I called a friend today to offer support on the third anniversary of her husband’s death. She is a strong woman, shouldering the burdens of an unemployed middle-aged daughter and a lively granddaughter, which takes her mind off her loss, but still, there are times (such as this anniversary) when grief descends on her once more.
During the conversation, she said, “I wish I could get over it.” The truth is, you don’t get over grief. Grief gets over you. The uninitiated, those who have never lost the one person who connects them to life, think we have a choice when it comes to grief, but most of the time, grief chooses us. We can, of course, choose to ignore our grief, burying it so deeply that we never have to acknowledge it, but doing so is like stuffing an inflated air mattress in a small storage pouch. Eventually, the pressures of the mattress will burst the seams of the pouch, and that unruly mattress will explode out into the open, causing all sorts of unforeseen damage.
As it is, even with accepting the dubious gift of grief, sometimes sorrow bursts wildly into the open, taking us unaware. For the most part, grief is leaving me alone. In fact, I thought I had gotten over the death of my life mate/soul mate, but on March 1, as I began the countdown to my fourth anniversary, sadness returned. My few tears are not at all stormy, more like a gentle mist. Strangely, I miss the grief tempests — they made me feel connected to him because I could feel the enormity of my loss.
To a great extent I have let him go. Somewhere during this past year, I realized that no matter how connected we were when he was alive, we are two distinct people, each on a special journey. For a while, our paths entwined, but now our roads have swung into two different directions. No matter how much I miss him, miss the me I was when I was with him, miss our shared dreams and goals, there is no turning back. The future beckons, and I must go where it leads me.
And yet, despite this acceptance, I still sometimes feel lost. We were together for thirty-four years, were business partners as well as life partners, making joint decisions about every aspect of our lives. He was my support, my inspiration, my cheering section. I enjoy my newfound independence and growing spontaneity, but I cannot forget why we are estranged. He is not somewhere else on this earth, happy and fulfilled. He is dead. Gone. Deleted from my life. Erased, at times, even from memory. (Which makes him seem doubly dead.)
My friend will get to this place soon enough. Grief will be through with her for the most part, and what she will be left with is . . . I don’t know. Herself, I suppose. In the end, that’s all we have for as long as we are here. Ourselves.
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.
March 6, 2014 at 6:25 pm
“You don’t get over grief. Grief gets over you.” I love that line, Pat. You should use that in a future story (and if you don’t, I might). It’s got great wisdom borne of experience and it really hits the reader with all the implications of what grief really is. Thank you, Pat.
March 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm
You can’t use that line without giving me credit. It’s my hard-earned wisdom.
March 6, 2014 at 6:29 pm
Pat, I would never think of insulting you without giving you credit. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t acknowledge you…and I have trouble sleeping on my mattress as it is.
March 6, 2014 at 6:32 pm
Good!! Why should I be the only one having trouble sleeping! 🙂
March 6, 2014 at 8:22 pm
You, me, and plenty of other people with sleep problems, Pat.
March 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm
It’s funny that at this time in my life (a couple of months after my fourth anniversary), I was drawn back to our old photos, videos. The appearance of tears hadn’t come in a while, but now it returned. It became a sad time, but not as it used to be. It was a little different, and like before, your words described my feelings: “My few tears are not at all stormy, more like a gentle mist. Strangely, I miss the grief tempests — they made me feel connected to him because I could feel the enormity of my loss.”
March 8, 2014 at 6:15 pm
Every stage of grief is hard in its own way, and this letting go of grief (or grief letting go of us) seems to be just another difficult stage. I’m having a hard time completely letting go of grief. I still want a few tears because I don’t want his influence on my life to be done with. And yet the time when his influence (maybe even his memory) is gone from my life is fast approaching. And then there will just be me. I hope it’s enough.
March 10, 2014 at 10:59 am
I’m rolling up on my two-year anniversary since losing my soul mate. It comes in June. I have been so proud of myself lately for the way I’ve been coping, but it still takes my breath away when it hits me sometimes. For example, this past Friday, my cell phone went on the fritz. It turned out to be the battery, which was repaired, but there was an instant when I realized I may have lost his last voice mail messages to me (the only existing recording of his voice) and I PANICKED. I mean, I called my mother at 5:00 a.m. in hysterics at the thought of losing those messages. I can relate to how you miss the grief tempests. As much as I did not want that meltdown or any other meltdown, it keeps him closer to me. It is all so very difficult to explain. Your blog is a huge comfort to me in my grief journey, Pat! Thanks so much for sharing your world with us. BTW – about six months ago I started seriously considering through-hiking the AT (Appalachian Trail), and was reading the book “Wild” when I saw your entries about the PCT. What a strange coincidence that we were both thinking of through-hiking at the same time!
March 10, 2014 at 6:05 pm
I don’t think it’s such a strange coincidence that we’ve both been thinking of thru-hiking. (The Appalachian Trail in on my list!) I’ve come to the conclusion that those of us who suffered such a devastating loss need an epic adventure to help make us feel alive or at least help balance the grief.
And oh, my — yes, I can understand your panic at losing that last voice mail message. I would give anything to hear his voice again, but to have it and lose it would feel as if you were losing him all over again.
March 11, 2014 at 8:21 am
I completely agree. I have had an unquenchable wanderlust since he died and have done quite a bit of traveling to very random places. For example, this weekend I’m driving to Tennessee (from Wisconsin) to go to a NASCAR race. Just because I like driving and I like racecar engine sounds and I’ve never been to one. I’m driving my family and friends nuts with the crazy adventures I get myself into. Haha. But in a way, I’m lucky. I was loved. Really really deeply and truly loved by a man that would have given his life for me in a heartbeat. And through his death, he has taught me the value of life and how painfully short it is. So – I am not ashamed that I can’t seem to tether myself to a home base anymore. He was my home base. Now that he’s gone, I have a sense of freedom that is hard to understand for people that haven’t been through a similar experience.
March 11, 2014 at 9:11 am
Absolutely! It’s the same with me – a feeling of being untethered, a need to experience what is out there. People always say that grief is different for everyone, but because of this blog, I know that people who experienced the same type of loss often have the same reactions. Our adventures are a way of honoring him and life.
March 11, 2014 at 11:11 am
Agreed. When I have tried to explain it to loved ones, the only thing I can come up with is, “I loved him too much to waste his death.” And I know that sounds terrible to the uninitiated, but it’s the best way I can describe it. If I had just gone on with the old normal, I feel that it would have dishonored him and what we had.
March 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm
It’s not terrible. I have used those very words. And it’s the truth. We can’t waste their deaths.