I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings, but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs. I’d never heard of the sort of all-consuming grief that I experienced except for those who were considered unstable, but I knew I was completely well adjusted, so anything I felt had to be normal.
To be honest, I never had any intention of getting personal in this blog. I launched it to establish an online presence for when I got published. (After starting this blog, it took a year to find a publisher, although I’d already been on the quest for several years. After acceptance, it took another six months for my books to be published, but I made it!) Those first years of blogging, I wrote about my efforts to get published, what I learned about improving my writing, the novels I read and what I learned about writing from their inadequacies.
After my life mate/soul mate died, everything changed. I’d intended to keep my grief to myself and continue writing innocuous little posts, but I kept stumbling over people’s ignorance of grief. I found this ignorance in people I knew. (I will never forget those blank looks of incomprehension in people’s eyes when, sobbing, I told them about my loss. Sometimes they looked at me as if I were an alien species, or some kind of strange bug.)
And I found this ignorance in books I read.
One novelist dismissed her character’s grief at the death of his wife with a single sentence, “He went through all the five stages of grief.” Anyone who has gone through the multi-faceted grief of losing a soul mate knows that there are dozens of stages of grief (or none at all). You spiral round and round, in a dizzying whirl of emotions, not just shock and anger and sadness, but frustration, bitterness, yearning, hope, helplessness, confusion, loneliness, despair, guilt, questioning, angst over loss of faith, and you keep revisiting each of these emotions, hanging on the best you can, until ideally, you reach a place of peace and life opens up again.
Another novelist had her widow cry for a night then put aside her grief and get on with her life. Believe me, you can’t put aside such grief. It’s not just emotional but also physical, a ripping away of his presence from your soul, a deep-seated panic when your lizard brain realizes that half of your survival unit is gone, a body/mind bewilderment so great you can barely breathe. You don’t control raw grief. Grief controls you.
Not only did I discover that few people had any idea of the scope of such grief, most people selfishly urged the bereft to get on with their lives because they couldn’t bear to see their mother/sister/friend’s sadness.
There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft, who already feel isolated, totally alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the facade of our relentlessly glass-half-full society.
Although I am a private person, not given to airing my problems in public, I thought it wrong to continue the charade that life goes on as normal after losing the one person who makes life worth living. So, over the past two-and-a-half years, I have made it my mission to tell the truth about grief. Even though I have mostly reached the stage of peace, and life is opening up again, at least a little bit, grief is still a part of my life. There is a void in my world — an absence — where he once was, and that void shadows me and probably always will. Although his death changed the circumstances of my life, thrusting me into an alien world, grief — living with it, dealing with it, accepting it — changed me . . . forever. It has made me who I am today and who I will become tomorrow — strong, confident, and able to handle anything that comes my way.
Would I prefer to have him in my life? Absolutely. But that is not an option. All I can do, all any of us can do, is deal with what lies before us, regardless of a society that frowns on mourning. It takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life after such a grievous loss, so the next time you see your mother, father, sister, daughter crying for her/his spouse, deal with it. Just because you’re no longer tearful, be aware that even though you have lost the same person, you have not lost the same connection. If it makes you sad to see her mourning, think how much sadder it is for her to experience that sorrow. Hug her, be there for her. Don’t hurry her through grief. She’ll find her way back to happiness in her own time.
Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free. Print books can be ordered from your favorite bookstore.
October 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm
I remember when my grandmother died a little before my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. Even a year later my grandfather would choke up and cry at the mention of her passing, which made anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays tough on him. It showed me how powerful grief is.
Years later, I read a book that began with the main character’s grief over the sudden suicide of his fiancee. Years afterwards, he was still grieving over it, even as his “best friend” was telling him to move on. My first thought was, “The author really gets grief”, followed by, “Did anyone ever tel you that grief is not something you can just throw in a wastebasket?”
Speaking of which, I’ve gotten the same remarks about “moving on” about my experiences of being bullied in elementary school. Now they get how serious bullying is, but back then? Just something to shrug off. Wierd how people change like that, isn’t it?
October 6, 2012 at 7:50 pm
It truly stunned me when, as an adult way past school days, I found out that kids were still being bullied. Bullying is so reprehensible, that I assumed someone somewhere would have found a way to fix the problem.
I mentioned this to someone just the other day, and she shrugged it off with a blase, “that’s life.” Well, it shouldn’t be, especially when it comes to kids. Bullying scars children forever, and it creates a society of people who believe that might makes right. Might never does make right. And it never will.
