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.

***
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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For All of You Who Are Experiencing Grief

I always know when someone who is grieving has discovered my blog — the number of views increases dramatically while the number of visitors stays the same. Only an intense loss (or upcoming loss) keeps someone here long enough to read a sampling of my grief posts.

Although I am on the downward slide of grief, every day someone else encounters the shock of grief that bewilders, steals their breath, shatters their lives, and makes them question their very being.

A long time ago, long before the internet and blogs, I used to write soul-searching letters, similar to my blog posts. I never expected my friends to save the letters. I was young, changing rapidly, and the letters reflected my thoughts about life at any given moment. Once, years after such a spate of letters, my then best friend called me, told me she’d found a stack of letters. She read portions of them aloud to me, and laughed. She couldn’t understand my hurt — she’d seen how far I’d come, and she thought I’d be as amused as she was by my younger self. I tried to be a good sport, but her laughter seemed such a betrayal, I never felt the same about her again. Nor did I ever feel the same about writing letters. In fact, I never wrote another personal letter again lest my feelings linger far beyond their meaning.

Then came blogging and the loss of my life mate/soul mate. I wondered if I would ever regret pouring out my soul on this blog as I did in those letters, but I understood how important it was for both me and my fellow bereft to try to find words for what we were feeling, so writing such personal posts never bothered me. I also knew that if anyone laughed, they were more to be pitied than castigated — only profound and complicated love leads to such all-encompassing grief, and if they’d never felt such grief, well, there was nothing I could do about it. Writing about my grief was simply a risk I took.

But no one laughed.

At the beginning, my grief posts reflected the feelings of me and others in my grief age group (those who lost their mates a few months before or a few months after I did). But grief is eternal. We may not still be lost in the anguish of new grief, lost in the confusion of grief that lingers beyond what family and friends think acceptable, or lost in the maze of trying to create a new life for ourselves, but someone is.

For all of you who are experiencing grief, know that I’ve been there. I understand at least a little of what you are going through, and my heart cries out to you. People who dealt with profound grief before I did told me that someday I will find renewed interest in life, generally (though not always) within four to five years. It was true for them. It was true for me. And it will be true for you.

Until then, wishing you peace.

***

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.

My Aching Breaking Heart

My heart is breaking. I thought when my life mate/soul mate died that the organ had shattered beyond repair, but it must have healed because I feel as if it is breaking again.

When I first entered the world of grief, I was stunned by the constant assault of emotions, physical reactions, mental conflicts and torments because I’d never heard of such grief. Well, there was that one old woman who wore black the whole of her life, celebrating her widowhood, and occasionally there would be talk of someone keening in agony at her husband’s funeral. I thought those were isolated cases of unbalanced women, but I am not unbalanced. (And probably they weren’t, either.)

I wrote about what I was going through so I could try to make sense of the onslaught, and it helped. Blogging about grief also helped because I met many others on the same journey, which brought me comfort, and a few who were years ahead of me, which brought me hope.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this fathomless grief set me aside from everyone else, and perhaps I even thought I should have special consideration because of my situation. Then others I knew lost someone they loved, and I realized grief didn’t make me special. It just made me . . . bereft.

After three years, I am still sad. I tend to think I’m not making any progress, but then I hear from women who just lost their husbands, and I am drenched in tears, remembering what it was like when grief was new. And I can see how very far I have come. Sail AwayBut I also know what these women are feeling and how much they will have to deal with in the coming months and years, and my heart breaks for them.

How is it possible that so many of us have lost our mates and soul mates? It’s like a bizarre dance of butterflies, where those we love flit into our lives, bringing wonder and color and joy, and then they flit away, leaving us devastated. How can the world survive when it is so awash in grief? (Perhaps that’s where the oceans came from — the tears of the bereft. After all, throughout the ages, billions of people have mourned for their dead.)

Sometimes I see a photo of or an article about a couple who has been married for forty or fifty years. They always have helpful advice about how they stayed together for so long, but the truth is, despite all their ways of keeping love alive, the reason they were together so long is that one of them didn’t die. Not every loving couple gets that opportunity.

