The Silent Language of Grief

The so-called five stages of grief are so ingrained that most people think that’s all there is to grief. You deny, you get angry, you feel pain and guilt (and sometimes you bargain for the return of your loved one), you feel depressed, and finally, you accept. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? A brief checklist of stages, and then you get on with your life.

But grief is not that simple. First, those stages were described by Kübler-Ross to show how people come to terms with their own death and perhaps that of a loved one. It bears little resemblance to how people grieve after the death of a long time mate. Sure, we bereft have moments of anger, times of depression, some feelings of guilt, but most of us undergo a completely different set of stages, such as shock, bewilderment, hopelessness, loss of identity, anxiety, panic, isolation, loneliness, yearning. (For most of us, not anger or guilt but a vast yearning to see our mates once more drives our grief.) We also have physical changes to cope with that aren’t addressed in the Kübler-Ross model, such as immune system deficiencies, stress, dizziness, nausea, changes in brain chemistry, hormone disturbances, loss of equilibrium, and a higher death rate from all causes than non-grievers.

Still, whatever stages of grief a person goes through, there does come a time when you accept the truth deep in the marrow of your being — he is gone forever. You think this acceptance signifies the end of your grief, but do you want to know what often lies on the other side of acceptance? Heartbreak and tears. Sure, there are times of peace as you become used to your aloneness, but acceptance feels like another death, and it needs to be grieved. (It’s one thing to know he’s never coming back, and another thing to KNOW it. This acceptance is why the second year of grieving is often worse than the first year.)

Grief is a way of processing information. We know our loved one is absent, but is it possible to comprehend how very gone he is? To understand the nature and finality of death? Perhaps not, but by feeling the pain of separation and releasing it through tears, we can come to accept (however unwillingly) the idea that our loved one is gone from this earth.

It’s been sixty-nine weeks since my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I still have bouts of tears. I was always a stoic and believed in facing reality, but this is one reality I cannot comprehend. I try to conjure him up in my mind, but he is forever out of reach. Forever gone.

According to Voltaire, “Tears are the silent language of grief.” When we have no words to describe our loss, when we have no way of comprehending the incomprehensible, all we have left are tears to communicate to us the depth of that knowledge and the depth of our loss. And so I weep.

33 Responses to “The Silent Language of Grief”

  1. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    This is both painful and poignant to read. You explain so well the cavern of ongoing grief that we feel no one else truly comprehends.

  2. Joy Collins Says:

    No, no one else but another traveler on this sad road understands what this kind of grief feels like. I am so sick of people asking me how I am and when I tell them [I still pray for my own death, I miss my soul mate with every cell of my being, I
    cry from depths I didn’t know I had], they hand me meaningless platitudes [it will get better, you have so much to live for, don’t feel that way] because they really didn’t want to know.
    I agree, Pat, the second year is worse than the first. My heart just can’t accept the finality of this. And when the reality occasionally sets in – even just a little bit – I feel like I will break into a million little pieces and drown in my own tears.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joy, so many people try to be upbeat about such a time, which perhaps is how they cope, but it’s also important to live the truth of it. Undergoing such a life-changing (albeit painful) experience seems even more pointless if you hide it under fake smiles and a phony upbeat attitude.

  3. Deanna Dolf Says:

    As always, you put into words what I can only feel. Trying to express my feelings (my life) into words is totally impossible. For the ones that have never lost a spouse the words are meaningless. You however, know exactly how we feel and put it in words that are so perfect to comprehend. Yes, the 1 year anniversary is worse. There is no shock to protect your heart, family and friends think you should be over him by now, the realization of “this time last year WE” is gone forever along with knowing you will never see him, touch him or hear his voice ever again. Some say, “you’ll see him again someday” but even so, It will never be the same. I wonder how my heart can be so broken and yet keep beating. By the first year, you are so physical,mental and emotionally drained. And yet somehow, someway we keep going. Pat, I am so thankful to have you in my life. Walking through this journey with you has been so tough but also joyous at times. We have helped each other in tears, talking, loneliness and yes even laughter. You will always be my very special friend. You and Tim are my saviors and I thank you!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Deanna, I wish none of us had to go through this terrible experience, but since we did, I’m glad we’re doing it together. Looking forward to happier excursions.

