Grief: Counting the Days, Weeks, Months

When you first lose a significant person in your life, one whose death rocks your world to its very foundations so nothing will ever be the same, it’s as if your internal clocks reset themselves.

At first, you count the hours you’ve lived since he died, then, after you’ve survived twenty-four or forty-eight interminable hours, you being counting the days. Eventually you move on to counting weeks, months, years, and even decades. To the uninitiated, this counting seems as if you’re dwelling on the past, constantly reminding yourself of your sorrow. But the truth is, it’s a recognition of life — your new life, the one that was born the day he died. It also tells your fellow travelers where you are on this terrible journey in the same way your age tells people where you are in life’s journey.

When I talk about Saturday, my sadder day, and mention how many sad Saturdays I’ve survived, it’s not the number that makes me sad. Nor is it the day that makes me sad.  It is the onset of sadness that makes me realize what day it is. The sadness is a subconscious, visceral reminder that I once loved, once was loved, once shared my life. Since I now count my grief by months, I often have to check my calendar to find out how many Saturdays I have mourned/celebrated that shared life. The number is merely a street sign, the name of a crossroad so others know where I am in relation to my grief. I don’t need the number. I know where I am — I can feel it.

I used to worry that I was putting myself in a bad light by all this talk of grief, that I might seem weak or even pathetic, but the more clearly I see this journey for what it is — not just resetting your internal clock but resetting your life — the more I understand the importance of showing the truth.

We live in a civilization that reveres positive thinking and positive thinkers. We admire people who bear their sorrow with a smile, who swallow their tears and talk brightly of their future. Perhaps they are admirable, perhaps they are in denial, perhaps it is their nature. But it puts an intolerable burden on those who have to push their grief deeper inside so that no one faults them for it.

We need people to show us a way to grieve, to show us their pain and their healing; otherwise, how are we to know what is the truth of grief? So often, the bereft feel they are crazy because they’ve never seen/read/heard of anyone who experienced such symptoms as theirs. We’re so ingrained into believing that Kubler Ross’s stages are the blueprint for grief, that anything else is abnormal. But in my experience (talking to others who have lost their mates), her stages are mere blips in the spectrum of grief. Other stages are much more prevalent: physical pain (not just emotional), bewilderment, yearning, seeking. And counting.

Counting isn’t really a stage. It’s more that we are aware of the ticking of our internal clocks, the clocks that were reset on the day he died.

12 Responses to “Grief: Counting the Days, Weeks, Months”

  1. ScottShirley Says:

    There’s no doubt that grief is a unique experience that everyone must handle in their own way and their own time. I unfortunately have had to deal with the grief of losing someone very close to me and even though time has passed, there’s still moments where it feels like I’m dealing with it all over again. Your analogy of the clock being reset is rings very true to my own emotions.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Scott, everyone’s grief is different, yet there are enough similarities when dealing with the death of someone significant in your life, that you can relate to what others in the same situation are going through. I am sorry that you lost someone close to you. It’s never easy, and from what I’ve heard, there will always be those moments. Don’t know whether that’s good or bad.

  2. Deborah Owen Says:

    When my brother died from a malignant brain tumor, I heard his wife talking to a counselor. She said, “How do I live through this?” The counselor told her to look at the clock and watch five minutes pass and my sister-in-law said, “But what if I can’t make it for five minutes?” “Then,” the counselor said, try three minutes. If that’s too long, try two minutes. If you can’t do two minutes, watch the clock for one minute and say to yourself, ‘I made it through that minute. I can make it through one more.'” When grief is that heavy, I don’t know how anyone makes it through even one minute.

    At one point, my sister-in-law snapped. She jumped up on the couch in the waiting room, grabbed a lamp, and waited to brain the first person who tried to approach her. I think it was her mother who calmed the entire room by holding everyone back. She talked her daughter down as though she was a jumper on a ten-story ledge.

