The Awesome and Awesomely Terrible State of Grief

Whenever I hear that one of my sisters (or brothers) in sorrow is being cajoled into taking drugs to overcome her grief, I want to lash out, and this is how I lash out — I write a blog about it.

Grief is not a medical disorder. If the bereft has sunk into a severe depression, if she can’t sleep, if she is suffering symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, perhaps pharmacopeia can help. But if the bereft is taking care of herself and her family, if she is connecting to people in a real way (or as real as is possible considering how isolating grief is), if she is not endangering herself or anyone else, then the last thing she needs is to be badgered into solving her problems by taking a pill.

Grief is not a problem to be solved. It is not an abnormality that needs to be corrected. Daily bursts of grief during the first two years are normal. In fact, for many bereft, the second year is worse than the first. The original shock of losing the most significant person in your life and the shock of confronting death on a visceral level do not begin to wane until after the first year. As that protective shroud begins to unwind, the truth is shown in all its stark horror. He is dead, and there is nothing you can do about it. Of course, you knew that, but during the second year, the knowledge seeps into your soul, and you feel the truth of it.

All during my first year of grief, I kept listening for the phone, hoping he would call and tell me I could come home, that he forgave me for whatever it was I did that made him reject me. I do not know where that thought came from. I never did anything (except small inconsideratenesses) for which I needed forgiveness. And he didn’t reject me. He died. But somehow, that is the way my mind made sense of the situation.

About fourteen months into my grief, the truth sunk in that he will never call to tell me I can come home. This set off an upsurge of grief that stayed with me for weeks. Now I’ve regained my equilibrium, but I still have bursts of grief every day. Sometimes they last seconds, sometimes they last minutes, sometimes they last longer. This is normal. Truly. (Not having bursts of grief everyday is normal, too, but that is not the issue here.)

All grief is not the same. I lost my brother and my mother a few years ago. I was sad at their deaths, but felt no great life-altering grief. Then my life mate/soul mate died, and his death caused such a soul quake that I am still reeling from the effects. (Recently, another layer of the shroud has unwound, and I can think more clearly now than I have for many years. I must have been more numb during the last years of his dying than I thought I’d been.)

Grief is not just a state of sadness. Grief is a regulator, rewiring our brains to accept the enormity of life and death. Grief is a prism, focusing our attention on the big picture, forcing us to ask the important questions of why we are here, where we are going, and how we connect with each other and the universe. Grief is a teacher, helping us to grow, to become more than we ever thought possible. (At least I think it does — I am not yet the person I hope to be.) Grief is also a gift, perhaps even a privilege. Not everyone has the opportunity (or the ability) to connect so deeply with another person that the death of that person changes the whole universe.

I make grief sound like a good thing, don’t I? And maybe it is. Why do all good things have to be happy things? Given a choice, of course, I’d rather him than having to deal with the pain of his absence, but it’s only by feeling the pain and processing it that I can see what it does and how it works. Sometimes I think my whole life has led to this very moment, to this place where I can separate the myriad feelings of grief and translate them, to explain the truth of this awesome and awesomely terrible state.

This normal state.

10 Responses to “The Awesome and Awesomely Terrible State of Grief”

  1. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    Yes, Pat. You hit the nail on the head. As you are aware, you and I started this grief journey having lost the love of our lives on the very same day…At 20 months I, too, get ambushed by grief on a daily basis….sometimes a few minutes, sometimes an hour and sometimes the entire day just feel so sad. As a therapist I do not recommend meds for grief either unless it is quite complicated. Normal grief means tears, sadness and isolation to some degree…Grief is not a disease, it is part of life. You and I were both gifted to have a wonderful man love us and then die. That loss is mine forever. The growth I experience as a result is mine. And the grief is mine. And all the pain is worth the joy of loving and being loved as I was, as we were.

