Two Years of Grief

A year ago today, my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. Wait . . .  what am I saying? One year? No. It’s been two years since he died. What a strange error to have made, yet perhaps it’s understandable. The night he died is still so very clear, as if he’s been gone only months, not years.

On the recommendation of his hospice nurse, I’d taken him to the hospice care center in the hopes that they could figure out how to regulate his drugs to give him the most lucidity and the least pain. It crushed my heart to take him there. I never got to talk with him again — he was in a drug-induced coma for those last five days of his life. I think he was at peace the final two days, though. All the time he was there, his breathing sounded like moaning, and I worried that he was in pain, but during his next-to-last day he exhaled a few melodious-sounding breaths, as if he wanted to reassure me he was okay.

He once told me that if it ever came to his being in a facility, he didn’t want me to visit, but how could I not? Even though the care center was sixty-five miles away, I went there every day, but I left early enough so I could get home before dark. The irony is he agreed to go so I could get some rest, but I never did sleep those nights. I was too worried about him.

His last night, Friday night, I didn’t go home. A few snowflakes fell and I used that as an excuse to stay. Also, I was restless, sensing the end was near. So I waited.

Around 1:30 in the morning, his breathing changed. Became harsher. I went to his side, said it was okay for him to leave, that I would be all right. At 1:40, he took a breath. His Adam’s apple bobbed once. Twice. And then he was dead. I kissed him by the side of his mouth. Waited a few minutes before I went to get the nurse.

I like that I got to tell them he was gone rather than have them tell me.

The nurse confirmed that he was gone. She called the funeral home, and I sat there in the room with him for two hours, just waiting. I might have cried. I might have been numb. I don’t really remember. I couldn’t even see his face — they had cleaned him and wrapped him in a blanket — so I just sat there, thinking nothing until almost dawn, when they came for him. (They came in an SUV, not a hearse. And they used a red plush coverlet, not a body bag.)

I followed them outside, watched them put him in the SUV and drive away, then I left. The highway was dry, but about halfway home, I skid. (I must have hit a patch of black ice, because there was no indication that patch of road was any different from what I’d already traveled.) I went careening, around and around, back and forth, my car totally out of control. I thought I was going to die, but oddly, I never left the road. The car finally came to a halt facing the wrong way on the highway. I was fine. So was the car. I remember wondering if he had stopped by on his way out of this world to leave me a final reminder to be careful, or maybe he was shaking his ghostly head, thinking that after his being gone only two hours, I was already getting careless.

He always worried that I wasn’t careful enough. I’m trying to be careful. Trying to take care of myself. I hope he’s taking care of himself.

The past two years have been agony for me. I know there was no way he could have continued to live considering the vast extent of the tumors. I know death was the only way to set him free from his excruciating pain. When he died, I truly was relieved. And yet . . . he was my best friend, my playmate, my business partner, my life companion. He was the one person who listened to me, who was always there for me. (As I was for him.) Even though I can see the necesssity of his death, I hate that he’s gone from this earth.

Not one of the previous 731 days have passed without my missing him. Even as I go on with my life, even as he and my grief recede further from me, I will continue to miss him. He was a good man. The earth is poorer for his death.

9 Responses to “Two Years of Grief”

  1. Deborah Owen Says:

    I’ve been with you (and the other lady who lost her husband on this day) all day long, although you didn’t know it. You made it, just as I knew you would. Tomorrow will probably feel no different from today, but as time separates you even further from this anniversary, maybe it will help a little. You’re a strong lady. Find a reason for living, even if you have to pretend it’s a reason to live. The mind will go where you lead it. Blessings. Deb

  2. friedelfamily Says:

    In a hospital to regulate meds, in a coma the last five days, relief for him when he was able to cross death’s threshold, died in my arms on March 27, 2010…..could we overlap more…of course…these last two years have been agony. It has been a full and exhausting day for both of us..and now there is tomorrow…and tomorrow…and tomorrow…and next March 27…..missing them…finding a life tonight now an unknown…and without them. I wish you peace my friend as we both move into year 3. Mary

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It is amazing the similarities. Well, I guess in a few hours we will know what year three feels like. Much the same as the second half of year two, I imagine.

