I Am a Five-Month Grief Survivor

Five months ago, my life mate died . . . and I am surviving. I had not expected to grieve much — he had suffered a long time, and his death was hard-won — but still, those first endless weeks were difficult. The delineation between “us together” and “me alone” was so abrupt, so stark, so uncompromising that I had a hard time fathoming it. I finally went to a grief support group to find out how one survives such pain. I never did find out, but I discovered that one can survive the trauma, which helped, as did talking about my experience and listening to what others had to say. Grief is so isolating that it’s nice not to feel alone.

What helped most of all, though, was simply living. During the past five months, I have read dozens of books, walked hundreds of miles, written thousands of words, taken I-don’t-know-how-many photos, met many people both online and offline. All of those experiences have helped create memories, memories of a life without him, and those memories have softened the threshold between “us together” and “me alone.” I still have times of great sadness, still have that falling-elevator feeling when I remember I will never see him again, still miss him (probably always will), but for the most part I am doing okay.

I’ve abandoned my mental crutches — I no longer write a letter to him every day, don’t talk to him very often, don’t feel a need to scream. I am thinking more of the future, which signifies hope and getting on with my life, but such thoughts also bring moments of panic when I think of having to grow old alone. Mostly, I try to live in the moment and take each day as it comes.

One big trauma this past month was when I finally accepted in my depths that I will never see him again in this life. I knew that from the beginning, of course, but knowing it, feeling it, and accepting it are completely different things. People talk about acceptance as if it’s a peaceful thing, yet it at the time it felt as if I were losing him all over again. But that passed as everything does.

One big advancement this past month happened just this morning — for the first time since his death, I smiled when I thought of him. He would be glad — he’d have hated being the cause of so much pain.

He was a good man. I’m glad he shared his life with me.

10 Responses to “I Am a Five-Month Grief Survivor”

  1. joylene Says:

    You sound stronger, Pat. That’s comforting at this end.

  2. knightofswords Says:

    Little steps every day, I suppose. Big steps on other days, like smiling as you thought of him.

    You have always referred to him as your mate or your life mate rather than as your husband. That’s an unusual reference, but I suspect it’s part of a life spent in finer-than-usual relationship with a more wonderful-than-usual man.

    Over the course of your relationship, there were probably a lot more smiles and frowns and a lot more wonderful times than trying times. In fact, I’m betting that “smiles” and “wonderful” are a truer characterization of all of your experiences together than “frowns” and “trying.”

    Finding the first one of those smiles this morning is a great step, a step somewhat away from a focus on grief to a focus of the wonders that came before it.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Malcolm, than you for your wise words. I tend to forget the good times — he suffered for so long that the lighthearted days are deeply buried. I’m hoping that’s how I will eventually be able to remember him — strong, healthy, happy.

  3. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    Pat, what do you do with all the pictures you have been taking recently, and the ones I assume you took during your “us together” years? Have you put them into albums or scrapbooks? Creating pages to reflect the “then”, “transitional” and “now” journey might be very therapeutic and give you many more reasons to smile.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’ve been posting the photos I take on a blog http://waywordwind.wordpress.com/ and also burning them to a disc. I also have discs of the ones I took in Colorado, but I never used to take many photos. It’s one of the pastimes I’ve adopted to help me get through this time of grief. Eventually, looking at those photos of another time will give me reason to smile, but for now they remind me of what I have lost. Actually, they remind me that I am lost. I’m a child of mountain shadows, not the desert, and so out of place!

  4. Robin E. Shirley Says:

    Thank you for directing me here, Pat. I am progressing a little more slowly than you have, but I have reached a point now where I’m looking to the future and what direction I need to take with my life.

    Your words do help,


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Robin, I’m glad my words help. This is such a dreadful and lonely journey, we need to see how other people are doing — not to compare, because everyone’s grief is different, but to see that it is possible to survive. I’m still astonished that I lived through those first months. The pain was staggering.

      I’ve been thinking of you, hoping you find a few moments of peace.

  5. Steph Says:

    Four months in and I’m trying so hard to make my own way but there are trip wires everywhere. A memory will suddenly pop into my head and it’s like being punched hard in the chest, taking my breath away and making me feel so sick. It’s not even the first time for me as my first husband died 28 years ago. They are both all muddled in my head now and it’s like starting from square one. I know I can get through this because I already have, but I just don’t see the point some days.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Not that it helps, but grief is not something that gets better the more deaths you have to deal with. In fact, each subsequent death resurrects the grief from the first, so you feel the way you are feeling, a never ending spiral of grief, with grief for each spouse strengthening the grief for the other. Losing a spouse, whether the first time or second time is truly like losing your life. You lose not just the husband, the companion, the best friend, the lover, but you also lose all your shared dreams and plans. It was hard enough for me, doing it once. I cannot imagine going through that sort of grief a second time. Despite how you feel, you will find the courage get through this. How do I know this? You found the courage to love again, knowing the devastation that would wait for you if something happened to him. Well it did, and you are at square one. It’s very difficult to see the point of any of this, so be kind to yourself. I know you didn’t ask for advice, but I’m giving it anyway. At four months, you are still very new to the world of grief. If all you can do on any one day is breathe, then breathe. Don’t expect anything else from yourself. You may never see the point, but sometimes breathing is the point. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story. Feel free to stop by whenever you want to talk about your grief. I understand, at least in some ways, what it’s like. Wishing you peace.

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