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+

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Two Years, Two Months, Two Weeks, And Two Days of Grief

Two years, two months, two weeks, and two days. That’s how long my life mate/soul mate has been dead, and I still can’t make sense of it all — our meeting, the years we shared, his death, my continued life.

Neither of us had every expected (or wanted) to share a life with anyone, and yet we spent more than three decades together. Our meeting was almost miraculous. In a fit of loneliness, he wished he had someone, and the next week, I walked into his store. We started out with such hope, but our life together was no fairy tale. Much of it was wonderful, more vital than anything I could ever have imagined, yet we were trapped by various failures, not the least of which was his increasingly poor health. I was so tired of it all, so exhausted by trying to hold myself together, that a few times that last year I wished he’d die and get it over with. I never said it aloud, of course, but he knew. How could I have been so horrid? Shouldn’t I have been more patient? Wiser? Kinder? It’s a terrible thing, knowing I am not the woman I thought I was.

During the last few weeks of his life, we reconnected, and I remembered why I loved him.

And then he was gone.

I don’t understand how he can be dead. Well, obviously, I understand the biology of it — I watched him die a bit every day for a lot of years — but the man I knew in the form I knew is gone. Forever. I can’t wrap my mind around that. Even worse, I am forgetting him. My memories are drifting off-center, and I no longer feel the truth of him.

People used to tell me that he still exists in memory, but if so, he is dying a bit more every day. There could come a time when I don’t remember him, when I only remember his absence. I can feel it happening already. Some days now it seems as if he were a stranger I knew long ago rather than a person with whom I spent most of my waking hours for more than half my life. I don’t know whether I should cling to the memory of him, even if it is skewed, or if I should let the memory of him fade and simply deal with what life brings me every day.

I don’t understand my continued life, either. Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she felt shattered into a thousand pieces after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds? All these months later, I still don’t know how to deal with his death. Don’t know why I continue to be sad. Don’t know why I feel his absence acutely when I barely remember him.

Mostly I’m trying to look at the future as an adventure, but I’ve had so many immense changes in my life in the past few years, with more on the way, that I feel as if I have no foundation to build on. That feeling, at least, is not true. I have the foundation of all I have done, all I have learned, all I have become — what I don’t have is certainty and security (though no one really does).

And most of all, what I don’t have is him. But perhaps I never did? It could be we were simply passing by and stopped to visit awhile before we continued our journeys. Alone.

Grief — Two Years Minus Five Hours

In five hours, it will be exactly two years since my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. He and I shared so much that even as I am getting to where I can accept the situation, even accept that I might find peace or possibly happiness, I can’t forget that it’s at his expense. I wonder what this feels like from his perspective. I know he wants me to go on, to get what I can from life — he told me that — but still, where is he in all this? At some point, our separation has to be complete, doesn’t it? I have to realize that whatever I say or think or do has no affect on him — it can’t change anything that happened. It can’t bring him back. And I don’t want him back — his death was too hard-won.

Iron Sam, the dying hit man in my novel Daughter Am I, told my hero Mary that a person experiences death only once. Well, my mate’s dying was my experience of death. The utter undoableness of it — the finality — shocked me to my core (and still gives me that falling-elevator feeling of panic when I think of his being dead). That shock must be what can only be experienced once. A prognosis of my own death probably won’t have the same impact on me as his diagnosis. Will I have his strength, his courage? I won’t have him, and that might not be a bad thing. Maybe my death will be easier to handle if I know I’m not going to devastate anyone when I go. (I think about that, how hard it must have been on him to know he wouldn’t be here to comfort me after he was gone.)

People always talk about finding someone to grow old with (and oh! I so do not want to grow old alone), but I’m not sure growing old with someone is a blessing. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of very old couples (this area is filled with hospitals, doctors offices, oncology clinics, pain treatment centers, nursing homes) and I try to imagine what it would be like for the two of us to deal with each other’s old age infirmities. I’m glad he’ll be spared that. It was hard enough for him to die without having to worry about my dying, too.

I wish he were waiting for me on the other side of grief so we could start a new life together, and in a way he will be there — he is still so much a part of me. Maybe literally a part of me. If we’re all made of stardust, if everything is commingled, how much more commingled are we who spent so many decades in each other’s company! The biorhythms of people who live together ebb and flow in sync. Benign and not so benign viruses carry cell information from one to the other, intermingling physical bodies on a cellular level. As one of my fellow bereft reminded me yesterday, “The heart puts out an electrical field which is measurable and it intertwines with the electrical field of the other loved one and when that is gone, the body knows it and feels the loss.”

I’ve heard that every seven years a person’s cells completely turn over, so that in seven years you become a different person. In seven years, then, maybe I won’t feel such yearning for him since he will no longer be written into the fabric of new cells. But beyond the physical commingling, there are all the movies we watched together, the books we shared, the thousands upon thousands of hours of electric conversation, the ideas we developed, the businesses we created — all those are part of me.

