A Fresh Chance to Take the World by Storm

While going through the first throes of grief, I was astonished by how little authors knew about the enormity of grief and its impact. In one book, the new widow cried the first night, then woke up the next morning determined to put her grief behind her, and she never shed another tear. In a second book, the only concession to grief was a single sentence, “She went through all five stages of grief.” Yikes. How ignorant (or lazy) is that? Grief is not merely a brief spate of sorrow that is easily suppressed. It is a complicated process that involves — and completely disrupts — every part of you: your mind, body, soul, spirit, ego in an ever expanding spiral of “stages”.

Because of such authors, I decided to tell the truth of grief, and so I started blogging about what I was going through. I also considered writing a novel about a woman dealing the agony of grief, but I thought it would be too hard to portray in a positive light a woman who cried all the time. It is a caveat in the writing community that if your characters cry, your readers don’t, which could be why most books featuring a widow or widower take place three to five years after the loss.

Still, I wrote a novel about a new widow and her first two horrendous months, which will soon be published:

While sorting through her deceased husband’s effects, Amanda is shocked to discover a gun and the photo of an unknown girl who resembles their daughter. After dedicating her life to David and his vocation as a pastor, the evidence that her devout husband kept secrets devastates Amanda.

But Amanda has secrets of her own.

During David’s long illness and withdrawal from life, Amanda found solace in the virtual arms of Sam Priestly, a college professor she met in an online support group for cancer caregivers. Amanda believed she and Sam would find comfort in each other’s arms for real after their spouse’s deaths, but miraculously, Sam’s wife survives the cancer that killed David. Rocked by unimaginable grief for her husband, confused by her love for Sam and his desire to continue their affair, and at odds with her only daughter, Amanda struggles to solve the many mysteries of her unfinished life: the truth of her husband’s secrets, the enigmatic power of love and loss, and the necessity of living despite the nearness of death.

The publisher (Stairway Press) says Unfinished is a fresh start for me to take the world by storm. Even better, my first readers think it’s a powerful story!

“Unfinished” is a novel of loss, love, and personal discovery. Told with realistic intensity, this story about surviving life while in the throes of soul-changing sorrow shows that grief never dies, but those left behind can learn to live again. —J.J. Dare, author of False Positive and False World

While finding your high school best friend has become a talented writer may not be a surprise, I can honestly say it has become a delight. I have now read all of Pat’s work to date and marvel at the honesty of emotion with which she writes. As a reader, I delight in Pat’s ability to develop characters, to portray our complexity as human beings. Pat’s characters in “Unfinished” challenge our beliefs with their ability to hold a dialectic, and just when you feel you know how this is going to lay down, more is revealed! And, as a therapist, I value this as I offer “Unfinished” to my grieving clients. Pat’s experience makes the reader uncomfortable at times giving us permission to embrace our grief “and let it take you where you need to go” eschewing the judgment of others about “not grieving right,” as we work our way forward [coming to see grief as a gift]. As well, it allows those not yet touched by grief to understand and support, not exhort closure, widening the book’s audience. Unfinished is an authentic gift. —Mary Strasser, MC, LPC, LISAC

So, look for Unfinished. Coming soon!!!

***

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.

 

 

Tears. Again.

If you’re sick of hearing about my sorrow, you can leave. I don’t mind. I’m sick of my grief and tears, too, but I’m stuck with them.

Ever since my father’s death two months ago, I’ve been in a strange state. Not only has his death brought back the memory of the death that devastated me (the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate), it’s set in motion a whole new set of changes in my life. I came to look after my father after Jeff died, and now that they are both gone, I have to look to my own life and figure out where I want to go and what I want to do.

Do you really think I want to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, live a nomadic life in some sort of camper/van, or any of the other things I blog about? Of course I don’t. But the one thing I do want — to go home to Jeff, the Double Rainbowonly person who truly understood me — is forever denied me. And so I try to find new wants, which isn’t easy because I’m not a person who wants. (I never wanted anyone, either, but like a mythical being clothed in light, Jeff appeared in my life one incredible Saturday morning in August thirty-eight years ago. And then, almost five years ago, he left to go back from wherever he came.)