  3. Holly Bonville Says:

    So far, my year three has been difficult, especially the last few days as I open up the house that we shared and move back for the summer or until it sells. It just feels so empty without him even though i lived here a year and a half by myself after he died. I’m hoping as the weather improves that it will get easier. Right now, I am just hoping that it sells very soon.
    I hope your year three starts out a little easier.
    Thinking of you.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My year three has been okay so far. I had a realization that my yearning to talk to him, my missing him, and my loneliness are the bedrock of my life. They will be part of me for a long time, maybe to the end of my days, and that realization brought some peace. It’s easier for me to accept such a sad truth than to wait hopelessly for things to be different.

  4. Joy Collins Says:

    My year three is approaching soon and I dread it. I know the first day of year three will be pretty much like the last day of year two – much like it had been for you two. Yet I dread it. There is that word “dread”. Why does it sound so much like “dead”?
    A friend of mine whose husband died the year before John told me once that she met a man whose wife had been gone four years and she asked him if it got any easier. He told her No. That upset her. She was hoping for a better answer.
    Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe we delude ourselves into thinking it gets better so that we go on with false hope, expecting it to get better until the day that we die ourselves.
    I don’t know. I don’t have any answers because I don’t think there are any. But my heart goes out to you both on this day. I am sending you virtual hugs. Please know I am here.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t think there is a better answer. Someone told me it doesn’t get easier, it just gets different. Accepting the truth — that my sadness and loneliness will always be part of my life — has helped bring me some peace, at least temporarily. The delusion that it will get better (how can his death ever get better; He will always be dead) could be what brought me so much unrest. I don’t have to ever feel good about his dying. Don’t have to ever accept the rightness of it. I don’t ever have to find the good in it. I can always hate that he’s dead. I can live with that truth a lot easier than I can live with false hopes.

  5. Mary Says:

    Hi Pat –
    I wanted to check in with you on your “two-year” post as mine just passed a couple of weeks ago. 22 days passed between his death and his memorial service and I am in the period between those two days that I remember being just as difficult last year as this year. I’m thankful that the memorial anniversary falls on a Sunday so I don’t have to be at work on a day that I’m sure will be filled with tears. I suppose I cannot say which day is more agonizing, now that I think of it. As you mentioned, the worst day of your life was not the day of your soul mate’s death, but the day you had to sort through his belongings.

    I cannot decide if it is the day of his death that was the worst day of my life or the day of the memorial service. I cannot decide if the panicked phone call to me while I was driving home from work on that day, and the gutteral scream that erupted from my throat that in foggy hindsight seemed to last continuously for days (I remember very little of the first two days except screaming the word “No” over. and over. and over.), was worse than the day of his memorial service. I remember standing alone in front of his ashes at the end of the service. I was given some space to stand alone with his urn on a table, with a large photograph of us together behind it. And I remember thinking, “I wonder if this is the most alone I will ever feel in my life.” It wasn’t. The most alone I ever felt in my life was that night when I got home. But which day was the worst day of my life? I feel as if I need to have an answer to this question and now that two years have gone by, I’m not so sure anymore. I guess it’s best not to dwell on it. Suffice it to say that while the anniversary was a sad day, I was surrounded with loved ones that have stood with me even when decades-long friends have long departed from my grief-stricken side. I am beginning to realize that there is joy left to be had. And at least a few times over the last few months, I have felt pure joy. But it’s different now. I feel almost as if the joy is a little bit more shaded because I have to work so much harder for it now. But shaded in a good way. And I also am realizing that I have a whole life ahead of me and that the decisions I make will largely govern my level of happiness. It’s funny how grief clouded my vision in that regard until just recently.

    Your blog gives me optimism that as I emerge from this second 22 day grief period, my third year of grief will bring more growth and healing to my soul. Thanks again for your willingness to share. It can get lonely out there for us.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Hi, Mary. I’m so glad to hear from you. You’re right — it’s best not to dwell on which of those many painful days was the worst. They were all bad in their own way. The best thing about beginning the third year is . . . hmm. Can’t think of anything. Maybe that you’ve come so far and can feel that hard-won joy. In my case, I didn’t really feel much joy until after the third year when I started taking dance lessons. The irony of that is hard to take — the classes I love came about because of his death. If he were alive, I would never have made such a step. Would never have needed to.

      You are right about the third year, though — it will bring more growth and healing to your soul. You will feel more joy. But crap — that loneliness is a killer.

      Wishing you peace and a world of joy.


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