I reached a different level of sadness today, both better and worse. For twenty-five months now, I’ve grieved the loss of my life mate/soul mate. As much as I hate the word “loss” when it refers to death, it was an unbearable loss to me when he died. All my hopes were lost along with our shared life and too many collateral losses to enumerate here. At times I could barely breathe for the pain. But somehow, I have managed to survive.
I truly never expected to grieve — he’d been sick so long and had suffered so much, that I was relieved when he died. In fact, I wished that he would. I’ve had a hard time these past months remembering that his death was actually a good thing — all I could think was that he should never have suffered in the first place. And he shouldn’t have. No one should have to deal with such pain for so many years. He stayed away from drugs as long as he could, suffering unbearably, because he knew the truth: the same drugs that would relieve his pain would addle his mind and disorient him. He wanted to be himself as long as he could (though he already was drifting from himself — the cancer had invaded his brain, and the poor man could barely hold two thoughts in his head.)
I wrote once about grief and our lizard brain. That feral part of us eventually adapts to the different reality, and the effects of new grief pass — the nausea, dizziness, inability to sleep or the inability to stay awake, the inability to eat or the inability to stop eating, the loss of one’s grip, the loss of balance and equilibrium, the hormonal storms. And finally, even some of the emotional storms pass, and there are times when we can see a bit clearer.
As I’m learning to face my new truth — that I’m going to have to find a new way of life, a new focus and new meaning — I’m recalling how relieved I was that he died. I feel selfish and self-indulgent for wanting him back, for yearning for him, for begging one more word or smile from him. Even the thought that he might have stayed a while longer if he could to satisfy my selfish longings makes me weep for him and for me. He was terrified of lingering as a helpless invalid, and if he hadn’t died, if he had remained here with me, he would have been helpless. I’m glad he didn’t have to deal with that, glad he’s safe from further indignities, glad he’s spared pain and a reliance on drugs. (He was taking so many drugs that he feared becoming a drug addict but, knowing how little time he had left, I could tearfully promise him he would never become a drug addict.)
Can you tell that I’m crying as I write this? As I said, this is a new level of sadness — better because I am learning to be at peace with his death and the need for it, worse because I feel as if I’ve lost him yet again. Every step away from grief seems to bring with it a new and different grief. Not as breathtaking, perhaps, but still sorrowful.
I will continue to yearn for him, of course — that is the nature of grief — but perhaps (at least some of the time) I will remember that he deserves to be at peace, even if it’s the serenity that only death will bring.
April 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm
I believe life affords us experience, which facilitates the growth of our inner being. Out of growth comes wisdom, which you most obviously possess. So, thanks for sharing your personal stories. In doing so, others would get to learn and heal themselves. 🙂
April 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm
It makes me unbearably sad that the growth of my inner being is at the cost of his life. The price is too high.
April 30, 2012 at 3:05 am
I feel for you so much. Your posts are very sad. My mum died at 59 – I was 29. We were very close and to say that I have got over that loss is totally a lie. I think about her every day and even go to call her to say hi. She was very into painting and I have some of hers which I cherish. The funny thing is I always feel her with me. I know this is not the same as losing a soulmate. Love and hugs to you. It makes me sad that you feel that your growth is at the cost of his life. Our growth happens because of such loss. i know mine did. You are now learning to live again as a new person and that is great. Focus on that and share it as you are with others. your blog really helps people. Deep loss just brings out a new beginning for us and I know that may sound odd but it does. Loss comes in all forms and a huge loss for me this year has been my only child moving out of home and this comes on the back of leaving Christchurch, New Zealand that suffered massive earthquakes so all my landmarks are gone. We all heal with time but we never forget.
April 30, 2012 at 11:10 am
If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be having this particular growth experience, so in a way it is at the cost of his life as well as because of his death. We shared so much while he was alive, it saddens me that I have this second chance at life but he doesn’t. The habit of sharing dies hard.
How wonderful that you still feel your mum with you — with all the losses you have suffered, I hope she brings you comfort. As you have brought me. Thank you telling me your story.
April 30, 2012 at 6:04 am
Pat, I sobbed as I read this post. I so know the pain and the levels of sadness. Tears have gushed from my eyes all weekend, dreams at night leave me exhausted in the morning….it does come in waves. I go along for a little while and then wham….I am at the bottom of the dark and raging sea again….as the waters churn above and around me. I feel like I could sob for weeks… talking does not help much right now…I just want his arms around me and my pain so I can just sob….I so get what you are going through. I understand how you did not think you would grieve. I was grieving all along and did not even know it. I did know I would grieve but I did not know this kind of grief even existed though I have seen it many times…I did not get it until it was my turn. I also remember telling Bill, one day when we were talking about his death, that I would be ok….at some level I guess I am……I am still here. My heart reaches out to you as we both walk this path we are on.
April 30, 2012 at 10:59 am
One of the many surprises of grief is how when you let go of one facet of grief, another shows its face. I sometimes wonder how we will get through this every changing maelstrom called grief, but we will.
I truly had no concept of this sort of grief. Had no concept that I was capable of it. I am very staid, very much a stoic, and this feral grief was so out of my realm that it still bewilders me. I know I’m right about the lizard brain — the pain came from some ancient place inside me, a place I didn’t even know existed.