I’m fine most of the time. Really, I am. But today, I was with friends watching a movie — Patrick Swayze’s The Last Dance — and one woman piped up, “Divorce is so much worse than death.” I’d heard her make that same stark remark many times before, but today, I couldn’t let it pass. I said, more sharply than I intended, “You keep saying that, but it’s not necessarily true.” She went on her normal spiel about how when someone is dead, they don’t keep coming back, and I again spoke sharply. “Don’t you think I would give anything if Jeff came back? Your ex-husband has finally left you alone, but Jeff is still dead.” Her response was her oft-repeated, “But you didn’t have to deal with him rejecting you.”

I could have told her about the thousands of rejections one has to deal with when someone is dying, how they leave you every single day, how they have no time to think of you because their own concerns loom so large, how your heart breaks and breaks and breaks with the constant rejection until finally you don’t feel anything any more. I could have said a lot of things, but I wasn’t able to continue the conversation. I’d started crying when I spoke the simple words, “Jeff is dead,” and I couldn’t stop.

I pulled myself together to take my leave after the movie, but I cried all the way home, and I’m crying still.

How is it possible that almost five years later, I can be pulled back to the pain of his dying so quickly? Sometimes I wish I were as stoic as I once thought I was — I presumed I’d take his death in stride — but grief is more than simply feeling sad or rejected. It’s even more than those insipid 5 (or 7) stages of grief that everyone seems to believe in. Sure, we feel shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, depression, and acceptance, but most of us also feel anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, despair, helplessness, panic, questioning (both as a need to know why and as a cry of pain), loss or gain of faith, loss of identity, loss of self-esteem, resentment, bitterness, isolation, inability to focus, suspended animation, waiting for we know not what, envy of those who are still coupled or who have yet to suffer a loss. And we suffer myriad physical symptoms such as queasiness, dizziness, sleep problems (too much or too little), eating problems (too much or too little), bone-deep pain, inability at times to breath or swallow, exhaustion, lack of energy, restlessness, and seemingly endless bouts of tears. (Yes, I know, those who get divorced also feel many of these things, and I empathize with them, but they do not have to deal with the angst of death, which adds a whole other layer of pain to the equation.)

My grief has mostly wound down since I’ve dealt with so many of the various aspects of grief, but still, days like today remind me that I will never be over Jeff, never stop missing him. And so I try to be tolerant of other’s condescension, try to create new possibilities, try to want something enough to make a life out of it.

And yet, no matter what I do for the rest of my life, he will still be dead. Nothing will ever change that — not my thoughts of an adventurous future and most certainly not my tears.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.

Patterns of Grief

I’d like to clarify what yesterday’s post, Challenges of the Fourth Year of Grief, was all about. I did not mean to imply that everyone’s grief is the same, that we all face the same challenges, and I especially did not mean to imply that these “challenges” are stages people are going through or will go through. I am not a therapist or a grief counselor, so of course I don’t know how a wide range of grievers feel. Nor am I dispensing advice. I do have many friends who are pretty much on the same grief track that I am, however, and all I did was express publicly the things we are talking about privately.

I certainly am not trying to undermine the grief community’s efforts to get rid of the whole “Stages of Grief” mindset. I have railed against the stages of grief from the beginning. Kubler-Ross’s supposed stages of grief do not in any way reflect what my friends and I have gone through and continue to go through, which is why I started writing about grief in the first place — to provide a more realistic view of grief, even if it is just a recounting of my own grief experiences.

Even though everyone’s grief is different, there are still patterns of similarity.

For example, most of us (most of my friends, that is, not most grievers) are being swept by an inordinate need for adventure. This need seems to be a reflection of our birth age as well as our grief age (by grief age I mean how long it’s been since our mates have died). Younger woman still have families to care for, and in older women the need for adventure seems muted (though several have admitted to being more adventuresome then when they were married). Maybe it’s the long, empty, years that stretch before me and my friends that make adventure a necessity. Maybe it’s that grief is so epic that only an epic adventure can make us come alive. I truly don’t know where this need for adventure comes from, but the truth is, most of the women I know who are on the same grief track as I am, desperately crave adventure. Again, I don’t mean to imply that all grievers go through this, but it is a pattern, and more than anything else, I am drawn to patterns.

Which is all I was doing by describing some of the little known challenges of grief — showing a pattern.

And one of the patterns I found is that during the fourth year, most of the people I know did make the big disconnect from their mates, realizing in the depth of their being that we are each on our own path, and that whatever we do or do not do cannot affect the deceased. We only have to deal with ourselves. This understanding is why so many women wake up on the fourth anniversary to find a renewed interest in life. Maybe find they are happy. Maybe find they are in love with life again. For some people, of course, this understanding comes much later, occasionally earlier, and sometimes not at all.

