Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 91 if she had lived. Her life wasn’t cut short, nor was her death a tragedy — she’d lived a long life, and for the most part, her death wasn’t particularly horrendous. And even at the end of her life, she managed to get one last wish — to reach her 60th wedding anniversary.
One of the things so confusing about grief is the various lengths of lives and loves. Do you feel more grief if you’d been together for 60 years as my parents were? Do you feel less grief if you’d been together a matter of months?
I was with my soul mate for thirty-four years before death took him. After he died, I’d look at couples like my parents, and I’d envy them their long togetherness, but then I’d look at couples who had been torn apart before they ever had a chance to settle into their lives, and I would be grateful for the years I had with him.
Despite my envy/gratitude, I’ve concluded that when it comes to the loss of a mate, the length of time you were together isn’t a factor in your grief because you always grieve the entire life — everything you had and everything you didn’t have. If you’ve been together for most of your life, there is more of the past to grieve. If you had little time together, you grieve for all you never had. And in my case, I grieved for both the past and the future.
Many other factors are more important than the length of time you had together when it comes to grief. The depth of the connection matters, as does the interdependency of your lives. If you count on two paychecks to pay the bills, for example, and one of those paychecks evaporates, financial fear adds to one’s grief. If you are each other’s support group, providing a sounding board or hugs when necessary, then the loss of that support when you need it most adds to grief. Complications in the relationship can add to grief because you lose any chance of ever smoothing things out. Quick deaths add to grief because of the horrendous shock, and long dyings add to grief because of all the guilt and regrets that built up. And if you lose your mate when you’re relatively young, then you face many years without him, which adds to your grief.
All of these things combine to make grief unique to each person, but what isn’t unique is the sense of loss, the yearning, the hanging on the best we can until life opens up to us once again or until we find peace at the end.
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+