Grief Is a Process that Keeps on Taking

In a blog a couple of days ago, I mentioned that while our current culture emphasizes inclusivity, it manages to exclude a forgotten segment of our society — widows and widowers, especially older ones. I suppose this makes sense because so many people who embrace inclusivity are young folk, and they cannot even imagine the problems of losing the one person who matters more to you than anyone else and then being left to grow old alone.

The primary sociological problem of being widowed (as opposed to the emotional, spiritual, psychological problems of losing your life mate) is being forcedly single in a coupled world. The “triggers” reminding us of our lonely state are ubiquitous. Ads almost always show couples; even ads geared toward older people show couples. Ads about supporting one another in illness show couples. Books and movies often focus on couples. Songs constantly remind us of the importance of love, that loving someone can give our life meaning, that you’re nobody unless someone loves you.

We are showered with studies proving that sleeping (both literally and euphemistically) with someone enhances your health, that daily hugs make you healthy and strong, that merely being in the room with another person has health benefits. That’s all fine and dandy, but what does that have to do with the bereft? Once you’re alone, you can go weeks, sometimes months, without touching another person. (Did you ever wonder why the elderly like hospitals? People touch them. It’s not as simple as that, of course. Or perhaps it is.)

Many people find that the loss of their spouse creates a ripple of other losses, such as loss of their friends, especially if their friends were other couples. If they were a two-income family, suddenly the income is significantly reduced, and yet they end up paying double for many things such as hotel rooms. The bereft are often left on their own, without the resources they need, but even if that is not the case, they now have all the problems not just of widowhood, but of singlehood.

I recently came across an article that explains why being single is not so great. The article mentions five specific points.

  1. Single people make less than married people for doing the exact same job. Sometimes single people are seen as slackers, even if they’re not and sometimes the boss thinks that the person with a spouse and kids needs more money. The discrepancy can be as much as 27%.
  2. Single people work more. They are not allowed time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, they don’t have as many excuses to take off from work, and of course they are often expected to work holidays and weekends because they don’t have family obligations.
  3. Single people pay more taxes. Married people can file as individuals to get the best tax rate, and more than half of married people get a bonus of up to $1300 a year.
  4. There is a social stigma to being single according to a recent study by Rutgers University. People wonder what’s wrong with you. Single men are considered stupid and dishonest. Single women are more likely to be harassed and treated badly at restaurants.
  5. Worst of all, single people don’t live as long as married folk are more likely to get sick. Married people have better immune systems, they generally have the choice of two insurance plans which gives them the best care, they have a support system (emotional as well as practical), and they have someone to help care for them when they are ill.

So, for all you folks who are lucky to still be married, who have not been forcibly removed from your spouse by death, don’t tell your widowed friends to get over it or to move on. Unlike a gift that keeps on giving, grief is a process that keeps on taking.


On a brighter note, here is my latest watercolor.



(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.

8 Responses to “Grief Is a Process that Keeps on Taking”

  1. Sue Williams Says:

    Dear Pat I have been reading all your recent blogs,feeling for you with all your pain and agreeing with so much that you have written Your latest blog about widows really struck a cord. It has been two years now since i lost the love of my life, and whilst some days I feel I am moving forward and learning to live on my own, other days, and particularly when something goes wrong with the house, or with my health, the grief just descends like a large black cloud. I feel that most of my friends and neighbours -have forgotten, and no one asks how I am anymore. Life has moved on for everyone else and they expect us to move on just as quickly.
    I think that your accident and all your physical pain must have brought back all the grief of losing your loved one. I am now suffering extreme pain with an arthritic knee and i know if my husband was still here it would all seem so much more bearable. Crawling up the stairs with only the cat for company seems the end of the world now – if my husband was alive he would have probably laughed at me and had me laughing too! A good friend of mine lost her husband last week and through her tears she said to me “I had no idea how awful it must have been for you when Graham died” – I am afraid the truth is that no one really understands until it happens to them. My son recently had a neighbour say to him when he was visiting me that she thought I should have moved on by now and his reply was “moved on to where?” Learning to live a whole new life is a long slow process and yet we have no choice.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I think you’re right, that my accident brought back my grief for Jeff as well as a whole lot of new grief for my poor deformed arm. When you’re with someone, somehow it’s easier — you have someone who cares in an immediate and personal way.

      Good for your son! That was the proper response — moved on to where? After seven years, I’m still looking for my “where,” as well as my “why” and my “how.”

  2. paulakaye Says:

    I agree with both of you. Even my friends who are my same age and still have their husbands have no idea what I am going through. And they won’t until one loses a spouse. I don’t wish that on any of them. The pain is so intense that there are days I wonder if it is bearable. I still have a granddaughter living with me so I grieve silently when she is not around! She is only 16 and has no grasp of the intensity. It is so easy for others to think we should have “moved on”. I just quit talking about it! I am sorry for what you are going through Pat. I am glad you write about it!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Paula. It always happens — when you think you have “moved on,” at least to a certain extent, something happens, like this injury, to make you realize there is no moving on. This is it. It’s hard when your friends don’t get it, but as you say, there is no way they can. Luckily we have the Internet, and we can communicate with people who do get it.

  3. Terry Allard Says:

    Yesterday I read your post when you were 21 months into your grief (which is where I am now).. In part you wrote “Sometimes the pain of separation feels old, as if it is a long faded scar, other times it feels fresh and raw.” It is a bitch when society adds to the fresh and raw with its insistence on putting more road blocks in front of us! I HATE checking boxes on forms that say single. It devalues me, my late husband and makes me feel my grief is minimized!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Grief is not something that is acceptable in our society, I suppose because people do not want to face the reality, and so they make grief fit in a tiny little box. Some things about grieving do get better, but others don’t — because there will always be another small box to check. I’m so sorry.

  4. Frank You Says:

    You are such a brave person, Pat! Thank you! Your writings make my day!

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