The truth is, no matter what the pattern of grief, your own or someone else’s, grief is hard work. Sometimes it’s nice to know how others feel. It’s especially nice to know that we aren’t alone in how we feel.

***

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.

A New and Embarrassing Stage of Grief

I’ve gone through so many stages of grief since the death of my life mate/soul mate that I’ve lost track. To be honest, I’m not sure there really are such things as “stages.” There simply seem to be varying states of mind that come around repeatedly in an ever-loosening spiral. Still, “stage” is an understandable term for an incomprehensible process, so I use it to describe each new phase of my grief, such as this latest manifestation.

A couple of things have happened lately to catapult me into a new and embarrassing stage of grief.

The first thing that happened was I finished watching the movies my deceased mate had taped. Viewing the movies was the final task of my Grief Work, and it exacted an emotional toll I hadn’t expected. As I watched each of tapes, I was aware that the last time I saw the movie, he was by my side. I remember the things we said, the looks we gave each other, the connection we felt. These once-loved movies now seem dull and bland as if a vital spark is missing. And it is missing. He is missing. Watching wasn’t hard at the beginning, when I started my self-imposed grief task, but it took more than two years to go through all the tapes, and the sadness built up, sort of like a cinematic water torture.

But that is finished. In the future, whatever feelings the movies instill in me when I watch them won’t be so achingly raw. Time, life, and new experiences will pad the movies, and separate me from him just a bit more. Once that thought of increased separation would have brought me pain, but now I know it’s necessary if I ever hope to live a full life.

The second thing that happened is that I do not have as many mixed feelings about his death as I once did. Many people insist that grief is for us, not for the deceased, but I’ve been greatly troubled by his death — for him. He didn’t seem to have much of a life. He’d been sick for so long and in such pain that he was often housebound and couldn’t do much. He was also relatively young. Hadn’t reached retirement age. Even worse, too many of his dreams never came true. It seemed to me that he got cheated out of so much, which was hard for me to bear. On the other hand, I was glad his suffering was over. Sometimes I even thought he got the better part of the deal since he didn’t have to hang around as I do to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. But when those pieces are roughly pasted together, I will get a chance to start over, and he won’t. Conflicts such as these complicate grief. But the other day while walking in the desert, I had a revelation — well, two revelations — that helped alleviate these particular conflicts.

First, I realized that when I was dead, I’d no longer care that he died before me, so if it is inevitable that someday it won’t matter that he died so soon, perhaps it doesn’t matter as much now. Second, I realized that if somehow we are eternal, existing before this life as well as afterward, then his death and mine would happen simultaneously in a cosmic sense. (If life is eternal, then there is no time, right? It all exists now. And so right now we are both alive/dead, though he is . . . perhaps . . . more dead than I am. Or thinking of it a different way: my potential extra decades of life will happen in an eye blink of eternal time, so from his current point of view, I will follow immediately after him.)

Finishing my final grief task and resolving my mixed feelings has more or less ended my sorrow. (At least for now. Sorrow at the death of the person who connected you to this earth never completely disappears.)

And after the sorrow? Well, this is the part I am embarrassed to admit. I am disgruntled and dissatisfied. It seems as if such profound grief, great yearnings, and impenetrable sadness should dwindle into something more noble than discontent. Besides, disgruntlement should be something I can control, but as with every other stage of grief, it seems to be outside of me. Or inside of me. Either way, it’s not of me. It’s just a stage to pass through on my way to whatever lies on the other side of 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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Loosening Spiral of Grief

Yesterday I wrote about The Unchanging Face of Grief, and how a journal entry I wrote exactly three years ago mirrored what I was feeling — Just drifting. Marking time. Hoping . . .

But the truth is, there is a vast difference between yesterday’s feelings and those of three years ago. Three years ago, when I wrote that entry, I had accomplished most of what I needed to do immediately after the death of my life mate/soul mate. I had him cremated as he wished, opened a new checking account, disposed of most of his effects and a lot of “our” things that weren’t desert knollsworth storing, got myself to my father’s house to look after him since he could no longer live alone. There was nothing I needed to do, that day three years ago, and the great pain of grief provided insulation from the normal irritations and aggravations of life, offering me the illusion of freedom. I just drifted in a fog of pain, spending hours in the desert, thinking not much of anything. Just wandering. Marking time. Hoping my life was actually going somewhere and wouldn’t always feel so stagnant.

