Grief: The Great Learning, Day 432

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Although this letter was written three and a half years ago, it reflects so much of what I am feeling now. My father recently died, and I am packing in preparation for . . . I know not what.  I wish I could talk to Jeff, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. I don’t think I will ever lose that desire, ever stop yearning for what I cannot have. His goneness shapes my days somewhat the same way his presence used to. Everything I do is because he is no longer here.

I am more used to the idea of living alone than I was when I wrote this letter, though sometimes it still scares me. But one of the lessons grief taught me is that I can get used to anything, even loneliness and aloneness. I’m now going to lunch with women I like, so that helps.

Coincidentally, just a couple of days ago, I tossed that route beer bottle into the recycle bin, but as you can see, I still have the photo. Unfortunately, dealing with his ashes isn’t quite so easy. I still don’t know what to do with them. I’m thinking of waiting for a windstorm, opening the box, and letting Jeff take care of them himself.

###

Day 432, Hi, Jeff.

Just in case you really are somewhere, I wanted you to know I haven’t forgotten you, still miss you, still wish there could have been a better resolution to your health problems than death. But what do I know? Maybe death was the best resolution. I’m not sure I see much hope of things working out for me, but I am trying. I’m getting out and doing things. It still seems as if the only way I can make sense of your death (from my perspective) is to do things I wouldn’t have done if you were alive.

I took a trip along Route 66 with some friends, which was fun. I kept a soda bottle for a souvenir. “Route Beer.” Tasted like plain old root beer, but I thought the name was cute. I’ve been going to lunch about once a week, sometimes after the grief group, sometimes with a couple of women I met there. I’m not sure I like the women, but for now, it’s enough that they like me. Yep. I’m that starved for affection.

In a couple of days, I’ll have been here a year looking after my dad. Who knows how much longer it will be. Maybe years. And then after? I truly don’t know.

I feel so hypocritical with all this grief — I wanted the horror of our life to be over, but I didn’t want you dead. Ironically, if you hadn’t been dying, I wouldn’t have wanted our life to be over, but the truth is, I wanted your dying done with. The stress was incredible for me, so I can only imagine how much worse it was for you.

My dying is still to come. It scares me to think of having to deal with infirmities alone, though I think it will be easier knowing that my death will not grieve anyone the way yours did me.

Did I tell you? I finally and forever understand what you mean by the pilot light of anger. I don’t want to be consumed by anger, but a quiet pilot light to keep me going, that is important. I can’t simply accept what life did to us — it’s not right. Maybe the universe is unfolding as it should, as people tell me, but from my standpoint, here and now, I need that pilot light. Maybe it will be a “pilot” taking me where I need to go, though I don’t know where that would be.

Part of me wants to find someone so I don’t feel so alone, but I’m not ready for that. It’s a matter of learning to deal with the loneliness. I lived with it before I met you, and I imagine I’ll learn to live with it now that you’re gone. I hope wherever you are that you aren’t lonely. I hope you’re not in pain. I hope you’re delighting in being free of that diseased body. I still have your ashes. I wish we could talk about what I should do with them. I wish we could talk about what I should do with my life. I wish . . . oh, so many impossible things.

I love you. Take care of yourself. I’ll try to take better care of 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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 423

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). Although I have largely moved beyond my grief, I still wish I could talk to him, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. I don’t think I will ever lose that desire, ever stop yearning for what I cannot have. His goneness shapes my days somewhat the same way his presence used to. Everything I do is because he is no longer here.

I am more used to the idea of living alone than I was when I wrote this letter, though sometimes it still scares me. But one of the lessons grief taught me is that I can get used to anything, even loneliness and aloneness.

###

Day 423, Hi, Jeff.

I went to St. Simons Island where I gave a speech on creating characters. My talk went well — I dazzled. I could see it in their eyes. I met soLighthouseme authors, toured the town, climbed the lighthouse, steeped myself in island culture, even ate fried green tomatoes, though I didn’t like them — too much rosemary. Then, on the last day, I got sick. Might be a cold, might be an allergy flare-up, might be psychological (I couldn’t bear the idea of coming back here rather than to you, and it was a way of keeping me isolated.)

I refused to think about you this past week — didn’t want to suffocate. The stuffiness of tears on top of the stuffiness from being sick would have made it impossible to breathe, but Saturday, my sadder day, I did cry. Just kept crying, crying, crying.

I’m doing okay mostly, but I miss you. I hate that you’re gone, both on your behalf (though I doubt you care) and on my behalf. I still panic at the thought of dealing with life alone. Growing old alone. Dying alone. Living alone. I never expected to be so lonely, but I am. I’m lonely for someone generically and for you specifically. You’re so far out of reach! It seems pathetic that I need you — needed you — to give my life shape, form, focus, but it seems even more pathetic to be alone.

What’s to become of me? How can I go on alone? I know I’m strong enough, but shouldn’t there be more to life than simply endurance?

