes have problems later on. Their grief and their loss always remains outside of their life.

  5. Juliana Says:

    Unfortunately, I come from a family of “stiff upper lippers”. It doesn’t work out well if I cry around them. I’m caring for my 94 year old mother (with dimentia) and 95 year old father. My grief gets put on hold to take care of their needs…which are many and loud. I’m not sure how to cope with the loss of my husband and being caregiver for my parents.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Life can be so unfair. I don’t see how anyone copes with some of the trauma upon trauma life throws at us.

      I’m looking after my 96-year-old father, but at least he doesn’t have dementia. My father keeps telling me that everything works out for the best, as if my mate died just so I would be free to come take care of him. Makes me want to scream at times. Actually, I used to scream occasionally when the tears didn’t help relieve the stress of grief. I hope you can find a way to let out some of that stress.

      • Juliana Says:

        It’s so different taking care of your aging parents after your husband dies. My husband, Ken, and I moved from Maine to Florida to take care of my parents. We loved Maine and didn’t really want to leave, but I didn’t want my parents to be without someone near who would take care of them with greatest love. My mom and dad set the standard by caring for their aging parents until their death. I guess I just picked up the baton and ran with it never imagining that I would be doing it alone. In some ways it has been healing. My father and I had never had a close relationship, and he had shown almost no warmth to me throughout my life. We now share everything especially the frustrations of caring for my mom (She acts like a spoiled 2 year old and has to have what she wants immediately.). He now tells me with great sincerity that he loves me all of the time. I guess it’s never too late to heal a broken relationship.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Your husband sounds like a wonderful man. The world has lost too many good men lately . . .

          It seems an impossible task you have ahead of you, dealing with the loss of your husband while struggling to look after your parents by yourself. I can’t offer much but a listening ear whenever you need to talk. I do understand (at least as well as anyone can). I moved 1000 miles from our home to come look after my father, and I no longer know where I belong. Not that it really matters — Jeff was my home.

          • Juliana Says:

            That’s such a beautiful way to express your husband’s presence…he was/is your home. I feel my husband with me all of the time. I think he’s still making decisions for me. I unexpectly refinanced my home today. Just by chance my insurance company USAA (Ken was retired military) called me today about another matter. We ended up talking about refinancing the house. I’ll be saving over $200 a month. Ken was a New Englander. They do like to keep a tight handle on their money. Things like that happen to me all of the time. It’s so comforting. God is good indeed.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            I’m glad you at least have that bit of comfort. Some of my bereft friends have also had such signs and assistance from their husbands, but I’ve never felt anything except an immense goneness in my life.

  6. Linda Says:

    My husband, Jim, died of Alzheimers Oct 31, 2011 so I really lost him about 5 years before that. He was diagnosed in 2009 and then progressed downhill from there. He, of course, was a wonderful quiet, very smart civil engineer with lots of logic behavior. But he became combative so I had to put him in a nursing home for 6 months before he died. He didn’t know me, or our children for the last year or so. I did pretty good the first year and had lots of support from neighbors and friends. My issue now is that it seem like I have become like a poison to my friends. My phone never rings anymore, emails are very few and far between. When I see friends they are very friendly but then never call or pay much attention. I especially think this is true with our couples friends. It is a couples world I have found out. It hurts as I feel lonely and abandoned. I also think I should relocate but don’t know where to go and I doubt that would help as I am taking “me” with me. Our children live 3 hours away and they are pretty supportive and good but I get comments like I need to get more involved like volunteer etc. I do need to be around people and have just returned from a 7 week trip staying with friends. When I got home it was such a huge let down and I can’t shake the depression. I have called some friends to do lunch or something but they are always busy. I am not one to sit around the house and feel sorry for myself but it worries me greatly how I seem to be regressing. I don’t want to make a decision to move as we built this house and designed it after we retired. We live rural on a lake but there are a lot of people who live here who are retired.

