I still have some anger in me, apparently. I occasionally “flame out” as one friend said when I disagreed with an email that friend sent. I am regaining my equilibrium, though, able to get through my days mostly even tempered, but one thing continues to raise my ire: when people assume all grief is the same, and especially when they assume they understand the grief of someone who lost a soul mate because they lost a beloved pet. Such a comment set me off tonight, and when my reply ended up being longer than some of my blog posts, I decided to publish the comment here rather than get in a grief match (“my grief is worse than your grief”) because, honestly, all loss is devastating, especially when it happens to you.
And yet . . . the death of a pet, no matter how beloved, is not the same as losing a soul mate. Nor is the trauma of losing a brother or a mother the same as losing a long-time spouse. The only thing that comes close is losing a child. (My younger brother’s death hastened my mother’s death. She died a year after he did.)
I understand there are all kinds of grief, and I know they all have to be honored. Grief of any kind that is not processed can cause additional problems. (Or not. Some people seem to do quite well walling off their grief.)
My concern has always been for those who have to deal with the death of a spouse, whether a life mate or a soul mate because that sort of all-encompassing grief is more than most people can comprehend. I thought I understood grief — after all, I grieved the deaths of my brother and my mother — but until the death of my life mate/soul mate, I never even knew such profound grief existed. During the past two and a half years, I have met dozens, maybe hundreds of women who have lost their mates, and they all mentioned the same thing — they had to hide their grief because no one understood. That is unconscionable. (I didn’t have this problem. I’m a quasi hermit, so no one was around to see me mourning.)
The truth is, it’s the very prevalence of grief that makes people uncomfortable with the profound grief of someone who lost a soul mate. People figure they got over their grief, whatever or whoever it was for, so you should, too. The trouble with losing your mate is that your grief is not just emotional, but also physical. In addition to the unimaginable agony of loss, you have to deal with shock, a blizzard of hormonal reactions, changes in brain chemistry, an incredible level of stress (losing a mate is considered the most stressful thing a person ever has to deal with; many people end up being treated for PTSD). Your death rate climbs 25% for all causes.
Added to that are all the horrendous “death” chores you have to deal with such as planning a funeral and filling out all the official and financial paperwork involved in “removing” someone from the world. As your emotions begin to stabilize, you have other griefs to deal with since a soul mate is more than a spouse — he’s also a best friend, companion, sometimes even a business partner, and all those losses have to be processed. You also grieve for the loss of yourself, at least your coupled self. And then you have to deal with the restructuring of your life. Your dreams are gone as are your plans for the future so you need to find new reasons to live. Sometimes you have to leave your home. It takes years to sort out all the losses so you can process them and begin again.
I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s grief. But, as I explained in my post, Why I Write About My Grief, people who have lost a mate deserve a lot more consideration and understanding from their family and friends than the assumption that their loss is comparable to the loss of a beloved pet.
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.” Connect with Pat on Google+
October 16, 2012 at 9:20 pm
damn that was well put and so important. thank you thank you. i’m broken in half over losing my sweetheart.
October 16, 2012 at 9:27 pm
I am so very sorry about your losing your sweetheart. It’s hard enough having to deal with grief when you’re whole, but when you’re broken in half, it’s next to impossible. I wish none of us ever had to go through this.
October 16, 2012 at 9:23 pm
the line about paperwork removing someone from the world is haunting. i’m struggling over that very thing.
October 16, 2012 at 9:24 pm
Reblogged this on Zen Garden and commented:
some of these lines are so true, haunting and brutally hitting home.
October 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm
I just read your blog. Oh, your grief is so very new. So much sadness and heartbreak.
October 17, 2012 at 12:03 am
still think it’s a dream sometimes.
October 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm
It’s been two and a half years for me, and it feels more of a dream than ever.
October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm
October 17, 2012 at 6:32 am
This is unfortunately so true. I have been saying this ever since I was plopped into this unwanted journey.
And the words about removing someone from the paperwork is soooo true. Mere weeks after my John passed, I was practically in an argument with a bank manager over that very thing because he wanted to “remove” my husband’s name from our account. I know no one knew what I was feeling but they could have had more compassion. Not even an “I’m sorry for your loss”, just meaningless words [to me] about identity theft. We compromised with putting an alert on the account and John’s name remains on the account to this day. And it always will.
But a few weeks ago I had to take John’s name off our electric account and even now, over two years later, it hurt me to have to do so. People who are not going through this have no clue and that’s OK. Good for them to be spared this.
But could they at least be more sensitive and realize their loss of their dog while tragic could NEVER compare to the loss of a soul mate?
October 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm
I was lucky in the bank situation — they suggested opening a new account in my name only rather than taking his name off the joint account. I still have the joint account and use it to pay for his business license. (I have no idea why I kept the license.) Most other people I dealt with were less accommodating.