I miss you. I yearn for you. Just one more word. One more smile. Doesn’t seem too much to ask, but it kills me they are things I can never have again. How can it be over? And how can it still be painful after all these months?

I love you. Take care of yourself.

***

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: The Great Learning, Day 409

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). Although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief, which is a mixed blessing because I no longer feel connected to him in any way except for the place inside of me that echoes with his absence. And oh, how I wish I could go home to him! Or at least go talk to him, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. Luckily, because of my dance classes, I don’t have to spend so much energy trying to be upbeat. Dancing makes me smile, brings me joy and friendship, puts life into my life. I wonder what he would think of my dancing. Probably would be glad to know I found happiness.

###

Day 409, Hi, Jeff.

It’s been a while since I wrote or talked to you. I’ve been trying to let you go, trying to get on with my life, but I’m tired of being upbeat. I just want to be me, however I feel at the moment. I’m tired of trying not to think of you just so I won’t be sad. I’m tired of not having anyone to talk to, which is strange because I now have more people to talk to than I have had in years, but we don’t say much of anything, just talk St. Simons Islandabout the minutiae of our lives. I’m tired of not having anyone who understands. For example, if I tell anyone of my small infirmities, they just tell me to go to doctors, and we know that’s not much of an answer. You often had an answer, and if you didn’t, you simply listened to my worries, which made me feel better.

I miss you, not just because I’m tired you’re gone, but because of you. I’m going to St. Simons Island to give a speech at a writers’ conference, and you’re not here to send me off, to see my new clothes, to wish me well. Odd to think I’m taking only a couple of garments you have ever seen. Most of my clothes are new since you’ve been gone.

I wish I knew why things worked out the way they did. Or maybe I don’t. I just wish . . . I wish . . . that you were here, happy, rich, and loving me. I guess that’s what I wish. But perhaps you’re better of where you are. If so, where does that leave me?

I know it doesn’t sound that way, but I really do try to be upbeat and not to be sad all the time, but it’s wearying. It’s going to be worse when I get back from St. Simons. I won’t be coming home to you and a hug and a smile. I’ll be coming back here to my father’s house.

Funny, I wasn’t going to write to you again, but it does make me feel close to you, if only for a minute.

I miss you, Jeff. I love you. I want to go home. Please?

Damn it! I hate this. Are you okay? Are you taking care of yourself? Do you miss me? I guess I’m glad for the upsurges of grief. At least I know I still remember.

***

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: The Great Learning, Day 386

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no rainsequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief. I’m at the point, however, where I will have to make a decision about where to go when I leave this house, and I still don’t have a clue. I’ll probably stay in the vicinity for a while longer so I can continue taking dance classes, but afterward, oh, how I wish he and I would be starting over together.

###

Day 386, Hi, Jeff.

I’m lying here in bed thinking of you. I’m tired and don’t want to get up so I thought I’d write you. I’m trying to focus on the good things, but it’s hard. My books aren’t selling. I’m living somewhere I don’t want to be, being someone I don’t want to be. I have a pilot light of anger to keep me going, otherwise I probably never would get out of bed.

And yet, looked at from a different direction — forgetting the past, forgetting what I want — my life isn’t so bad. I don’t have to worry about paying bills. I’m warm, comfortable, fed. And I have new clothes. A couple of women from my grief group took me shopping (a belated birthday present). They bought me pants and tops. I detected a hint of something not totally altruistic, as if they thought I was clueless when it came to clothes. One woman said she was sick of the blouse I was wearing. Who says something like that? What difference does it make to her how I dress? Still, it was nice. And I don’t look like me, which is even nicer. I go to lunch with those women a couple of times a month and a couple of times a month I go to lunch with a few others from my grief group. So see? Things aren’t totally terrible, but no matter how I look at it, it’s a lonely life.

I miss you. I want to come home. Or start over with you somewhere else. It’s a good thing I don’t have to make a decision where to go because I haven’t a clue. Maybe I’ll know when the time comes to leave here. I just wish, with all my heart, you were well and I was going to go home to you.

Adios, compadre,. I love you.

***

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: The Great Learning, Day 383

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons blocksgleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief. At the moment, the future doesn’t seem bleak the way it did on the 383rd day after his death, though I still don’t know what to build my life on, and I’m still waiting for something to happen.

###

Day 383, Dear Jeff,

I’m having a hard time coping, but maybe it isn’t necessary to be stoic in order to cope. Maybe tears and tantrums are my way of coping for now. If nothing else, those tears and tantrums help get rid of the terrible stress of grief.

I feel as if I’ve been abandoned by you. You were the only one who ever truly cared for me, and I don’t know how to be alone. I don’t mean physically alone — that I can do. I mean that mental, spiritual, emotional aloneness when there is no one in the world who cares on a daily basis. I know there are some people who care sporadically when they get a few minutes, but it sure isn’t something for me to build a life on.

I’m feeling sorry for myself. I keep hoping something good will happen. I need something to offset this pervasive sadness. The years stretch bleakly before me. It’s just too sad.

Adios, compadre. I love you.

***

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.

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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