I’ve come a long way in the three years since I wrote the following letter. I still don’t understand the nature of life or death. Still don’t understand the point of it all, but I am embracing life, trying to create my own meaning out of small occurrences. The main difference is that the wound where he was amputated from me has healed. I don’t worry about him — at least not much — but I’m still sad and l always miss him.
And oh, yes. I did finally get to the point where sometimes I make his chili when I need to feel the continuity of our shared life — too often now, our life together doesn’t seem real, as if it were but a story in a book. And in a way, it is a story in a book. Grief: The Great Yearning is not simply the story of my grief after his death, but the story of us, our connection, our love.
Excerpt from Grief: The Great Yearning
Day 159, Dear Jeff,
There is such a hole in me, such an inability to grasp the meaning of your absence, that I am totally lost and bewildered. I want—need—something I can never have. It’s like a hunger—a skin hunger, a mind hunger. I cannot comprehend what your death means except that I’m left alone to find my own way.
Damn it! I know we’re not the only people this ever happened to—I’ve heard so many sad tales these past months—but it happened to us.
You worked so hard to be healthy, you deserved to be healthy. You worked so hard to be strong, you deserved to be strong. Even with all the reality we had to face, I believed somewhere, somehow it would all work out for you, for me, for us. I know you were impatient with that belief—you wanted me to face the truth and to understand what was going to happen, but I was naïve in so many ways. I had no idea what death meant—the total end, the line that can never be recrossed, the sheer absence of the dead one. I still don’t know what it means, still can’t comprehend your goneness.
Does anything happen by our choice? In small matters, yes. But in big ones? I don’t see it. I look back at the past few years, trying to figure out what we could have done differently so that everything would have worked out for us, but all our efforts seemed to have led inexorably to your end.
What’s the point of it all? Why do we cling so much to life? In the eternal scheme of things, does it matter how long or short a life is? Does it matter that you only had sixty-three years? It sure matters to me! I want you in my life. I want you to have a life.
I read an article in the paper today that talked about stream-of-consciousness being the brain’s default mode. The journalist said that in depression, the default mode network appears to be overactive, that a depressive brain shows a pattern of balky transitions from introspective thought to work that requires conscious effort, and it frequently slips into the default mode during cognitive tasks. A depressive brain also shows especially weak links between the default mode network and a region of the brain involved in motivation and reward-seeking behavior.
Is this why I so seldom see the point in anything, why it’s hard to find a reason to do things? Is this why stream-of-consciousness writing is easy for me, but fiction is so difficult?
I’m surprised I’m not severely depressed with your being gone. I’m sad and in pain, but not in the black hole of despair. I can cry and be sad, but when the episode passes, I’ll be fine. Or I can be fine until something tilts me over the edge. Taking supplements does that occasionally. I cry as I swallow them, thinking of how you always cared enough for me to make sure I was getting the right nutrients. Other times, taking the supplements brings me comfort for the very same reason.
I still can’t eat the meals we ate together, so mostly I’m snacking. Just what I need, right? I usually have a salad though, so that’s good. I have a craving for your chili, but I’ll probably never eat it again. It won’t taste the same—I never could make it the way you did—and it would make me too sad.
It’s been nice visiting with you here—I wish it were for real and not just in memory. I think often of how brave you were. I need to be brave, too. I thought I’d just need courage to get through the final stages of your illness and the first months of grieving, but now I know I’m going to need courage to live the rest of my life without you.
I love you, Jeff. I hope you’re well. Adios, compadre.
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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+. Like Pat on Facebook.