Grief Has No Timetable

It seems strange that after five and a half years of pouring my heart and my grief out onto this blog, I no longer feel comfortable talking about my upsurges of sadness. Grief has no timetable, of course, but still, it seems self-indulgent to continue writing about my sadness, which is one of the reasons I haven’t been saying much the past few days.

This should be a good time for me — after six months and four days of being without a car, I finally got my bug back, newly restored, and it looks wonderful. Now I’m planning a trip across the southernmost part of the country beginning in the middle of December, which will be a fabulous adventure. I even got an invitation from an old friend to spend Christmas with her.

And yet, here I sit, with tears clouding my vision.

I have no idea Broken-heartedwhat brought on this particular bout of sadness, though it might have something to do with my car.  When my Beetle was in the auto body shop, I didn’t have to worry about anything except getting the car back — it’s as if my life were on hiatus — and now unpalatable truths are descending on me once more. Without a way to get there, I didn’t have to accept that I’m not going home to Jeff, but now that my bug is back in my possession, here it is again, the awful truth of my life — that he is gone and I will never be going home to him.  It could be that after five years of living as if I were well off, another unpleasant truth is sinking in — I will have to go back to work one day. (I haven’t worked in many years. First I took care of Jeff, and then my dad.)  Since I’ve been sitting here lamenting to myself that “it’s not fair,” it’s possible the sadness has to do with being around so many women who have been married for four decades or more, which reminds me that I didn’t have that same opportunity.

More probably, it’s simply time. I go for longer and longer periods without thinking about Jeff, go for several weeks without any sort of grief flashback, but I can never fill the emptiness inside where half my life was amputated. And sometimes the pressure of his goneness builds, pushing sorrow to the surface of consciousness.

I do well on my own. After all, I managed to clear out our home and get here to this town 1000 miles from where he and I lived. I took care of my father, and cleared out his house in preparation for sale. I arranged to get my car restored, took trips even though I didn’t have personal transportation, and . . . well, you know all I’ve done. I’ve certainly made no secret of it.

But still, I have times where I yearn to see Jeff one more time. Yearn to talk with him. Yearn for his smile. (I find myself being greedy for compliments or thoughtfulness from acquaintances, and it’s not hard to figure out what that’s about. I can’t get a single word or smile of approbation from the one person from whom I would like a nod of approval, so I try to fill that lack however I can.)

I’m debating whether to keep this post to myself. It sounds too whiny and ungrateful, but it is also my truth — no matter how long he’s been gone, no matter how well I do on my own, I still miss him, and for as long as I am on this earth, I always will.


(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.”)

18 Responses to “Grief Has No Timetable”

  1. Constance Says:

    I don’t think that you ever forget about the people that are gone. I still think about them, maybe not as much, but I do still think about them. And, miss them.

  2. Jen Says:

    I will never forget my beloved — I can’t see him or touch him but he is not gone any more than Love is not real.

  3. Karen Says:

    Having lost my husband, five months ago. I find myself reading your blog and specifically the section which deals with grief, all the time. It helps. Maybe because you have put in words what I also feel? Maybe it’s because it’s because you have survived grief for a much longer period than I? Maybe because I understand what is going on with me better? Maybe because it does give me hope that you have gone on with your life. Not because the pain goes away. It’s good to still be able to read about your loss because it is therapy to those of us who are not sure that we are grief survivors,………… yet.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Even having survived one day makes you a grief survivor. To have survived five months is momentous, considering all the pain and tears that went into living all that time.

      I’m so sorry you have to go through this. Wishing you peace as you continue to survive.