    Maybe it’s time to come off the couch of counting Sadderdays AFTER the fact. Could you start counting new Saturdays before a given event – something not directly associated with your dear husband? Maybe you could count down the Saturdays before Christmas or spring or a certain date when you’ll launch into the blue on a new project. Maybe you can start counting ahead instead of behind. It’s bound to be a shaky time. It may feel insecure as you depart from the old phase and enter a new one. It doesn’t mean you won’t grieve, but maybe it will give you a slightly new framework to operate from. Just something to think about, sweetie. You’re a fascinating woman. God bless.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Deb, I started responding to your earlier comment about counting new Saturdays, but it ended up as this blog post. Counting future Saturdays is too much like planning to be sad on Saturday, which I don’t plan on. I often don’t even know that it’s Saturday. The sadness tells me what day it is. I have no objection to having one day that’s sadder than the rest, and anyway, it’s a clock thing, not a conscious thing. Planning ahead is not going to change that. I only count the day for this blog. As I explained, it’s so people can relate to where I am on my journey.

      And anyway, I try to live one day at a time. There’s enough to deal with each day of the present without dealing with the future too.

      The grief counselor was exactly right. With such a loss, sometimes it’s all you can do to get through the next minute. The grief, the physical and mental pain, the yearning claw at you. After that, having a sadder day isn’t much of a trauma.

  3. Brenda Wallace (@BrendaBWallace) Says:

    While positive thinking is wonderful and admirable, I think we’d all be healthier if our society were equally open to unchecked grief. We all experience both and should feel safe expressing both without apology or explanation.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m so glad to hear you say that, Brenda. I know depression and prolonged sadness can cause health problems, but so can burying your feelings. The truth is, life isn’t always happy, and it gives people a false sense of reality when they’re led to believe that happiness is of paramount importance.

  4. griefhealing Says:

    Yours is one of the finest explanations I’ve ever read for this very common tendency in the bereaved:
    “To the uninitiated, this counting seems as if you’re dwelling on the past, constantly reminding yourself of your sorrow. But the truth is, it’s a recognition of life — your new life, the one that was born the day he died. It also tells your fellow travelers where you are on this terrible journey in the same way your age tells people where you are in life’s journey.”
    From my heart to yours, I thank you, Pat, for this absolutely outstanding piece!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you. I was always a bit rebellious against societal ways, but I kept my rebellion to myself. I didn’t realize until yesterday, that I had a cause I wished to make public. People should know the truth about grief. It breaks my heart every time someone says they have to push their grief further inside to keep well-meaning people from urging them to get on with their lives. They are getting on with our lives. What they don’t need is people judging them for how they feel.

  5. leesis Says:

    You already know how much I support your writing this journey Pat. We have been taught to be so fearful of ‘falling apart’ that we suppress both ourselves and others consequentially ending up with copious chronic conditions that rob us of true healing. People should know the truth of grief. They need to know they can fall apart…that its completely right and proper that they do so when confronted by such a loss. And they need to know that if they allow the grief, this terrible wound expression, then healing will occur…slowly but surely.

  6. joylene Says:

    I’ve been counting for a long time. I can’t seem to stop. It’s almost as if it’s part of who I am now. We are an accumulation of experiences, good and bad. Maybe that’s a step toward growth, seeing, understanding, and accepting.

    Thank you, Pat, for another poignant post.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joylene, even though we are at different ages on this journey, sometimes it seems as we are going through it together. I always appreciate you support and companionship.

  7. Joy Collins Says:

    I count too and I wondered if I was the only one. It was the same for me. Hours, days, weeks, months, a year, a year and a half. Already I see two years on the horizon and can’t believe that amount of time has passed. It seems surreal and I think the counting helps to keep me based in the here and now. Helps me to see reality. Some days I think the grief will send me spinning off into some world from which there is no return and the counting is my tether.
    It’s also a way to stay connected to my Love. This Sunday will be 81 weeks. 81 weeks since I last got to hold my John, talk with him, see his smile, hear his voice and his laugh, plan with him, look forward to the next day with him. I need to hold onto that part of us and me. It makes the horrible part of now more bearable.

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