During those last years, I think my emotions shorted out. I couldn’t fathom what he was going through, couldn’t share his pain, couldn’t make things better, so I just sort of shut down. Went through the motions. Toward the end, though, the emotions hit, but I had to focus on taking care of him. Hospice tries to take care of the needs of the whole family, so they were concerned about me. I kept telling them, “Focus on him. Ignore my tears. I have the rest of my life to grieve, but he only has this time.”
Cripes. I don’t know how we’ve managed to deal with any of this.
April 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm
This kind of loss turns our lives inside out…nothing to date in my life has ever done that…it stole our dreams for the future, for growing old together, it wore us out emotionally, spiritually, physically and left a Grand Canyon size hole within us….it is no wonder we struggle with tears and grief and pain. And those are just the tip of the iceberg…
April 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm
I was worn out from all that went on before he died. It’s amazing that we had to meet the biggest challenge of our lives when we were at such a low point, and yet still managed to survive somehow..
April 30, 2012 at 8:11 am
Dear Pat, my heart goes out to you as I learn of your story. I’ve been reading your posts for the past couple of months. Your words inspire me because, to me, you are courageous in being willing to open up and share what your grief experience is like. I enjoy your posts about writing and books, too. In my own grief experience, I have found that writing soothes because it helps sort out some of the denseness and complexity. In the process of writing, the words bear witness to the reality that it’s all not just a bad dream. I think we garner valuable wisdom as we walk our own path of suffering in grieving for our loved ones. Rather than avoid the feelings or thoughts or not talk about our loved ones. In this post I felt especially compelled to comment because you shared how you now need to “face my new truth”. I plan on continuing to walk along with you in your journey, through reading your posts. I look forward to reading about how your wisdom of walking your path will translate into the “new life, new focus and new meaning”, which may include having a relationship with him, honoring him and keeping your connection with him very much alive. I too, dislike the word “loss” but I haven’t come up with an alternative yet that everyone understands. To me, our loss is physical but the bond is everlasting. We uniquely and individually define what the bond can look like and be on our own terms. Using the uniquely and individual wisdom we gain from our courageous journey. Thank you for sharing yours Pat.
April 30, 2012 at 10:47 am
Thank you, Michel. It’s always nice to meet blog readers. Sometimes I feel as if I’m throwing my words out into the uncaring void, so it’s nice to know that someone is there catching them. It’s going to be hard figuring out a new life and new meaning, but it can’t be any harder than grieving. Nothing is harder than that, but somehow we muddle through as best as we can.
April 30, 2012 at 11:06 am
So true Pat! Here’s a variation of something I find myself saying: “With what we’ve been through in the past with this heartache of our loss, we can get through anything!” Somehow saying that reminds me of the new muscles I’ve developed from the grief which makes me stronger for anything that comes along.
April 30, 2012 at 11:28 am
I tell myself the same thing. After two years of such agony and angst, I know I can get through anything. One thing I have learned is that I can somehow bear the unbearable. It’s something we all have to learn at some point, I suppose.
April 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm
One thing in the traditional marriage vows always niggles at me: “…until death do us part.” I realize the intention of that phrase, but I believe the reality is that death never completely separates us. The physical bond with someone we love so much may be severed, but we are left with our emotional remnant of it. So much regret about the separation exists long afterwards. Sometimes I wonder if that regret causes us to cling to our grief for fear we will do the deceased some kind of disservice if we don’t continue to recognize and even perhaps unconsciously nurture it. I don’t know; I just wonder. The idea makes me sad because it doesn’t seem that we have any control over our grief.
I’m rambling today. Sorry. But your post got me thinking again.
April 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm
People keep telling me that he still lives in my memory. If so, if I forget him for a minute or a day, does that mean he dies yet again? I do find myself clinging to my grief at times since it’s the last connection I have of him. The further I get from the core of my grief, the further I get from him.
I don’t believe we have a lot of control over our grief. It seems to come in part from the primitive depths of us, the feral heart. (The lizard brain.) It’s as if the body rails against the disconnection, rails against the knowledge that it will die. And it will. Whatever of us survives, the body does not. And the body has it’s own mind. The rest of grief comes from the mind, heart, soul, and even that we have no control over, because, as you say, we’re still left with the emotional remnant of our bond. All we can do is deal with our sorrow the best we can and go on from there.
And thank you for rambling. I always enjoy your insights that come from rambling.
April 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm
I’ve never liked the implication of someone “living on in my memory”, because of course it’s not true. Yes, we have memories to hold onto, but no, if we forget for a time there are no ramifications. I think it’s inevitable that time will take both the grief and the memories further away. We need to accept that without feeling guilty about it. Easier said than done, I know.
April 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm
I got in touch with the fact that Bill’s illnesses really began in 2003 with constant pain from what ended up being a hip replacement, then stenosis which caused a lot of pain, and other body breakdowns….we were running to doctors from 2003 forward and he was struggling with going from a high energy brilliant person to one who was in pain constantly and beginning to have cognitive issues….so yes, his death came on the heels of 7 years (especially the last 4) of stress and later on trauma as I watched him day by day lose one ability after another and watched our relationship change in ways I never knew possible. I agree…we came to the challenge of a “turn our lives upsidedown and more grief” when we were compromised in every area of our lives. We are still here and sometimes it feels like barely here.