People often talk about the “stages” of grief, as if grief were a staircase you ascend, step by agonizing step, until you climb out of the pit, but grief is more like a spiral that slowly unrolls, returning you over and over to the same places, each time with a bit less pain and emotion. At the beginning, these changes from vast pain to numbness, from despair to hope, from determination to helplessness come so quickly, it’s as if you’re inside a slinky that some over-active child keeps tossing around. You don’t even have time to acknowledge one state of mind before you’re in a different state.

My spiral of grief is still unrolling, but now, after more than three years, the changes come slowly and have little power. And the upsurges of angst are over quickly. But this feeling of waiting, of stagnation, seems to be ever present.

I don’t seem to be going anywhere with my life. I remember at the beginning, I was anxious to be done with my grief so I could embrace my new life with arms outstretched. I expected wonderful things to happen, and why shouldn’t they? Doesn’t it make sense that great happiness should come to balance out such great pain? But here I am, long past the worst of my pain, and I still seem to be running in place.

Admittedly, I am stuck in place geographically, unable to make plans except for a few days in advance since my father’s health takes precedence, but my life has more often been a life of the mind instead of action, and that mental life seems stuck too. Even worse, the waning pain of grief no longer protects me from the aggravations of life. (And right now there seem to be more aggravations than normal.)

I have had a couple of revelations out walking in the desert though, so perhaps I am not stagnating as much as I think I am. A few days ago, I was talking to my deceased mate, complaining about all the aggravations I have to deal with, and telling him that when I was free to live my own life, I still wouldn’t be free since I have other commitments to consider. A few minutes after I shut up and the walking lulled my mind, the thought entered my head, “Don’t consider other people. Do what you want.”

(I’m pretending this thought came from him in response to my complaints, but more probably it came from my subconscious.) Doing what I want is easy. Figuring out what I want is hard, but maybe someday it will come to me as I wander.

Another revelation, that I’m not sure I understand, is that life is a tool that we write with, much as we write with a pen. I’m still thinking about that one.

Despite the feelings of going nowhere, I am still trying to keep open to “somewhere.” Still trying to embrace life. Still trying . . .

***

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.

Grief and Lingering Feelings of Resentment

Desert CactusDuring the past three years, I have chronicled my journey through grief, trying to make sense of the myriad emotional and physical stresses one has to deal with after a major loss, such as the death of one’s child or life mate/soul mate. I’ve explained that grief is not the simple and almost clinical state that Kübler-Ross’s five (or seven) stages of grief seems to indicate. Instead, there seems to be an infinite shading of emotion in the process we call grief.

Some of us do feel shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, depression, and acceptance, but most of us also feel anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, despair, helplessness, panic, questioning (both as a need to know why and as a cry of pain), loss or gain of faith, loss of identity, loss of self-esteem, resentment, bitterness, isolation, inability to focus, suspended animation, waiting for we know not what, envy of those who are still coupled or who have yet to suffer a loss. And we suffer myriad physical symptoms such as queasiness, dizziness, sleep problems (too much or too little), eating problems (too much or too little), bone-deep pain, inability at times to breath or swallow, exhaustion, lack of energy, restlessness, and seemingly endless bouts of tears.

Except for sadness, I thought I’d pretty much dealt with most of grief’s effects, but recently I’ve become aware of lingering feelings of resentment. I’m mostly over the resentment of those who are still coupled, with only an occasional twinge of self-pity when I see couples out walking together, and I thought I’d come to terms with my resentment of his long illness and his leaving me here to deal with grief alone, but apparently a pool of resentment still lies deep within.

I am thin-skinned, taking offense at things that were not meant to be offensive, feeling hard done by when things do not turn out my way, railing against real or imagined unfairness. Of course, we all feel this way at times, but grief seems to take minor faults and magnifies them into major stumbling blocks. The death of the one person who connected us to life also makes us (well, me anyway) feel as if life should be granting us special privileges to make up for that great loss, but life doesn’t work that way.

I’m not proud of this resentment, but there it is. The good thing is that grief’s effects are now mostly making themselves known one at a time rather than all at once in a horrifying and cloudy kaleidoscope of feelings so that I can pay attention to the resentment, and perhaps get beyond this stage to a more even-tempered state.

