A friend who lost her husband sent me an email today, relating something a woman told her. The woman said, “I’m not trying to put anything bad on my husband, but I think that if he died I would be all right with that.”
The statement shocked my friend, not just because of the tactlessness, but because of the lack of feeling.
People have said the same thing to me, and to be honest, it’s the way I felt when my life mate/soul mate was dying. I truly thought I would be okay. He’d been sick for so long and in such pain, I thought I’d be relieved when he died. And I was. For about an hour. Those last years of his life, I did many things to prepare myself for going on alone, and I thought I was prepared. That’s why my grief shocked me so much — it came from somewhere so deep inside, I had no idea such a place existed. My grief was beyond rationality, beyond emotion. It was visceral, as if part of my body and half my soul had died.
Some women truly don’t feel much after their husbands die. Sometimes the husband had been sick for so long they did their grieving before he died. Sometimes their relationship was so bad they were glad when it was over. And sometimes people are unable to feel anything. After all, about 5% of all humans are sociopaths — not killers, simply people without human emotions.
But the woman who made the remark could also be in denial, or not know the power of grief. If you know how you would feel if your spouse died, it would put an unbearable burden on you, especially if you think you are an independent woman. I mean, grief to such an extent as I felt seems anachronistic in this liberated day when we are all supposed to be strong and self-reliant. When people found out about my loss, they often gave me strange looks, as if I were an alien species they could not understand. Sometimes after such a look, people would said they could not imagine how they would feel if they lost their spouse. I always told them not to imagine it. They couldn’t. Until you have been there, you do not know the depths of such grief. You cannot know.
To be honest, I wish I didn’t know. Such grief changes your whole perception of yourself and your relationship to life. It makes you rethink who you are, where you came from, and where you are going, and there are no easy answers. The truth is, I was strong and self-reliant. Sure, my mate and I did everything together, but I was perfectly capable of doing things on my own. Still, 2 and 2/3 years after his death, I am struggling with feelings of pointlessness and meaninglessness, as if our shared life was the only thing that mattered. And maybe it was — then. For thirty-four years he was the focus of my life, and to a certain extent he still is. I feel his absence the way I once felt his presence.
For me, the strangest part of the woman’s sentence is her implication that not only would she be all right after he died, but she’d be okay with his death. In my case, I am mostly doing okay dealing with my mate’s absence. I can even accept the idea that he is dead — I have to so I can go on with my life. But as long as I am alive, I will never be all right with his death.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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+