Gathering Patience for the Lonely Years Ahead

A major loss in one’s life, such as the death of a long-time mate, often changes a person. For almost twenty months now, I’ve been saying I’m no different than I was, but lately I can feel a small change. It started with his long illness, developed during his final agonizing weeks, and came to fruition in the months since his death. This change? Patience. An ability to wait.

I’ve never been a particularly patient person. I always open mail as soon as I receive it. (It used to mystify me how my late mate could let his mail sit for days without any inclination to see what the sender wanted.) I immediately begin to read books when I get them, open packages of snacks when I return from the grocery story, check my email first thing in the morning.

Well, I still do those things, but I am more patient with life’s vagaries and people’s foibles. There is no person I prefer to be with above all others, no place I want to be. If I have to stand in line at the grocery store, I simply wait without tapping my foot or wishing the line would move faster. If someone tells a long boring story, I simply listen without trying to edge away.

I’m not sure this is patience so much as resignation. When my mate died, he detached one of my connections to the world, and this connection has never been replaced. There’s something missing in me, some synapses that doesn’t spark, as if I am at one remove from the world. It’s possible this feeling of reserve comes from a new awareness of death or an awareness that life is not as it seems. Life isn’t all about shopping and what’s on television. It’s not about cars and clothes and things. I always knew that, of course, and because of it was already one step away from the everyday world.

My mate and I were not materialistic people. We lived in a world of ideas, of books, of films. Learning, research, discovery, growth were important to us. He used to say we were bad for each other — since we had someone to share these unthings, we had no reason to make a concession to the materialistic world. Though he’s dead, I’m still unable to connect to such a world. In fact, with my disconnect from him, I am now two removes from the so-called real world.

I’ve built new connections, made new friends, experienced new places and activities. I’ve become more aware of basic connections, such as the way my feet connect to the ground, or the way air flows through us, around us, connecting us one to the other. I’ve grown more empathetic and sympathetic. But still, there is no great attachment to any specific thing or any specific person. There is only me, and wherever I am, there I am, so there is no reason to be anywhere else.

This could change in the next few months, of course. I am almost two-thirds through my second year of grief, and the second half of the second year seems to be a limbo, a time for settling into this new phase of life, a time of gathering patience for the lonely years ahead. (The first half of the second year is often a time of re-grief, of having to deal with the horrible realization that even though you managed to get through your first year without him, even though you passed this test, your loved one is still dead. It can be a time of catastrophic pain.)

I’ve managed to come this far, and I will continue to manage. I’m from a family of long-lived people, so it’s a good thing I am learning patience (or resignation). I will need it.

12 Responses to “Gathering Patience for the Lonely Years Ahead”

  1. Deborah Owen Says:

    Mom is 93 and Dad has been dead 21 years. My only sibling died three years before him, so Mom sank into depression this week. I didn’t catch on until this afternoon when she had an anger spell and then I realized what was going on. It happens every year. It’s a great strain to hold her up when I’d like to let go and do a little grieving myself, but I can’t afford it. It stops my work and mental mode. It keeps me from moving forward. Not that I haven’t released plenty of grief in days gone by but I tell myself it’s time to let go. It goes against the grain, but I do. The grief will never be gone, but you’ll learn to live with it, hon. Easier said than done, huh? Hugs. Deb

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Deb, sometimes a person can’t afford NOT to grieve. It catches up with you one way or another. Or so I’ve been told. Wishing you the best of luck caring for your mother.

  2. phillipkay Says:

    Thanks Pat for sharing these thoughts. You sound both wise and balanced, and any addition of these rare qualities to the world helps to make it a better place.

  3. leesis Says:

    Pat…maybe limbo is less “a time of gathering patience for the lonely years ahead.” and more a place whereby we can take a rest. The intensity of pain has decreased, finally the shock is settled (ish), the intense grief whilst still there comes in lesser bursts, the heart kind of accepts that this deep missing has become part of it and now the mind has some space to look forward and???

    Can I say, with all respect and love, that patience is good, resignation not so much. Life matters far to much. I have seen folk resign…and watched time after time possibilities offering themselves up…and being missed. I truly think limbo is a time of rest after the violence of the past eighteen or so months. That the sense of detachment is required, for a time, while things ‘assimilate’ for lack of a better word. This has been my experience and observation anyway and I wanted to share it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Leesis, I’m always glad of your observations. Helps keep me on the right path. I’m also glad of your reminders that life matters. I need that since so often I’ve failed to see the point of it all. (And this isn’t grief talking. This is just the basic me with more questions than life has answers for.)