    • mlfhunt Says:

      Linda, I also lost my husband to Alzheimer’s in 2010, the same day Pat’s husband died. I belong to an on line, Hospice sponsored grief group for spousal loss where I find understanding people, support and non-judgment. check me on Facebook, Mary Friedel-Hunt if you want more information. Just request to be friends and remind me who you are if you are interested.
      Mary

      • Linda Says:

        Mary, I found you on FB but am not sure I did it right to request a friend. I forgot to tell you who I am. I read some of your things and as I told you in a message, we camped at Ouray a lot also Taylor Park and Leadville area at Turquoise Lake. I grew up in Duluth, Mn and we have also been to Spring Green. On FB I am Linda Pennington. Jim was from Kansas City, Mo. area. I would like to be in a grief sharing group just to vent feelings like I did with the Alz. chat room. It helped me so much and I made some good friends there. Thanks for replying to me.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      People say not to make any major decisions the first year, but I think it’s more like two or three years after the death of a spouse before we can decide such major changes like relocating. We need to make sure we are further along in the grief process so that we are doing what we want rather than simply reacting. Then there is the problem of where to relocate and how to start over when you’re not young anymore.

      The problem with grief for a spouse is that we live with it all the time, but others who didn’t have as close a relationship with the deceased as we did have already moved on and can’t figure out why we haven’t also.

      As for regressing. Is my math correct and this is about your eighteen month mark? If so, then it’s no wonder you feel as if you are regressing. For some unfathomable reason, the eighteen month anniversary is almost worst than the beginning. We are settling into the horrible truths of our lives — we are alone, we are not who we want to be or doing what we want to do, we are single in a couples world and since we bring unwelcome reminders of what could happen to those who are still coupled, they find excuses not to see us. Not a good situation, but it’s what we have to deal with.

      You didn’t ask for my advice, so feel free to ignore it, but I’d suggest going with the flow of grief for another month or two, then gradually find things you might like to do, and try one of those activities occasionally. Perhaps check online for activities in your area, or if you have a church, see if they have something. I did a yoga class for older people for a while, and it helped, especially since most of the women in the class had also lost their husbands. There are a lot of us out there, and we are all searching for new friends and a new way to live.

      • Linda Says:

        Pat, thank you so much for replying. I was able to survive when Jim had Alz. through a chat room with Alz.org and also a chat on FB called Agape and Alzheimers that a new friend and I got going. I like the computer and I got so much out of the comments of others going through the same things. I am so glad I have found you and a place to vent my feelings.

        I don’t mind advise at all as I need whatever I can to get through this part of life. We were married 52 years. I am pretty active, not one to sit. I play golf and have a pretty good size house that I take care of. I do like to take care of the outside and do all my own yardwork. I don’t like sitting and feeling sorry for myself but am a people person. What you say about others I think is so true expecting the grief to be accepted and time to move on. Even my children, who are very supportive, think I need more activity. I think about volunteering and where I live there isn’t much that I would like to do. We have a senior center, a nursing home. I’d like to find something more uplifting but that is usually in the city which is about 1 1/2 hours away.

        I think the worst part of this is not being a couple anymore and have lost half of my identity.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Linda, Many of your feelings seem to stem from what you said at the end — you have lost half your identity. You seem to be doing well, embracing life despite your sorrow, but still, it’s hard to have to rethink life and your place in it after 52 years of knowing who and what you were.

          You say you play golf. Is there some sort of group you can join to meet new friends on a single’s basis? I mean, meet and relate with one-half of a couple rather the whole couple. There should also be some sort of singles golf club or association. If not, start one. You seem strong enough and assertive enough. Or do what Mary Friedl-Hunt suggested and join a bereavement group online.

          I still have a hunch your current upsurge in grief will take care of itself in another month or so, but you will still have the problem of a new identity. That search is why the bereft make such good companions once we are past the stage of constant sorrow — we are all searching for something beyond our everyday lives.

          • Linda Says:

            I just wrote a long reply but lost it so will try again. Again, thank you for replying to me. I value what you have said to me and it has already helped to know I’m not “weird” because I seem to be going backwards!

            I planned a 7 week trip to New Zealand and Australia this winter and stayed with friends and I felt very proud for planning it all and dealing with airports, customs etc all alone. My confidence level was high and I felt good, plus I was with people the whole time. But then when I walked in my house and it was so quiet and lonely it was awful. I also expected friends to be excited to hear and be glad I was home but I didn’t get that and my phone didn’t ring and I just felt very dejected. I also feel guilty because I had such an awesome trip and then not be appreciative to be home. Shame on me, just concerned about me and my lonely life. I am 74 and very active as I’m not a sitter but the future looks so bleak without the love of my life here with me. I know I haven’t let him go yet as hard as I try. I want to be like my other friends and be a couple and that isn’t going to happen. I do enjoy being around people and know I have to work at doing that. I just don’t know what or where I want to do. i thought about moving but I don’t know where to move to and as you said it isn’t a good idea to make a decision yet along those lines.

            I do have friends who are couples that I can do things with once in awhile with the wife and there are some single women around here but not very active in the things I enjoy. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself but find myself doing that. I am blessed but feel sooooo alone. it seems we have to work so hard at putting up a front for everyone when we aren’t feeling it.

            The golf course here is for sale and not doing well so there is not much chance of a singles type group here. There is a singles golf group I found on line in Kansas City which is 3 hours away so that doesn’t do me much good.

            I liked reading the replies of others at the 2 year mark and it helps to know I’m not alone in what I feel.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            You are definitely not alone in the way you feel. Others who have not been where we are make us feel as if we are doing something wrong, but the truth is, they simply do not know. (Which is why I write about grief — to tell the truth about how it feels.) Those of us who are in this strange twilight world of grief do understand. We know you’re not crazy. We know you’re not whining. We know you’re not being selfish. It’s the situation that is intolerable, though we somehow do tolerate it. What other choice do we have?

            I will pass on a bit of wisdom that has helped me tremendously. People have told me that it takes three to five years to find a renewed life, though most often, the breaking point is four years. Around that time, most of us find a renewal. I cling to that when the going is hard. (If you’re interested, here is a post I wrote about that half-life of grief https://ptbertram.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/the-half-life-of-grief/ )

            I’m glad you and Mary are connecting on Facebook.

  7. nancy Says:

    thanks for posting. i lost my husband 2 years, 5 months ago. i miss him like crazy and i feel like no one cares anymore..they all think i should be ‘over it’. i hate this!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I hate this too. That will never change. People think we should be able to accept it, but how is it acceptable that they are dead?

      • Linda Says:

        I lost my hubby, Jim, 1 year 6 months ago and I still hate the loneliness that I have. I can do fairly well when I’m around people but that can’t be all the time. I see people out doing things together, eating out, touring or whatever and I get so jealous of them knowing that my life will never again experience being a couple. No one can know until they’ve been there how empty life can be. I force myself to keep busy and try not to think about Jim not being with me anymore but the reminders out there in the world are always there. I have met some new people who are not part of our “couples” friends and there seems to be more understanding with the new people. I hate it when I feel people( friends) think it’s been time enough now and time to “move on”.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          It’s been three years for me now, and I still hate the loneliness. People think having friends gets rid of the loneliness, but the loneliness is marrow deep especially at night when everyone is asleep. And anyway, friends have their own lives. We aren’t their life, just a small adjunct. In songs, movies, greeting cards, all we hear is how wonderful life is when you have someone, but when we lose that someone, all of us a sudden we’re supposed to be okay with our new status. But it doesn’t work that way.

          • Juliana Says:

            There is nothing more lonely than being lonely in a group. I hate going out among people where I’m expected not to cry or feel sad. I’m tired of worrying about what everyone else thinks and feels. Honestly, I’d rather be alone than with someone I have to play “happy” with. I’m not happy, and I’m not going to get there for a long time.

