1000 Days of Grief

S1000 days have passed since the death of my life mate/soul mate.

1000 days. An incomprehensible number. At the beginning, I could not imagine living one more hour let alone one more day in such pain. And yet now 1000 of those days have passed and I don’t know where they went or how I survived them.

Even more incomprehensible, while I remember being in absolute agony those early months, beset by panic attacks, gut spasms, loss of breath, inability to grip things and hundreds of other physical and emotional affects, there is an element of blank to the memories, as if it were someone else in such distress. I remember screaming to the winds, though I can’t exactly recall what it felt like to be so stressed that only screaming could relieve the pain. I remember feeling as if I would die if I did not hear his voice, see his smile, feel his arms around me one more time. I remember the horrible feeling of goneness I was left with, as if half my soul had been wrenched from my body leaving an immeasurable void, but now I am bewildered by it all. Was that really me — staid, stoic me — lost in such an emotional maelstrom?

Most incomprehensible of all, as recently as a month or two ago, I was still subject to occasional flashes of raw agony, but even those seem far removed now. I still have times of tears, and probably always will have. How could I not? Someone whose very breath meant more to me than my own is gone — gone where, I do not know. But I no longer feel as if half of me has been amputated. I am just me now, not a shattered, left-behind half of a couple. Or maybe I have simply become used to this new state, as if this is the way my life has always been.

I still hate that he’s dead, but I’m also aware that his death has set me free. I spent many years watching him waste away, numbing myself to his pain, waking every morning to the possibility that he hadn’t lasted the night, dreading the end, worrying if I were up to the task of fulfilling his final wishes. All that is gone now, though the feelings of dread and worry and doubt inexplicably lasted way into this third year of grief. I used to think that grief was his final gift to me — despite the angst and agony, I embraced grief like a friend. I knew instinctively it would take me where I needed to go.

But now I know freedom was his final gift, though it was as unwanted and as unasked for as the grief. I haven’t learned yet what to do with this freedom. Perhaps if I embrace it as I did my grief, it will also take me where I need to go.

I’m still so very sad, though I am more at peace than I have been for a long time. In fact, the same photo of him that was too painful for me even to peek at for more than eighteen months after his death, now sometimes makes me smile. It might take me the rest of my life to puzzle out the meaning of our shared life, our incredibly bond, his death — if in fact there is a meaning — but what I’m left with right now is the knowledge that for whatever reason, he shared his life with me. He shared his dying. And then he set me free.

***

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+

Meeting the Challenges of the Third Year of Grief

The challenges we face during the first year after the death of a life mate/soul mate (or any other significant person in our lives who connects us to the world), are too great to enumerate. It’s all we can do to cope with the seemingly endless chores of laying our beloved to rest while dealing with the emotional shock, the physical pain, the psychological affront that are our constant companions. Sometimes the first anniversary of his death is one of peace when we realize that we managed to survive the worst year of our life, but then we wake up to the second year and find a whole other set of challenges to meet.

The five main challenges we face during the second year after the death of a life mate/soul mate are:

1. Trying to understand where he went.
2. Living without him
3. Dealing with continued grief bursts.
4. Finding something to look forward to rather than simply existing.
5. Handling the yearning.

There are other challenges, of course, some unique to each individual, but all the challenges are dealt with the same way: by continuing to feel the pain when it erupts rather than turning away from it to satisfy the concerns of those who don’t understand; by taking care of ourselves even when we don’t see the point; by trying new things.

In other words, we meet the challenges of the second year by living. It sounds simple, but nothing about grief for a life mate/soul mate is simple. By living, we begin to move away from our pain, but we also move away from the person we loved more than any other. For some bereft, this feels like a betrayal of their love — how can you continue to live when life on this earth is denied him? For others, it seems like a betrayal of themselves — how can you become the person you need to be without betraying the person you once were?

The third year of grief seems to be a year of transition with only one new challenge — beginning to rebuild our lives. (We still have upsurges of sadness, still miss our loved one, still yearn for him, but these feelings are not as prominent as they once were.) Most of us no longer feel that continued life is a betrayal of our love because we understand that we had no choice in the matter, either in his death or in our continued life. Nor do we feel we are betraying the person we once were — we are no longer that person, though we have not yet developed into the person we are to become. Most of us are still trying to figure out who that person is and what that person wants and needs.

Many of us third-year bereft are caught in circumstances beyond our control — we are taking care of aged parents, new mothers, grandchildren. Although this transition between our old coupled life and our new life alone seems to be a time of stasis, we are still rebuilding our lives day by day, becoming who we need to be. We are also beginning to look beyond this transitional stage to what will come after, which is a sign of life and hope for the future even if we are not yet feeling hopeful.

By now, some bereft are ready to be in a new relationship, and they too seem to be in a transitional stage — not yet in a relationship but looking for possible partners. In other words, dating. I can’t even begin to go into the challenges such bereft face; it seems an impossible task, to go from where they are to where they want to be.

