The Problem With Grief

The problem with grief is its immensity. If it were only a matter of being sad that the loved one is gone, as I thought grief was, it would still be hard but doable. Instead, grief affects every part of your life. It’s not just a matter of the person being dead, but also all hopes, dreams, plans, expectations that you had with him. If there was a misunderstanding of any kind, it can never be put right. If a person filled many roles in your life, as my lifemate did for me, then all those needs go unmet. And grief is not just about sorrow. It’s about anger, fear, depression, loneliness, despair, and many emotions I have not yet identified.

Grief is also physical. Losing a mate ranks at the very top of stressful situations, and that stress itself causes physiological changes. Sometimes I can barely breathe. I don’t sleep well, though that is nothing new. Food nauseates me. I have trouble concentrating, and I am always exhausted — grieving takes an unimaginable amount of energy.

Grief also affects one’s self-esteem and identity. He was my focus for so many years. Without that focus to give my life meaning who am I? How do I find meaning, or at least a reason to continue living? The irony of this particular aspect of my grief is that I never wanted to be so involved with anyone. I always thought I was independent. And perhaps I once was and will be again, but I apparently I haven’t been for many years.

Because of all these different aspects of grief, grief is ever changing, so one can never get a handle on it, at least not for a long while. And grief grows the further one gets from the loved one’s death, because you see more of the person’s life. In my case, the man he was at thirty, at thirty-five, at forty, are all gone now too. Which is another aspect of grief I had never considered: The sheer goneness of the person.

During my mate’s last years, I’d started doing things on my own, such as finding a new life and friends online, and I thought I was doing well in my aloneness. But there is a vast difference between being alone with someone and being alone with aloneness. As William Cowper said: How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude! But grant me still a friend in my retreat, Whom I may whisper, Solitude is sweet.

That is one more thing for me to mourn — the friend in my retreat. He is gone. And solitude is no longer sweet. Do I have the courage to grow old alone? The courage to be old alone when the time comes? I don’t know.

Grief changes a person in ways I cannot yet fathom, but one’s nature does not change, and I always tended toward solitude. Perhaps someday I will welcome the solitariness, or at least come to terms with it. As Jessamyn West said, “Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.”

Until then, I will continue to find a reason to get up each day. And always, I will miss him.

4 Responses to “The Problem With Grief”

  1. Kat Sheridan Says:

    My dear Pat, so long as there are Wombats in the world, you will never truly be alone. Our thoughts surround you so often, it’s a wonder it isn’t a physical manifestation in your home. And while your love lives in your heart and memory, he will never truly be completely gone, simply away from your sight. Sending hugs and yet more hugs, and sharing yet more tears with you.

  2. joylene Says:

    Dear Pat. Keep writing and I’ll be right here listening.

  3. L.V. Gaudet Says:

    I only wish I were closer to give any help I could.

    I haven’t dealt with the complete grief you are going through, of losing a lifemate.

    I’ve had the lesser griefs of losing something (pets) you loved, and briefly been touched by the ultimate grief of losing someone you love so desperately that you feel yourself die from that loss.

    I do know that, no matter how permanent or fleeting that moment of grief is, something in you dies with it. Don’t fight the grief, embrace it. Live through it and learn to live with it, no matter how difficult it is.

    We got our baby back, healthy and strong and with no lasting effects, but even after a few years I still see her lifeless body every time I look at that spot, the purple-blue foamy lips, and feel the pain of the emptiness of that piece of me that was ripped away and died the moment I found her lifeless and not breathing.

    That 18 month baby is now five, and I still find it very difficult to talk or even think about. That piece of me that died at that moment will never come back. I am changed forever.

    It doesn’t compare with losing that life partner who you are not meant to lose, but I did learn that all you can do is live day by day and welcome the grief as part of the healing process. Fighting it will only make it worse.

    Grief doesn’t have rules or a timeline. Just be as strong as you can (and need to) be.

    I can’t be there in person, but I am in heart.

  4. Grief as a Subversive Act | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] is more than that a skill or an emotion, of course. The problem with grief is that it is so physical — affecting hormones, brain chemistry, equilibrium, sleep and […]

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