I’m noticing a change in my attitude lately — more cynical perhaps, and at the same time more optimistic about the future. This change showed itself to me in my reaction to a news story that is going around about a couple who holds the record for the longest marriage — 86 years. The story purported to tell the secrets of how they stayed together for so long, and my first thought was, “Because one of them didn’t die.” No matter how much they love each other, no matter how well they get along, if one of them had died, that would have been the end of their being together.
Immediately following my cynical thought was a moment of horror at the idea of being stuck in the same sort of life for all those years. She married very young, so what did she know of life (or herself) before making her vows? And she’ll never have a chance of exploring what she could have been on her own. The universal reaction to the story seemed to be “Oh, how sweet,” so the horror I felt must not reflect their situation but my own changing attitude.
My soul mate and I always thought we would die together since our bond was so strong, and yet, here I am and he is not. The pain of our separation was almost more than I could bear at times, and in fact, sometimes the only way I could get through another minute of continued life was to scream my pain into the wind.
Now, as I pass through to the other side of grief, continuing to process all the various emotions, fears, regrets, guilts, I sense that a new life awaits me, a life of possibilities, maybe even adventure. I don’t know what form this life will take, whether it will entail geographical travels or spiritual travels, new activities or new perspectives, broadening my horizons or only broadening my mind. But a new life is surely coming, and sometimes my heart leaps ahead of me at the thought of such freedom.
I’m not yet at that place of freedom. I still have many concerns to deal with first. Since I am looking after my 96-year-old father, that is my prime concern, but there are also personal concerns such as my continued awareness of my mate’s death. I know he would be the first to applaud my coming adventures — he felt bad that the constraints of his illness and the life we were forced to live destroyed my spontaneity, but the truth is, he gave me the courage to be spontaneous in the first place. And now I’ll have to find the courage to be spontaneous on my own.
It’s a difficult line to walk — being glad of a chance at a different sort of life while at the same time not being glad of the death that will allow such a life, being glad of one more day of life while being aware that such a day was denied him. But I will find a way to handle it as I have handled every step of this grief journey.
Maybe the secret isn’t how to stay together, but how we live each day we are given, whether with someone or alone.
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+
December 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm
You raise an interesting paradox and one that’s familiar to me. The strange opposition of cynicism and optimism confuses me. I wonder if, through experiencing great loss, it widens the spectrum of experience for an individual, like an elastic band. Maybe it’s an example of the broader the range of emotional breadth, the broader the ability to see the corners of the various realities within life’s pantheon. Thanks for the read. Good stuff.
December 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm
Grief does stretch us in ways we never thought possible. An elastic band is a good simile. People keep telling me that grief brings strange blessings, and perhaps these elastic emotions are one of those blessings. They don’t take the place of what we have lost, but it’s all we have.
I am so sorry about your daughter.
December 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm
To me its kind of fascinating what grief does to each person. I was cynical before Mike died, now I’m not. Even though sometimes it might be helpful to be cynical at times.
December 6, 2012 at 9:29 am
Pat, I just found your blog and it means so much to me on so many levels. I have the same sorts of thoughts as you about thing like this. Have you heard the quote…”cynics are wounded idealists”? I think you are just conscious, not cynical. Some days I can be so cynical about the world and the next day I love it without criticism. It is because I am awake and alive in my life and absorbing so much, that my judgements change as my feelings do throughout the day.
December 6, 2012 at 10:07 am
What a great explanation, Terri! I try to be conscious of myself, the world, and myself in the world, and my judgements about all three change frequently. I am most at peace when I simply am.
December 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm
I love your last line, Pat. “how we live each day we are given, whether with someone or alone.”
I totally understand the cynicism, but maybe this comes from the strength you seem to have dug very deep to find – this is a great post.
December 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm
Thank you! I’m still digging for that strength.