The Power of Words

I am a writer, hence words are my life. So far, they are not my living, though I still have hopes of making money with my writing, but they are my life. I love to play with words. I think in words rather than images. I see hidden meanings in words. For example a friend on Facebook told me that grief is like tide pools — sometimes very shallow and sometimes unfathomably deep. She said she preferred the shallows because of the living things she could see in the pools, and all at once, in the midst of the word shallows, I saw the word hallow, meaning sacred and holy. This seemed very deep to me, but maybe I simply liked playing with the idea that “shallows” had depth.

Still, sometimes the power of words surprises me. In my previous post, Vulnerability and Upsurges of Grief,  I mentioned that I was going through a profound grief upsurge, one that was so strong I felt I needed to reach out to Jeff in the only way I knew how — by writing him a letter. The next day, I was puzzled by the absence of tears, by the peace that had settled over me. The only thing that changed from one day to the next was that letter. After I’d told him about my arm, my feelings of isolation, my financial woes, I wrote “Odd that your death brings so much grief, but it also brings me comfort, knowing you are out of this world. At least one of us doesn’t have to deal with this crap anymore.”

One of the hardest things about losing a lifemate/soul mate/spouse/partner is that there is no longer any “us.” There is only I. Me. By subconsciously identifying myself as being still part of an “us,” perhaps I felt a continuity of our shared life. Since his death, I’ve never really felt the continuity, never felt his presence — only his absence. (People sometimes suggest I should put Jeff out of my mind because he is in the past, and the truth is that I do forget him for weeks on end, but it’s also true that his absence is part of my present. His absence fuels my need to live, my need not to waste whatever life is left to me.) I’d packed his picture in my storage unit when I went on my trip, and since I have no way to go get it right now, I printed out another copy of the photo. I tacked his image above my computer, and seeing his radiant smile makes me smile.

I’d read once that those bereft who find a way to make their lost mate a part of their lives are happier and more contented than those who try to ignore the past. I suppose in my rush to live as fully as possible, I’d forgotten this, or maybe thoughts of him had just naturally drifted away. In the busyness of my life in the shallows, he’ll probably drift away again. But for now, it feels good to have this connection, even if it is all in my mind.

Because of anecdotes about near-death experiences, we all assume our dead are happily waiting for us, but I’m not sure that’s true. Even though they might not feel loss as we do, it’s possible that they too feel the separation. I also think it’s possible that sometimes inexplicable grief comes not from within us but from without, from our lost one thinking about us, missing us. (I used to think that calling a death a “loss” was a misnomer because we did not mislay the person, but now it does feel as if Jeff is lost to me, lost in the far reaches of time.)

March is shaping up to be an interesting month. Not only do I add another year to my age, I tick off another anniversary of his death. It’s also another long month of having the external fixator attached to my arm. (The surgery to remove the device will not take place until April.) Another month of isolation. Another month of surrendering to idleness. (That part, at least, sounds inviting.) I might again founder (and flounder) in the depths of grief, or I might find peace in the shallows. But whatever happens, right now, at this moment, I am at peace.

And all because of a few powerful words.

great-saguaro

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(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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And So Grief Goes . . .

When you lose a soul mate or any person who connects you to the world in a significant way, you are born into the world of grief. At first, like any infant, you count your age in days, then weeks, and finally months and years.

I am long past counting the days and weeks since the death of my life mate/soul mate, though I can figure it out. (In case you’re curious, I calculated that it’s been 1,310 days or 187 weeks.) I’m even past counting the months. Today is an anniversary of his death, but without stopping to figure it out, all I know is that it’s been more than three and a half years but less than four.

numbersThis is a significant development. People who have never had to deal with the death of such an important person in their lives were spooked by my counting the days for so long, thinking I was unhealthily obsessed with the past, but that wasn’t the case at all. The days were milestones, ways of proving to myself that I could get through my grief one day at a time. And I have mostly gone through it. The horrendous pain, angst, and confusion of those first months isn’t even a memory. I can’t imagine anymore what I went through, can’t imagine how anyone could go through such a series of losses and come out the other end stronger and able to face whatever traumas life has in store. (In my case, not only did I lose my life mate/soul mate, I lost shared hopes and dreams, my most devoted fan, my best friend, and my home.)

When I talk about my grief, people assume I mean I still mourn him. To me, grief is the process, the whole spectrum of grief-related advancements including healing and rebuilding one’s life. The spectrum flows from the deepest black of despair to the brightest white of joy. Mourning is the sadness, the tears, the screams, the soul-deep pain — the physical manifestation of grief. I am long past the soul-deep pain, but I am still a long way from joy, so although I seldom mourn him any more, I still consider myself a child of grief.

