Vulnerability and Upsurges of Grief

Lately I have been experiencing an upsurge of grief so strong it feels as if Jeff died a short time ago and is just out of reach. If I could only stretch my arm a bit farther. . . and farther . . .

But no matter how far I reach, he is gone. In one month it will be seven years. Always the weeks leading up to an anniversary are hard, but this year is much harder. I even had to resort to writing Jeff a letter last night, which is something I haven’t done in years. The letter writing helped enough that I will probably repeat the exercise until I get through this difficult time.

Because of this blog, I have been in touch with many people who have lost their mates, and I discovered that a common occurrence was a huge upsurge of grief at 18 months just when we thought we were over the worst of it. My current upsurge makes me wonder if there is a significance to the seventh anniversary. It’s been said that because of the constant changing of cells in our bodies, every seven years we have undergone a complete changeover. After the loss of a life mate/soul mate, it takes 3 to 4 years to find a renewal of life. I call that time the half-life of grief because half the physical connection is gone. Does this mean that at seven years, any remaining iota of his physical presence in my life and body is now gone and hence this grief upsurge?

This morning while texting with a friend, I mentioned my upcoming anniversary. She thought my grief had less to do with the number seven and more to do with increased vulnerability because of my poor shattered arm and my needing “a soft place to lean.” (She also thinks I should be documenting what I’m going through for a possible future book that might help others who are dealing with a similar situation, but this blog is all the documentation I will need.)

She could be right about my needing a soft place to lean. Ever since my fall, I had been feeling a bit of an upsurge in grief, both for my arm and for my now long-gone shared life, but it wasn’t until I lost my occupational therapist (the one person I had to lean on) to bureaucracy that I began this downward slide into profound grief. But also, coincidentally, that is when I began the downward slide to the anniversary.

Whatever the truth of the matter, this current upsurge surprised me because I thought I left such deep sorrow in the past. You’d think after all these years of learning about grief firsthand, there would be no more surprises left for me, but grief does what it wants.

People tell me to get over it, to move on, not to be sad, and in recent years I have been doing all those things, even went on a great adventure. But now, suddenly, I am in a place of “not doing.” I have to be very careful with the fixator attached to my arm. Because the pins go through skin and muscle and all the way through bone, the insertion points are prone to infection, and it is a full-time job keeping them clean. I want to hurry up with my hand exercises, to try to quickly get back as much range of finger motion as I can, but too much stress and stretch aggravates those puncture wounds. So here I sit, isolated, alone with my hand-me-down Nook filled with books, and my computer. (Though the poor Nook is threatening to quit on me, and my aged computer is struggling to keep up with today’s technology.)

I don’t feel quite so sick or so lost in the post anesthetic fog as I did the first couple of months after the fall, and I only take pain pills now to help control the pain so I can sleep. I hope that one day soon I can go back to writing. I try to put myself in a happy place, and it seems as if it’s been years since I’ve been happy, it was only a few months ago. Last October. Writing. Finishing my dance novel.

When I started working on my grieving woman book, I couldn’t help feeling sad for that poor woman and all she went through, so it did not bring me much happiness. But now that my normal state is sadness, writing might offset some of the sorrow. It does amuse me, though, thinking that this grief upsurge, so reminiscent of the early months, puts me in the proper frame of mind to write about a brand-new widow. Also amusing, though in a more ironic way, I can’t figure out how to end that woman’s story, just as I can’t figure out how to end mine.

Luckily, I have a treat in store for me today — I am going grocery shopping! A friend who comes to town occasionally to help with her aging mother makes time to help me with errands, and today is the day! I will revel in the company, the laughter, the largess spread out all around me, and be grateful for this chink in my isolation.

And tonight, if tears flow once again, I will write Jeff another letter, thank him for letting me share his life, and tell him how glad I am that at least one of us is spared any further pain and sorrow.

But dammit, I miss him.

Apparently, I always will.

heart

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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 Can’t Do This!”

So often during the early years of my grief, my blog writing would be precipitated by a bout of crying. In subsequent years, I’ve tried to be more upbeat in my posts, but always a bout of crying would inspire another blog post and yep, you guessed it — today is one of the crying times.

In my previous post, “A Halcyon Time,” I told you about the occupational therapist who’s been visiting me for an hour a couple of times a week. She’s been helping me take a shower, massaging my incisions, teaching me a few therapeutic exercises I can do to keep my fingers and elbow working as much as possible. She’s helped subdue my fears, hugged me when I needed it, and brought a note of sanity into this whole insane experience. She’s treated me as more than just a client — she really seemed to care — and oh, how I needed that! It’s been years since someone cared for me in such a personal, hands-on way, and it’s made this time of home-bound healing palatable.