A few people jump into a relationship too soon, and then have the added grief of an aborted love affair. Some find that while they want emotional intimacy, the would-be partner only wants physical intimacy. Complicating the typical adult dating woes of ex-wives, grown children, incompatible schedules, is the date’s incomprehension of the bereft’s grief. Too often, he doesn’t want to hear about the deceased, which leaves the bereft dangling in an emotional limbo, because how can you have a meaningful relationship with someone who denies that which once gave your life meaning?

Others in this third year of grief are not looking for a new relationship, though they wouldn’t turn love down if it came their way.

Whatever the challenges we bereft have to deal with in this third year of grief, we will meet them as we did all the other challenges we have faced: with courage, perseverance, and strength.

Two Years and One Day of Grief

Today I embark on my third year of grief since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I am now in uncharted territory.

The first year of grief passes in a blur of angst, emotional shock, myriad physical reactions, painful surprises about the nature of loss and grief, and the almost impossible effort of going through the chores of living.

The second year of grief is one of learning to deal with the truth that he is dead, and that there is nothing you can do about it. No matter how well you deal with your grief, no matter how you rise to the challenge of life without him, he is not coming back. You knew this, of course, but now it has seeped deeper into your consciousness, and you feel it with every breath you take. Because of this, the second year (or at least parts of it) can be worse than the first. What makes the second year even harder to face is that you’ve used your grief card. Everyone thinks you should be over your grief, and they have little patience for your continued tears. They urge you to get on with your life, but they don’t understand that this is how you are getting on with your life.

The third year of grief is . . . I don’t yet know since this is only the first day of this new year. Today feels no different from yesterday or the day before, and I don’t imagine tomorrow will feel any different.

During the past two years, I’ve been looking for the bedrock of my new life — the thing, the idea, the place, whatever that bedrock might be — that gives me a foundation on which to build a future. Mostly, I’ve been waiting for my grief to dissipate so I can find my way, but the truth is, I will always grieve for him, though perhaps not as actively as I have been, because he will always be dead.

Acceptance is supposed to be one of the stages of grief, but I’ve never actually reached that stage (nor did I experience most of the supposed stages of grief). I cannot accept that he is dead for the simple reason that it’s not my place to accept it. Acceptance to me suggests that it is okay, and I will never believe that it is okay for him to be dead (even though I do understand the necessity of it). Perhaps acceptance only means that I accept the reality of my continued sorrow and loneliness.

People tell me that you never do get over such a grievous loss, but that after three to five years you rediscover the importance of living. It might be easier to meet the future head-on if I’m not expecting my sadness to dissipate. Maybe this is my bedrock — the missing, the yearning, the sadness, the loneliness. If so, I just need to accept that they are part of my life, and build from there.

The Shoulder Season of Grief

I had a rough time around the publication of my new book, Grief: The Great Yearning, due partly to the fact that the story of me and my life mate/soul mate has been told and is now contained between the covers of a book, and partly to the realization once and for all that he is never coming back. I already knew that of course, knew it from the moment he died, and I came to that same realization dozens of times afterward, but this time I reached rock bottom of acceptance, and it took. Surprisingly, the last couple of days have been good ones. My emotional state evened out, and I felt light. It wasn’t just that my grief took a hiatus, but also that my anger had dissipated. I’ve been angry for so long, since way before he died, that it became my default state. Because of that, I didn’t even realize I’ve been angry.

For many years, we sustained loss after loss — his health, our business, security — and finally, his life. So many reasons to be angry. I haven’t been furious or enraged, just a quiet anger that went soul deep. So, why did the anger leave me, even if only temporarily? I don’t know. Perhaps because the realization he is never coming back brought the knowledge that the past really is the past. Or perhaps this is simply the latest stage of my grief, a letting go. Or perhaps it’s because spring is almost here.

Whatever the reason, I no longer fear the third year of grief. I expect to experience grief upsurges, but for the most part, I think I’ll be entering the shoulder season of grief.

In the travel business, the time between the high season and the low season is called the shoulder season. I’m coming up on the two-year anniversary of his death. I will probably have some unbearably sad days as the date approaches, but after the anniversary, I could be entering a time of not-grief but not non-grief, either, a bit of a shoulder between the wildness of my early grief and the road to the rest of my life.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, but I feel a quickening of interest. If I let myself, I still panic at the thought of growing old alone, of being old alone, of dying (although the idea of being dead doesn’t bother me, dying does — it can be a terrible thing) but I still have many good years left. I actually might accomplish something. Or not. I’m not sure if I want to “do” or if I want simply to “be”. I do have a new philosophy, though — the platinum rule. If the golden rule is to treat others the way you would want them to treat you, then the platinum rule is to treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you. So, I intend to be kind to myself, to be patient with my deficiencies, to be proud of my accomplishments. And I intend to encourage myself to be bold and adventurous.

Sounds like a good beginning to my shoulder season of grief.

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