  4. Joy Collins Says:

    Everyone grieves in their own way, in their own time and no one – no one – has the right to say anything about it. Just as every relationship is different, every grief is different. There are similarities, for sure. But the similarities only help us understand. They don’t define. I always hate it when someone tells me they know how I feel. No, you don’t. You can’t. You never will. You can empathize but please, don’t belittle my feelings by telling me how I feel. My Love has been gone 5 years, 4 months, and 16 days and some days I ache for just one more hour with him. The grief surges come and go. Sometimes we can predict them but many times they just come. I, too, Pat, am doing OK on my own but oh, how I wish it weren’t so. I grieve for the loss of my husband and best friend and I also grieve the loss of what will never be, the life and plans we had that died when he did. The “me” that died that day. You are not whiny. Grief is not whiny. Grief is what happens when we lose the love of our life.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I can always count on you to understand, though how I wish neither one of us had to contend with such grief. Sometimes I wonder how we ever managed to get through all these years. I cannot fathom how they can have been gone for so long. It still doesn’t seem right that the sun, the moon, the stars perform their daily dance as always. Death should have been more momentous than it seems. And yet, to us, it is momentous. I’m glad I haven’t erased him from the world, glad he can still affect me. It seems right.

  5. paulakaye Says:

    I totally hear what you are saying Pat. And I am glad that you are saying it. I understand not wanting to write about the grief anymore. I have almost stopped and Richard has only been gone a bit over a year. I feel as if everyone else is sick of hearing about it! The upsurges are worse, I think, than the first weeks. It just seems so final! I’m sending you more big virtual hugs. It is what we all need!!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The second year is often the worst. All during that first year, you are either numb, in shock, or keeping yourself together, waiting for after that first anniversary, because traditionally, there is a one year mourning period. But then the second year starts, and you realize that somehow you had one year in your mind, and even though you know he wasn’t coming back, at the end of that year you expected . . . something. But what you get the ghastly realization that there is no reprieve. That for the rest of your life, he will be gone. And that’s when grief’s tsunami washes over you again. Sending you hugs and wishing you peace.

  6. Thuan Vuong Says:

    I for one have been reading your posts on and off for about five and a half years now. I came initially for the grief posts, and have stayed as you posted other parts of your life, most recently following the extensive journal of your trek into the nature trails. I see you are doing something you’ve been wanting to do for a while (even though the trek wasn’t through the Pacific Crest Trail)– and something I occasionally get the inkling to do. But mostly I look for the grief posts, even now, and am glad when they crop up. In a few months, it will be the 6th anniversary of the death of my spouse. There are still surges of grief and remembrances of the many memories of my spouse, and I search the blog to find if your words are still capturing what I feel. Thankfully, there is still someone writing about this, years down the line. So, no, to me it is not self-indulgent or whiny at all. And, as before, they say what I feel.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Once I have published my posts about grief, I am always glad I did. Grief shapes our lives in ways no one who hasn’t been there can ever understand, so the grief posts give me a chance to reconnect with those who do understand. We’ve all gone on with our lives, all live even happily at times, but the goneness will never be gone. It’s part of us. I do think occasional upsurges of grief are good thing. Those upsurges honor what we had, honors those who are no longer with us, and serve as a mileage signs for our lives.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate knowing grief still connects us.

  7. Holly Says:

    As you know, I’m doing well on my own, always have, but it isn’t the same and it isn’t by choice. I thought it might be the change in seasons and the change in my lifestyle that was bringing my grief to the forefront. I recently had to break down and go back to work. I’m not liking it much, but I had a good run. Right now, my job is seasonal. I am hoping to get enough money set aside to cover next summer’s expenses and maybe enough to take a road trip of my own. I have settled in here pretty well, but was thinking just the other day that I have myself right back in the same situation I had when I was in VT, trapped in another permanent based home. I can’t just pack up and head out like I could when I was traveling.
    I love having my own home, but without the funds to travel, I feel trapped, restless, and unsatisfied. It wasn’t my intention to be here full time, but that is the way it is working out. At least for now.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      People who have never been in this situation think it’s all emotional, and all we have to do is put it behind us, but it’s always there. People who are still mated have so many material advantages — such as dual incomes — that we don’t have. It’s almost impossible to make it on a single income nowadays. Even though Jeff and I didn’t have much, we always lived well within our means, and if he were alive, we’d be set for life. We’d have enough to live on and still have our part time business so we could save for emergencies. Being alone, especially alone without that special person, is hard on so many levels.

