Grief: New Year’s Day and Beyond

eternityThis past New Year’s Day was the third one I have lived through since the death of my life mate/soul mate. That first New Year’s Day was one of relief. I’d managed to live through the worst year of my life, and I greeted the day with acceptance and looking toward the future, building hopes and creating dreams.

The second New Year’s Day was a day of dread. The last week of that year was one of waiting. No grief, no strong emotion. Just . . . waiting. But with the dawning of the new calendar year came the dread. I still don’t know why (to be honest, I’ve never totally understood the whys and ways of grief), though perhaps the dread came from an awareness of moving further away from our shared life. I could no longer say, “Last year, we . . .” “Last year, he . . .” There was just me, balanced precariously on the precipice of a life alone.

This third New Year’s Day inexplicably began with tears. Grief had been leaving me alone, and I hadn’t had a strong upsurge for a long time — I thought I was through with grief, to be honest — but when the calendar rolled over from 2012 to 2013, grief came calling once again. And once again, I do not know why.

A new calendar year has never meant much to me — it’s such an arbitrary date, beginning at staggered times around the world, and even celebrated on different dates in various countries and religions. Now that I am alone, however, I try to make a ritual of such things, to note the passing of the days. I need to know that I am still here and I am still alive. And despite the arbitrariness of the date, apparently something in me senses a change from one year to the next and reacts to it.

People tell me that it takes three to five years to find joy in life again, or at least to find a new beginning, and three months into this year will be my third anniversary of grief. It feels like a milestone, though I can’t even begin to guess what it will mean to me besides one more year further away from “us” and one more year closer to . . . I don’t know what.

But I can’t think of that now. If I’ve learned anything during these past two years and nine months, it’s the importance of taking life one step at a time. I’ve already taken three steps into this new calendar year. Tomorrow will be another step. Beyond that, the future will just have to take care of itself.


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+

15 Responses to “Grief: New Year’s Day and Beyond”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I admire that about you, Pat. You talk about your grief with such a candidness, and you’re willing to share your experiences with others. I bet there’s a ton of people who look up to you for talking so openly about your loss.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I would like to think so. So few people are able or willing to explain what it is like, which is why grief came as such a shock to me. I had no idea grief such as this was possible if someone was strong and stable and sensible as I was.

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        do you mind if i use what i learn from you to make grieving characters in my stories sound more realistic?

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Please do! That’s one of the reasons I started writing about grief — writers so often get it wrong. Right after he died, I read a book where the only thing the author said was, “Joe went through all five stages of grief.” That was the sole mention of Joe’s reaction to his wife’s death, and did not take into consideration any of the physical traumas or feelings of something having been amputated. The very next book I read was about a woman who lost her husband. She cried one night, and then that was it. No other reaction through the whole rest of the book.

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            in a fantasy trilogy i read, one of the main characters was still mourning his fiancee who committed suicide. it gets really sad, because when he’s offered the chance to be near her again, he nearly kills himself with a cursed rose just to do it, and then nearly kills himself again with a smiliar curse to free her soul from her captors.
            i’m not saying you’ve fought demons from Celtic legend, but did you sometimes feel you’d do anything to get the love of your life back.
            btw, thanks for giving me the okay. i like to get okays from people before i use their life experiences for stories, as a friend who struggled with sex addiction would testify if he felt comfortable talking about it.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            I didn’t give you permission to use my life experiences. You can use what you learned about grief from me, but you can’t use me, my life, or any of my words.

            And, no, I wouldn’t do anything to get him back. His death was hard won. It’s been difficult for me, but given the chance, I would never bring him back. I doubt he’d want it, and neither would I if it meant more suffering for him.

          • rami ungar the writer Says:

            sorry, i meant what i’d learned from you. miscommunication there. no offense meant.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            No offense taken. I knew what you meant, just wanted to set the record straight.

  2. Holly Bonville Says:

    I don’t think we will ever be through with grief. Like you, I made it thru the majority of the holidays without any big upsets. New Years was never anything big for us, but New Year’s day was sad and there were tears shed. It shouldn’t have been any different, it was my regular day off, but somehow, the heart knows. I even had one of those dreams, and it had been a while since the last one. It will be three years for me on Feb 26. I am hoping for some major changes in my life in 2013.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Until grief made a presence in my life, I hadn’t realized how much we experience on a level beneath conscious and even subconscious thought. The cycles we go through, the reactions to dates, the upsurges around anniversaries that we don’t consciously remember all show that something is going on way beneath the surface.

      I’m sorry you had a sad day, but perhaps this really will be the year for major changes.

      p.s. I knew your anniversary was before mine, but I didn’t realize it was almost exactly a month earlier. No wonder we are on the same cycles.

  3. Vivian Rinaldo Says:

    Pat, I lost my mom in 2004, and there are days when I can barely bear the grief, missing her so much, but it does get better, and those days come farther apart. People say you “get over” losing someone eventually. I don’t believe that. I’m not sure you even should. I just know that if I try real hard to remember the fun and good times we had, the grief lessens a little. Bless you.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Vivian, I am sorry about your mother. I think you’re right about never getting over it — what we do is learn how to live despite the losses in our lives.

      Wishing you peace in the new year.

  4. Helene Says:

    Dear Pat,
    Wow!…I am in some sort of shock at the moment. I never comment on any blogs but this time I must.
    If not for the part where you talk about taking care of your father, and the fact that I could never write as well as you do (English being my second language) I would be convinced that it was me who wrote this.

    I also lost my soul mate – It will be seven months now on April 3rd. He died just short of 65.
    We have been together for almost 30 years(I say “have” because I still can’t say “had”). There was several periods of illnesses when he was very close to leaving me but he pulled through. There was so much love and bliss in between that even if each time was scarier it didn’t matter, It just made us love and appreciate each other even more. I used to think somehow he survived because he didn’t want to leave me and I didn’t want to let him go. I know now that neither of us had that power. This last time was of such insidious onset and so aggressive that it was over before we even had time to say good bye.

    If I could write what we lived prior to his death and what I am living since he died, it would be word for word.
    Every thought and behavior you shared was, without a flaw, and exact mirror of my own. Every sentence you wrote describes what I have been trying to explain to people when they ask me…So, how are you doing? It’s almost scary really! Is what you write on this blog what you describe in one of your books? In which case I’m thinking I should just get a few and past them around – It would help make my life easier.

    I had other people volunteer comments on how someone they knew was still talking to their husband’s picture after several years – You might have just confirmed… It appears what happens next is what I was afraid of.

    Sorry for the long post and thank you so much for what you wrote.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Helene, I’m glad you wrote such a long comment. I always like hearing from those who see themselves in my grief posts. It’s such an agonizing and isolating journey through grief that it’s nice to know there are others who feel the same.

      My book Grief: The Great Journey is a compilation of blog posts, journal entries, and letters I wrote to Jeff during that first year after his death. It was written for myself, of course, to help me understand what I was going through, but I also wrote for those who could not understand because they hadn’t been there. I’m sure if you were to pass out my book or send links to my blog posts, it would help people understand what a long and painful time this is for you. One woman even printed out one of my blogs to give to her therapist to show him what she was feeling.

      Seven months — oh, I am very sorry, Helene. The first year is so terrible I don’t know how any of us make it through, but we do. At almost four years, I’m coming to terms with it all, but I will always miss him, no matter what else happens.

      Hold on to the belief that there will come a time that grief is not the main focus of your life. I still feel terrible that Jeff is dead (feel terrible for him, that is) but I have come to learn that feeling for him is no longer my business, and so I go on about my life, finding things every day to make my continued existence worthwhile.

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