I talked to my deceased life mate/soul mate while I was out walking in the desert this morning. I apologized for keeping him tied to me with my grief, told him I hadn’t meant to shed so many tears for him or grieve for so long, and explained that much of my grief came from somewhere so deep inside that I had no conscious control over it.
I told him I was doing okay, so perhaps I wouldn’t be bothering him as much, and I wished him well.
I continued wandering, wondering about the incomprehensibleness of grief, and the thought came to me that perhaps such profound grief is a beacon, as necessary to the dead as it is to the living.
During the last weeks of my mate’s death, he was often agitated and confused due to both the cancer in his brain and the morphine he needed to control his pain. Once he woke screaming. I went to calm him, but he was frantic. He couldn’t remember who he was. “Do you remember me?” I asked. He studied my face, nodded his head, and immediately started to calm down. A few minutes later, he’d recovered enough to remember who he was.
What if after he died, he felt as horribly and as bewilderingly amputated as I did? What if his new world felt as alien as mine did? What if my grief, so incredibly powerful, served as a beacon the same way my presence did that night? What if my grief showed him where I was and gave him something familiar to focus on until he could get his bearings?
We are indoctrinated by religion and by stories of near death experience into believing that death is an immediate rebirth into the light, but no one knows the truth of it. (Many people who have near death experiences do not see the light, but see darkness. Some people whose heart stops have no experiences. The truth is, the brain releases powerful psychedelic chemicals during trauma that can induce such mystical experiences. Many people who took LSD or DMT and had good trips returned to themselves believing they had died and experienced God and the after life. But although many people think they know the truth of it, no one on this side of death can know for sure.)
Someone who died abruptly might not know what happened. Someone who died slowly but in confusion and disorientation might not know what happened. This sort of thing isn’t unheard of; it occurs here on Earth. A person who is given sight after being blind since birth often cannot immediately see except a fuzzy light. The brain needs to be trained so that it knows what it is seeing. Perhaps the newly dead also need to be trained to see through their new eyes. And if so, the grief of a loved one could provide a beacon until they get their bearings.
The desert is known for inducing mysticism in people who wander those empty spaces, so there could be some truth to this. On the other hand, it was very hot, and I might have had sunstroke. Either way, the idea of grief being a beacon is an interesting concept, one that will stew in my brain pan for a while.
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.
June 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm
Some religions, like mine, believe showing grief is not only good, but it’s also a mitzvah, a good deed. And as for whether the dead may be confused and disoriented after they die, it’s entirely possible: people who believe in ghosts say that some have trouble crossing over to the next world because of old attachments or because they may not even know they’re dead.
I hate to be a buzzkill, but that’s the belief.
June 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm
That memory of your partner’s confusion made my heart hurt. Kaz had similar moments, and similarly would calm down when I (or his mother) was nearby. It felt as if we reflected him in some way, like he could remember who he was by the way we saw and related to him. It hadn’t occurred to me how confusing it might be on the other side (if there is another side), but it makes perfect sense. I’m not sure our grief is an anchor for them, but I can imagine it being a tether of sorts, a way for them to find us whenever they want or need to, like a lighthouse in the mist. Wonderful post.
June 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm
It’s only now, more than three years later, that I can think of those days without my heart hurting. It’s still hard, of course. No one whould have to deal with such trauma as they did during their long dying.
Since childhood, I haven’t believed in any sort of afterlife except as oblivious energy, but his death brought all sorts of thoughts of continued life. It’s odd, but I want it for him, not me. For myself, returning to unselfaware energy is fine.
June 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm
Yes, Pat, this is my favorite post of yours yet. Paul was only in that confused state for 2-3 days, thank goodness. It was so hard on him. And I love love love your whole idea of our grief giving them something to hold onto, a beacon. I too, have thought how he must be as confused and upset as me at times. Until he was no more, we both had hope.
June 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm
It’s that confused state of theirs at the end that skews our grief, I think, and makes it last so long. It’s as if they became children, and so we lost both the adult and the child. I worried so much about his being out there alone with no one to take care of him. I hope he’s finding his way. I hope that the strong emotion of grief connected him to me as much as it did me to him.
June 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm
Let’s just say it is so. There.
June 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm
Hugs to you, too. (Hugs from other bereft are one of the ways I got through to this point.)
June 24, 2013 at 6:18 am
Thanks for this, Pat. All I know is that I do not know what happens after death, or what kind of consciousness remains, or if it is concerned with what is left behind. I know my husband’s body is gone. I know that his last few days were more peaceful than the previous months. I know that I still feel his absence constantly, and that I also feel his presence in dreams, on our land, in memory, in my writing, in the love that remains strong and sure. I knew as he was dying that my tears would not disturb him as they were tears of love, grief, and exhausted relief that this suffering part of our life was coming to an end. My sense was that he left quickly, moving on to whatever comes next (?) just as he moved quickly in this life. I long for him still, but take comfort in knowing that this is just the way my love feels now.
June 24, 2013 at 8:08 am
If there is anything afterward, I have a hunch Jeff moved on quickly, too. I got the impression, as I was driving home from the hospice care center that night, that he passed over me as he left this life, but that was such a terrible time, I don’t remember if I really felt that or simply thought it.
I love your last sentence, that you take comfort in knowing that is is the way your love feels now. So beautiful and so true.