If you’re sick of hearing about my sorrow, you can leave. I don’t mind. I’m sick of my grief and tears, too, but I’m stuck with them.
Ever since my father’s death two months ago, I’ve been in a strange state. Not only has his death brought back the memory of the death that devastated me (the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate), it’s set in motion a whole new set of changes in my life. I came to look after my father after Jeff died, and now that they are both gone, I have to look to my own life and figure out where I want to go and what I want to do.
Do you really think I want to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, live a nomadic life in some sort of camper/van, or any of the other things I blog about? Of course I don’t. But the one thing I do want — to go home to Jeff, the only person who truly understood me — is forever denied me. And so I try to find new wants, which isn’t easy because I’m not a person who wants. (I never wanted anyone, either, but like a mythical being clothed in light, Jeff appeared in my life one incredible Saturday morning in August thirty-eight years ago. And then, almost five years ago, he left to go back from wherever he came.)
I’m fine most of the time. Really, I am. But today, I was with friends watching a movie — Patrick Swayze’s The Last Dance — and one woman piped up, “Divorce is so much worse than death.” I’d heard her make that same stark remark many times before, but today, I couldn’t let it pass. I said, more sharply than I intended, “You keep saying that, but it’s not necessarily true.” She went on her normal spiel about how when someone is dead, they don’t keep coming back, and I again spoke sharply. “Don’t you think I would give anything if Jeff came back? Your ex-husband has finally left you alone, but Jeff is still dead.” Her response was her oft-repeated, “But you didn’t have to deal with him rejecting you.”
I could have told her about the thousands of rejections one has to deal with when someone is dying, how they leave you every single day, how they have no time to think of you because their own concerns loom so large, how your heart breaks and breaks and breaks with the constant rejection until finally you don’t feel anything any more. I could have said a lot of things, but I wasn’t able to continue the conversation. I’d started crying when I spoke the simple words, “Jeff is dead,” and I couldn’t stop.
I pulled myself together to take my leave after the movie, but I cried all the way home, and I’m crying still.
How is it possible that almost five years later, I can be pulled back to the pain of his dying so quickly? Sometimes I wish I were as stoic as I once thought I was — I presumed I’d take his death in stride — but grief is more than simply feeling sad or rejected. It’s even more than those insipid 5 (or 7) stages of grief that everyone seems to believe in. Sure, we feel shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, depression, and acceptance, but most of us also feel anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, despair, helplessness, panic, questioning (both as a need to know why and as a cry of pain), loss or gain of faith, loss of identity, loss of self-esteem, resentment, bitterness, isolation, inability to focus, suspended animation, waiting for we know not what, envy of those who are still coupled or who have yet to suffer a loss. And we suffer myriad physical symptoms such as queasiness, dizziness, sleep problems (too much or too little), eating problems (too much or too little), bone-deep pain, inability at times to breath or swallow, exhaustion, lack of energy, restlessness, and seemingly endless bouts of tears. (Yes, I know, those who get divorced also feel many of these things, and I empathize with them, but they do not have to deal with the angst of death, which adds a whole other layer of pain to the equation.)
My grief has mostly wound down since I’ve dealt with so many of the various aspects of grief, but still, days like today remind me that I will never be over Jeff, never stop missing him. And so I try to be tolerant of other’s condescension, try to create new possibilities, try to want something enough to make a life out of it.
And yet, no matter what I do for the rest of my life, he will still be dead. Nothing will ever change that — not my thoughts of an adventurous future and most certainly not my tears.
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.
January 5, 2015 at 7:08 pm
I have the hardest time saying anything comforting that doesn’t ring tritely in my ear. Mostly I feel like it’s faintly insulting to say things that come to mind: like, “It will get better.” or, “Hang in there.” Etc.
Mostly I think those things are true but the down, dirty truth to me is that it just takes time to cycle through intense emotion, deep loss and finding a way to move on. How long does it take? As long as it takes. What might be over in 3 months for some will still cause fresh torrents of tears and grief year later for others.
You loved deeply and you were lucky to have that in your life. You were blessed to find that ability within yourself and doubly blessed to find a person worthy of that love who returned that love to you.
I’ve not had that ability in my life except with my children. No man has ever stirred that deep passionate love. I love my husband but not with that depth.
I could wish your tears would end but that’s an impossible wish. You probably wish they would end and your could find at least a bit of permanent peace. People who speak of divorce is worse than death or death is worse than divorce or….comparing apples to oranges certainly. Loss is loss. Grief is grief. The friend who spoke that way…. perhaps she’s not really a friend, especially if you’ve had this same conversation before. At any rate, she is speaking from ignorance.
I admire the strength and resolve you show as you go through the things in your life. I envy your ability to write about those things in your book. Of course, I love your writing so perhaps I’m a bit prejudiced. 🙂
Please don’t stop sharing your tears, your feelings and your dreams with all of us. It’s good for you to share and it’s even better for those of us who read your words and get encouragement from them.
