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.