So why the tears? I just found out that Monday will be her final visit. My insurance won’t pay for any more days, and though she has fought for me a couple of times already and got the visitations extended, she has reached the end of what she is allowed to do, so I’ve been cut loose. I feel so terrible, so tearful. I haven’t even started the hard part of this whole healing journey. The fixator is still on, and once it comes off, it’s going to take a long time — maybe years, painful years — before I am back to a semblance of normal, and even then I will only regain about 50% mobility.

I’m screaming to myself, “I can’t do this!” (this being the next stages of recovery by myself), though I know I can. I’ve done so much I didn’t think I could do during the past seven years.

I still remember those first two months after Jeff died. I was all alone, in the worst agony I’d ever experienced, barely able to breathe, totally lost, and feeling as if half my soul had been amputated. I kept screaming “I can’t do this!” But of course, I did whatever needed to be done. I dealt with the mortuary, the bank, the government. I disposed of his clothes and other “effects.” Packed my stuff. Had a yard sale. Got rid of most of the things I didn’t think I would need. Traveled 1000 miles to go take care of my father. All within two months of Jeff’s death. All while screaming “I can’t do this!”

So yes, I know I can do this. Whatever happens in the next couple of months will in no way match the agony of those long ago months, and even if it did, there is something unbreakable in me that will allow me to do whatever needs to be done. But truly, it would’ve been so much easier with the counsel and support of that occupational therapist.

I hate to admit it, but I’m scared. I’m afraid of the next stage of healing and then going into old age alone with a disability (even a minor one), and more immediately, I’m afraid of falling back into the despair of loneliness and isolation.

There are people in my life who care, but it’s not like having a partner, either in life or in healing. I always knew, of course, the occupational therapist was only a temporary angel, yet I’d hoped to have her support until I felt well enough to continue on my own. Still, as with all partings, I am grateful for the time we had together. (Oddly, I don’t even know how I got involved with the home health service. I think one of the doctors at the hospital prescribed the service so a nurse would check on me since I was going home alone, and the therapist came along as part of the service.) It felt great being in someone’s concern, even if only two hours a week. I know I was darn lucky to have had her in my life the last three months, but now I am bereft.

A friend asked, “Do you think the loss of your OT is triggering the start of your annual grieving? Or it could be you are grieving only her, a caregiver who is gone. I know you feel the loneliness more acutely right around this time of the year, especially as it gets closer to your anniversary. If one could only push a button to fast-forward through these wretched months.”

She’s right — I do feel the loneliness more acutely at this time of year, and it’s possible that the nearness of that terrible anniversary, the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death, is exacerbating my grief for the loss of therapist’s support, but even without that anniversary I would still feel the loss and the coming isolation. (Without her, I go weeks without seeing anyone.)

But there is no doubt the echo of that one devastating loss magnifies any current losses.

The death of a lifemate/soul mate creates a soul quake that leaves behind a huge void. When I went to stay with my father and discovered that he was living a scant 15 miles from the San Andreas Fault, at first I panicked, and then out of curiosity I went in search of the fault line. Unlike the image I had in my mind of a big crack in the earth, signs of the fault were much more subtle, such as red soil miles from where it originated, but in one place where the earth split, I found a leftover cavity filled with water. (It’s called a lake, though truly, it seems more like an elongated pond than a lake.)

Now that my soul quake has mostly healed, it has left behind a similar cavity inside me, and that cavity seems filled with tears, creating an underground lake or well that seeps to the surface of my life too frequently for comfort. And yet without the comfort of those tears what do I have? Only my ability to plod ahead, I suppose.

And plod ahead, I will.

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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.

Anti-Loneliness Plan

I went walking in the desert yesterday, the first time since I left my father’s house. It was easy to get to the open space when I lived within walking distance, but now that I am ten miles away, it’s harder to find the motivation to drive to “my” part of the desert. I always thought it silly to drive to a place of exercise, but in this case, it’s not exercise I needed. Well, I did need it. Let’s just say I needed more than exercise, like a feeling of connection to the world.

I’ve been feeling my aloneness lately, more so than usual, been feeling disconnected, and I simply cannot let my gloom (as one friend called it) continue past the point where I can handle it. So I worked on my book a bit in the morning to get my mind off myself, which was sort of a silly plan because the book is mostly about me. (Apparently, I am becoming the main character since my character is the only one who is connected to all the other characters.) But writing did help. And it helped give me the energy I needed to get in the car and drive to the desert.

