The Conundrum of Grief

Tolstoy wrote, “Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.” This is especially true of those of us who have lost our soul mates. What we once were (or thought we were) has died along with our loved ones. Now we’re wandering the desert of aloneness and wondering why we are still here. Since we don’t know, life seems impossible.

Recently, there was a news article about an elderly couple who died within hours of each other. This is the sort of romantic story that we all believe in — that when one of a pair of soul mates dies, the other will die also. Unfortunately, that does not happen very often, which is why it is noteworthy when it occurs. Life is at once very fragile and very tenacious. Having watched my life mate/soul mate’s struggles, I know how difficult it is to die. People can suffer for years, fading slowly and painfully, hoping for death to release them from their agony, but still endure.

New grief feels as if it will kill you, but it seldom does. Such grief is so very strong that it takes your very breath away. It makes you feel as if you are having a heart attack and some sort of terrible gastrointestinal disease at the same time. It can cause Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, make wounds difficult to heal, retard recovery from illness. The death rate for those whose life mate’s died increases by 25% for all causes of death — disease, accident, trauma. Despite this, almost all of us, to our shock, find that we have survived the trauma of such a heinous loss.

Here is the conundrum of grief: if they got the better end of the deal, if they truly are in a better place, then why are we still here? And if life is worth living, how can we not care that it is being denied our loved ones?

I always thought I’d die when he did, and I wonder if that’s where some of my deep sorrow comes from — an unconscious feeling of not having loved enough, been connected enough to die at the same time as he did. But the truth is, I wanted to live, though I don’t know why.

About a year before he died, I hugged him and somehow so aggravated his pain that he pushed me away. A voice deep inside me, beneath conscious thought, proclaimed, “He might be dying, but I have to live.” I have no idea what that voice was. I’d only heard it once before, and that was when I met him. Thirty-six years ago, I walked into a health food store to buy whole-wheat pastry flour, and after talking to the owner for two minutes, that voice wailed, “But I don’t even like men with blond hair and brown eyes.” It wasn’t love at first sight, our meeting, more of a primal recognition. And that same part of me recognized that our shared life was over. After that day, our lives started to diverge — he to death, me to continued life.

I don’t know why I was so determined to live then, and don’t know why, almost twenty-two months after his death, I am still determined to live. Curiosity, perhaps. Curiosity to see what I can make of my life alone, to see what I am, to see who I become. Curiosity to see how I will make life seem possible once more.

8 Responses to “The Conundrum of Grief”


    This is wonderful, Pat. Heart-felt, sad, insightful and somehow hopeful. We are all so fragile. And yet so tenacious.

  2. Ree` Edwards Says:

    Oh how I can idenify and empathize with you! Unfortunately, can’t type right now as my hands are hurting so much (a whole other story) – will try to write to you tomorrow or Monday and perhaps share some of what I went through as a result of the same thing, and shortly thereafter, even more!

  3. Joy Collins Says:

    I too wished John and I would, first of all, grow old together and then die together or as closely as possible. And now that hasn’t happened. I can only assume he was finished with what he had to do this time around and I am not. So I have made it my life’s purpose to find out what that is and do it so I can go too. Is that a reason to live? I guess in a way. I look at it as way to die which sounds morbid but it’s not. When I die, if I do this right, I will have accomplished what I was supposed to and that will be good. But it does not take away the fact that I still miss John every day and I wish it were different. I’m reading a great book now called Your Soul’s Plan on pre-birth planning and it’s comforting. But if I were offered the opportunity to go right this minute and I knew John was waiting for me on the other side, I would be gone so fast, your head would spin.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t really believe there is anything after this, or at least nothing recognizable, but I try to believe I’m still here because I haven’t yet accomplished what I’m supposed to accomplish. First, I have to figure out what that might be.

  4. Ree` Edwards Says:

    Dear Pat,
    Is there another, and more private for the moment, address that you would care to share with me that I can write to you concerning some of my thought’s, experience’s, etc., (and perhaps too your response’s to them) on?
    Please fogive grammatical error’s!

  5. Ree` Edwards Says:

    Thanx so much – will do that.

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