Sucker Punched by Grief

After the first excruciating months, dealing with a major loss is like being in the ring with an ever-weakening opponent. The feeble jabs inflict little pain, and you start feeling as if you can go the distance. Gradually, as the blows come further and further apart, you let down your guard. You even welcome the blows that do land, because they remind you why you are fighting. Then . . .


Out of nowhere comes the knockout punch.

My knockout punch came after a restless night. I finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, and I dreamt.

I dreamed that my life mate was dead, but I woke to find him alive and getting well. It was wonderful seeing him doing so much better, and a quiet joy seeped over me.

I started to wake. In the seconds before full consciousness hit, I continued to feel the joy of knowing he still lived. Then . . .


The truth hit me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, like an aftershock, came the raw pain, the heartbreak of losing him . . . again.

I’d only dreamt about him once before, and that was at the beginning when my defenses were still in place. In that first dream, I told him I thought he’d died, but deep down I knew the truth, and there was no shock when I awoke, just a feeling of gladness that I got to see him once more. But this time, I had let down my guard. I even felt a bit smug that I was getting a grip on my grief so early in the process, and so the dream caught me unaware. In the depths of my being, I believed that he hadn’t died.

I cried on and off for two or three days (I lost count; grief tends to override time) but now I’ve regained my equilibrium — at least until the next time.

A friend who counsels the bereft told me, “In my experience with grief, a healthy person, such as yourself, is going to grieve in a gradually diminishing way for two years.”

Two years??!!

If so, I have a very long way to go. I’d planned to stop blogging about grief. I don’t want people to think I am eliciting sympathy, nor do I want to seem pathetic, grieving long after the non-bereft think I should be done with it. But if I’m going to have bouts of pain for many months to come, I might as well share them and let others take whatever comfort they can from my learning experiences.

This episode with the dream taught me to be patient with myself. I’ve been thinking that I’m mostly healed, and I’ve been feeling like a slacker, just taking life a moment at a time, not doing anything to prepare for the rest of my life, not doing much of anything but reading, walking, writing a little (a very little), taking photographs, and going through my mate’s collection of movies. Now that I know the power of the sucker punch, and how easily it can gain the upper hand, I understand this simple life is all I can expect of me right now. And perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

7 Responses to “Sucker Punched by Grief”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    I can’t personally speak about grief from the death of a spouse, but I’m divorcing after 37 years of marriage, and I’m going through all the same stages of grief. I’ve been told it might take a year for every 5 years I was married to fully recover. That’s SEVEN years!

    My heart goes out to you. Lately I’ve been having odd dreams about my soon-to-be ex and I don’t like it one bit.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Marilyn, At that rate, it would be seven years for me too. Ouch! I guess we’re in this for the long haul.

      The death of a marriage is like any other death, and so is the ensuing grief. Best wishes for a full recovery. And I am so sorry that you’re dreaming about your ex. I guess that’s why you need those seven years — to get him completely out of your mind.

  2. leesis Says:

    oh Pat I remember the same thing happening to me after my best friend died. That moment when ‘reality’ comes back after the dream…agony.

    Please don’t stop blogging this. You are exposing so many of the false conditioned beliefs we have about grief…its so essential for folk to read.

    Sometimes I have wanted to grab folk and shake them, yelling maybe “there are no rules beyond honesty” There are no time lines, no shoulds and shouldnts and bugger what anyone else thinks because one day they’ll be there too and I truly believe your words will be of service.

    love to you

  3. lvgaudet Says:

    Just think of it as a reminder of why you are feeling so much pain and so lost. You just aren’t ready to let go yet and your subconscious is letting you know that. It will take time.

    Even if you quit blogging about it for a while, keep writing about it as if you are blogging it.

    Exploring your feelings in a way that is putting them out there in the open will help the healing. Locking it up doesn’t make the pain or sadness go away, it only keeps it locked inside, not dealt with.

    And heck, when you are ready and have come to terms with your new life and your loss, you’ll probably have a best seller waiting for publication. Grief is universal. If those Chicken Soup for the Soul books could be such a big thing, something that truly brings someone through the reality of grief in a way that makes them feel like they aren’t alone certainly could be bigger. There is nothing more lonely than grief.

  4. joylene Says:

    It’s amazing that they can put time limits on this. What you experienced is something I understand. I’m sorry you had to live through that, Pat. I hope you were able to console yourself.

  5. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    What an awful, painful experience! Like Joylene, I’m disappointed that people keep telling others and you how long to expect the grief to last, because in most cases they’re wrong. Grief is an individual thing. Sadness lingers. You will look back and recognize that the most difficult times are getting farther apart and that you have begun to anticipate activities with more eagerness. But there are no time limits or consistent ways of measuring the diminishing levels of grief, so to hear people tell you your experience will be years in length isn’t helpful. I think the blogging and writing about it are good things and hope you will continue throughout and long after your grieving.

  6. anevolution Says:


    Thank you ever so much for sharing your journey of loss, this post especially. I lost my father to cancer and heart complications in June 2009 and I just got sucker-punched during a spa trip that was intended for rest and rejuvenation for myself. What I’ve discovered is that in the busy everyday of running my business, raising my 4 year old, and living my own life with my husband, the grief of losing my father has little time to express itself.

    My grief caught me off-guard and yet it’s cathartic and heartwarming to spend so much time thinking about him and the wonderful gifts he left me. I want to live his legacy, whether it’s imagining how Monet would have loved to paint these amazing Sawtooth Mountains in all their different light (my father loved impressionist painting) or invoking my father’s professionalism and statesmanship as I, too, work to make a positive impact in the world.

    Thanks, again, Pat and warm hugs to you. You are so not alone and your willingness to share yourself is very much appreciated.

    Kind regards,
    Adrienne Trapani

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