When my life mate/soul mate died, I went into a tailspin of grief that lasted years. It came as a shock to me because I thought I was stoic and had my feet so solidly on the ground that I would be sad and lonely and then get on with the business of grief. The sort of grief I felt, I had never heard of before. I’d seen a few characters in movies shriek in agony at their husbands’ funerals , but these theatrics always seemed more for effect than as a sign that half their soul had been ripped away.
The few mentions of grief in novels were pretty lame. One book said, “She went through the five stages of grief.” That was the only mention of how the woman felt after the death of her husband, and it especially seemed phony because there are not five stages of grief or seven. There are an infinite permutation of emotions that come again and again in ever widening spiral until finally the spiral is wide enough you don’t feel the loss every moment of every day.
A character in another book cried one night, then woke up the next morning, with a determination to be done with tears, and she was. Again, this was a phony reaction. Sure, we can be determined to be done with tears, but grief has physical life of its own, throwing hormones out of whack and interfering with brain chemistry. Those physical effects cannot be ignored. They are there whether you want them or not. It’s not just that we go through grief, but grief also goes through us.
So, being both a writer and a woman who experienced grief, I decided I needed to write a novel about a woman going through grief. I wrote much of it during National Novel Writing Month the November after his death so I could show the emotions while they were fresh. To do the daily word counts required to “win” the challenge, I wrote whatever chapter came to mind.
Now, all these years later, I’m trying to put those scattered chapters into a reasonable facsimile of a novel. I’ve had to get rid of thousands of redundant words, had to winnow out many of the paragraphs that talked about her pain rather than showing her going through grief, and I have to struggle to make her likable even though she doesn’t much like herself. (Many of us don’t like ourselves when we are grief-stricken.) We are so bludgeoned into believing that we must be upbeat at all costs, that crying is for sissies, that emotions are to be controlled, that a character going through grief sounds like a whiner or a loser or a weakling.
I had envisioned the ending of the book as her driving off alone, probably because since I am alone, I can’t envision a different life. And anyway, it’s too soon for her to hook up. If I keep that same ending, I have a huge hole in the book, not just a lack of about 25,000 words, but a lack of character growth. You can’t have a woman whining and crying and screaming for most of a book, and then suddenly, it’s over with. What a cheat for the reader! If you suffer through all that sorrow, you need a bigger payoff. (Of course, in life there generally is no payoff, but in a story, there needs to be.)
So, this is what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks when I haven’t been blogging — trying to figure out how to dig myself out of the hole. No success yet. Although I wanted to finish this book, I might have to set it aside when I get all those original chapters typed up and inserted into the proper place in the story. You can’t survive with a hole in your heart where love once lived, and a book can’t survive with a hole in its heart, either. I do have a cyber romance for her. I suppose I could fill that out a bit. I also have a a mystery about why her husband has a gun — I suppose I could fill that out too.
But still, the hole is there.
Could it be because I still have a hole inside me? If so, there’s not much I can do about it. Apparently, that hole is here for good.
(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.
October 22, 2016 at 3:29 am
Perhaps you could put a call out for “after stories” from women / or people? I do know the love does not go away, and they miss them like crazy. Friends and family help them go on, but I do not have first hand knowledge of loss through death of a partner, only loss through divorce (there were years to prepare myself for those loses).
I respect and admire you because you are so honest with yourself and others. That you speak truth my friend. Hugs
October 22, 2016 at 10:12 am
Thank you. Sometimes I feel as if I am just whining, but still, someone has to tell the truth. One woman emailed me with her story, and I will use it. Thank you for the idea.
October 22, 2016 at 3:52 am
I love Katherine’s idea, I love me some romance, so I like the cyber romance thing, but I would add that I think you should write about “the Hole.” Readers definitely want a happy ending – life is already full of the opposite, but they also want to hear real. It should be part of your book because it’s a part of your life. I lost my dad last year, and I thought I would be prepared because he’d been in bad health for over 14 years. The full grief didn’t hit me until my birthday a few months later. To this day, right now, as I’m reminded of the fact that I’ll never get a birthday phone call – or any phone call or one of his hugs – they’re legendary – from him again in this life, I sit here with tears streaming down my face. In my humble opinion, anyone who says that grief is any “step-process” or that you ever “get over it,” has never really grieved. I know my dad is in a better place, free from pain and back to his active self and I would never in a million eternities wish him back here in the condition he left, but I wish him back like he is in the millions of memories before that first series of strokes. I understand that hole, I can’t explain my hole any better than you can, but reading your post here makes me feel like that hole may be more of a foothold, to give me a boost out of the Hole and back where my dad wants me to be – moving forward and getting as much out of life as I can. Because it goes so fast. Maybe your hole is a foothold, too?
My best and warmest blessings to you – and a great big bear hug, courtesy of my grizzly of a dad.
XO – K
October 22, 2016 at 10:15 am
The way you describe the hole, as a foothold, is the way I felt about grief. As hard as it was, as long as it took, I felt it would take me where I needed to be, would help me become the person I needed to be to get on with my life alone.
I am sorry about your father, but grateful for the hug. I don’t get enough hugs in my life.
October 22, 2016 at 5:36 pm
Well, Aunty P (is it okay if I call you Aunty? It’s kind of a respect thing in Hawaii, but if you don’t care for it, no worries, just say the word, I won’t be offended, I promise!) you lucked out because in addition to his road rage, I did inherit his fantastic Hug gene, so anytime you need one, I’ve got one with your name on it 🙂 XO
October 22, 2016 at 7:01 pm
Aunty is nice. Thank you.
October 22, 2016 at 8:57 am
You are right about those going through grief don’t much like themselves at the time. I’m still trying to move forward. It is much more of a process than one will ever believe until they go through it for themselves. I would have been one of those people saying, “just get over it” already. Now I know that is never going to happen
October 22, 2016 at 10:11 am
Even when the pain is mostly gone, even when the sadness and loneliness have been swallowed up in new experiences, the process continues. Forever after, our lives are defined by that death because somehow it reset our internal clocks. And, as you know, no amount of preparation can prepare you for what you will feel.
October 22, 2016 at 12:50 pm
What you say is so true. I lost my husband of 56 years 16 months ago. This thing called grief is such a soul sucking thing. Time goes by and everyone thinks it is that you should by now be getting “over it! There is no getting over it / it is getting through it – and “it” is a thick mucous filled cloud that you struggle with every waking moment. Sometimes I wish I could just give up trying to see some light but I am driven by this stubborn surviving urge.
October 22, 2016 at 12:53 pm
People think it’s emotional, and you should be able to control your emotions, but so much of grief, especially for a long-time spouse is physical. You go through such bodily upheavals, with adrenaline and other hormones causing problems, and the brain chemistry changes. I think it’s as much of grief going through us as we go through grief. Wishing you peace as you slog through the mucous.