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

***

(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.

Is Our Grief Necessary to the Dead?

I talked to my deceased life mate/soul mate while I was out walking in the desert this morning. I apologized for keeping him tied to me with my grief, told him I hadn’t meant to shed so many tears for him or grieve for so long, and explained that much of my grief came from somewhere so deep inside that I had no conscious control over it.

I told him I was doing okay, so perhaps I wouldn’t be bothering him as much, and I wished him well.

I continued wandering, wondering about the incomprehensibleness of grief, and the thought came to me that perhaps such profound grief is a beacon, as necessary to the dead as it is to the living.

During the last weeks of my mate’s death, he was often agitated and confused due to both the cancer in his brain and the morphine he needed to control his pain. Once he woke screaming. I went to calm him, but he was frantic. He couldn’t remember who he was. “Do you remember me?” I asked. He studied my face, nodded his head, and immediately started to calm down. A few minutes later, he’d recovered enough to remember who he was.

What if after he died, he felt as horribly and as bewilderingly amputated as I did? What if his new world felt as alien as mine did? What if my grief, so incredibly powerful, served as a beacon the same way my presence did that night? What if my grief showed him where I was and gave him something familiar to focus on until he could get his bearings?

We are indoctrinated by religion and by stories of near death experience into believing that death is an immediate rebirth into the light, but no one knows the truth of it. (Many people who have near death experiences do not see the light, but see darkness. Some people whose heart stops have no experiences. The truth is, the brain releases powerful psychedelic chemicals during trauma that can induce such mystical experiences. Many people who took LSD or DMT and had good trips returned to themselves believing they had died and experienced God and the after life. But although many people think they know the truth of it, no one on this side of death can know for sure.)

Someone who died abruptly might not know what happened. Someone who died slowly but in confusion and disorientation might not know what happened. This sort of thing isn’t unheard of; it occurs here on Earth. A person who is given sight after being blind since birth often cannot immediately see except a fuzzy light. The brain needs to be trained so that it knows what it is seeing. Perhaps the newly dead also need to be trained to see through their new eyes. And if so, the grief of a loved one could provide a beacon until they get their bearings.

The desert is known for inducing mysticism in people who wander those empty spaces, so there could be some truth to this. On the other hand, it was very hot, and I might have had sunstroke. Either way, the idea of grief being a beacon is an interesting concept, one that will stew in my brain pan for a while.

***

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.

Grieving for the Dead

The conventional wisdom is that we grieve for ourselves, not the person who died, but as with any other idea most people have about grief, it is only partly true. When it comes to a soul mate, we often grieve for him as much as we grieve for ourselves. During our shared time, we cared as much about him, his well-being, his happiness as we did about our own, and that caring does not stop with death.

Many people still feel their soul mate’s presence, sometimes in a beneficial way, as a blessing or as a helping hand, but others feel their mate’s unhappiness. One woman, whose husband spend his last months connected to gastric tubes and other painful devices, continued to feel his anger long after he died. He’d been furious with her for agreeing to procedures that prolonged his suffering, and she was ridden with guilt because of it. (Though what other decisions about his care could she have made? He could not talk, and the doctors assured her he would get better if they performed those operations.) For more than a year after his death, she could still feel waves of anger directed at her. Perhaps the anger was a symptom of her guilt, but perhaps part of him still harbored those feelings. We hope our loved ones are at peace, but what if they’re not?

One of the great agonies of losing one’s soul mate is not knowing where he is, how he is, if he is. I found comfort in believing that my life mate/soul mate wasn’t suffering any more, that he, at least, wasn’t having to deal with the pain of our disconnect, but then one day it struck me that I didn’t know that for sure. Since I had no sense of his continued presence in my life, I had no conception of what he might be experiencing. What if he were feeling just as lost and lonely and bereft as I was?

I had to put such thoughts out of my head because I truly could not bear to think of him in pain. I was still grieving for all the suffering to which he’d been subject during his final days, weeks, months, still grieving for his hopes that never came to fruition, still grieving for the dreams that died with him. Perhaps it was silly of me to grieve for him, since it’s entirely possible he wasn’t grieving for himself, but still, those thoughts were there, complicating my grief.

It’s been a few days more than three years since he died, and sometime during those grief-filled months, I began to disconnect from him, to understand that whatever relationship we had, however much we shared, no matter how much it felt as if we were cosmic twins, we were still two separate people on two separate journeys. This is an important realization and a necessary step to mental health and eventual happiness, but the habit of thinking of him is still strong, and I wonder where he is, how he is, if he is.

I hope he is happy, fulfilled, challenged, radiant. I wish those things for myself, and I can wish no less for him.

***

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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+