Surprised by Grief

I continue to be surprised by the intensity and depth and variability of grief. It’s been more than ten months since my life mate — my soul mate – died. Most days now I feel normal, but “normal” for me is his being safe at home, perhaps in the other room, perhaps outside shoveling snow or watering our trees. The renewed realization that he is gone from this life still brings me raw pain. I’m getting used to being alone — in some ways, that aloneness feels normal, too. Until I met him, I’d always expected to be alone, and so part of me is looping back to that earlier life when I had only my concerns to worry about.

Still, despite that normalcy, there are days when it feels as if he just left, as if he walked out on me (or I walked out on him) and it’s a matter of time until we reconcile our differences. I don’t know where such thoughts come from — we had no major differences. Well, except for the soul-shaking differences that came when our journeys diverged — his into death, mine into continued life.

I mentioned before that love and grief were the bookends of a relationship. Because of its intensity, the ability to change a person’s life and outlook, and the all-consuming focus on another person, grief seems to mimic falling in love, though in a bleaker, blacker, lonelier way. And like love, grief stirs up your depths, making you realize you are more than you ever thought you could be. As I’m slowly beginning to define my life solely by me, not by “us”, I’m seeing another similarity. When a couple embarks on a life together, they learn to depend on each other, to find ways to complement each other, to meld their likes and dislikes, their hopes and frustrations into a workable emotional environment for both parties. When half of a couple dies, the person left behind has to find a way to unmeld. To go from thinking about both of you, to thinking solely of yourself, to depending solely on yourself. It’s hard and painful and feels futile at times. (Because, you think, if life is worth living, he would still be here.)

It’s like a teeter-totter. When one person leaves abruptly, you crash to the ground. You do learn to play by yourself, but you are always aware that the other side is empty. Gradually, you get used to it, though — or at least resigned. And that’s where I am, most of the time. Resigned.

I’m even getting resigned to that great yearning I once talked about, especially since it’s nothing new. Looping back to the time before I met him, when I was young, I remember being consumed by yearning, though I never knew for what. I didn’t feel it when we were together, but I feel it now. Could that yearning have been for him? Or could our being together have masked the earlier yearning? Just one of the many questions stirred up from the depths by grief.

Sorry For Your Loss

Cops, social workers, therapists, just about anyone who deals with death in any capacity, learn to give an automatic, “I’m sorry for your loss,” to the bereaved. At first, this condolence by rote bothered me. It came across as insensitive and . . . well, automatic. Besides, it seemed to reduce the death of my mate to the level of a lost sock. I don’t mind as much now. Even though I have been born into the world of grief, I still don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving. Besides, grief is about loss, and not just the primary loss of a loved one, but also multiple secondary losses.

In my case, when I lost my life mate, I lost my home (my mate was my home even more than the house we lived in, but I lost that too when I had to move away). I lost the future we planned. I lost the hopes we had. I lost my best friend. I lost my partner. I lost my lifestyle. I lost the one person who knew everything about me and liked me anyway. I lost the person I could depend on to be there when I needed him. And most of all, I lost myself.

It’s not so much that I saw myself as an adjunct to him, or that my identity depended on him, but he was the focus of my life for more than three decades. By his very being, he gave my life meaning. Before we met, I always wondered about the meaning of life. I wanted to live a significant life, to make sure my life meant something. After we met, I didn’t worry about such things — at least, not much. It was important that we were together, that we faced the world together. Only after his death did I realize how much “togetherness” mattered to me. And the loss of that togetherness is something to mourn.

Now that I am alone, I have to find meaning in “aloneness,” to find significance in that aloneness. And I don’t know if I can. I feel fractured, as if bits of me are scattered all over the universe, and I haven’t a clue how to put myself together again. Oddly enough, I had no real interest in spending my years with anyone until he entered my life. And now I am back where I started. Sort of.

I feel a bit foolish (and self-pitying) at times for all the tears I shed. I always thought I was more stoic than this, able to take life’s big dramas in stride. Yet the deletion of him from the earth is impossible for me to fathom. It affects every single aspect of my life. I haven’t found the bedrock of my new life — the thing, the idea, the place, whatever that bedrock might be — that gives me a firm footing and allows me to get on with my life. He’s been gone for twenty weeks (is that a lot or a little? I no longer have any sense of time) and everything is still resettling. If I get a grip on one facet of my loss, another secondary loss rises to the surface. And so his absence (and my loss) becomes more profound as time passes.

I’ve been trying to write again, and even in such an exercise that epitomizes aloneness, I feel his absence. I used to read what I wrote to him. He didn’t always have a suggestion or a comment, but sometimes he’d get a little smile on his face when I hit the scene just right. And that smile is just one more loss for which I am sorry.

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