Cops, social workers, therapists, just about anyone who deals with death in any capacity, learn to give an automatic, “I’m sorry for your loss,” to the bereaved. At first, this condolence by rote bothered me. It came across as insensitive and . . . well, automatic. Besides, it seemed to reduce the death of my mate to the level of a lost sock. I don’t mind as much now. Even though I have been born into the world of grief, I still don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving. Besides, grief is about loss, and not just the primary loss of a loved one, but also multiple secondary losses.
In my case, when I lost my life mate, I lost my home (my mate was my home even more than the house we lived in, but I lost that too when I had to move away). I lost the future we planned. I lost the hopes we had. I lost my best friend. I lost my partner. I lost my lifestyle. I lost the one person who knew everything about me and liked me anyway. I lost the person I could depend on to be there when I needed him. And most of all, I lost myself.
It’s not so much that I saw myself as an adjunct to him, or that my identity depended on him, but he was the focus of my life for more than three decades. By his very being, he gave my life meaning. Before we met, I always wondered about the meaning of life. I wanted to live a significant life, to make sure my life meant something. After we met, I didn’t worry about such things — at least, not much. It was important that we were together, that we faced the world together. Only after his death did I realize how much “togetherness” mattered to me. And the loss of that togetherness is something to mourn.
Now that I am alone, I have to find meaning in “aloneness,” to find significance in that aloneness. And I don’t know if I can. I feel fractured, as if bits of me are scattered all over the universe, and I haven’t a clue how to put myself together again. Oddly enough, I had no real interest in spending my years with anyone until he entered my life. And now I am back where I started. Sort of.
I feel a bit foolish (and self-pitying) at times for all the tears I shed. I always thought I was more stoic than this, able to take life’s big dramas in stride. Yet the deletion of him from the earth is impossible for me to fathom. It affects every single aspect of my life. I haven’t found the bedrock of my new life — the thing, the idea, the place, whatever that bedrock might be — that gives me a firm footing and allows me to get on with my life. He’s been gone for twenty weeks (is that a lot or a little? I no longer have any sense of time) and everything is still resettling. If I get a grip on one facet of my loss, another secondary loss rises to the surface. And so his absence (and my loss) becomes more profound as time passes.
I’ve been trying to write again, and even in such an exercise that epitomizes aloneness, I feel his absence. I used to read what I wrote to him. He didn’t always have a suggestion or a comment, but sometimes he’d get a little smile on his face when I hit the scene just right. And that smile is just one more loss for which I am sorry.
August 15, 2010 at 6:03 pm
Without a doubt, this is the most articulate and touching piece I’ve ever read about loss. It comes straight from your being and I felt it as I read it.
BTW, it is excellent writing, if you’d care to know that.
August 15, 2010 at 6:25 pm
Joyce, sometimes I feel as if I’m turning into a one-note writer (or rather, blogger) but this grief, this feeling of being fractured has become the focus of my life. I know I’ll get beyond it, but not quite yet.
Thank you for your compliments and for your continued support.
August 15, 2010 at 7:38 pm
hey Pat…I agree with the above. So beautifully written.
Pat two years ago after a suicide I wrote in my journal
“in that moment I heard, felt, smelt, tasted the shattering/splintering of glass…and knew that glass was me. A demolition ball has just smashed straight thru me and I am no more.”
Fortunately as a mum I had to put one foot in front of the other but even twelve months later I wrote
“It’s like my skin is removed…raw flesh is all I am…wounded by the most gentle breeze.
Now I am much better and I share this with you only to say… that fracturing you speak of; it does resettle…you will be whole again, different, and for a time with an open wound but it will come back together for you. It happens just by putting one step in front of another. But not for a while for 20 weeks is NOT long!
August 16, 2010 at 5:20 pm
Leesis, It does feel as if one’s skin is removed, and that raw flesh is all that is left. Because of that sensitivity, I have to be very careful what I say to friends (since I have no clue anymore how I come across) and even more careful how I react to what they say. Everything wounds me.
