Grief and the Empty Timeline of Death

Route 66My life mate/soul mate died 33 months ago. He was 63 at the time, a few months shy of his 64th birthday. Today, his mother called and during the conversation she mentioned that he would now be 66. This revelation stopped me in my mental tracks. 66?

During all these months, not once have I ever stopped to calculate what his age would have been had he lived. It felt as if time stopped when he died — not all time, just his time. And yet, his time continues. The timeline that began with his birth is still going on. When she mentioned his age, I got the mental image of a shadow of his ghost continuing to ride that timeline. Not him, not his spirit (because if he does still exist somewhere, he is outside of time) but simply the shadow of what might have been.

Normally such a thought would have swept me back into grief, but this image (at least for now) has me befuddled.

I’ve been thinking of him as 63 years old. As such, he is still older than I am, but I’ve been wondering how I will feel when I get to the age he was when he died, or later, when I grow older than he ever did. Will I feel foolish as a raddled 86-year-old, still yearning for such youthful-looking man? (The only photo I have of him was taken when he was not yet 50. And as my memories fade, that will be the only image I remember him by.)

And yet, there is his continuing timeline. What is growing older? Well, me, of course. I am aware that I will continue to age, but he will be forever a relatively young 63. Yet something — some shadow of him or his life — continues to grow older.

Or is his just an empty timeline now?

I spent most of last night learning how to use Microsoft Movie Maker and putting together a video blurb of Grief: The Great Yearning. The music piece was supposed to be thirty seconds, and it was, but there were also seven blank seconds on the end of the music clip, so that when the video finished playing, the timeline continued blankly for another seven seconds.

Perhaps it’s the coincidence of the two blank timelines that unsettles me, but I truly do not know how to grasp the concept of his empty timeline. He can’t continue to age, and yet his birthdays will come, year after year.

The emptiness of it all makes me want to weep; yet strangely, I am dry-eyed.


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+

8 Responses to “Grief and the Empty Timeline of Death”

  1. Mary Says:

    Hi Pat, this is an excellent blog that is universal in that I believe we all think of our loved one who has died as being that age forever…what else do we have? Since Bill’s birthday is later in this month I was figuring out just today how old he would be and wondering, had he lived, and stayed healthy what he would be like at 82. He was always energetic and no one ever thought he was as old as he was until he started to go down hill. Yet forever in my mind I see him those last days…old, thin, gaunt…it is hard to remember his energetic walk, his high and endless energy. And yes, I believe he is now timeless wherever he is…ageless. As you and I approach March 27 I remain so grateful that one person this earth knows the meaning of that day…the day each of our soul mates stopped aging.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Jeff was very gaunt toward the end, too. Very old looking. Well, one ages rapidly when one is dying. I do remember him at the moment of his death, but I’ll be just as glad when the only way I remember him is young and vital and so very radiant with intelligence and good health.

      And I too am grateful that one other person understands and feels the importance of the day.

  2. eileenschuh Says:

    What a powerful piece, Pat. As my daughter wrote me this summer following my mom’s death, ‘Grief is love with no place to go.’ That simple sentence changed my grieving from a painful, ugly, and devastating experience into something very beautiful–love. It’s important to feel free to grieve for as long as one has the need and to love even after time stands still.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I found myself writing many times, “what do you do with love when it is no longer needed?” You don’t lose the love, just the focus of that love. Yes, grief is about love. We don’t grieve long for strangers.

  3. rami ungar the writer Says:

    My grandmother died a few months before her 50th wedding anniversary with my grandfather. I’m not sure if my Sabba still keeps track of things like birthdays or anniversaries, but I know whenever something big happens in the family, like my dad’s remarriage, he wishes my Savta were there with him and sometimes he even cries a little. It’s part of the reason why I plan to dedicate my first published book to my Savta.

  4. Kathy Says:

    So true. My husband’s brother was killed by a truck driver when the brother was on a bicycle. He was 43 then and that was 15 years ago. Since then his 3 children grew up, graduated from college, 2 got married, 1 had a son, and another is expecting. The son, born right before Christmas, would have been the brother’s first grandchild. You can’t help but wonder how the lives of all would have been different had he lived and how different this special time would have been had he been around to be grandpa. But the newborn grandson was given his name as his middle name and so he lives on. Still, we all miss him even more now.

  5. Malene Says:



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