***

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+

The Mythic Stages of Grief

Joseph Campbell was the first person to write about the motifs and archetypes underlying myths, stories, and spiritual traditions. Christopher Vogler, in The Writer’s Journey, further developed this idea of the “hero’s journey,” making it applicable to writers, both in their stories and in their lives.

The hero’s journey is an endlessly fascinating structure because it is endlessly malleable, able to fit any character, any story, any life. We are all on our own mythic journey through life, but our lives are so much more complicated that the life of a character in a novel because we are dealing with quests within quests within quests rather than a single straightforward journey.

Growing up, falling in love, marrying, parenting, writing, making art, growing old are all quests of their own, though each quest is a but a step on our journey though life.

My most recent mythic journey has been the journey through grief. Grief has been, perhaps, the most mythic of all my quests, each of the stages clearly delineated. (In fact, these mythic stages of the hero’s journey are much more applicable to grief than Kübler-Ross’s stages.)

All of us who embark so reluctantly on this journey through grief are true heroes. It takes a hero’s courage and commitment to deal with everything grief bombards us with and come out on the other side stronger, wiser, and accepting of whatever comes our way.

The mythic stages of our heroic journey through grief:

1. Ordinary World. A hero’s journey begins with the normal world, and in the grief quest story, the normal world is the life we shared with our life mate/soul mate.

2. Call to Adventure. His (or her) dying calls us to grief’s adventure, though death is too traumatic an event to be dismissed as a simple call to adventure. There’s no warble of a bugle call; it’s more like the shriek of a smoke alarm that cannot be silenced.

3. Refusal of the Call. We are frozen with grief, reluctant to continue life alone, refusing to see that perhaps continuing alone could be an adventure.

4. Meeting with the Mentors. We go to grief groups for support, and we talk to others who have also lost their mates. Some of us go to bereavement counselors or read about grief to learn how to deal with this horrifying new world.

5. Crossing the threshold. We commit to grief, to whatever changes will come because of it. We allow ourselves to feel without blocking out the pain because we know that is the only way to find our way through the angst to a more peaceful time.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies. Grief encompasses all these aspects. Grief tests us, our strength, our commitment to life, our beliefs. Grief is an ally, changing us so we can become the person we need to be in order to survive in this new world. And grief is an enemy, bringing more pain than we could have ever imagined.

7. Approach to the Innermost Cave. Grief takes us further away from our ordinary world of a shared life. This is a stage where we regroup. We find a respite from grief for a few days or weeks, leading us to believe that perhaps we can do this after all.

8. Ordeal. Although all of grief is an ordeal, at this particular stage of grief’s journey, the greatest ordeal is accepting that we are alone, that although he is dead, we have to continue living. We thought getting through the initial raw pain of grief was our greatest agony, but now grief throws us even more anguish with the realization that he is never coming back. This new life without him is forever.

9. Rewards. There are many rewards for going through grief. We seize the sword of courage, we find the elixir of patience, we discover the crucible of greater insights. There are consequences, of course, and generally we pay for any rewards with a huge upsurge of grief.

10. The Road Back. The road back is not easy, especially when it comes to grief. Although we can never return to the ordinary world from which we came since that world was shattered forever by his death, we do return to an ordinary world, a world where grief is a companion that merely shadows us, rather than being the trickster that taunts us, the enemy that torments us, the shapeshifter that bewilders us.

11. Resurrection. The hero faces death and is resurrected, and in the case of grief, we face the death of who we once were. We realize we are separate from our life mate/soul mate, that he has his journey and we have ours, and hence we are reborn into a new life. A life that is ours alone.

12. Return with the Elixir. We all bring back from grief certain gifts, whether wisdom or patience or simply the knowledge that we survived the worst ordeal of our lives, and often we share this gift with others. Many of us end up taking care of aged parents, exhibiting a patience we never knew we had. Some of us write or paint to show the world our truth. Some of us go into grief therapy to help others. My magic elixir — my gift, my blessing — has been the unexpected ability to decode grief and write lyrically about the process, such as recognizing the mythic stages of grief and writing this post describing grief as a heroic journey and quest. A strange gift, indeed.

And so life’s journey continues . . .

