I Am a Five-Year Grief Survivor

I’ve been doing well recently, trying to be excited and optimistic about the future, accepting the uncertainty of it all as something wonderful, but this afternoon, I crashed.

Today is the fifth anniversary of Jeff’s death.

In my grief blogs, I call him my life mate/soul mate, which gives people an erroneous idea of our state of bliss. We weren’t a romantic couple, and we didn’t bring each other a lot of happiness. In fact, we weren’t happy very often — we had to deal with too many setbacks with both our finances and his health. And yet, through it all, we remained together, connected in a profound way that neither of us ever understood. We used to joke that the trickster gods hated us because of that connection so every time we almost reached success, they toppled our lives, leaving us to start over.

The connection was so great, in fact, I often thought that when he died, I would die too, that he’d pull me with him when he left, and at times it felt that way — as if I were straddling the invisible line between this world and eternity, with half of me a mere shadow of death.

But life isn’t so simple or dramatic.

I survived his death. I survived the breath-stealing and heart-stopping pain of grief. I survived the long bleak years of loneliness. In many ways, I’ve even thrived.

People seem astounded by my ability to accept an uncertain future, but those are people with something to lose. After Jeff died, I came to look after my father, and now that my father is gone and his house sold, my future is up for grabs. I don’t want to settle down, don’t want to deal with a lease, utilities, and all the rest of the responsibilities that come with a “normal” life, and so I will fling myself to the mercy of the winds.

It’s not really a virtue, this acceptance of uncertainty, but more of a necessity. What do you do when the one person who connected you to the world is gone? Where do you go? How do you choose? The truth is, it simply doesn’t matter. If he were alive, of course, I’d go home to him. He was my home. Everywhere else is simply a place. I suppose as time goes on, it will matter where I am, and I will make plans accordingly, but now . . . uncertainty is as good a way to live as any other.

If it works out, of course, I’ll stay in this area and continue to take dance classes. I have friends here. People who care about me. But if it doesn’t work out? I’ll get in my soon-to-be-restored VW Beetle and take off.

I think Jeff would like my feeling so free. He told me once he admired my spontaneity, and how it bothered him that our life together changed me. What he didn’t know is that meeting him and knowing there was someone like him in the world is what inspired me to try new and daring things. Until then, spontaneity had never been one of my defining characteristics. Not that it matters any more what he would like — he left me. I know he didn’t have a choice, but still, he did leave me to fend for myself.

And now I am free for . . . whatever.

Tomorrow I’ll again be optimistic and try to be excited about the world opening up to me, but not tonight. Tonight I’ll remember him, and weep. I’ll indulge in wishful thinking of what might have been. And I’ll give thanks that once I was lucky enough to be so connected to another human being that even five years after his death I can feel his absence.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

14 Responses to “I Am a Five-Year Grief Survivor”

  1. sumalama Says:

    Bless Jeff and bless you. I’ll light incense tonight for both of you! Hugs, Millie

  2. Wanda Says:

    You know, every time I read your comments about your relationship with Jeff I think that your story should be written down. What you say about the two of you is intriguing and I believe should be the subject of your next book. I know I’d read a book about the relationship that forms between two people who are drawn together, as you two were, to spend life together the way you did.

    As to your future, those who can’t see the advantages you possess as you face forward, into the unknown, live with a certain amount of fear. When someone has lost everything that anchored them in place, when they have taken care of unfinished business, they are free to go anywhere, any time.

    You, of almost anyone I know, have the inner resources to make your way into your future. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

    hugs hon

    • Kathy Says:

      A book is a wonderful idea. I’m certainly intrigued. It could be fiction or a memoir. I’ve been reading memoirs lately and I find them far more interesting than fiction right now. I wrote a novel based on what I was dealing with and it was very healing for me and for my father.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s funny — my first book was about us, but it was so bad, it’s packed away somewhere. If I ever get back to writing, I’ll dig it out. I love the premise of it.

