Grief: Blindsided by Lilacs

Who knew I would find lilacs in this desert community?

My life mate — my soul mate — loved lilacs. We once saw a house with lilacs lining the long driveway, and he wanted to live there, but we couldn’t afford such luxury. Shortly after we moved to the house where we were to spend the rest of his life, we dug up the lilacs that blocked a gate and replanted them around the perimeter of the yard. When we moved to that house, it was like living in an aquarium — there was absolutely no privacy. By the time he died, it was such a lush environment, it was like living in a terrarium — and there was total privacy. And the gate was once again blocked with lilacs. Apparently, we’d left just enough rootstock that the bushes grew back.

We planted all sorts of bushes and trees in addition to those lilacs, and the thrill of watching our seedlings grow to adulthood was another thing we shared in a twinned life that was all about sharing. It should have been hard leaving the place, but I was in such grief over his death that one more loss didn’t really make much difference to my sorrow.

I still don’t miss the place, or not that much. A place is just a place. I am homesick, but homesick for him. He was home. I miss him. I miss our life together. If he were to call and tell me he was waiting for me, I’d go to him wherever he was — mountains or desert, city or country, there I would be. But he’s never going to call. For months after I came here to the desert to try to figure out what comes next, I’d listen for the phone, hoping he would call and tell me that he was well and I could come home. That feeling is finally fading, but the loss of that feeling just makes me sadder — he is gone and I have to deal with the vicissitudes of life by myself.

I have minor upsurges of grief a couple of times a day, but I try to be upbeat. I have a new book published. I am getting new clothes, trying to reinvent myself from the outside in. I have made new friends (mostly people who have lost their mates. It’s amazing how quickly you can get to know someone when you cry together). I’ve been handling myself well.

And then . . .

Today, strolling around the neighborhood (it was too windy to walk in the desert), I happened to smell lilacs, and instantly, I was back in full-fledged grief mode. People keep telling me one never gets over grief, you just learn to live with it, and that appears to be true. Grief seems to lurk in dark places, ready to gush forth when one is least expecting it. And I was not expecting it today. How could I have known I would encounter lilacs growing in this desert community?

9 Responses to “Grief: Blindsided by Lilacs”

  1. Carol Ann Hoel Says:

    Grief lurks in dark places. How true this is. We may seem to have healed completely, then, out of the blue comes a trigger. Like the lilacs. Grief floods over the walls we build. I’ve experienced this phenomenon connected to the early death of my mother 36 years ago. Does that mean 36 years isn’t long enough? I’m not plagued with grief. A moment here an there the never-to-be-forgotten event returns and brings with it tears. Blessings to you, Pat…

  2. joylene Says:

    What a terrible thing to have to learn, that coping is a learning process. Sadly, it’s true.

  3. victoria thonvold Says:

    I am so glad I found you—-Sharing grief is soothing—
    This last week after 2 months I have just begun to eat the things my husband loved and could not eat for the last year he lived. Before he died —I felt too guilty and sad when I came upon them—-because I wanted to wait and share the food with him when he was better— but that day never came. I would see a steak or a bacon cheeseburger on the menu or pork chops in the store or many other things we enjoyed together —and start to cry.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Victoria, it took me an entire year before I could eat any of his favorite foods. The thought of my eating what he couldn’t made me sick to my stomach. There are so many aspects to grief, especially after the death of a life mate, that it is almost impossible to sort out all the feelings.

      • victoria thonvold Says:

        Yes–you are so right— that is what it has been like all last year for me—-the thought of eating his favorite foods when he couldn’t did make me sick to my stomach. Now the food does not set right and I cry and I certainly can’t say I enjoy eating the food but I am trying and crying—-
        As I read your thoughts I see so many similarities—
        My heart aches for both of us—

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Victoria, Just checking in so you know I’m thinking of you and sending healing thoughts your way.

          I now fluctuate between being sick to my stomach at the thought of eating his favorite foods and eating those foods because he can’t. It’s sort of a strange way of honoring him.

          I go to a grief support group, and the things we all struggle with are getting though the days, finding reasons to continue living, and figuring out how to put ourselves back together so we can continue living. A problem for so many bereft is that those who are not in our situation expect us to move on as if a month or two or ten is enough. But take your time. Only people who have been there understand what you are going through; no one else has a clue. I sure didn’t before grief crashed into me.

  4. victoria thonvold Says:

    The things your support group are going through are my struggles too. I wish I were home where I could find kindred spirits such as your support group but I am in Argentina visiting my only daughter who is my only living relative. I thought in 6 months I would be able to return home and again be able to spend time where all my happiness disappeared.
    The last month of John’s life his family all came from out of state to visit him and say good-bye as we were going to have no service. I wasn’t that close to them so after John died I did what I thought I had to do to survive and ran away to a foreign country. Not a good move —- Life becomes even more difficult adjusting to a new physical and mental world as you well know.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Victoria, at least your move is temporary. Someday you will be able to go home, though to a home that is changed. By then, the things you both used might bring you comfort instead of pain. I had to leave our home, and I’ll never get to go back. One day I’ll have to figure out where to go from here, but not yet. I’m not ready.

      Have you heard of It’s an online support group for people who have lost their mates. You might find some kindred souls there.

  5. Lilacs For Remembrance | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] year after he died, I was Blindsided by Lilacs. I’d come to a desert community to look after my aged father. The vegetation was completely […]

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