Why did you have to take his name off the electric account? What possible difference could it have made to the electric company?
October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm
I needed to open an account for another home up north in my name and in order to avoid the deposit I had to show a credit history. They wouldn’t take the history of my current electric account because it was in John’s name. The local company was nice enough to open a new account for me here and then they wrote a note based on the new account with a good rating to the new company. I hope I explained that so it makes sense. The people at the new account were very rude when I explained the situation to them as opposed to the local company here in Phoenix who actually told me how sorry they were. I think there should be a sensitivity course given to service people like banks etc where this situation might come up.
October 17, 2012 at 7:37 am
Yes all loss is devastating. In defense of the person who made the remark about losing a beloved pet, keep in mind, not everyone is lucky enough to find a human soul mate & spouse. I have a young friend (well mid forties now) who desperately wants to find such a life-long companion but she has not had that good fortune so when she lost her beloved dog (who was loving and protective toward her and her ONLY companion) after 13 years, it was devastating. When I lost my younger brother, it was more like losing a child because I had been his primary caretaker and yet, my initial reaction to the news of his completely unexpected and untimely death (at 19) was a fraction of a second relief because I realized he was finally safe. (altho I did continue to write letters to him for years thereafter). Life is different for everyone. My husband’s aunt, when she lost her husband of over 60 years, was relieved that the physical pain he’d been in was over and she then died on what would have been their anniversary. When my father died (a little sooner than expected but we knew it was coming) my stepmother continued to talk to him and feel his presence. When asked once by someone how long they had been married she told that person “49 years but he’s been gone the last 7”. It gives us both comfort to talk about him. A friend lost her son at age 28, (after three tours of duty in Afghanistan he was killed by a drunk driver at home) . . . she said it gave her comfort to talk about it but that a lot of her friends were uncomfortable talking about it. She thanked me for talking with her about it. Perhaps it is easier for me to talk about death and loss because I have always believed in reincarnation (not that we remember past lives but that our souls are on a journey that involves many lives and subconsciously retained lessons therefrom). Another friend recently lost her son to suicide and she is now in a very specialized grief group: the mothers of suicides. And I know it gives her comfort to be a mentor to a young man who has considered suicide but she has talked him out of it, being there for him has been good for her. Life in this world can be so painful sometimes but the best antidote to personal pain is to help alleviate the pain of someone else which may be why support groups exist . . . participation in such a group gives us the opportunity to not only receive but also to give the gift of compassion and this is healing, whether it be in a regularly scheduled meeting or chance encounters in life. And please remember that you gave your beloved joy in a world that is full of loneliness, cruelty, disappointment and pain. Of course you wish his life could have been longer but could it have been happier? I doubt it. Hoping and praying something joyful happens to you today.
October 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm
I hope you don’t thing I was making light of anyone’s grief. My only goal was to help people understand the extenuating circumstances and the physical effects that occur with a certain type of loss.
October 17, 2012 at 8:37 am
I agree, not that I know. But I watched my mother grieving after my dad passed. Half of her was gone. She lived another 16 years, but missed out on so much that she decided wasn’t worth doing without him. I thought I understood. Actually, it’s only been since reading your posts that I’m beginning to get an inkling of what she went through. Thanks, Pat.
October 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm
Sometimes I think I’m being foolish trying to help people understand, since most never will or can understand such a loss until they go through it, so I’m glad I’m helping you understand what your mother a bit better. Still, it’s a shame she never found out that those things she missed out on were worth doing for herself.
October 18, 2012 at 5:20 am
I totally understand what you were trying to say. I do have to think however that we don’t have the ability to actually judge the depths of grief for anyone but ourselves. Every soul is different and their lives and histories make their love and grief processes individual.
To say that only the death of a life-mate can be as powerful, can’t be truly measured. Yes, there are different steps that must be done in order to move forward legally and such, but the stages and depths of grief are individual and so very personal.
People for whatever reason have special bonds that their histories, their personal beliefs, ect. all are part of the formula that goes into the complex creation of such bonds. No matter who that person or even pet might be, that loss is a destruction of stability and deeply damages the one left behind. I don’t there ever should be a hierarchy of grief.
But that’s just what I think.
October 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm
I’m sorry if you thought I was denigrating your loss. I know how devastating it was for you. You’re right, of course, people do have strong bonds and grief is devasting for everyone, especially with a sibling. My brother died five years ago, and it was terrible. My mother’s death affected me even more, which is why the profundity of my mate’s death shattered me. I thought with those first two losses, I’d reached the limit of what a soul could handle.
My only intents in this article were to shed light on the extenuating circumstances and extreme physicality of a particular type of grief, and to caution people against comparing griefs. If one person gets over their grief faster than another, they can’t really use that as a barometer for assuming the other person should also get over their grief.
Don’t you think we need a heirarchy of grief in our lives? If every loss in our lives was equally all consuming, we’d be dead before we were thirty. Our bodies couldn’t handle it.
