Grief Work

Grief work after the death of a spouse or anyone who makes your life worth living encompasses many tasks, from the simple task of getting out of bed in the morning to the complicated tasks of arranging for funeral services and dealing with financial matters.

As time goes on, the tasks of grief seem to increase, especially the emotional, mental, and spiritual tasks. We need to work through the pain, adjust to the absence of our loved one, find ways and reasons to continue living despite the absence, realize we each have our own path in life, remember them with joy not just sadness. (These might not be tasks so much as the natural progression of grief, but they all fall under the category of “grief work.”)

There are the horrendous tasks of dealing with the loved one’s effects, clearing out the things they no longer have any use for. Sometimes this particular bit of grief work can take years. Although I disposed of most of my life mate/soul mate’s things, I still have items I cannot get rid of, either because he asked me to keep them or because getting rid of them is still unthinkable after Untitledmore than three years. For example, I can’t get rid of his keys, eyeglasses, and wallet. Something in me balks at that, as if he still has use of such things. Especially ridiculous are his car keys. I donated his car to hospice, but kept a set of keys. I just can’t get rid of them.

And then there are the self-imposed tasks, the ways each of us find to honor the end of our shared life. For me, this self-imposed task is watching movies. Think it’s easy? No way!

Long ago, when we realized that we were renting the same movies over and over again because we couldn’t find anything better, he started taping movies for us. Started out with movies for us to watch together, and then expanded into movies he liked but I didn’t. As he got sicker and more housebound, he occupied his time by taping TV movies and television shows by hand so he could cut out the commercials.

There were more than a thousand tapes, some of them with a full six hours of movies or shows. Many of these tapes I had never watched, but during the past two-and-a-half years, I have been watching these tapes, sorting out the ones I have no interest in, keeping the ones that I like or that remind me of special occasions. I started with the tapes he made at the end, the ones I had never seen, and they were painful to watch — so many of them dealt with people who were dying or people who had to find a new way of living after the death of a spouse. It’s almost as if he were leaving me a message telling me to get on with my life.

Even more painful is when I reached the tapes that we always watched together. As I watch each of them, I am aware that the last time I saw the movie, he was by my side. I remember the things we said, the looks we gave each other, the connection we felt. These once-loved movies now seem dull and bland as if a vital spark is missing. And it is missing. He is missing.

I’ve almost worked my way through all the tapes, and I have a hunch that this particular self-imposed task is prolonging my grief since they connect me to the past and at the same time make me aware that the past is gone forever.

Despite all this grief work, there are two things I will never be able to deal with. I will always hate that he is dead. And I will always miss him.


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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

7 Responses to “Grief Work”

  1. 1writeplace Says:

    Pat, I can relate. I have a beautiful, but simple handmade box that I keep his wallet, watch, glasses, etc in. I can’t open it often, but it is there when I need it. I have the same to issues that you end your note with. Oh, and of course he taped those specific tapes just to help you!
    Thank you,

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s just too damn hard. We have these things instead of them. One of the things he asked me to keep was a perpetual calendar his father gave him when he was a child. It’s a silly thing — the day has to be changed every day without fail, or else it loses it’s effectiveness — but except for emergencies, I’ve been advancing that calendar every day. It was suppposed to be a way of remembering him, but oddly, I often change the date by habit without thinking of why I’m doing it. Maybe that’s a form of remembering.

  2. Malene Says:

    “Despite all this grief work, there are two things I will never be able to deal with. I will always hate that he is dead. And I will always miss him”.


  3. Lorraine Says:

    i am now 14 months out since my life mate left.I just came thru a big grief surge,there was a thunder storm and I was sitting there in the dark and thinking,I just don’t care if I get struck by lightening.It is now good weather,we used to cook out after working on our house project on the weekends.There are times at night I turn off the light,I have the dog and cat on the bed.but I don’t have my Albert,and it just hurts.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m sitting here trying to think of something wise to say, but all I have are my tears. I am so sorry. The second year is especially painful as it sinks in that this is for the rest of our lives. Wishing you peace.

    • Malene Says:


      Like Pat, I have little to offer. As my second year comes to a close (Aug 06) I am finding that, though the insatiable longing – whenever I dwell on his goneness – remains, the pain really is just a little bit less keen, It’s small but alas some comfort to know that there is a whole sisterhood who at least understand how you feel and who can confirm that you have not gone insane when you don’t care about whether you will wake up tomorrow. My heart breaks for all of us.

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