But  there is so much that will never be part of my life again. His smile nourished my soul, his laughter warmed my heart, his voice soothed my ears, his wise counsel eased my mind.

How have I survived such enormous losses? One day a time, that’s how. Sometimes one tear at a time. And so two years (minus five hours) have passed.

Still Confounded by Grief

For two years, my reaction to the death of my life mate/soul mate has bewildered me. I knew he was dying and I’d spent over a decade preparing myself for that eventuality. I thought I’d accepted the inevitable, but now I see I was merely resigned (and perhaps exhausted). Still, I am independent-minded, always have been. I know how to do things on my own, know how to entertain myself, know how to take care of myself. I’ve never been afraid of being alone, never been one to hide behind pretty lies or protective fantasies. And yet his death devastated me as much as it confounded me. In fact, after almost two years (two years minus two days, to be exact; 729 days) I still feel lost, still feel broken.

Not all deaths affect people the same. My mother died three years before my mate, and my brother died a year before that. My grief for them was what I used to consider “normal.” I missed them and felt bad that they were gone, but my life went on without any major upheavals. But when my mate died, it was a cataclysm, affecting every part of my life. And the strong connection we always had, a cosmic-twin sort of connection, was broken.

The day before my mother’s funeral, I broke my ankle, so I spent her viewing at the emergency room and I spent her funeral at the bone specialist. It turns out that what I had was a very bad sprain, so bad that when the ligaments tore away, they cracked the bone.

I realize now this same sort of thing happened when my mate died. Whatever connection we had was so strong that when he was torn away from me and our life, it fractured me. This fracture had nothing to do with my being weak or too dependent on him or unwilling to face the truth or any of the other snide rationalities people have made about my sorrow. However deep and prolonged, my grief for him is normal and understandable. It takes a long time for a broken bone to heal and regain its former strength. How much longer must it take when one’s psyche has been broken.

And so, I still deal with the fracture his death caused in me, and I still deal with the bewilderment of his death. Perhaps when he died, he took a chunk of me with him, the same way bone still adheres to torn ligaments, and so part of me would be wherever he is, if he is. His death felt like an amputation, and I can no longer feel that part of me where we were attached. Some people still feel connected to those who are gone, but I never do. I merely feel his goneness, his absence, which seems as strong as his presence once did. And I still feel fractured. Still feel lost. Perhaps to a certain extent I will always feel this way, because the cause of this loss, his being dead, will always be a part of me. And that is one truth I wish I didn’t have to face.

Counting Down to the Second Anniversary of Grief

I’ve been on a grief hiatus for a few months — no major upsurges of grief — but yesterday, for no apparent reason, I started crying, and I’ve been crying on and off ever since. I’ve been trying not to think of the upcoming two-year anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death, trying to look ahead to the future, trying to find something to be passionate about (or at least something to hang my life on). Despite the exhaustion of attempting to put a good face on the seemingly bleak future, I thought I’d been doing well.

And then came the tears.

It still surprises me that the body remembers even when the conscious mind doesn’t. I’d forgotten that yesterday was the two-year anniversary of the last time we talked, the last time we were together in our home, the last time we touched. But something deep inside, something beneath thought, remembered. And grieved.

Two years ago yesterday, the hospice nurse expressed concern for us. I hadn’t slept in I don’t how many days, and neither had he. Some people, as they near death, suffer from what is called terminal restlessness. In his case, the rapidly growing tumors, his impossibly fast heart rate, the morphine, and various other factors made it impossible for him to be still. He wanted/needed to be on his feet, moving, always moving. And since he was too weak to be left alone, I would pace with him.

That last morning at home, the nurse suggested that he go to the hospice care center for a five-day respite, and he and I agreed. He knew I needed sleep (though ironically, I got very little sleep those days) and I thought they would adjust his dosages to give him the most alertness and the least pain. But they never tried. They dosed him with tranquilizers to keep him in bed, and he never had another moment of consciousness.

Those days were exactly two years ago. And I remember them as clearly as if they were happening now. I watched him die. I was there at the end. As agonizing as that was, I know there are worse things. I might not have been there when he took his last breath. I might not have witnessed the very moment he left my life. I might not have been able to say good-bye. Unlike many bereft, I don’t have to deal with those regrets.

For a long time I regretted taking him to the hospice care center — I felt as if I’d deprived him of one more day at home, one more day of lucidity, but in the end, I suppose there was no other choice. He’d stopped being able to swallow, the morphine made him disoriented, and the tranquilizers they prescribed to stop the terminal restlessness made him delusional. I’m glad he doesn’t have to deal with his body any more, but oh, I so wish I could see him once more, or talk to him on the phone, or go back to his store where we spent so much time when we were young and new.

I hope death feels better from the other side than it does from this side, because the only thing that brings me peace is the belief that he is no longer suffering. It’s strange to think that the very moment his suffering ended, mine began. I never expected to grieve. He’d been sick for so very long that his death came as a relief, but when the truth hit me, it hit with the force of a cyclone. And two years later, I am still whirling from the pain.