Someday, that too will pass. Grief has taught me what we already know: things change. I never thought I’d laugh again, never thought I could live again. And yet here I am, all these months later, laughing and enjoying myself on occasion. I never thought I could forget him, and yet he is not always on my mind. For so long, I couldn’t bear the thought of settling down anywhere when I leave here (I am temporarily staying with my 96-year-old father, looking after him so he can be as independent as possible). All I wanted was to keep on the move. Travel See what life has to offer. I still think of leading such a spontaneous and unsettled life, but I am also weighing the possibility of settling down. I used to fear stagnation, but I am surer of myself and my solitary place in the world, and I doubt I would stagnate. I would do . . . something.

And so grief goes . . .

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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.

I Am a Twelve-Month Grief Survivor

Twelve months.

One full year.

It seems impossible that my life mate — my soul mate — has been gone for so long. It seems even more impossible that I’ve survived.

His death came as no surprise. I’d seen all the end signs: his unending restlessness, his inability to swallow, his disorientation, his wasting away to nothing, the change in his breathing. Nor did my reaction come as a surprise. I was relieved he’d finally been able to let go and that his suffering (and the indignities of dying) had stopped. I was relieved his worst fear (lingering or a long time as a helpless invalid) had not had a chance to materialize. What did come as a surprise was my grief. I’d had years to come to terms with his dying. I’d gone through all the stages of grief, so I thought the only thing left was to get on with my life. And yet . . . there it was. His death seemed to have created a rupture in the very fabric of my being — a soulquake. The world felt skewed with him gone, and I had a hard time gaining my balance. Even now, I sometimes experience a moment of panic, as if I am setting a foot onto empty space when I expected solid ground.

I have no idea how I survived the first month, the second, the twelfth. All I know is that I did survive. I’m even healing. I used to think “healing” was an odd word to use in conjunction with grief since grief is not an illness, but I have learned that what needs to heal is that rupture — one cannot continue to live for very long with a bloody psyche. The rupture caused by his dying doesn’t yawn as wide as it once did, and the raw edges are finally scarring over. I don’t steel myself against the pain of living as I had been. I’m even looking forward, curious to what the future holds in store for me.

Strangely, I am not ashamed of all the tears I’ve shed this past year, nor am I ashamed of making it known how much I’ve mourned. The tears themselves are simply a way of easing the terrible stress of grief, a way of releasing chemicals that built because of the stress. And by making my grief public, I’ve met so many wonderful people who are also undertaking this journey.

I’ve been saying all along that I’d be okay eventually, but the truth is, despite the lingering sorrow, my yearning for him, and the upsurges in grief, I am doing okay now.

I expected this to be a day of sadness, but it is one of gladness. I am glad he shared his life (and his death) with me. Glad we had so many years together. Glad we managed to say everything that was necessary while we still had time. Tomorrow will be soon enough to try to figure out what I am going to do now that my first year of mourning is behind me. Today I am going to watch one of his favorite movies, eat a bowl of his chili (his because he created the recipe, his because he was the one who always fixed it), and celebrate his life.

Keeping Vigil

I’m continuing my anniversary vigil, reliving the days that led up to the death of my life mate, my soul mate. This vigil is not so much conscious as subconscious, a feeling that the events of a year ago are happening again. Part of me seems to think I really am there at his deathbed — when I was out walking in the desert today, I found myself wailing, “Don’t go! Please don’t leave me!”

This is so different from last year’s reality. Then, I was concentrating on him, on his suffering, on his need to let go of life, and I never once thought of asking him to stay for me. Would never have subjected him to more pain and suffering. Would never have wished him more days as a helpless invalid. And yet, here I am, today, begging him not to leave me.

Such is grief — a place where time goes backward and forward, stands still and zips ahead.

Perhaps when this first terrible year is finished, when I have experienced this reprise of his death from my point of view rather than his, I will be able to put a lot of my grief behind me and go forward with my life. Though I still don’t know what that life is, where it will take me, or if it will take me anywhere at all. Perhaps all that is necessary is to experience life, and if that is true, well, I have certainly lived this past year.

It’s strange looking back to the long years of his dying. I thought I was ready to leave the emotional burdens and the financial constraints of his illness behind. I thought I was ready to live out my life alone. I even looked forward to the challenges, especially since he told me that when he was gone, things would come together for me. He was a bit of a seer (though he mostly saw doom) so I believed him. But neither of us expected the toll grief would take. (Well, he might have suspected. He was very concerned about me.) I knew I’d be okay, and I am, but I didn’t understand what grief was. (I’d already lost a brother and my mother, but that was not the same as losing my cosmic twin, the person who shared my thoughts and dreams, who lived in the same world I did.) I never expected the sheer physicality of grief, the physical wrenching, the feeling of amputation, the feeling of psychic starvation, the feeling of imbalance in the world, the sheer goneness of him.