  4. Becky Says:

    My lifelong best friend died quite unexpectedly at 51. He was full of life and great joy because he had found his soulmate. He had been married briefly many years earlier but was never serious with anyone until this woman. She is a young widower who lives in England and is raising two children, so their relationship was strained by distance but they were both serious about marriage. They had a disagreement (over what I’m unsure) then he had a heart valve fail without getting the opportunity to talk to her. Her former father in law died and she took her sons to his funeral. While in another country at the funeral, my friend died. She knew he’d had surgery but no one thought he’d die. I called her to tell her but couldn’t get her. I emailed, texted, and emailed several more times. She finally responded 3 weeks later and asked me not to contact her because she couldn’t talk about it without crashing completely, and her boys depend soley on her. My friend left a hefty sum of money for her but she won’t even entertain the thought of it. She could really use it too. I’m worried sick about her. I have sent her countless emails and she opens them but won’t reply. What’s going on with her? Should I go there? Her family never met my friend and I don’t think she has much emotional support. Please give me some advice. I can’t even begin to cope because his last request of me was to take care of her and all she gives is silence. It’s deafening!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I can see where it could be taking all she has to hold herself together to take care of her children, and emails from you only remind her of what she lost. (There’s no way of knowing, of course, but the argument could even have been about you.) I wouldn’t suggest going to see her. Maybe wait another month or two to let her get over the worst of her shock and then contact an attorney and have him contact her to see about transferring the money to her. If your friend left the money to her in a will, then it is a legal matter. Continually trying to contact her could make her feel pressured to deal with something she can’t cope with right now.

      • Becky Says:

        Yes, you’re probably right but I’m worried she is going to crash completely and no one will be there. He left the money and house in my name due to international tax issues and did it the day before his death. He knew he could completely trust me. He left a voice recording for her. Should I send it? This is the worst experience of my life. I’ve lost my confidant and lifetime friend and can’t even manage to to the one thing he asked of me.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I honestly do not know what is the best thing for you to do in this situation. Considering that she is not responding to your emails, and considering that you are also grieving, I still think it’s a good idea to wait a couple of months to contact her again, and if she still doesn’t respond, contact a lawyer to act as intermediary. New grief is devastating, so you need to think of yourself. In my experience, women with children tend to hold themselves together for the sake of their children.

          I’ll see if I can get find someone else to offer a better suggestion.

          • Becky Says:

            Thanks so much. I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams. He and I were closer than siblings. Born only an hour apart in the same rural hospital, and both having no siblings, we’ve been there for each other our entire lives. Now when I need him most he’s gone!

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Becky, that is the cruel irony of this sort of loss. The person you need to help you through the trauma is the one who is gone. This is not the time to be making any decisions. Whatever decisions you can postpone, do so. Even though we think we are thinking clearly during the first traumatic weeks or months of new grief, the loss skews our thinking. Truly, you need to take the time to grieve.

  5. leesis Says:

    hey Becky. I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you don’t mind can I offer a couple of suggestions? I’ve had a bit to do with grief.

    I get your friends lover needing to keep it together for the kids. Some people close off from allowing their grief to spill over and thus gain control . Mothers are expected to parent whilst in psyche agony. I’ve witnessed mothers turn into shattered versions of themselves because they’ve not time to grieve…because they have to be on the job. Some are simply hoping none of it’s true. But it takes time and the best we can do is keepon checking somehow a rather and regulary remind her your there.

    Personally I would send the tape to her but with a note around it explaining what it is before she hears it. And every three days I would send her an email that’s short and just says ‘I’m here if you have need’. This allows her to see you’re going to be there for a while. Then least she’ll know if she needs someone to reach out to you are there.