      I understand about finding yourself in the same situation as VT. I don’t necessarily want a nomadic lifestyle, and I would like to continue with dance classes, but the truth is, whenever I settle down for a couple of months, I feel trapped by life and by grief. We can’t keep running, though, so I don’t see the solution. I’ll be there sometime after the 12th of December. Will you be able to get time off for a short camping trip?

      • Holly Says:

        Not sure what my schedule is going to be like in December. A camping trip sounds fun. For now, I still have my weekends off, and will have two days a week off, just not sure which two days. Hoping for Saturday and Sunday, or Sunday and Monday. We’ll see how amenable they are when the time gets closer. 🙂 I will post my work schedule when I know what it is going to be.

  8. Coco Ihle Says:

    My heart and prayers go out to all those of us who have suffered great loss!

  9. Terry J Says:

    Hi Pat,
    I have a question for you. Given all that is said here about the challenges of living with grief how would you direct medical decisions for end of life or serious illness care? I am trying to fiqure that out so I can responsibly tell my children. Thanks

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You mean to make it easier for them? The most important is an advance directive. I know people who had to make the decision to take loved ones off the machines keeping them alive, and they never got over the idea that they killed the person. An advance directive takes it out of your kids’ hands. Make sure they know what is in the directive so one doesn’t agree to something the others know you don’t want. If you’re going to have one of your kids be a medical power of attorney, make sure they know who is in charge so they don’t start fighting at the end. In the case of my dad, although I was living with him and took care of him, another brother living a long way away had his medical power of attorney. Made things difficult. And make sure your will specifically states what you want each to have as well as a stipulation that anyone who contests the will doesn’t get anything. I have a hunch a lot of inheritance fights among otherwise rational people are misplaced grief.

      • Terry J Says:

        Sorry I was not clear. My question was not about directives….I have them in place. I want to know your feelings as to how much medical intervention you would want to keep you alive and does the loss of Jeff influence those decisions?. Interventions such as ventilators and feeding tubes often lead to a medicalized life and even the neccessity for nursing home care. Many grievers get on with a different life but always live with the challenges of grief which includes the missing described in many of these comments. Once signficant health is taken away many grievers may feel it is time to stop pursuing the life built without their loved one.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          These decisions for me would have nothing to do with Jeff or grief. I don’t like dependence on doctors or drugs, and that is why I would not do anything to try to prolong my life beyond what is reasonable. Unlike you, I have no belief in any life beyond this, so you’d think I would want to stave off death as long as possible by any means. But that’s not what I want. Chance are, I wouldn’t do chemo or major surgeries even before I got to that point. Both Jeff and I had come to those decisions about not allowing medical interventions long before he died. I’m past the point where I feel my life is not worth living because of his being gone, but I certainly don’t think it’s worth living just to make doctors and pharmaceutical companies richer. Admittedly, I might feel differently when I am at the point where I need some sort of medical intervention, but I don’t know. I don’t have children to take into consideration, but that might be a good thing. One’s children often want the medical intervention to keep the parent here as long as possible, and that doesn’t pertain to me. I just hope when it gets to that point that the state doesn’t take over my life as they sometimes do and toss me into some sort of facility. But whatever happens won’t have anything to do with grief or Jeff’s being gone. I can see a conflict because I am just as afraid of dying as I am of doctor intervention, but that is a separate issue.

          It seems as if I need to take my own advice and sign an advance directive so there aren’t any “heroic” lifesaving attempts. Though who knows. If I am so out of it that I can’t make my own decisions, chances are I wouldn’t know what is being done to me anyway.

          Good question.

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