Nor did I expect to still be worrying about him. Is he okay? Is his suffering really over?

His death was not a silent one. He moaned for days, though the nurses assured me he was feeling no pain, that he was sighing, that it was a common reaction for those who were dying. I remember standing there, exactly one year ago tonight, listening to him, worrying that he was suffering, and then one of his “sighs” became lyrical, almost like a note from a song, and I knew he was telling me he was all right.

I keep listening for some sound, looking for some sign that he is okay, but today all I hear is silence.

Grief: Counting Down to the First Anniversary

In three days it will be a year since the death of my life mate — my soul mate. I’ve been counting down the days with tears. I would have thought I’d have finished my weeping months ago, and for the most part I have, but here it comes again. I’ve been keeping busy, not wanting to drown in sorrow. In fact, I’ll be leaving in a few minutes to have lunch with friends. Like me, they lost their mates, and so their presence is a comfort. We’ll laugh and talk, and that will keep the tears at bay, but when I get back to the house, I’ll probably be sad again. And that’s okay. I’m finding that now, after a wave of intense grief, there is a backwash of peace.

The anniversary itself was supposed to have been a good day for me, not a celebration so much as an acknowledgement that I survived the year. And perhaps it will be a good day despite the upsurge in sorrow. My latest book, Light Bringer — the last one he helped me research and edit, the last one I read to him as I was writing it — will be published on his death day as a memorial to him (though the book itself won’t be available for another week or so). The book is his epitaph, his tombstone, the final resting place for our joint efforts. (There is one more book he influenced, but that book is only half finished, and I haven’t had the heart to work on it.)

During all this year, I haven’t been able to eat the foods we fixed together (with the exception of salads. Those I still can eat, though why, I don’t know since salads were a major component of our meals). So I thought a good sign of my healing would be to fix one of those meals I haven’t been able to eat. Today I am going to get the ingredients for his chili, and on the anniversary, I will cook a batch in his honor. I will probably watch a movie that he taped for us, which is what we always did on special occasions.

He would have enjoyed such a day. I wish with everything I have that he were here, but of course, if he were here, there would be no such anniversary to endure, to acknowledge, yes, even to celebrate.

Standing Tearfully on the Cusp of . . .

My fourth book, Light Bringer, is going to be released later this month. I thought this would be an auspicious time, a time of endings and new beginnings. March is the two-year anniversary of my being published, it’s the anniversary of my birth, and it’s the first anniversary of my soul mate’s death. What I didn’t take into consideration is how emotional this month would be. I mean, I’ve had almost a year to get used to his death. I should be over it by now, right? Apparently not.

After his death, I told myself, “If you can just get through the first month, you’ll be fine.” I wasn’t. So then I told myself, “After the third month, you’ll be fine.” The months passed, and I still grieved, so I told myself, “After six months . . .” And, “after a year.” I’m nearing that first anniversary, but I don’t seem to be completely shedding my grief. Grief follows its own time. It will not, cannot be rushed. Even worse, I seem to be keyed into this same month last year — the final month of his life — and I feel as if I’m counting down to his death . . . again. The big difference is that last year I did not give in to emotion — at least not much and not until the end. His care was all that mattered. Well, I’m feeling now what I didn’t feel then. And just like last year, nothing I do can make him well.

This will be my first birthday without him, and oddly, it saddens me. We didn’t celebrate our birthdays. Sometimes we acknowledged them, sometimes we didn’t, but they were no big deal, just a change of numbers, so I’ve been wondering why this birthday troubles me, and tonight I figured it out. This is one of one of the big 0 birthdays, the one where you can no longer fool yourself into thinking you are still young (even the actuarial tables acknowledge this one as a major change). And here’s the kicker: my mate and I will not be growing old together. There will be no walking hand-in-hand in our twilight years, no reminiscing about our youth, no helping each other overcome the infirmities of age. “The end” has been written on our love story.

If that weren’t enough trauma for one month, Light Bringer is his memorial — his funeral service, obituary, epitaph — all rolled into one. Perhaps I shouldn’t imbue the book with such significance, but it is the culmination of two lifetimes of study — his and mine. It’s the last book he helped me edit, the last one I read to him from beginning to end. Once the book has been launched, it no longer belongs to us — to him and me. It belongs to anyone who reads it. And so one more piece of him will be gone from my life.

I’d hoped to be able to give the book a good send-off, but it’s hard to think of fun, innovative ways to promote when I’m constantly reminded that he won’t be here to help me celebrate. And it is something to celebrate. (Heck, I’m even going to celebrate my birthday!) So, here I am, at the beginning of this auspicious month, standing tearfully on the cusp of . . . what? I don’t know.