    You will…every now and then Becky… fall all apart at the seams. So will his partner. It isn’t fatal though, despite sometimes feeling it so. Even wishing it so. We heal if we stay honest. One step at a time.

    with kind regard…Leesa

    • Becky Says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Your advice seems very wise. I’ve been beating myself up over this and feel so helpless. She’s a very special person to me because she gave him such joy , if for no other reason. She’s had so much happen in her life I feel compelled, not only by my promise, but out of friendship and our mutual grief to be there for her.

      I have no children but understand her position. A friend suggested its a cultural difference. I disagree. Grief is grief no matter where you live. I fear this will destroy her. In the process it’s destroying me. Your advice has helped so much! Thank You again!!

      • leesis Says:

        You’re more than welcome Bec. Just hang in there with her. I agree with Pats couple of month’s idea. Except I’d be planning a trip to see her then. And I’d just turn up and say something like “hey I’m sorry but we are both grieving the same man. I needed to see you. And there’s stuff that needs to be sorted. (Without the Aussie expressions if any of those are ).

        I think it’s great that you care about her, that you will be there for her, that you honour your friend that way. No, culture doesn’t matter. All humans react differently to grief in the initial stages certainly but what we actually Feel…that’s the same.

        Becky this won’t destroy you honey. It will feel like that at times. You will sob and scream (if you allow yourself…and you must) and experience such internal pain that you think it’s destroying you. But it won’t. One step at a time. We’ll probably also find that your friend’s kids will save her from her grief destroying her and you can be there in a couple of months to make sure she doesn’t carry on the denial too long.

        Sending a big cyber hug.

        • Becky Says:

          I’m certainly having one of those, “its going to destroy me” moments. In fact I’m in day 3 of it. This is selfish to say, but I’ve been emailing faithfully his fiancée, and short of one email, there’s been no response. She opens emails nearly as soon as I send them but never responds. It makes me feel as if my concern for her is unimportant. I wish I didn’t feel as if in order for me to heal she must as well.I don’t know if her failure to answer is a cry for help, her trying to forget him, or like Pat said, I’m a reminder of what she lost and she can’t face it. The sad thing is, many days I don’t feel that I’m facing it either.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            You’re still so new to the grieving process — of course, you’re going to still be having “it’s going to destroy me” moments. I do, and it’s been almost three years for me.

            You’re doing what you can, just letting her know you’re there for her. One of the hardest parts of the whole “healing process” is realizing that however connected you are to the person who died, you have to continue living your life as a separate being. Maybe it’s the same with his fiance — do what you can, but beyond that, separate your grief from hers. You need to be concerned for yourself, no matter what she does.

          • leesis Says:

            Firstly becky I assure you it won’t destroy you despite it feeling that way. I think you are right to keep emailing her but wrong to interpret her lack of response as meaning your concern is unimportant. I agree with Pat. Your grief and her grief are completely seperate as your experiences with this man are completely seperate. I would ask you to please not pressure her and certainly don’t dump your healing in to her lap because that would be too much for her to deal with. Hun you have to find someone else to share your grief with…someone close and if you don’t have that someone then seek out a grief group…they can truly help.

            I hear your pain. Healing…as you’ll note from Pat’s posts is a slow process, a day by day put one foot in front of the other, feel what you feel, cry, scream…whatevers necessary. Again I think the emails good but I don’t think she is your healing balm…that would be unfair to her

            Wishing you all the love of the universe as you go through this awful time….Leesa

        • Becky Says:

          Hi girls,
          It’s been a while since I last corresponded with you. It is now spring time and I must say I had hoped the pain would have lessened a bit by now. Unfortunately, on some days, it even seems worse. My upcoming trip to England may be playing a role in this. My travel is booked and I have informed her (his fiancée) of my plans. Up until I sent my itinerary to her, she had been emailing with me almost daily (since late February), but she stopped when I sent her my itinerary. I asked her, quite bluntly, if she wanted his ashes (and other things) and she replied that she does but doesn’t know what to say or if she wants to talk about him at all. I assured her that she can talk as little or as much as she likes. Still, sadly, the email has all but stopped. I’m nervous, and I’m certain she is as well, but I don’t know what to do now. I rented a large cottage on a lake near her home in hopes that we would have time together (even told her to bring the children if she liked). I’m afraid she won’t be willing to come. I’m afraid she won’t be willing to see me at all and I do not understand why she fears my presence. I must admit, I’m confused. She’s asked me for help and I’ve given it, but even the correspondence she sends talks little about him. It’s mostly general and almost completely ignores the elephant in the room. Any guidance you can offer?
          Thanks to both of you!

