Seven Years and Seven Months

Seven years and seven months ago, Jeff, my lifemate/soulmate, died after a long illness, catapulting me out of not only our coupled life, but the very house we shared for decades. After dismantling our home, getting rid of what I could and packing the rest, I went to stay with my father, who needed someone to be there for him. Although he was mostly able to look after himself, he was getting feeble enough that he needed someone in the house to make sure he was okay. And me, being newly loose in the world, undertook the task. If he were alive, my father would be over a hundred years old, but he died three years ago today, and once again I was catapulted out into the world.

I’ve become somewhat of a nomad, or maybe I should say a serial nester. In the past three years, I’ve lived over a dozen places (and those are only the places I’ve stayed more than a couple of weeks. If you include places I stayed a week or less, they are too numerous to count.) Because I’ve spent most of the past couple of decades taking care of friends and relatives, my financial situation is precarious, so I should be trying to find a place to settle down and get a job, but . . . well, I’m not. After the emotional rigors of the past ten years (starting with Jeff’s rapid decline and my mother’s death and ending with the fall eleven months ago that pulverized my left wrist, destroyed my left elbow, and smashed my radius, leaving me with a deformed arm, and wrist and fingers that don’t quite work the way they should), it’s nice to just go with the flow — not trying to do anything, not trying to think anything, not trying to push my recalcitrant spirit into a semblance of vitality. Just drifting.

Occasionally I correspond with the newly bereft who discover me through my book, Grief: The Great Yearning. They appreciate knowing they aren’t alone in how they feel, and they seem to find solace in my words. And that’s all I have left of grief now — just words. (Well, that and compassion. Not everyone comprehends the total horror that one lives through after the death of the one person you shared everything with, the one person who anchored you to life, the one person who understood you.)

Oddly, in the same way that I can no longer “feel” the exact pain of my arm when it shattered, I can no longer actually “feel” the pain of new grief. I remember not being able to breathe. Not being able to think. Not being able to get a grip on the immense agony of my grief. I remember feeling as if I were standing on the brink of the abyss, remember thinking that if I reached out far enough, I could still touch Jeff. But I cannot actually recall the feeling of new grief itself.

Even more oddly, I’m not sure if the man in my memory is the real Jeff. Has my memory of him changed over the years to fulfill his changing role in my life? I no longer know, and don’t want to know. To try to resurrect the real him, if only in memory, will eventually lead to losing him again, and that I can’t handle.

So I drift.

I am doing what I can to exercise my hand, wrist, elbow — I won’t gain the maximum usage of the joints for another year, so I am still diligently following instructions. And I am still taking dance classes. And slowly, I am gaining strength, better balance, and maybe even a modicum of grace.

What I have not been doing is writing, even though finishing my decade-old work not-in-progress tops my to-do list (or would top my to-do list if I had one. A to-do list seems the antithesis of drifting.)

Although today is the anniversary of my father’s death, it is Jeff I think of. If Jeff hadn’t died, I would never have gone to take care of my father, would never be where I am today.

Drifting.

This photo is twenty years old, the only one ever taken of me, Jeff, and my parents. Although I am the only one still alive, that “me” in the photo is long gone. I don’t even remember being her. Maybe she’s just as lost as the other three.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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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15 Responses to “Seven Years and Seven Months”

  1. Ruth Jones Says:

    Pat I love your blogs and I’m so glad to hear that you are writing again. I lost my husband and soulmate in December 2014. No one can understand the shock of having your world shattered to pieces and the long journey to rebuild. Your blogs have been beacons of hope to me in these first 3 years. Thank you so much. My thoughts are with you on this anniversary. Ruth xx

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It is a long journey to rebuild. I have just gotten to the point of leveling the ground. Don’t yet know how or what to build. I hope you are doing well. Wishing you peace as you near your anniversary.

  2. Terry Allard Says:

    I think you and Jeff look enough alike to be brother and sister…to me more validation you were each other’s true soulmates. My thoughts and empathy are with you as you “drift” into and out of this comemmeration.

  3. Sherrie Hansen Says:

    It’s a beautiful photo. I’m glad you have it. People always say you will always have your memories. But even they are fleeting and somehow fickle, and as you said, may change as time goes by. My dad is not doing well, so I am sad to say that soon, I will experience some of this first hand. Sigh…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Sherrie, I am sorry about your dad. These are rough times for you, but treasure the moments. When they are gone, there is no reliving them. And yes . . . All we can do sometimes is sigh. Thinking of you as you.

  4. SheilaDeeth Says:

    If to be is a journey, the you in the picture is a different part of the road. It’s a lovely picture. Lovely blog post too.

  5. J. Conrad Guest Says:

    Funny thing about aging—and no, I’m not laughing—is the passage of time.

    It’s like the sand in an hourglass. We know the sand can pass through the regulator only at a certain rate. Yet the less sand in the upper bell the faster it seems to empty. Put another way: in youth a day seems a week, a week a month, a month a season, a season a year. But at my age it’s reversed. A year seems a season, a season a month, a month a week, a week a day. It seems opening day of the baseball season was just a few weeks ago; yet here we are, about to play game five of the World Series.

