Grief: Yearning for a World that Makes Sense

In a week, it will be twenty-two months since my life mate/soul mate died. Sometimes it seems like he slipped out of my life just yesterday; sometimes it seems as if he’s been dead forever. And I still cannot fathom his goneness. It makes no sense that he is no longer here on this earth.

The worst trauma I am facing now is his continued absence. I don’t have the totally mind-numbing pain that I did in the beginning, nor do I head to another room in search of him a dozen times a day. I do, however, still desperately yearn to talk to him, and the longer I go without talking to him, the more the yearning builds up with no way to relieve it. (Yearning sounds so mild for the longing that claws at me, but it’s still the best word to describe what I feel.)

My own experiences and the experiences of my fellow bereft have shown that it is not anger or any of the other Kübler-Ross stages that fuels our grief, but yearning to see our mates once more, to have one more conversation, one more word, one more smile. I do talk to him, especially when I’m walking in the desert. (Though why there I don’t know. He didn’t like the desert, didn’t like the heat.) But he never answers back. One-sided conversations do little to satisfy the yearning, though sometimes they bring a bit of comfort.

I am lucky in that we had a chance to say everything we needed to say before he died, so there are no lingering issues or questions I have to discuss with him but, for me, need is not the issue. I want to talk to him. He had a great grasp on the intricacies of life and on modern history, he had a well-researched historical perspective on current events, and he loved books and movies. We could talk about anything and everything, and not once in our thirty-four shared years did he filter my words through his prejudices or beliefs. That is such a rare quality in a world where it’s so easy to bang one’s verbal shins on the rocks in other people’s heads.

We all have rocks in our heads — the rocks being our opinions, prejudices, beliefs, stubbornly held viewpoints, preconceived notions, assumptions, attitudes, falsehoods we hold to be true. Sometimes the rocks are soft and fall apart under the touch of reason. Other times the rocks are boulders that take up all available space, leaving no room for a new idea. If my mate had any rocks, they were more like a few shifting grains of sand that could take into account anyone’s truths, and that made him easy to talk to.

I should be glad I had him for all those years since so few people find someone they can truly talk to, someone who will listen, and I am glad. But . . . how can the earth survive without him? After he died, the planet felt tilted, and I had a hard time keeping my balance, but now I’m growing used to living on the slant. But I still yearn for a world that makes sense the way it used to, and I still yearn to talk to him.

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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.

I Am a Fourteen-Month Grief Survivor

Fourteen months sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? Plenty of time to get over the death of one’s lifemate/soulmate/best friend. And yet, those who have been where I am today know you don’t ever truly get over it. You deal with it, you get on with your life, but there is always that niggling feeling of something being not quite right.

I still feel bad for him that he’s gone, that he suffered so much, that he died too young, that he is no longer here to enjoy something as simple as eating a bowl of his chili. (Though the batch I made today in his honor wasn’t worth coming back from the dead for. The kidney beans were overcooked, the onions undercooked.)

I still feel sad for me, that I’ll never get to see him again in this lifetime, that we’ll never get to do all the things we planned, that his smile exists only in my memory, that I’m alone. I’m glad we had all those years together, but that doesn’t ease the loneliness he left behind. It is odd, but for some reason I never expected to be lonely. I’m used to spending time alone, I know how to entertain myself, and I’m quite capable of taking care of myself (though the thought of growing old alone makes me panic at times). I also have more friends now than I’ve had in many years. But still, I’m lonely — lonely for him specifically, and lonely in general. Perhaps my loneliness is another stage of grief rather than a character flaw. Perhaps someday it, too, will pass, as have other manifestations of my grief.

One stage of grief I am clinging to is anger. Not rage, just a quiet pilot light of anger. I accept that he is dead in the sense that I know he will never be coming back (though I still long desperately to go home to him, still yearn to see him one more time). But I cannot accept the rightness of his death. It seems so terribly wrong that death was the only resolution of his illness, the only solution to his pain. And that does anger me. Anger is generally considered to be a negative emotion, but during the past few months I’ve found that in small doses, anger is a positive thing. Anger can give us the strength to survive. Anger can give us the energy to do things we couldn’t do under normal circumstances. Anger can give us a feeling of control in uncertain times. Anger can keep us going when we want to give up. Anger can give us the courage to live with the injustice of death. Anger can motivate us to find solutions to problems, can motivate us to undertake dreaded tasks, can motivate us to change our lives. So, yes, I’m clinging to whatever vestige of anger I can. It’s the only way I can get through these lonely days.

I am now more aware of the years looming in front of me than the years behind me, those years we shared. I’ve been saying that I don’t know who I am now that he’s gone, but I do — I’m still me. Still the person I’ve always been, just older and sadder. I’ve mostly untwinned our lives, no longer see me as half of a couple. And yet, something is missing. I don’t cry much any more, but sometimes I find myself crying for . . . I don’t know what.

It’s a relief to be telling the truth. I’ve been keeping upbeat the past few weeks — preparing for my presentation at the writers’ conference, traveling, being around people who only know me as an author, posting photos of my adventures. It was wonderful, but it’s only half my story. The adventure ended, and now here I here I am. Fourteen months of missing him, and still counting.