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            I hope leesis checks in because I haven’t a clue what to suggest. To go there, of course, since you’ve been planning it for months, and then just take it a day at a time. Maybe ask her to meet you at a public place of her choosing so you can give her the ashes, and then see what happens?

            It’s entirely possible that meeting you is making the whole thing real to her again, and so she is going through a resurgence of grief. At least she did email you for a while, so that’s something. It’s possible she’s afraid not just of her grief but of yours, too. Sometimes we can handle what we’re feeling, but can’t handle what others are feeling. If she’s not talking about him, then it’s possible she’s burying the situation so that she doesn’t have to deal with it, and if you are there, she might have to deal with it. These are just guesses since I don’t know here at all.

            It’s not just about her, but about you, too. A cottage on a lake sounds as if it might be a nice place for you to do some healing of your own.

          • leesis Says:

            Pat’s thoughts are good. I had one other Becky maybe you have scared the crap out of her. You’ve “rented a house” sends a very different message than, she can “talk as little…as she wants”. I mean this gently Becky. But you are a complete stranger to her. And if it where me and you sent me an itinerary and told me you rented a house I’d be seriously very worried regarding what you wanted from me and whether I had it to give whilst I was greiving myself and trying to be a functioning mother. I’m sorry Bec but this is the message I’d recieve.

            I guess if it were me I’d cancel the trip, tell her, post the ashes to her or wait till she comes collects them or invites you there. Has she actually invited you there Becky? I’d tell her that if she wants to keep communicating via email please do (if that’s what you want) and then I would take the money I had left and go rent a place somwhere else, or go stay with some friends…whatever makes you relax…and continue to greive. You will heal.

            Thats just my reaction anyway…for what its worth and I promise given kindly and with no judgement.

          • Becky Says:

            I guess I should have been a bit more clear in that message. I rented a house large enough for her and her children. I also rented a small cottage for myself across the lake. It’s also very near to her on home so that even if she chooses not to use the lake house, I am still close enough that we could meet and I can give her the items he left for her. Also, I didn’t just pop this on her. We discussed it over the last couple of months. I just think maybe Pat right and it’s all coming down to a big reality. I’m afraid as well. I am about to hand over my life companion to a total stranger. It just seems like it will never end.

            Sent from my iPhone

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Becky, this is a difficult time for you (as they all are now), with a lot of decisions that have to be made. It’s possible you’re both afraid of the reality but also afraid of what it means, that he is truly gone. If she doesn’t respond to your emails, do the best you can for yourself. She might have been the love of his life, but you were the one he had the long-term relationship with. Maybe she’s afraid you’re going to want more from her than she wants to give?

            I’m sorry I’m not much help. My only advice is to be gentle with yourself in whatever you decide to do.

          • Becky Says:

            Pat and Leesis,
            My words could never adequately express my gratitude. Both of you have been a guiding beacon in my storm. I regularly read your posts Pat, and you could never know how much your words have helped me. Leesis was an unexpected benefit with her wisdom. I don’t know where this will end or if it will, but you’ve both been a great help and I sincerely appreciate it.
            Kindest Regards,

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Best of luck, Becky. I hope that whatever you decide to do that you find a bit of peace.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Leesa. I was at a loss as to what to suggest, and your advice is so much wiser and more knowledgable than mine was.

      • leesis Says:

        Nothing wrong with your advice Pat! I’ve just had more practice. I have been thinking of this stuff since I was a little girl getting beaten up by a woman twisted by bitterness because she never grieved her dead “real daughter”. I’ve studied deep psychological suffering, psychosis, neurosis, maladaptive/adaptive, western, eastern and indigenous theories, healing theories, theology, new age, philosophy, anthropology, sociology and more.