  3. Carole Howard Says:

    Though I don’t know you personally, Pat, I feel for you and admire your grit. One truism to store away for some possible future use: doing something for someone(s) else feels really good. So maybe in your VW travels someday, consider some kind of volunteer gig. There are plenty out there. (You can email me for suggestions if you want, but Dr. Google also knows.) Good luck.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m doing my volunteer gig now — working for our publisher. It might not be as feel-good as some things could be, but it’s important. Maybe someday I’ll do something else to enrich my life. Let me know if you ever hear of anything exciting.

  4. Kimberley G. Says:

    I’m with you there Pat. My 5 years will be this September but in May, when his birthday roles around he was planning to retire. Darn. I have a great picture of him in my room (that we took when we went rock climbing for my 50th birthday) and I love being able to look at it now (and not cry, that took a while after his passing) and remember all the love we shared and how very special my life was with him in it. Now, I am enjoying life with my girl friends, planning travel and adventures, loving the family around me (including new grandchildren, what a joy) and knowing that like you I can go on and that it’s okay to find…me. (But sometimes, I have to put my hand on my heart and hold it in place because sometimes…it still hurts that much.)

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s true — having to hold our hearts in place. I can be fine for weeks, not thinking of him or the past, either the good parts or the bad. And then all at once my heart hurts. Life is so bizarre.

  5. Paula Kaye Says:

    I was so surprised to see that you and Jeff did not bring each other much happiness. I cannot imagine having lived with a person for so long and to have not felt any happiness. Richard and I had many things try to topple us over the years: he was older than me by 18 years and we did not always have the support of family, we had many financial problems, we argued and fought about raising my kids: but in the end we brought each other so much happiness. He was so romantic. I wasn’t but that didn’t stop him from being romantic. He loved me so deeply and I knew it everyday of my life. And I loved him just as deeply back. We didn’t have much in our lives but we did have happiness. He fought dying so long and so hard because he didn’t want to leave me. He wasn’t afraid. He knew he was going to a much better place. But he just simply did not want to leave me alone. I felt so loved and so cherished. I hope that someday you could find that same true happiness! Maybe not with another partner, but just happiness for yourself

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      We did bring each other happiness at the beginning before he started getting sick, but happiness was never a goal for me. I never thought it was important. Still don’t actually. I value other things so much more — loyalty, caring, thoughtfulness, listening, kindness. And he brought me those things. Much of our life together was one long conversation. Sometimes we talked from morning to night. He was the only person I ever met who had as wide ranging interests as I did, who read and thought as much as I did, and he always understood what I was saying. It’s like together we grew a world built of words, And then one day, that was gone. The cancer spread to his brain, and he couldn’t hold a conversation any more. But through it all, we looked after each other. I value that so much more than happiness.

      I miss that connection. It was electric.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I just realized (or rather remembered) — what he brought me: belonging. I never belonged anywhere. Never felt connected to the world. Never met anyone like me — I always had to make concessions to people to connect to them. And then I met Jeff, and it changed everything. Even though we didn’t get together for a while, it made all the difference in the world to me — if he existed, then I wasn’t so different. All those years, being with him allowed me to be me. I never had to censor my thoughts about anything. It’s hard being without that.

  6. Misty Says:

    I lost my soul mate on March 31st, just 11 days ago. I feel as if I’m smothering, and I feel so lost and alone. Todd and I weren’t a blissful couple either. In fact, we were divorced, and both remarried. Through all of that, we remained best friends, joined by some connection that I can’t explain. Whenever life got too rough, we would cling to each other. He knew when something was wrong without even having to hear from or see me. He was my rock, my always. And now he’s gone, and I don’t even know how to think or feel anything except profound sadness.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I am so sorry. It’s painful, and will be painfully sad for a long while. It’s almost impossible to make sense of what happened. None of us ever know how to think or feel. We just keep . . . living. Wishing you peace in this new (and terrible) stage of your life.

      If you ever need to talk, I’m here. Just leave a comment on any blog post.

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