Grief Update: A Yearning as Deep as the Black Canyon

I haven’t been writing much about grief lately. Partly I’ve been trying to keep an upbeat attitude so I can focus on promoting my new book, Light Bringer, which was published on the anniversary of my soul mate’s death, and partly I haven’t wanted to admit how much his being gone still hurts. It seems a bit pathetic since there are so many earthshaking and earthquaking events happening in the world today, and it has been more than a year since he died (a year and fifteen days to be exact). I am doing okay, but I still feel his absence from the earth, still miss him, still yearn for one more word or one more smile.

Fridays and Saturdays are particularly hard. He died at 1:40 am on a Friday night (which made the actually date a Saturday) and my body can’t decide which day is the right time to mourn, so my upsurge of grief spans both days. I say my body can’t decide, because there is an element of physicality to grief, especially when it comes to the death of someone who shared more than three decades of your life. You feel his absence in your cells, in your marrow, in your blood. I can sometimes feel (or imagine I feel) his vibes still surrounding the things he used, the things we shared. I find myself stupidly hugging a dish before I use it, remembering him eating off that plate.

Most of our stuff is packed away because of my temporary living arrangements. Yesterday, I felt a moment of panic when I realized that eventually I would unpack and begin using our household goods, and I would feel his energy permeating them. Usage will dissipate that energy, but for now, it’s still there. Perhaps when I need those items, the psychic remnants of him will bring me comfort, the way using a few of our things bring me comfort now, but it could just as easily set off a whole new strata of pain.

But I won’t — can’t — think of that. It still takes almost everything I have just to get through the days, to concentrate on this day. I can live today. What is one day without him when we had so many? I am most at peace when I forget that he is dead, when somewhere in the far reaches of my mind I feel that he is back in the house we shared, waiting for me. It’s not that I can’t live without him. I can. It’s that the world is such an alien place now that he is gone. I still remember how right the world felt when I met him. I had no expectations of having any more of him than that first relationship of customer (me) and storeowner (him), but back then, just knowing a person such as he existed made the world a more radiant place. When he died, he took the radiance with him.

It’s sort of odd, but I can’t identify that specific quality of radiance he brought to my life. He was sick for so very long, we gradually untwinned our lives, he to dying, me to aloneness. And yet, that connection, that depth, that radiance remained until the end. In his last weeks we even found a renewed closeness, a renewed commitment, but before that, we endured months, maybe years of unhappiness.

And, childishly, I am still unhappy. I want what I cannot have. I try to find in myself the radiance (the center? the heart? the home? — whatever it was that he gave me). I will need that to keep me going through the coming decades, and I fear I am not enough. At times, I think I have depths enough to plumb, other times those depths seem an illusion, an opaqueness that masks my shallows.

But what isn’t shallow is how much I miss him. That yearning is as deep as the Black Canyon.

Surprised by Grief

I continue to be surprised by the intensity and depth and variability of grief. It’s been more than ten months since my life mate — my soul mate – died. Most days now I feel normal, but “normal” for me is his being safe at home, perhaps in the other room, perhaps outside shoveling snow or watering our trees. The renewed realization that he is gone from this life still brings me raw pain. I’m getting used to being alone — in some ways, that aloneness feels normal, too. Until I met him, I’d always expected to be alone, and so part of me is looping back to that earlier life when I had only my concerns to worry about.

Still, despite that normalcy, there are days when it feels as if he just left, as if he walked out on me (or I walked out on him) and it’s a matter of time until we reconcile our differences. I don’t know where such thoughts come from — we had no major differences. Well, except for the soul-shaking differences that came when our journeys diverged — his into death, mine into continued life.

I mentioned before that love and grief were the bookends of a relationship. Because of its intensity, the ability to change a person’s life and outlook, and the all-consuming focus on another person, grief seems to mimic falling in love, though in a bleaker, blacker, lonelier way. And like love, grief stirs up your depths, making you realize you are more than you ever thought you could be. As I’m slowly beginning to define my life solely by me, not by “us”, I’m seeing another similarity. When a couple embarks on a life together, they learn to depend on each other, to find ways to complement each other, to meld their likes and dislikes, their hopes and frustrations into a workable emotional environment for both parties. When half of a couple dies, the person left behind has to find a way to unmeld. To go from thinking about both of you, to thinking solely of yourself, to depending solely on yourself. It’s hard and painful and feels futile at times. (Because, you think, if life is worth living, he would still be here.)

It’s like a teeter-totter. When one person leaves abruptly, you crash to the ground. You do learn to play by yourself, but you are always aware that the other side is empty. Gradually, you get used to it, though — or at least resigned. And that’s where I am, most of the time. Resigned.

I’m even getting resigned to that great yearning I once talked about, especially since it’s nothing new. Looping back to the time before I met him, when I was young, I remember being consumed by yearning, though I never knew for what. I didn’t feel it when we were together, but I feel it now. Could that yearning have been for him? Or could our being together have masked the earlier yearning? Just one of the many questions stirred up from the depths by grief.