I Am an Eleven-Month Grief Survivor

Eleven months ago, my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer. He took a final breath, his Adam’s apple bobbed twice, and then he was gone. It was a silent night — no storm lashing out in anger, no rain falling like tears, just the quiet passing of a quiet man. Nothing remained of him at the end but skin stretched around a skeleton without enough weight to make a dent in the bed, yet he left behind a hole in my life and my heart that will never be filled.

We’d been together thirty-four years. In comparison, eleven months seems like a mere blip in time, yet those few months contain an eon of sorrow and pain. He’d been dying for so long that I was glad when his suffering ended. Because of it, I truly did not expect to grieve, and I didn’t at first. I just sat in the room with his body and waited for the funeral director. The people at the hospice care center wanted me to finish the night there, but I couldn’t stay, so after they removed his body (not in a body bag but covered with a red plush blanket — he would have liked that), I headed back to the house. (You notice I don’t say I headed back home? He was my home. The house was just a house.)

I’m not sure when the grief hit me, but when it did, it slammed into me with such force I have not yet recovered my balance. It wasn’t a single body slam — the grief continued to grow for many weeks, until it all but consumed me. It didn’t consume me, of course. I managed to do all the terrible tasks of death: the grim paperwork, the final bills, the disposition of his effects. I’ve even managed to get on with my life. I’ve made friends. I’ve gone to museums. I take care of myself (most of the time, anyway. I still don’t always eat right, don’t always exercise, though I do walk for miles almost every day.)

On meeting me, you’d never know of my sorrow. I laugh, talk, joke, act like a normal person. And I am normal. Grief is now part of my normalcy. Every Friday night and Saturday, it descends on me. (Though upsurges of grief can occur any time without warning.) I cannot go to sleep on Friday nights until after 1:40 am, the hour of his death. Even if I don’t remember, my body does. And then, there is my time of the month — the date of his death. The 27th.

Yesterday I got an email from my sister: Can I tell you something I just love about you? I love your sense of irony, your talent for observation of seemingly insignificant details, and your almost-spiritual gift for connecting dots across time and distance. I thanked her, telling her I so needed to hear something nice, and she responded: Well, considering it’s Saturday, and considering the time of month, you just can’t hear enough nice things today, that’s what I’m thinking.

My time of the month. That used to mean something completely different, but now it means only this: I survived another twenty-eight or thirty or thirty-one days without him.

9 Responses to “I Am an Eleven-Month Grief Survivor”

  1. Val Says:

    I loved your elegant blog post today and here is a huge hug. I’m sorry for your loss seems so ordinary so a big squishy hug is what you’re going to get!


  2. Joy Collins Says:

    Pat, I can so relate to what you say this month. The 24th of the month is my day and 1:15 AM Monday morning [Sunday night] is my bad time. I still feel like someone carved out my heart and left a big cold hole. It is the new normal. It’s my birthday this week and John always made me feel so special on that day. This year, I just don’t care and that’s OK. I would give anything to hear him wish me Happy Birthday and give me a hug. And you’re right about the grief. It just washes over you and you have to give in to it. There is no warning.

  3. Holly Bonville Says:

    My day of the month is the 26th. 12:45 PM – Middle of the day.
    A big hug to you. I know what you are going thru. Especially on the weekends.
    BTW, walking miles in the desert every day IS excercise! 🙂 Give yourself some credit.

  4. Carol Ann Hoel Says:

    Blessings to you, Pat. Some suffer longer than others.

    I have moments when I weep over losing my mother, and she’s been gone for 36 years. These short intervals of sorrow will probably continue the rest of my life, since they have continued this long. But my deep grief in losing my 7-year mate and my lifelong mother, subsided gradually over a few years, to something less painful than you are suffering now.

    Eleven months is not even one year, and you lost a lifelong mate. My heart goes out to you. Life will get better. I don’t believe you will feel this sharp pain of deep loss the rest of your life. Perhaps there will be some change in your life that will facilitate your recovery. Even if not, your broken heart will heal.

  5. Ann Langbecker Says:

    Dear Pat,
    If you didnt hear this interview on radio yesterday, please listen to it: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2011/02/28/joyce-carol-oates-2

    Joyce Carol Oates tells her experience of losing her husband of 47 years and she doesnt gild her feelings! It was a relief to hear her; she doesnt mince words! I keep learning how resilient the heart is – how, despite the suffering life brings, my heart lifts up to see the beauties of nature and smiles, etc. I’ve had to learn to open to my heart’s capacity for doing this. Joyce C. Oates says how we’ll never be the same, and we wont, and we can open and see what life brings us even as we hold hallowed our past experiences. (I commented once before – lost my husband in 2002).

  6. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    I meant to comment earlier, but there isn’t much I can add to what you and the others have said. As Ann points out from Joyce Carol Oates’ interview, I think it’s clear we will never be the same… but that’s true of everyone, whether they’ve been shattered by such a loss or not. We’re changed by all our life experiences.

    Although there are several special people now missing in my life, I am thankful to still have my husband with me… and yet I look back and see how very different our lives are now compared to our early years of marriage, or of when our children were at home, when we were busy with full time jobs, etc. I expect our lives will continue to change as we age, and, while I regret the passing of some of the years, I know I can’t bring them back. What I make of the remainder of my life will determine if I finish it relatively content, or eternally regretful. That thought gives me reason to appreciate the past and anticipate the future, regardless of how different it is from what I might wish.

    Guess I’m philosophizing. I’ll offer a hug, too, and say an extra prayer for you.

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