Bless you Pat, as you go into the next chapter. Remember dear: I couldn’t let this comment go without those trite sayings. 😉
In my limited opinion you should come on up here and take come hikes along the trails that run along the coast in Oregon. I can take you up a ways into Oregon and you can walk back. I can meet you anywhere for your resupply. And you can test your mettle against the elements in a limited and safe way. Offer is always open so don’t forget that. Even if you just want to visit. We have a 27 foot travel trailer so you don’t have to have company when you would rather be alone, company when you want it.
January 5, 2015 at 7:34 pm
You don’t sound trite, Wanda. Just wise and caring as always. Thank you. it’s funny how every time I think I’m entering the next, happier phase, something happens to remind me of the truth. This whole packing thing has added a new depth to the already painful transition in my life. I am planning on visiting you. I love you idea of driving me up a way and letting me walk walk. So very intriguing!
January 5, 2015 at 7:48 pm
First of all, give me that woman’s number. I would like to tell her a thing or two. I had someone say something similar to me and under no circumstances is divorce the same as losing the love of your life to death. As for the rest of it – another death brings back all the feelings of earlier deaths especially if that death is as painful as losing your soul mate. I went into therapy after losing John and then stopped when I thought I had things under control but wound up back after losing his mother two years later. It brought all the feelings back again.
You know what was the first thought I had after hearing that my father had passed? For a fraction of a second, I thought “I need to call John to talk to him about this. He will help make me feel better.” And then I remembered, I can’t do that either.
Those stages of grief don’t apply to loss like ours. I have no magic answer. I wish I did. I would tell it to myself, too. I am looking for something to tide me over until it’s my turn to go. People tell me that I will find joy again [no pun intended although there is a double meaning for me]. I am not hopeful and to be honest, I don’t believe it. Yes, I will find things to fill the days and there will be enjoyment but it’s not the same. It will never be the same.
Sending virtual hugs. It’s all I have.
January 6, 2015 at 6:27 pm
There are days when I think if I do something crazy enough, something like walking up the Pacific coast or across the country, I will become different enough that I won’t mind his death so much, but days like today remind me of the foolishness of such thoughts. No matter how far I get from our shared life, there seems to be a tie that snaps me back, and oh, then the tears begin anew.
Virtual hugs are enough, particularly since I know you know the truth of this awful journey.
January 5, 2015 at 9:08 pm
I have had both in my life….lost a husband to divorce and my most recent to death. I certainly can only speak of myself but there is no way that I can compare the two. Losing my husband to death was so much worse than the one I lost to divorce. And there is no way that I could even begin to tell you why. I loved my second husband to such a greater depth and I feel as if part of my very own soul was ripped away. I wish you peace. That is all I can do! I’m still searching for it myself
January 6, 2015 at 6:11 pm
I have found moments of peace, even joy, but apparently, that well of tears is always right there beneath the surface. I didn’t expect that at such a late date, but then I didn’t expect much of what grief has brought me.
Wishing you peace, too. Maybe this will be the year we both find it.
January 6, 2015 at 8:21 am
It’s a ridiculous comparison – grief isn’t a competition. Somebody tried to suck me into that argument when she lost somebody to death at the same time I was struggling with divorce – something I initiated but, still, it was very difficult. Not only is that a pointless comparison but divorce and death are different for everybody. I’ve known women who lost their mates to death and never remarried – others remarried right away – some remarried after a few years. Same can be said for divorce – some never get over it and never remarry – some do for various reasons – there’s no right or wrong or contest. I learned back then to stay away from people who wanted to make it a competition.
January 6, 2015 at 9:09 am
It might be a ridiculous comparison but it is incredibly painful when you’ve just lost the one person who connected you to life and are struggling with the immensity of death as well as all the other issues you have to deal with during separations and people diminish your grief with such statements. Though I didn’t mind that as much as the mentions of deceased pets.
January 6, 2015 at 11:08 am
Oh dear – did I say the wrong thing? I’m on your side – both are painful – we don’t need to compare our grief as your friend did. I’ve also been on the receiving end of that. That’s all I was trying to say.
January 6, 2015 at 2:33 pm
No, of course you didn’t say the wrong thing. I’m just sensitive about the whole death thing. The truth is, the person who most understood what I was going through at the beginning of my grief was a woman at my bank who had recently gone through a divorce. She wasn’t insensitive and so didn’t compare her pain to mine. She just commiserated with me and let me cry while she dealt with my accounts.
January 6, 2015 at 8:24 am
As for what to do next, only you can decide what’s right for you. When I was going through a divorce, friends from church encouraged me to move back to Oregon where my mother and her side of the family live. That was the worst possible advice! I said, “If I’m going to live alone, I’m going to stay right here in California and do it in the sunshine.” lol!
January 6, 2015 at 6:29 pm
I’m going to take it one step at a time. I like to plan because I like knowing what I’m going to do next, but I also like not knowing what I’m going to do next. It’s enough to know that I will do something.