      I like the idea of taking a rest. This has been such a difficult time, and I have a hunch there are still difficulties ahead as I settle more firmly into life without him. It seems that the further I get from his long dying and the problems it created, the more I feel connected . . . not to him so much, but to my memories of him. And that brings its own sorrow because of the reminders that this very special person is dead. That’s the thing that still drives my grief, not my missing him or my loneliness, but that gone-ness.

      BTW — did you get a chance to check the endorsement I sent you?

  4. careann Says:

    Of all the year’s special times, I find this ‘countdown to Christmas’ time — beginning with Advent, and your U.S. Thanksgiving — to be the most emotional for me. It’s hard not to remember how things used to be and feel nostalgic. I keep reminding myself that we don’t live our lives backwards. What once was, is now part of my life history and can’t be changed. It’s easy to say but tough to accept. I think you’re doing remarkably well, Pat.

    A friend posted a link on Facebook to an article that I thought was useful:

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Carol, both for the encouragement and the article. We don’t live our lives backwards, or at least we shouldn’t, but sometimes I get tired of relentless forward-looking. It used to be we could remember without the remembering meaning anything more than a pleasant reminscence. Now it’s more of a trap we can get pulled into if we’re not careful. I wonder if we ever get back to that careless way of thinking or if we’ll always have to be careful. I don’t expect an answer, of course. It’s just a wandering thought.

  5. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    Yes, this second half of the second year is, for me also, a time of limbo. Bridges calls it a neutral zone, time to do transition work. His book on transitions is helping me a lot. I swear when I read your posts on grief (the only ones i have read so far) that I am reading my own journal…are we clones. It is truly amazing…same thoughts, same feelings…Bill and I were always a beat or two or more from this world. His death has led me further from it. I am in this world but not of this world…I have a greater world view, greater patience as you stated so well, sort of a cosmic sense….cherish time alone except on holidays when I dread it, more aware of how alone I am now…I am no longer first in anyone’s life…never will be again….no idea what lies ahead but does anyone? I thought I knew….now I know no one knows. I sit in my silent sanctuary very often and just wonder about a lot of things.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’d been panicky about being so alone. I’m taking care of my 95-year-old father, now, but soon I will be starting over somewhere else . . . alone. At times the loneliness about kills me, other times I understand that perhaps this aloneness is what my life is supposed to be about. Maybe I’m supposed to connect more with the universe. I always saw myself as on a quest for truth. Maybe this is all part of that journey.

      It is hard knowing no one in the entire world will put you first. I keep telling myself that in such a case, I have to learn to put myself first.

      And I wonder . . .

  6. Dennis Says:

    Y’all, these comments are so in-tune with what I am going through and about to go thru. Next month will be 18 for me, and her 60th birthday. I still have no idea about what I am going to do — purpose, living arrangement, social, etc. Jill always made things happen. We didn’t, and now I don’t, have a large circle of close friends. My besties are a thousand miles away. We just did so much by ourselves and even individually, but always knowing what we had to come home to — each other. i keep telling myself onward and upward. Jill would keep us moving ahead. But now I don’t know what or where onward and upward are. I will use the second half of the second year …. for what i don’t yet know. I will keeping coming back to your blog Pat, to find some direction. Thank you and all the contributors.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      We were mostly by ourselves, too, which makes the loss so much greater. You don’t just lose the person, you lose a way of life and you lose a whole list of relationships – best friend, companion, playmate, someone to go home to. We also seem to become a closed system when we are left so alone, especially if he/she was the one who made things happen, so when we are at our lowest level of energy, we have to fight the forces of entropy. It’s almost seven years for me, and though most of the pain of grief is gone (except for sporadic upsurges) I am still dealing with so many of the collateral issues — no one to go home to, no real purpose. No idea what to do in the future, where to go, or how to be. I just keep chugging along. And so will you until you find a new way of being.

      I’m glad you keep coming back here to this blog. You are always welcome. I’m glad you’re reading the comments. There is a lot of wisdom in the comments, especially from Leesis.

      Wishing you peace in the coming year.

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