Hurrying Through Grief To See What is On the Other Side

During the first months of wild grief after the death of my life mate, I occasionally had the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen to me. I don’t know why I had that feeling — perhaps my sense of fairness dictated that a great good was needed to balance a great grief. Or perhaps such a cataclysmic closing of one segment of my life demanded an earthshaking opening of another segment. Or perhaps after years of waiting for his suffering to be over, I felt deep down that it was time for me to live.

I wasn’t the only one who thought his death might bring good changes to my life. Shortly before he died, he himself told me that everything would come together for me after he was gone. (He never explained what he meant, though, and foolishly, I never asked.) And afterward, my sister, who witnessed my grief and saw it as life affirming, told me that I could be entering the happiest time of my life.

Whatever the truth of it, I held on to the feeling because . . . well, because it was all I had to hold on to. In fact, the feeling was so strong at times that I wanted to hurry through my grief to see what was waiting for me on the other side. But here it is, nineteen months of grief later, and whatever that wonderful thing I expected to happen, didn’t.

Part of me is still waiting (just as an ever-diminishing part of me still waits for his phone call to tell me I can come home), but mostly, the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen to me is gone. Oddly, this is not an uncommon feeling for us bereft, and those who had the feeling of expectation also felt let down when nothing wonderful happened, which leads me to believe that the feeling is a survival mechanism, or perhaps another one of the many stages of grief nobody ever talks about. (Those who did have something wonderful happen in their lives weren’t able to feel the wonder of it, which left them feeling empty, and that is almost as bad as having nothing wonderful happen.)

Yesterday at the grocery store, I saw one of the hospice social workers who occasionally moderated the grief group I used to attend, and I thanked her for helping me through such a terrible time. During our conversation, I mentioned the odd feeling of anticipation I’d had during my months of grief. She replied, “Something wonderful did happen to you. You got through it.”

Is that wonderful enough to account for all those months of expectation? Maybe is has to be.

17 Responses to “Hurrying Through Grief To See What is On the Other Side”

  1. Deborah Owen Says:

    I can’t speak from the standpoint of a widow, but I do understand the feeling of being so cumbered with a load that I feel anything that follows must be a relief… but it isn’t. We can’t run away from ourselves or even from the feeling that maybe we should have enjoyed yesterday and its drudgery a little more than we did because today it isn’t as happy as we thought it would be. Wherever we go in, whatever we do… we’ve never been there before, so it’s a constant challenge. Good article, Pat. Great.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thanks, Deb. I think a lot of that feeling I had came from thinking I would be different. How could I not be different after experiencing such wild grief? But I am still the same. As you say, we can’t run away from ourselves.

      • Deborah Owen Says:

        No, hon. You aren’t the same. Now you’re a tower of strength for grieving people – something you could have never been before this experience. Every experience in life gives us two choices – we can snuggle closer to God or turn away. The great thing is that the choice is ours. One day you’ll look back on this time and wonder how you could be as “whole” as you are. You’re a fantastic example of fighting through the pain of life. Keep up the good work.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          It’s true that before this experience I couldn’t help grieving people — even though I’d lost a brother and my mother, I hadn’t a clue what depths grief could take you. I always thought grief was self-indulgent, but it so much more than that — it affects every part of your life, causes physical conditions, makes you look at everything differently.

          • Deborah Owen Says:

            I know that’s true – by observation. I’ve seen people handle grief in so many different ways. It makes
            me know only one thing for sure – I don’t know how I’ll handle it when it hits me. I think I’d want to move to
            a writing community for half of the year and try to put down some kind of new roots as I can’t see
            anything occupying my mind except writing and music. I hope I would be able to do that. I’ve always
            had this theory that if a person tries to imagine bad situations (rape, divorce, death, etc.) and lays some
            broad plan ahead of time, maybe, just maybe, their mind will be preconditioned to automatically seek
            that direction – at least in part. Have you followed any of your preconceived plans? At all?

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            I spent a lot of time during his last years trying to figure out what I would do and how I would handle it. I thought I’d gone through all the so-called stages of grief by the time he died, so my grief took me by surprise. I never expected the total agony, the almost debilitating shock, the panic and nausea and inability to breathe. It was like an alien had taken up residence in my body and sucked all the life out of me. It takes a long time to get over that. I went to take care of my 94-year-old father afterward, and I figured I’d immerse myself in writing, but I never did. I still have a hard time concentrating, and I have a hard time making myself believe it’s important. Other writers, of course, do immerse themselves in writing — it’s how they survive.