        But even more ‘real’ I’ve worked now for a long time with people experiencing all sorts of agony of the psyche. In this I have truly learnt.

        Just think Pat. You have created a place where people can reach out. I know the reason it happened sucks but that doesn’t take away from how cool it is!

  6. Becky Says:

    Hi Pat,
    Really, this is a follow-up to my previous psts and the wonderful advice from both you and Leesis both offered. I have since followed advice given and she emailed me the day after I sent the recording. While she admitted to being a shut down and repair type person, its painfully obvious that she is having great difficulty coping…but then so am I. I suppose its the nature of the beast. I can say that this has been worse than losing either of my parents, but we were just that close. Back to her, she told me I am a beautiful person and to never change. Also, she said future emails will come as she processes. From her comments about me, I think she rather looks forward to my email. It’s very difficult for me because my emotions are all over the place. Sometimes I cry for her and sometimes I blame her for stressing him. I know it’s not her fault but I can’t seem to control my emotions all the time. The Christmas season doesn’t make it easier so I just take one breath at a time. Thank you so very much! I hope you have a joyous holiday!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Becky, thank you for stopping by and letting me know. I’ve been worried about you — grief is hard enough without all the complications you are having to deal with. I’m so glad Leesis stopped by to give you such sage advice. Sending the tape was obviously the right thing to do.

      As for your emotions being all over the place — of course they are. People talk about the five or seven stages of grief, but there are dozens of stages and hundreds of emotional and physical effects, all confusing. Even worse, when you feel as if you’ve managed to deal with one aspect of grief, it comes around again and again.

      And yes — one breath at a time. Sometimes that is as far into the future that we bereft can look. Not to the next day or the next hour, but simply to that next breath.

      Take care of yourself even if you don’t feel like it, and please, stop by if you ever need to talk or just to let out your frustrations.

      Wishing you peace in the new year.

  7. Becky Says:

    Leesis and Pat,
    Thank you both for your responses. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember the unique situation in which I find myself. I want so badly to actually know she’s alright that I let it get to me. Of course I am in no way pressuring her, and only remind her that I’m not going anywhere…wanting her to have confidence in that. I feel as though I walk a tightrope in reassurance without overkill. My own grief disproves the so-called 5 stages as its different every day. Since December, I’ve moved to another state and taken a different position in my career. I felt so overwhelmed by my surroundings, as we shared a home. This has been, I think, a good move. I am sorely concerned for her though. It’s difficult to express how close “my boy” and I were and how much responsibility I feel towards her and her children.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t know anyone who experienced the so-called stages of grief. As you have so tragically found out, grief is different every day, like some sort of horrific kaleidescope of emotional and physical reactions.

      People say not to make major decisions during that first year, but I left our home and came to take care of my 95-year-old father. As hard as this is, it would be a thousand times worse if I had stayed in that house with all the echoes of him.

      This is such a long drawn -out process that I hope you manage to take care of yourself until you get through some of the incredibly unbearable pain.

  8. Laura Says:

    Beautiful world’s. Imy really feel identify with all that you said.

  9. Noelle Says:

    After my mother passed away, I went to a 7 day silent Rinzai Zen retreat. Those are very tough and strenuous. When I had my brief face to face encounter with the Japanese zen master I told him that I had no profound truth to offer, adding that I had lost my mother and had been crying throughout the retreat. He look at me with warm compassion and said: “tears are the most beautiful offering”

    It has been one year on the 26 that my husband and life mate passed away from cancer. This is the biggest loss I ever experienced and I wish I could just release the pain in tears everyday; I have not cried enough because of too much suffering and The hardship of life alone. Never knew it would be this painful.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      After a certain age, we’ve all suffered major losses, and we think we know what grief is about until we lose that one person who made life worth living. I think the shock of not knowing makes it all the harder. There are just so many different levels to the loss of a spouse, not just the grief of his being gone, but the loneliness, learning how to do everything yourself, having lost the daily contact and support of that special person. It’s amazing any of us live through it, but we do.

      Wishing you peace as you navigate this surprisingly painful second year.

Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: