Seven Years and Seven Months

Seven years and seven months ago, Jeff, my lifemate/soulmate, died after a long illness, catapulting me out of not only our coupled life, but the very house we shared for decades. After dismantling our home, getting rid of what I could and packing the rest, I went to stay with my father, who needed someone to be there for him. Although he was mostly able to look after himself, he was getting feeble enough that he needed someone in the house to make sure he was okay. And me, being newly loose in the world, undertook the task. If he were alive, my father would be over a hundred years old, but he died three years ago today, and once again I was catapulted out into the world.

I’ve become somewhat of a nomad, or maybe I should say a serial nester. In the past three years, I’ve lived over a dozen places (and those are only the places I’ve stayed more than a couple of weeks. If you include places I stayed a week or less, they are too numerous to count.) Because I’ve spent most of the past couple of decades taking care of friends and relatives, my financial situation is precarious, so I should be trying to find a place to settle down and get a job, but . . . well, I’m not. After the emotional rigors of the past ten years (starting with Jeff’s rapid decline and my mother’s death and ending with the fall eleven months ago that pulverized my left wrist, destroyed my left elbow, and smashed my radius, leaving me with a deformed arm, and wrist and fingers that don’t quite work the way they should), it’s nice to just go with the flow — not trying to do anything, not trying to think anything, not trying to push my recalcitrant spirit into a semblance of vitality. Just drifting.

Occasionally I correspond with the newly bereft who discover me through my book, Grief: The Great Yearning. They appreciate knowing they aren’t alone in how they feel, and they seem to find solace in my words. And that’s all I have left of grief now — just words. (Well, that and compassion. Not everyone comprehends the total horror that one lives through after the death of the one person you shared everything with, the one person who anchored you to life, the one person who understood you.)

Oddly, in the same way that I can no longer “feel” the exact pain of my arm when it shattered, I can no longer actually “feel” the pain of new grief. I remember not being able to breathe. Not being able to think. Not being able to get a grip on the immense agony of my grief. I remember feeling as if I were standing on the brink of the abyss, remember thinking that if I reached out far enough, I could still touch Jeff. But I cannot actually recall the feeling of new grief itself.

Even more oddly, I’m not sure if the man in my memory is the real Jeff. Has my memory of him changed over the years to fulfill his changing role in my life? I no longer know, and don’t want to know. To try to resurrect the real him, if only in memory, will eventually lead to losing him again, and that I can’t handle.

So I drift.

I am doing what I can to exercise my hand, wrist, elbow — I won’t gain the maximum usage of the joints for another year, so I am still diligently following instructions. And I am still taking dance classes. And slowly, I am gaining strength, better balance, and maybe even a modicum of grace.

What I have not been doing is writing, even though finishing my decade-old work not-in-progress tops my to-do list (or would top my to-do list if I had one. A to-do list seems the antithesis of drifting.)

Although today is the anniversary of my father’s death, it is Jeff I think of. If Jeff hadn’t died, I would never have gone to take care of my father, would never be where I am today.

Drifting.

This photo is twenty years old, the only one ever taken of me, Jeff, and my parents. Although I am the only one still alive, that “me” in the photo is long gone. I don’t even remember being her. Maybe she’s just as lost as the other three.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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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The Surprise and Sadness of Grief’s Journey

Every step I take on grief’s journey brings with it surprise and sadness. I’ve come far enough that I am no longer wracked with pain and sorrow at the death of my life mate/soul mate, though sadness and loneliness do shadow my life, and tears are sometimes needed to wash away my yearning to see him once more. Now that the trauma of his years of dying has dissipated, I remember more of what he once was, and those memories have both given him back to me in an oblique sort of way (which surprises me), while separating us even further because of the profound reminder that he is no longer here (which saddens me).

For so long, the two images I had of him in my mind were the last time I saw him, right after he died, before the nurses enshrouded his body in a white blanket and first time I ever saw him when he was young and vibrant. The juxtapositioning of those two images shattered my already broken heart. I could not understand how that strong, radiant being became the wasted unbeing who barely made a dent in the bed.

I had a lot to process during those first years of grief and now that I’m past the shock and disbelief and have even managed to come to terms with the anger, guilt, and regrets, those two images are fading to the same sepia tones as the rest of our thirty-four years together. His goneness — the very void of his absence — haunted me for almost three years, but now I’ve become modesert roadre used to his absence (though I still do not like it at all!), and that too, serves to give him back to me, at least in memory.

But the truth, that I will never again see him in this lifetime, is still incomprehensible. How is it possible that he is gone? How is it possible that I am still here?

Maybe I have tasks to undertake that he cannot help me with, and that is why I am here — to complete these tasks by myself. Maybe it’s simply chance that he died and I didn’t. And maybe the reason (or absence of reason) is as unfathomable as death itself. But in the end, the reasons don’t matter. It’s the reality I have to deal with, and the still unpalatable reality is that, however near he sometimes seems in memory, he is immeasurably far from me.

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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.