            Having a plan is good, because your mind plays tricks on you, and the newly bereft often make foolish errors in judgment because they want out of the misery. That’s why they say not to make any major changes during the first year. And you still have to be careful during the second year — the need to be “normal” is overwhelming at times, so you can still make bad decisions, especially when your family is urging you to move on.

  2. leesis Says:

    Pat. Yes it could be a survival mechanism…a defence mechanism to counteract the emotional agony but I really think it is much more than that and thus much more worthy of attention. I think that partly it’s a voice deep deep down in our psyche telling us we will be happy again. And further I believe it’s a true voice. For when healing isn’t thwarted by societal pressure and substance abuse and as long as we have someone to share with then wonderful things will be again.

    But that doesn’t mean that for a time things aren’t gunna hurt like hell because wonderful things don’t replace the agony of the loss. The loss needs its time. I guess what I’m saying…and I promise with all compassion and acknowledging how hard it is… be patient with both your grief and the thought that good changes are happening and growing and coming. It’s not yet two years. Considering the length of your time together…

    Then there’s the point of perspective isn’t there? From where I sit something wonderful has happened. An amazing woman suffering the greatest pain life can throw at us…the death of her soul mate…blogs. And does so in a way that acknowledges the agony (rarely done) without running away from it (often done). You’ve highlighted the nonsense that comes from society supported by the medical system. You’ve reached people, validated their feelings, given them a venue to speak. Pat the damage that our community can do to a grieving person is horrendous. I have witnessed it too many times. Your posts give something good. Something even wonderful.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Ah, Leesa, you brought tears to my eyes. Tomorrow I’ll write a response. Tonight I have nothing to say. Just . . . thank you.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I tend to think I should be over it by now, since for the most part, I only have quick upsurges of grief that last a minute or two. I think I should be “moving on” whatever that means, and yet, it hasn’t been two years. That is so little in comparison to the decades we spent together. I have a hunch there is still a lot of “grief work” for me to do, but it’s more subconscious than conscious, sort of like getting rewired. I’ll continue to be patient (or try to) and not give up on the possibility that life still holds many wonders for me.

      I keep thinking of what is written on your blog, that life matters. I hold on to that.

      And thank you again for showing me myself through other eyes. It’s good to know I’m not wasting these months.

      • Deborah Owen Says:

        I think some people feel an obligation to grieve. I know that was true with my mom. She acted like she guilty over not enjoying yesteryear enough. It’s always easier to hold on to what we know than to move into the unknown. The unknown is very scary, very uncertain, very untried.

  3. Rod Marsden Says:

    Unfortunately losing loved ones is part of life. Do we get used to it? I don’t know. Maybe I am not old enough to answer that question. It has been a couple of years since my mother passed away. My sister and I talk about her from time to time which is good. At a time when you feel helpless doing something, anything helps. even keeping the memory of a loved one alive by talking about them is something within all our powers.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I lost my brother five years ago and my mother four years ago, but neither death prepared me for the loss of my mate. As for getting used to it, no, you don’t. I do know, though, that I will never face another bout of grief like that for my mate. The shock of his goneness was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, and I have a hunch a shock like comes but once even though loss will come many times.

      • Deborah Owen Says:

        Mom says it’s harder to lose a child than a mate, but most people say vice versa. Either would be terrible. Worse than terrible.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Both are terrible because both losses change the way you think of yourself, how you relate to the world, and create an unfillable hole in your world. All significant losses do this. Also, when it’s your child or your mate, you loved them as much or more than you love yourself, and all that love and caring has no place to go. it’s a terrible situation (and a fascinating phenomenon, in an agonizing sort of way, which is why I write about grief so often),

          • Deborah Owen Says:

            It’s time to love yourself, hon. I’m not saying you don’t – just saying that you shouldn’t feel bad about doing so. The Bible says to love others as you love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t be as much help to them as you would like to be. It’s time to take care of Pat right now.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            It’s all part of the grief process. People are so tuned into the idea of five stages of grief, they don’t realize there are dozens of stages of grief, and some continue on after the pain and tears subside. Building a foundation for a new future is one of them, and learning to like oneself is part of it. It seems so self-evident, but it’s something we second-year bereft struggle with.

            It’s been wonderful talking to you, Deb, both here and in our emails. It’s nice to know someone cares. That helps a lot.

          • Deborah Owen Says:

            I see you’re a nightowl, too. Actually, I went to bed and had to get back up. Insomnia. > We’ve been so conditioned to put others ahead of ourselves that we fail to nurture ourselves. Name something that you’d like to do. Anything. Just give yourself permission to dream a little. If you can’t come up with a new dream, think of an old one you never fulfilled.

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