    I lost both my parents within a year of each other twenty years ago. And I still grieve their loss from me. But the grief today is a different sort of grief. Then it was the grief of an orphan. Today it’s one for my own mortality.

    I’ve been blessed with good health my whole life. But there are some tasks I can no longer perform, and others… well, I pay the price for them. At some point I know my body will fail me. Paul Barrere of Little Feat wrote, more than forty years ago, in Old Folk’s Boogie: “And you know that you’re over the hill, when your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill.”

    Yeah, it’s like that.

    And the young woman in your photo? No, she’s not lost. She’s just evolved. She is who she is today the result of “life”.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Life does get strange. I like the quote from Paul Barrere. I think I’m to that point. I still dream of some sort of epic wilderness adventure, like a long backpacking trip, but I could no more carry a backpack than I could, I don’t know, survive in the wild without food and water.

  6. Fifty Day Blog Challenge | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] Seven Years and Seven Months […]

  7. Tammy Says:

    I just found your blog. Your posts are fantastic! I’m going to read all of them over the next month. This week will be the second anniversary of my partner’s unexpected death, and reliving everything has been excruciating.

    Much like you and Jeff, we had our own houses despite being a couple for nine years. He said he felt ill and I, worrying that I might catch stomach flu from him before a business trip I had to make in 3 days, left him at his home to rest. Instead, he died there alone. And I found him in full rigor mortis.

    Dealing with his loss and sifting through his belongings over the past two years (he still had his Cub Scout handbook, which I planned on keeping until I thought, “Wait, I don’t even have MY Brownies or Girl Scout handbooks!”) has been horrible. I was the first of my friends, even my older ones, to become widowed, and most just don’t get why I’m still devastated.

    Well, let’s see: The mate I had searched for my entire life is gone. I will sleep alone the entire rest of my life. He didn’t know he was leaving and had not updated his financial paperwork, so I did not inherit what he had promised. Being with other people just reminds me that he’s not there. Every day takes me further away from the man and life that I loved, such that both now seem more like a dream rather than my former reality. Etc., etc.

    And there is one question no counselor or friend has been able to answer: When do I stop wishing I was dead too?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry you are having to deal with this horror. No one understands, except for those of us who have been there. We live in a society that believes in quick fixes, and there are no quick fixes for grief for the simple reason that our mates are dead. How can we ever be happy about that? How can we ignore it? We can’t.

      I do know the answer to your question, though. It takes three to five years to get past the worst of such a loss. Most people I know woke on their fourth anniversary to find a sense of renewal, and it makes sense that four years would be the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then at your current stage of grief — 2 years — most of your cells still bear his imprint. By four years, less than half your cells will bear his imprint. And so gradually, the physical grief fades. By seven years, generally, we are in a different place. To me, the miracle of grief is that it does not continue to get worse forever (logically, it should. because every day we live, it’s one day more without our mates). It took me the full seven years. Although I still miss him, I am past the devastation of grief, past feeling the amputation of his being gone. I am still lost, still drifting, which is apparently typical of the eighth year.

      I hope you do read my grief posts. You will be able to see my progression through grief, and hopefully, it will give you the courage to continue going on. Know that I understand. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for feeling bad, because of course you do. And you will for a long time to come. Feel free to stop by to “talk” whenever you need to. It’s a terrible journey you are on.

      Wishing you peace.

      • Tammy Says:

        Thanks, Pat. I’ve read more of your grief posts since I wrote yesterday, and every one of them resonates with me. The ones about dismantling a person’s life (when tossing their personal effects) and having “no one to do nothing with” have really stuck with me.

        So did the one about how people who are convinced they’ll see their loved ones on the other side of the veil seem to get through grief better than those of us who don’t or who doubt. I’ve noticed the same thing. And while I’ve had lots (and lots!) of signs giving me reason to believe that there is more than just this physical life, I’m still too much of a skeptic to make that leap of faith without absolute proof… or at least something I can say for certain wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. But if this is all there is, then I don’t really understand the point of all the drama and love and suffering, etc. Really, why would the universe bother?

        Thanks again for posts and for your reply. Please keep writing your blog. It has really helped me. I was wishing I had found it sooner, but maybe I didn’t because this was the week I needed to start reading it.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Oddly, questioning seems a big part of grief. Most of us seem to wonder more than normally what’s the meaning of it all. Why the grief, why the torment, why, if there really is a better place, we are still here, why if this is all there is, they aren’t still here. So many questions! I finally managed some sort of balancing act — while I am too skeptical to believe in an afterlife for me, I believe in it for him. It helps me deal with his goneness. I also have developed a ritual of sorts. If I find a coin, I pretend it is a message from him. A bright shiny dime says he approves of whatever it is I decided. A rotten old penny means he isn’t paying much attention to me but still wants to connect. Silly, I suppose, but then, in a way, it all is. Or none of it is. We do what we need to in order to survive such a maelstrom.

          Wishing you peace.


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