***

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+

Why I Write About My Grief

I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings, but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs. I’d never heard of the sort of all-consuming grief that I experienced except for those who were considered unstable, but I knew I was completely well adjusted, so anything I felt had to be normal.

To be honest, I never had any intention of getting personal in this blog. I launched it to establish an online presence for when I got published. (After starting this blog, it took a year to find a publisher, although I’d already been on the quest for several years. After acceptance, it took another six months for my books to be published, but I made it!) Those first years of blogging, I wrote about my efforts to get published, what I learned about improving my writing, the novels I read and what I learned about writing from their inadequacies.

After my life mate/soul mate died, everything changed. I’d intended to keep my grief to myself and continue writing innocuous little posts, but I kept stumbling over people’s ignorance of grief. I found this ignorance in people I knew. (I will never forget those blank looks of incomprehension in people’s eyes when, sobbing, I told them about my loss. Sometimes they looked at me as if I were an alien species, or some kind of strange bug.)

And I found this ignorance in books I read.

One novelist dismissed her character’s grief at the death of his wife with a single sentence, “He went through all the five stages of grief.” Anyone who has gone through the multi-faceted grief of losing a soul mate knows that there are dozens of stages of grief (or none at all). You spiral round and round, in a dizzying whirl of emotions, not just shock and anger and sadness, but frustration, bitterness, yearning, hope, helplessness, confusion, loneliness, despair, guilt, questioning, angst over loss of faith, and you keep revisiting each of these emotions, hanging on the best you can, until ideally, you reach a place of peace and life opens up again.

Another novelist had her widow cry for a night then put aside her grief and get on with her life. Believe me, you can’t put aside such grief. It’s not just emotional but also physical, a ripping away of his presence from your soul, a deep-seated panic when your lizard brain realizes that half of your survival unit is gone, a body/mind bewilderment so great you can barely breathe. You don’t control raw grief. Grief controls you.

Not only did I discover that few people had any idea of the scope of such grief, most people selfishly urged the bereft to get on with their lives because they couldn’t bear to see their mother/sister/friend’s sadness.

There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft, who already feel isolated, totally alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the facade of our relentlessly glass-half-full society.

Although I am a private person, not given to airing my problems in public, I thought it wrong to continue the charade that life goes on as normal after losing the one person who makes life worth living. So, over the past two-and-a-half years, I have made it my mission to tell the truth about grief. Even though I have mostly reached the stage of peace, and life is opening up again, at least a little bit, grief is still a part of my life. There is a void in my world — an absence — where he once was, and that void shadows me and probably always will. Although his death changed the circumstances of my life, thrusting me into an alien world, grief — living with it, dealing with it, accepting it — changed me . . . forever. It has made me who I am today and who I will become tomorrow — strong, confident, and able to handle anything that comes my way.

Would I prefer to have him in my life? Absolutely. But that is not an option. All I can do, all any of us can do, is deal with what lies before us, regardless of a society that frowns on mourning. It takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life after such a grievous loss, so the next time you see your mother, father, sister, daughter crying for her/his spouse, deal with it. Just because you’re no longer tearful, be aware that even though you have lost the same person, you have not lost the same connection. If it makes you sad to see her mourning, think how much sadder it is for her to experience that sorrow. Hug her, be there for her. Don’t hurry her through grief. She’ll find her way back to happiness in her own time.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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 available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free. Print books can be ordered from your favorite bookstore.

Grief Bursts

From the beginning (the beginning of my grief, that is) I’ve talked about various aspects of grief, even the parts I thought made me look weak. Today’s topic — grief bursts — is one I was going to keep to myself, but it’s an important one so I’m going to risk seeming weak once more.

I’ve often said that the trouble with grief is that it doesn’t stay gone. You think you’re doing well, settling into your new life, accepting your situation, and then zap! It hits you, generally when you’re least expecting it. One of the worst of these zaps occurred after my life mate had been dead for five months. I dreamed that he died, and in the dream I woke to discover that he was alive and getting better. I could feel the tension of grief draining out of me, and it felt good to just be . . . me. I awoke for real with a smile on my face, glad he was still alive, and then I was sucker punched by the truth. I felt the way I did the first time I realized he was dead, and it set off an upsurge of grief that lasted several months.