          • Linda Says:

            Juliana, you are so right about playing the part of happiness and normalcy around other people because they want you to be normal and not talk about where your life is. I know we also can’t expect others to talk about our woes all the time either but if there was a feeling of acknowledgement that life is changed for us and not an easy road I think we would feel more accepted about where we are now. I hear this same thing from others who are or have been alone through death or divorce. Do you suppose we were insensitive before we lost our loved ones? I probably was but I hope I was understanding.

            We wouldn’t feel this terrible grief if we hadn’t had a great love so I’m thankful for that. A lot of people don’t experience love for many years as I did, I just wanted it to last much longer.

          • Juliana Says:

            Hi Linda,

            I’ve always been hypersensitive and it’s mainly been about feeling other people’s pain. It’s called the curse of empathy. I think it’s probably great for other people, but it takes a huge tole on me. I think one of the most hurtful, painful parts of all of this is that I have no one around me who is also cursed with empathy. I’ve resorted to seeing a therapist because I can’t talke to anyone else.

            I’ve found a psychotherapist who specialzes in treating people with PTSD. He’s truly amazing. Yesterday he took me back into what he called “the rabbit hole”. It is that deep dark place where those of us with PTSD are afraid to go. It was frightening, but he kept saying, “Are you in a safe place?” He only let me go so far, then he brought me back to the “now”. He’s teaching me to meditate, and I think this is really going to work. This would only be safe to do in the presence of a therapist who knew what he or she was doing. I’m going to have to go there many, many times; so I know this is going to take a while…manybe a long while, but I believe it’s going to work. I was afraid that no one could help me. Now I have hope that I will be able to find peace.

            I don’t know what the grief would be like without being compounded with PTSD. I believe that it’s too much to expect anyone to understand the pofound effect that dealing with grief and PTSD. It is what it is. I’ve concluded that it is my battle, and I’m the only one in the foxhole.

            Juliana

          • Linda Says:

            Juliana, that’s great that you are seeing someone who can help.. I know sometimes I feel so alone in this journey as no one can understand until you’ve been there and walked this path. I can be busy and doing things I en joy and yet I still am lonely. I also have been hypersensitive but have done better as I age. I am just learning that I have to walk this road alone now as I have no one who really understands except the people who have been there. My children are fantastic but they can’t really understand either. I think I’m doing better and I have to keep reminding myself that now I am alone and I have to do it all on my own whatever road I choose to go down. I think I will do better with summer coming on as I have a lot of yard work and I golf so that will help. I also am looking into volunteering in some way just to be around people. I do better when I’m around people. I hope we will keep continuing to progress in this journey and make a new life for ourselves.

          • Juliana Says:

            Linda, I think the self-doubt is my worst enemy. My husband basically made all of the major decisions. Today I found out that I’m going to need a new air conditioner. Living in Florida, you don’t want it to break down during the summer months. The guy said it was going to be $5,000. I freaked, but I knew I had to do it. The man told me that he and my husband had been discussing it before my husband died. I felt such a relief to know that Ken was thinking it was necessary. Then again, I didn’t make the decision on my own. I only felt more confident when I knew it something that Ken would have done.

            Take care, Juliana

          • Linda Says:

            Juliana, oh bummer on the air conditioner!! I had to replace our furnace a couple years ago but Jim’s mind had already gone with the Alz. so I know about making those big decisions by yourself. sounds like you are doing well. Do you have children and are they close by? Mine are 3 hours away and we talk a lot and I do ask their advise a lot. Jim was so good at all that stuff but I also learned a lot from him over the years so that has helped a lot. I’m not afraid to ask “mainly guys” for advise when I have things happen. I have some good friends to ask which I’m thankful for. You know our hubby’s made us strong so we have to just hang in there on this stuff!! We are smart!! heehee

            Linda


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