And my heart breaks for the ones left behind.

***

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 at Thirty-Five Months

video[7]Today marks the thirty-fifth month since the death of my life mate/soul mate, yet today is a day like any other. There is no particular upsurge in grief, no particular focus on his death or my loss (two separate things).

This “acceptance” of the day is not a positive step forward so much as the combination of a couple of non-related factors. For one, I’m dealing with a major sinus infection, and upsurges in grief and upsurges in ill health don’t seem to happen at the same time, probably because both take an enormous toll on the body so one gives way to the other.

Even old grief, grief that is past the first year of raw pain, is stressful because you walk an unsteady path in an alien world, and you have to make mental compensations to travel that path, the same way you have to make physical compensations if your ankle is broken. During that first year, a person who has lost a spouse has 25% higher death rate from all causes than those who are not grieving, and even beyond that first year, the bereft seem to have a higher rate of illness since the stress of grief affects the immune system. (Sometimes it even seems as if there could be a bit of body/mind interaction, where the mind gets tired of grieving, and so allows the body to become sick, though that isn’t what happened in my case since I haven’t had a major upsurge of grief in a while, just upswings of sadness.)

The other factor involved in making this day less emotional than expected is that I’m looking after my aged father, who has taken a turn for the worse, and I find myself falling into the same mindset I had when I watched my life mate/soul mate die. In such a case, you take a step back from your emotions, wait to see what happens, do the best you can in any crisis, and bear the burden of helplessness as lightly as possible.

Seeing myself getting into this mental state again makes me realize that I did the best I could three years ago, that so much I regretted or felt guilty about was beyond my control. I’d worked past those concerns, so they haven’t been haunting me lately, but now I have a graphic illustration of truth. I did the best I could for him, just as I will do the best for my father.

The thing I regretted most about my mate’s death is that I took it for granted. He was ill for a long time, and after a while, his dying became a way of life. I see that happening again, that my father’s aging and inevitable dying is becoming a way of life. My life.

The odd thing for me is that I’ve spent the last three years trying to embrace life again, to get away from the stasis of dying and grief, but now, willy nilly, I am back in neutral. Not looking forward. Not looking back. Just taking life each day as it comes, even if the day marks the thirty-fifth month of my grief.

***

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+

Weeping For Those Who Are Newly Born Into The World Of Grief

Someone stopped by my blog this morning to comment that her husband passed away fourteen days ago, and I started crying. I wept for her, for me, for all of us who have had to deal with the soul-breaking and heart-shattering pain of new grief. (Sometimes the only way I had to keep from bursting with the pain was to scream. I’d never screamed before, but I often screamed during the first weeks of grief.)

I don’t know how any of us survive such agony and angst, but somehow we manage to keep taking one breath at a time. As the months pass, the pain does lessen, though according to others further along in the grief process, the sadness never completely goes away. And always, we revisit grief on the anniversary of the death.

There are so many sad anniversaries for me to remember now. May 24. July 23. July 26. March 7. March 27. October 14. All days when someone who was very loved died and left a grief-stricken soul mate behind. I’ve seen much pain these past couple of years from my fellow bereft but even more courage. It takes courage to continue to live, courage to struggle to accept the changes that death brought, courage to strive for understanding, (especially for those who wish to be done with life).

Sometimes I see only the pain of grief — eyes blank, bodies tensed, hearts bleeding — but sometimes I am privileged to see the light shining through the grief as the bereft find new hope and new meaning.

Where does grief lead us? I don’t know. People often equate grief to a journey, which makes us think we are going somewhere, but grief seems to be more of a process, turning us inside out, stretching our minds, souls, psyches so that we can learn to live with our new reality and find peace (and maybe even happiness) alongside the continued sadness.

Despite whatever dubious benefits and insights I have gained through the experience, I would not wish this process on anyone, and so I weep for those who are newly born into the world of grief.