October 22, 2012 at 10:35 am
No. : ) I don’t think we need to put limitations on love, on grief, or on ourselves.
Some would say that when we place guidelines on emotions we move back into the dark.
I can no more judge the profound grief of someone who has just lost their best friend who happens to be non-human than someone who has lost a husband or wife. We can’t ever know why that bond was so important, what life events led them to that. It really doesn’t matter.
But what you said about loss being all consuming.. well, that devotion to grief is our own personal choice. Some of us need to find the light at the end of the grief process and use that terrible pain and shock to the system as a match that lights the fire to our own self discovery.
But really, no hard feelings. I saw where you were going. I love your blog and no worries.
October 19, 2012 at 9:01 pm
So, so well put. You have exactly expressed what I’m feeling and going through, especially the small horrors of all the banal chores.
October 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm
I’m so sorry you are going through this, too. No one should have to; it’s too hard.
October 19, 2012 at 10:39 pm
I support you 100% Tom to re-invent a grief magnitude to parallel the intensity you and Barb lived and loved life and revered each other. You can exercise your grief and then exorcize it too after it has served you well. You deserved each other,a longer walk together and “the Bastard” stole all that yummy future right away from you both.
Your love for each other, especially the parts I witnessed under the high volume of cancer stressors and needs
November 20, 2012 at 9:27 pm
just came across this message. thanks for your support. i’m happy for the turn your life has taken. all the best to you, t
September 3, 2015 at 10:58 pm
I know this post is old…but I’m going to comment anyway. I’m going to put it another way…how do YOU know what it feels like to lose a pet because you lost your soulmate. You did a great job belittling all of us who have lost our pets. By the way, my supposed soul mate left me for someone else…and I had subsequent financial problems, etc., etc. The DOGS were the only think that got me through my days. They gave me a reason to get up in the morning. So you belittling that is like a STAB to the heart. PLUS…I’m sure you got a lot of support with the loss of a soul mate. Grieving a pet is a lonely road sometimes, and is not made easier by people like you belittling it.
September 4, 2015 at 8:04 am
If you read my post, which you obviously didn’t, you will see that I did not belittle your grief. I merely said “the death of a pet, no matter how beloved, is not the same as losing a soul mate. Nor is the trauma of losing a brother or a mother the same as losing a long-time spouse.”
And it isn’t the same. No grief is. But my grief posts focused on the collateral damage that goes along with losing a long time mate, that was my point. And no, people don’t always offer support someone who lost a mate. It’s too big to contemplate. They prefer to ignore it.
September 4, 2015 at 10:49 am
I apologize…because you are right. As I am normally someone that reads things completely before I knee-jerk, I did not in this case. So I am sorry about that. And yes…I know that many people prefer to ignore grieving people in general, no matter what the loss. And yes…I do see that you said it’s “not the same”…so that phrase in itself is not necessarily “ranking” the grief…but your continued explanation seemed to. I liked what Crysta Icore said. She put it beautifully about not judging other people’s grief. Because you truly have NO idea what people are going through, as people don’t with you. And although you say the magnitude of losing a spouse is too big for people to contemplate, I’m sure that’s true…but it is validated. The loss of a pet rarely is. And people are left to feel stupid about grieving for the pet. I do agree with you that that person should not have said they understand the loss of your soul mate because they lost a pet. That seems to invalidate your loss. But in effect, you are doing the same thing. I was just coming out of the darkness after being left by my soul mate when my dog dropped dead…so yes the grief was profound. Thank you.
September 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm
Although I stand by the content of what I said and the point I made, I want to apologize again for the knee-jerk response. I am not doing well right now…which is not an excuse for lashing out. So I’m sorry again. I never post online, or do anything online for that matter…so this was a definite knee jerk response. I am in a lot of pain right now, and am very sensitive to my pain being minimized at all. I know that’s not what you were trying to do. And in all reality, maybe my soul mate wasn’t really my soul mate…but when he left, it jarred me. But what I do know is I loved that dog with all my heart…therefore my grief is immense. The unconditional love, the lack of dysfunction, the constant companionship…those are all things dogs give us. And when we sometimes feel like we don’t get all those things from anywhere else, the pain of the loss can be unbearable. That person shouldn’t have compared her pet loss to your soul mate loss…but NONE of us should compare pain. We just need to validate each other, and recognize that we really don’t know someone else’s journey. I am truly sorry for your loss of your soul mate. I know nothing about what that would feel like.
February 11, 2023 at 9:19 pm
It’s always hard. I know it doesn’t help much, but I am so sorry for your loss. Recently my cousin and aunt died and I feel broken. I know it’s not exactly the same but every day seems awful without those beautiful souls in my world.
February 12, 2023 at 7:24 am
Losing people you love is always hard. I’m so sorry for your losses.