January 6, 2015 at 8:58 am
I was very happy to be Richard’s mom, as well to be my living child’s mom too. But I can’t figure out how to live the rest of my life. I know each day I get closer to being able to hold him again, but that doesn’t seem to help much. A new normal, but I liked the old normal. I didn’t ask for this, so why must I accept it? I am miserable, if I accept it I am still miserable. So why accept it? The only two things I know for sure. I will cry tonight as I do every night and my 19 year old son is dead.
January 6, 2015 at 6:09 pm
That is the truth, isn’t it? No matter what you do, the will still be dead. I don’t know how mothers ever deal with the loss of a child. I know one woman who was still grieving and angry almost twenty years later.
January 6, 2015 at 12:40 pm
I speak for most of my colleagues here. We do not what to say to you, Pat. But just know that we are here, supporting and lifting you up.
January 6, 2015 at 9:01 pm
January 6, 2015 at 12:41 pm
I meant to write, we do not know…sorry.
January 6, 2015 at 2:05 pm
Onward, Pat. Hugs–and trite sayings of up-lift–which is all the rest of us can offer to one who has loved, and still loves, so deeply.
January 6, 2015 at 6:07 pm
Thank you, Juliet. It’s always nice to be offered hugs and support.
January 6, 2015 at 8:07 pm
When Jeff died, you wrote. My guess is you probably didn’t intend the ultimate result to be a magnificent book that people keep seeking out and reading. Do you think you’ll write now?
January 6, 2015 at 8:42 pm
You’re right, I had no intention of writing a book. I just wrote as a way of feeling close to Jeff or to deal with the internal screaming but now all I have to say about my life, I write here on this blog. I have no need of doing “morning pages”, a grief journal, or letters to the dead. As for the future, I haven’t a clue what I am going to do about writing or anything else. I am totally blank.
January 7, 2015 at 5:30 am
I hate crying myself. Maybe it’s the man thing, or maybe if I know I’m crying then something is seriously fucked up and I can’t fix it. Crying doesn’t come to me just because I’m in a mild funk. I was bawling the other morning at my mother’s house, first thing in the morning, and she saw and didn’t know what to do. So my sadness isn’t just restrained to me, it spreads to others and hurts them as well. Which is never my intention but I don’t know how to stop it. Maybe one can cry enough to reach a state of complete catharsis. Who knows.
January 7, 2015 at 6:31 am
I don’t think it’s a bad thing if people see our sadness. Our culture seems to expect people to be in a constant state of optimism and that is unrealistic and unhealthy. Sometimes tears are the only possible way of keeping sane. All sorts of hormones that build up because of stress are released in our tears.
January 7, 2015 at 6:38 am
It’s okay to see our sadness so long as they can see the happiness today. I briefly saw a psychic I know last night and she said, “You look so happy!” And I said, “Well, it’s for show.” So I can apparently put on a good game face.
January 7, 2015 at 6:39 am
I meant see our happiness too, not today. Although today works just as well.
January 7, 2015 at 6:57 am
My father died in 1978 and I still cry when I think of him. The great love of my life died suddenly in 2002 and he broke my heart twice. We never got the chance to sort out our differences. Sometimes there are things one cannot get over.
January 7, 2015 at 7:59 am
My thoughts this morning: Each past experience is like a piece of a quilt, but scraps you can never discard or destroy. I guess we can try ignoring some of them, but if we try to construct a quilt without them, it won’t be complete. The best we can do is to use what we’ve got and make the best quilt we can out of the scraps, ugly patches, beautiful patches, whatever there is. Maybe the sad pieces make the others shine even more. And there’s nothing better than a quilt to absorb all those tears.
January 7, 2015 at 8:16 pm
It is five years this week since my wife died. She came to mind and I tried to focus on the beauty we had in our love– to focus on the positive, as it were. Didn’t help one bit. I came upon the Seekers’ song, “I’ll Never find Another You.” I cried for hours. Nope, those tears don’t stop.
January 7, 2015 at 9:03 pm
How is it possible they have been gone so long? How is it possible we have survived so long? People keep telling me I should be grateful to have had him in my life, and I am, but that doesn’t help with the tears.
January 8, 2015 at 6:24 am
Of course, it is almost five years for me, too, Pat. I am only a few weeks behind you. This five year mark seems very big to me but yet I still can’t believe that much time has passed. The sadness is still there. And I know it will always be there. And some days the tears, too. I also feel that because of the way society is and how they view death, that five years is going to seem like “enough” to most people and no one is going to want to hear how I feel after that. I had a great once-in-a-lifetime love. That is what it means to share life with your true soul mate. Not everyone has that. We are the lucky ones. You never get over losing that love. Yes, the love lives on just like the soul of the person we lost lives on and I do feel I still have a relationship with John. But the human part of me would give anything for one more hug, one more kiss, one more chance to touch his face and see his smile.