Grief’s Milestones

The first year of grieving is difficult, not just because the wounds to the heart and mind are so raw and the void where the loved one resided so dark, but because it is a year of firsts. And each of these firsts comes with a renewal of pain.

We — my life mate and I — did not celebrate our birthdays. We merely recognized them as a tally mark for another year gone by. Because of this, I had not expected to feel any deeper sadness today — his birthday — than I felt yesterday or the day before, but grief knows no logic. It doesn’t matter that we never celebrated his birthday — that was his choice. But that he is not here to make that choice does matter, and so I’m dealing with an upsurge of grief. We will no longer be marking his years. He will never grow older. Perhaps next year I will be able to let the day pass without making a big deal of it, but today is a first. One of grief’s milestones. His first birthday after death.

I know these days of refreshed pain are important. Too often I keep myself busy to minimize the pain, and there is no effective way to get around true grieving but to feel the pain and go through it. Or so I’ve been told. Reconnecting with the pain is also a way of reconnecting to him. The faster I go through the grief process, the further I get from him. The farther I get from him.

The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so today we are a very long way from where we were when he died. (Considering only the speed of the earth, he died 165,356,000 miles ago.)

And, considering only the surface distance, I am almost 1000 miles from where we lived. We planted trees and bushes around the house to keep it cool and to give us privacy, and that green world seems a million miles from the desert where I am staying now.

So, today I am celebrating his birthday, if only with my grief, because it helps me bridge the distance.

9 Responses to “Grief’s Milestones”

  1. joyce norman Says:

    Pat, this is a very powerful comment you wrote today. It puts everything in perspective and the analagies are just right. I know you feel far, far away from “normal” but you are enduring, and putting one foot in front of the other — and that is something many cannot say.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers, as always….

  2. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    The first of any special time after such a loss is difficult… a birthday, Christmas, vacation, or the first day of the school year when a child has died. Occasions are filled with memories of other years that always included the loved one. I don’t know of any way to avoid it so we just plow on through. It’s hard, but at the same time we do have memories. Their poignancy is painful, but I still wouldn’t want to give those treasures up. As we move ahead I’m hopeful the pain will retreat but leave the memories intact.

  3. knightofswords Says:

    While I believe that death and physical distances are illusions, I also believe that grief is real, a natural part of our creaturehood. Experiencing it, following it, seeing those firsts you speak of, is what we must do to remain whole–or to become more whole.

    You have said that you must write about this to help yourself sort it out; I’m glad you’re sharing your grief, for it helps the rest of us know ourselves and our own pain.


  4. joylene Says:

    Sadly, some people are able to overcome grief easier than others. Why that is I don’t know. But sharing your story is certainly helping me.

  5. Pat Bertram Says:

    Every time I think I’m being self-indulgent by writing about this terrible experience, you let me know that you appreciate my sharing these feelings. Thank you for your generosity, both with your comments and your support.

  6. Malcolm Says:

    I thought of you when I read author Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s post about some of her reactions to a divorce. It’s a different kind of grief–she wonders if it’s a breakdown–she is seeking the quiet of the wilderness to help her get things together.. You might like the post:


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Malcolm, I read the post and liked it. Whether a person loses a lifemate to death or divorce, the grief is similar, as is the loss of identity. Grief is very like a breakdown. In fact, people who are grieving often wonder if they’ve gone crazy. I’ve been lucky that I have these outlets — my writing and my walks.

  7. Amber Easton Says:


    Grief is such a tumultuous time in life. The emotional triggers are usually unexpected and intense. All I can say is roll with it as it comes. At five years out from my husband’s death, I still get hit with a rare unexpected trigger that leaves me shocked and grieving all over again. Someone once told me that the intensity of our grief is a testimony to the love that has been lost. What an amazing love you were blessed to share!

    And, yes, I have often wondered if I’ve gone completely insane over the past few years. You know what? I think I did have moments of temporary insanity, but that’s okay. Everyone around me is still alive. Ha.

  8. Lance de Boyle Says:

    Trite, I know.

    But the depth of grief tells the depth of love.

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