October 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm
Amen, Pat. Amen!
October 6, 2012 at 8:58 pm
Excellent post, Pat. I hope it helps many people.
October 7, 2012 at 12:15 am
Just beautiful, Pat. Thank you for this truth.
October 7, 2012 at 7:29 am
I’ve shared this post with my family to help them understand my grief since losing my 23 year old son almost 20 weeks ago. I would love to share this with my work colleagues, it would help me if they could understand this.
October 7, 2012 at 6:58 pm
I am so sorry about your son. 20 weeks is almost no time at all in the world of grief. I hope the article will help people be more understanding of what you are going through — dealing with death is never easy, but losing a child is impossibly difficult.
February 17, 2013 at 3:52 pm
Glad I found your blog. You’re right. Most writers and even self-help websites offer little tips to “get on with the business of living” after losing your mate. They rarely stop to consider most people have to make a living to survive regardless. Also, the affairs of an executor take months to work through so there is also that which takes up alot of your time and helps blot out the immediate loss. Then it eventually goes away too. So it’s not really the “living” you need help with. Nor the counseling that most people do get from either a pill (like me, Lexapro) or a health professional. Writers, for the most part, treat the entire process of greiving as a fitness drill (“Do this for 10 minutes a day and see a flatter mid-section!”). Or there is the “get ye back to the nunnery” advice given by those whose faith has to be on display to be validated. I’m a catholic and went to catholic schools through 12th grade. I know more about my religiion and the ceremony of mass than I care to admit. I quit going as an adult for adult reasons. But I do believe in God the father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Just not in a church setting. “Friends” stop calling after about the 3rd month when they realize “well, I guess she’s just having a bad day. Still”.
I’m a functioning greif-a-holic. Some days I don’t think about watching my husband die of lung cancer 5 months ago at all. And some days I consume the memory voraciously -ever minute of the last month of his life and my helplessness to stop his decline. Losing a mate is not the same as losing a parent or relative (been through that too). In fact, the only loss I can imagine that would send me over the cliff quicker than this one would be the death of my child (a beautiful 21 year old daughter). God forgive me for writing that but it is true.
The death of a spouse/lover is more more mauling because it cuts at your very sense of being. I realize physical intimacy plays a large role in that and makes it even more rawly apparent when you had a fantastic sex life. I’m stunned by widowed friends who have since re-married or re-couple and wonder to myself “Really? Is that how you got over it?” I keep getting told that in a few years things will get “better” and that the memories will help me get by or that “he’s always with you”. I dont want memories. They are not enough. And I want him. Not a ghost.
Like you. I blog mostly out of boredom and post mostly innocuous stuff. I try not to mention my deceased partner unless it’s in a positive or happy reference. I know he wouldn’t tolerate me being this “lost” or grief-stricken at all. And he definitely would not want me bringing anyone down. So I sit here alone with it- day in and day out and occasionally break away from it to go to work or take care of other family issues. It’s a bitter new existence. And I’m dealing with it.
February 17, 2013 at 6:42 pm
That’s a good way to put it — consume the memory voraciously. It’s taken me almost three years to stop going back and reliving his last weeks. I do well most of the time, but I still get overwhelmed at times by the enormity of what happened to us. How could this have happened, he dead and me living this strange life alone?
People keep telling me he will always live in memmory. Huh? Memories are not the person. Memories cannot hug or smile or kiss or talk.
I know what you mean about him not wanting you to be so lost and grief-stricken, it’s the same with me, but the way I figure, if he didn’t want me to be so sad, he shouldn’t have died. (Yeah, I know — he didn’t have a choice, but still . . .)
Only five months? Oh, I am so sorry. It’s unfathomable. I know, to believe you will ever feel differently, but the pain does become muted. Though from what I have heard, grief is always with you to some extent. How can it not be when you’ve lost the person who was a very part of your being?
I hope you find peace, and maybe friends who understand that grief is not a bad day.
May 31, 2021 at 11:43 am
I couldn’t agree with you more.
The ignorance or lack of maturity concerning the loss of a loved one, especially a spouse, is absolutely enormous, in our society.
Even though bereavement happens everyday, the empty looks and stilted, out-of-place responses, from close friends and even family members boggle the mind, to say the least.
May 31, 2021 at 7:33 pm
Part of that, I’ve come to realize is that such a loss is so unfathomable to people that somewhere deep inside, they think it’s your fault and they’re afraid it’s catching.