I appreciate your sharing your grief with me. Although I wish you’d never had to deal with the wounding, it is good to know that one can survive, at least in some way.
August 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm
Pat I have reached a place, though its taken over two years, were I accept the wound with ?gratefullness for what it gave me.
I don’t get why particularly but suffering leads to a greater awareness, depth ? (the question marks indicate my inability with words :)) to understanding life and self that enriches. As such I cannot regret the trauma.
That’s why your writing is so important because this enrichment can only occur if grief is allowed its time and expression without being stifled.
It’s not just survival Pat…and it will come…one step at a time.
with much…oh how does one express ones empathy/warmth/hope for a person never met yet I feel it all.
August 16, 2010 at 12:07 am
I think I have commented before, but I’m not absolutely certain. I subscribe to your blog and read every single entry and then, I cry. My heart breaks for the pain you are going through. I’ve known such heartache; when I lost my mama, my father-in-law, my grandmother-in-law and others. And when I found out that my brother had committed suicide, I wanted to die, for he never understood how much I loved him.
Please know that, even if I do not comment, my prayers are always with you. I hurt for you. I grieve with you. And I love you. If only I could remove this pain from you, I would take it, myself… rather than have you go through so much heartache.
My mama has been gone for 24 years and I still miss her. I believe I always will. If I didn’t have absolute knowledge that I will see her again, I couldn’t bear it. We were so close.
Please hold on and lean on those of us who love you, for you are not alone. We are here to listen, aid, support and love you. We are here for you. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, as Leesa said. The pain will get easier to bear, although it will never go away entirely. Still, you will find a new focus, but your life’s mate will never really be gone from you, as long as you have memories to cherish.
Hugs from a friend,
August 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm
Yaya, I appreciate you telling me your story, though I ache for all your losses. It’s a hard thing to have to deal with, this seemingly constant flow of people out of our lives. But others do enter. Thank you for being one of those who have entered my life.
August 16, 2010 at 1:09 am
I echo what everyone else said. The irony is, as a piece of writing, this is just pitch-perfect. Beautifully done.
Other than that, I don’t know what else to say.
August 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm
Lisa, you don’t have to say anything. I’m just glad you stopped by — it’s always good to know that people care. And thank you for the compliment on my writing.
August 16, 2010 at 10:13 am
I sense that so many reading this moving post will think, “This is exactly how I feel, but was never able to say.” Today is our twins birthday. They would be 42. Jack’s been gone 19 years and Jody’s 3 and a half. That throbbing ache inside never goes away. I don’t know what to say to people either when they’re hurting, except sometimes I cry and that makes it worse for them. But I’m crying because the pain is still so fresh and because I know exactly what they’re feeling. I think you’re doing what you need to do and that’s all there is to it.
August 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm
Oh, Joylene, my heart aches for you. You’ve helped me realize that we bereft survive by living one day at a time. I cannot even imagine how it must have been living all those days, one at a time. I wish I could be there to hold you, to listen to stories of your sons. Sending you hugs.
August 17, 2010 at 4:02 am
It is amazing how you can put into words what a lot of us feel and are experiencing. I have thought all of that, but hadn’t been able to put it into something that made any sense to anyone but me. Thank you.
August 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm
While those lost pieces will never grow back, someday you’ll learn to live without them and find something new to fill those empty places and make you whole again.
And even if your writing is limited to sharing your feelings and grief, it’s still writing. It’s therapeutic too.
Don’t feel like you have to let go of your grief before you are ready to. There’s no rule on how many tears you’re allowed to shed.
October 2, 2010 at 9:55 am
Thank you Pat for putting into words everything I am feeling. I lost my wife to cancer nine months ago, and have been numb ever since. Your words here are everything that has run through my mind and heart; thank you for elucidating it for me.
October 3, 2010 at 3:58 pm
Amisama, It’s a terrible thing to have to deal with, first your wife’s illness, now trying to deal with living without her. My heart goes out to you.