Then last spring, at about the fourteen month mark, I was walking, collected and serene, down a suburban street carved out of the desert,  and I was blindsided by lilacs. He loved lilacs, and we’d planted lilacs all around our property. The year before he died, the plants were tall enough to create an oasis of privacy, and when they bloomed, we’d go outside and bask in the heavenly scent. When I came to the desert, I  never expected to encounter lilacs, but there they were, growing wildly in a vacant lot. That familiar scent, coming toward me when I was unsteeled against a grief upsurge, did me in for a couple of weeks.

The last big upsurge of grief that stayed with me for more than a day or two came at the eighteen month mark. I still don’t know why — there was nothing in particular that set it off, and a year and a half doesn’t seem like a special anniversary, not like the first year anniversary or the second. Eighteen months just sort of hangs innocuously in the middle. Or it should have, but it didn’t. Well, I got through that grief upsurge like I did all the others. (How? Glad you asked that. The only way to get through a grief upsurge is to feel it, process it, and when it begins to abate, let go.)

Mostly now, I’ve settled into uncoupled life. I miss him, of course, and yearn desperately at times to talk with him, but I’ve accepted as well as is possible that I have to continue on with my life. I feel like myself again (meaning I don’t feel weighted down with grief all the time, nor do I hold myself tensed against possible upsurges of pain).

What I do experience are grief bursts — brief bursts of grief, with all the angst I felt at the beginning, that last but a minute or two. These bursts come a couple of times a day, generally after I’ve been concentrating on a project (such as writing a blog or reading a book), and in the moment when my mind is not otherwise engaged, I remember that he’s dead, and grief bursts over me. I cry for a minute or two as if my heart will break (though I know it won’t. It’s already been shattered and glued back together, stronger than before). And then I’m fine again with no lingering aftereffects.

Of all the strange stages of grief I’ve experienced, these grief bursts are the strangest. Like being skewered with a burning poker and then healed a second later. This particular stage, or so I’ve been told, can last a long time. Even decades after a significant death, you can experience bursts of grief. I’m sure, like all the other phases of grief I’ve gone through, these bursts will diminish in frequency, perhaps even diminish in intensity, but oddly, this is one stage of grief I don’t mind. It reminds me that he was worth grieving for, that his absence from this world matters, that he once was part of my life.

***

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.

The Silent Language of Grief

The so-called five stages of grief are so ingrained that most people think that’s all there is to grief. You deny, you get angry, you feel pain and guilt (and sometimes you bargain for the return of your loved one), you feel depressed, and finally, you accept. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? A brief checklist of stages, and then you get on with your life.

But grief is not that simple. First, those stages were described by Kübler-Ross to show how people come to terms with their own death and perhaps that of a loved one. It bears little resemblance to how people grieve after the death of a long time mate. Sure, we bereft have moments of anger, times of depression, some feelings of guilt, but most of us undergo a completely different set of stages, such as shock, bewilderment, hopelessness, loss of identity, anxiety, panic, isolation, loneliness, yearning. (For most of us, not anger or guilt but a vast yearning to see our mates once more drives our grief.) We also have physical changes to cope with that aren’t addressed in the Kübler-Ross model, such as immune system deficiencies, stress, dizziness, nausea, changes in brain chemistry, hormone disturbances, loss of equilibrium, and a higher death rate from all causes than non-grievers.

Still, whatever stages of grief a person goes through, there does come a time when you accept the truth deep in the marrow of your being — he is gone forever. You think this acceptance signifies the end of your grief, but do you want to know what often lies on the other side of acceptance? Heartbreak and tears. Sure, there are times of peace as you become used to your aloneness, but acceptance feels like another death, and it needs to be grieved. (It’s one thing to know he’s never coming back, and another thing to KNOW it. This acceptance is why the second year of grieving is often worse than the first year.)

Grief is a way of processing information. We know our loved one is absent, but is it possible to comprehend how very gone he is? To understand the nature and finality of death? Perhaps not, but by feeling the pain of separation and releasing it through tears, we can come to accept (however unwillingly) the idea that our loved one is gone from this earth.

It’s been sixty-nine weeks since my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I still have bouts of tears. I was always a stoic and believed in facing reality, but this is one reality I cannot comprehend. I try to conjure him up in my mind, but he is forever out of reach. Forever gone.

According to Voltaire, “Tears are the silent language of grief.” When we have no words to describe our loss, when we have no way of comprehending the incomprehensible, all we have left are tears to communicate to us the depth of that knowledge and the depth of our loss. And so I weep.