The desert worked its magic. (Well, except for the part where my knees were scraped from a slide down a loose gravelly slope and my shoulders ached from the use of the Pacerpoles. The poles help take the weight off the lower joints, but the weight has to go somewhere.) As I picked my way along the rocky trail, stopping periodically to feast my eyes on the hills, I realized what the problem has been. It’s been a year since my father died, and such anniversaries are always difficult. From the beginning I’ve had a harder time dealing with his death than I expected because we weren’t particularly close, but we did live together in relative peace for almost five years. And his death, like the death of my life mate/soul mate, catapulted me out of my status quo and into a different life.

That I am in a different life has been masked by various circumstances. I spent the first six month in his house, cleaning out his things and getting the house ready for sale. Three of the next months were spent with friends and three were spent housesitting, so now is the first time I am truly feeling the effects of my aloneness.

Oddly, this sort of profound aloneness is what I expected to feel on my trip, especially if/when I am camping by myself, but since I seldom can guess how I will feel ahead of time, I have a hunch the trip will make me feel connected. But what do I know? I’m just a woman tossed on the grief heap and left to make my way however I can.

A further complication leading to a feeling of disconnect is that I’m currently rationed when it comes to the internet (which has always been a place of refuge for me) because all I have is the data on my phone to get me through the lonely times. Consequently, those times seem to loom greater than they normally would. There is enough data for me to post to my blog, so maybe I should try to go back to blogging every day despite not having anything to say. When did having nothing to say ever stop me before? (Be forewarned!)

I also had another rather mundane revelation while out walking — I leave on my extended trip in just a month, so I better start figuring out what sort of food to bring! I’ll be staying with various people along the way, so I’m sure I won’t starve, but I also need to take the time to visit national parks and forests, to hike in various locales, to camp when I can or must, so having supplies will be important. Because I’ll be in my car, canned goods won’t be a problem, and I will have my backpacking stove if I need to cook something, so I’ll be able to bring anything, even a bit of fresh food. Might be an interesting experience. I’ve never bought food for a camping trip before.

So, here’s the plan — walk more, write, blog, stockpile food, and stop reading as much. (Yep, reading is something else that makes me feel disconnected, though reading was the only way I managed to get through my lonely childhood. Now, for some reason, reading depresses me, maybe because the characters get together, which makes me feel sad for myself, or they don’t get together, which makes me feel sad for them.)

None of this will erase the fact of my aloneness, but it will help me forget it.

I’ll let you know what happens.

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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.”)

Terrible Anniversaries of Grief

I always dread the terrible anniversaries of grief, and this up-coming fourth anniversary is no exception. I don’t dread the pain of the day — I have learned that the days of remembrance are easy; the hard part is the grief that visits us beforehand. What I dread even more now than grief’s presence is its absence because the lack of sorrow seems to diminish him from my life even more. Once I was loved. Once I loved greatly. But “once” isn’t much to build a life on.

And so it goes . . . this awful and awe-filled journey we call grief.

In a strange sort of way, I feel lucky that I don’t have to dread grief’s absence today. I was upset over a lost item yesterday, and to console myself, I reminded myself that it wasn’t much in the grand scheme of life and death. And that, of course, reminded me of the loss of my deceased life mate/soul mate, and I couldn’t stop crying.

speedBy now, I’m used to his being gone, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the enormity of death. He isn’t just gone from me, perhaps enjoying a new love or new life thousands of miles from here. He is gone from this earth, so far away I can’t even fathom the distance. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so today we are a very long way from where we were when he died. (Considering only the speed of the earth, he died 2,349,221,000 miles ago.)

I too am a long way away from where I was when he died. In blog post after blog post during those first couple of years, I remarked that I hadn’t changed at all — it seemed to me that having gone through such a devastating loss, I should have grown stronger or kinder or wiser or changed in some fundamental way. I don’t know about wiser, but I do know I am vastly different from the woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain. That woman who still felt so broken months after his death. That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds.

Oddly, I didn’t expect to feel any upsurge of sadness this anniversary. It has been four years, and I don’t think about him much any more. If thoughts of him come to me, I don’t hold tightly to them as I used to do, but let them drift away again. If the thoughts brought me closer to him, of course I’d hold on tightly, just as I’d hold him if he showed up on the doorstep.

But the sad truth is (or maybe it’s not a sad truth, maybe it’s a glorious truth), life does go on. The hole he left in my life is gradually closing, as is the hole he left here on earth. And when I am gone, there will be no one left alive who remembers him.

I bought a bottle of sparkling apple-cranberry juice to wash away my sorrows (hard drinker that I am!), but maybe I’ll use it instead to toast his life, and mine.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.