  2. sandy Says:

    AMEN to that sister

  3. Bob Meeker Says:

    Another fantastic article Pat. You are so good at conveying our feelings and the depths of pain we are all going through. I initially stumbled unto your blog many months ago and we were both experiencing the same terrible feelings so I felt it was a good place to make a new friend and vent my sadness. I didn’t realize at the time that your blog site was mainly for your fellow authors and I feel like I’m intruding into sorority/fraternity of which I haved no business being in and yet, here I am again. I apologize but I wanted to let you know that I arrived at the 1st anniversary of Marlene’s death yesterday and I made it through ok. I feel we are sort of kindred spirits in the way we are processing grief. Our spouses both passed away on a “Sadderday” and even though books all say we will have good days and bad days, you and I don’t do it that way. I have acceptable periods each day and terrible periods each day as you seem to do. I never have a whole 24 hours in one mode.
    I was so proud of myself yesterday after going to church and then taking pansies to her gravesite (she loved pansies) and surviving everything pretty well. I got up this mornIng patting myself on the back and then I got into the car to go grocery shopping when the emotional dam broke and the water (tears) came pouring down. I managed to finish my chores with great difficulty, but I realize I still have a long way to go. I sure respect you and your fellow writers for being able to continue doing your life’s work. That takes a lot of moxie and effort in order to produce while you are struggling with these feelings, and you are all great. Sorry for the long blurb Pat and hope I haven’t overextended my invitation by my comments about this long path we are all following. Take care and best wishes.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Bob, everyone I talk to on this blog I met the same way I did you. They came here to comment, liked me and blog, and kept returning. You have every business to be here. You have every right to comment. This is not a sorority/fraternity — except the sorority/fraternity of sadness. Yes, I am an author, and I do talk about author things, but this is a public blog and I had no intention of ever making anyone feel as if they were excluded. Grief excludes us and isolates us, and I need all the kindred spirits I can get. One of which is you, with our shared “Sadderdays.”

      I’ve been worried about you since you haven’t stopped by for a while, so I’m glad you came by to tell me your story. I am proud of you for getting through the first year. Be aware that having passed that anniversary is no guarantee that things will get easier. I had my worst grief upsurge at fourteen months, and it about killed me.

      Please stop by again to let me know how you are doing, or if you need to talk or vent your sadness. I mean this. And I meant it when I said I was worried about you. I know I talk lyrically about grief at times, but I know how terrible it is and how terribly lonely. I am here every day, so stop by and comment as often as you wish.

      Take care of yourself, and be patient with yourself.

  4. Mary Says:

    Hi Bob, I am Mary Friedel-Hunt, the post just before yours. I belong to an on line support group provided by Hospice in AZ. People from all over the country and world come to it. There are various forums for specific losses but of course we all help each other. It is well managed and well run by an experienced grief counselor, Marty Tousley, a wise and caring woman who keeps everyone on track in a sense. It is the only forum I found that has helped me a LOT. I lost my husband the same day Pat did, 20 months ago, so I understand not having a full 24 hours without a crash. If you wish to visit this forum, just log on as a guest and just read if you wish or post….I belong to the Spousal Loss forum primarily. You will see me there as Mary MFH. Here is the website:
    As a psychotherapist myself, I am pretty fussy about where I get help and this forum is the best. Marty also has the grief healing site with a ton of articles and books and movies listed. She posted one of Pat’s blogs the other day and that is how I found Pat. I wish you the best….hope to see you there. Mary

  5. Mary Says:

    Bob, I did not mean to say you were not welcome here either. I know Pat welcomes everyone…and reaching out to we who grieve is important. I just wanted to open another channel also.

    • Bob Meeker Says:

      Hi Mary, and it’s very nice to meet you. No problem on your comment. I didn’t take it the wrong way at all. Small world because I had already joined the grief site you recommend but it’s been a while since I visited it. I will try and see you there in the near future and we can exchange more history about our situations. I volunteer at Hospice on Tuesdays so I have to shut down and get some sleep. It’s 11:45 PM here on the east coast. Take care.

  6. Dave Smith Says:

    Thanks Pat for your blog,As my friend Mary stated …” You nailed it on the head” the feelings I am going through, I lost Mike 7 months ago……….never dreamn’t that I would be on this journey also…..and Bob I echo what Mary is telling you about our Grief Support online it is a wonderfull lifeline!!!!! Paat I look forward to reading your other books! Best Wishes! Dave Smith……

  7. leesis Says:

    What a brilliant brilliant analyse of grief Pat. It should be a handout for all grievers. (and I was a bit worried about Bob too…glad to see you putting one foot in front of the other Bob…big cyber hugs)

    • Bob Meeker Says:

      Many thanks to you also Leesis. Good to see you here again and hope all is looking a little brighter for you.

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