Validating Grief

I’ve been corresponding with a fan of my book Grief: The Great Yearning who is dealing with the loss of a life mate/soul mate.

In my last response to an email from this griever I wrote:

I understand. I really do. I remember thinking I’d never make it through . . . well, any of it. His death. Clearing out our home. Going to stay with my father. Jeff’s birthday, then all the holidays. (I was lucky, if there is such a thing when it comes to grief, but I didn’t have to deal with the holidays for several months. You’re getting everything all at once.) The couplehoodness (for lack of a better word) of our society about did me in. Everywhere I went were couples. Couples walking. Couples eating. Couples doing things together. And there I was. Alone. It seemed such an affront. As if grief itself wasn’t enough to bear.

It truly is hard, especially since for every step towards some sort of light (or lightness of being) you fall back two, three, ten steps. There is no other thing you can do when faced with the Sisyphean task of grief but to pause to cry or scream, and then to take a deep breath and keep on going. It takes years longer than you can ever imagine, but eventually, I promise, it does get better. You just have to keep going one minute at a time. There is no way to handle more than that.

After I sent the email, I felt a bit guilty because there was no real comfort, nothing to hang on to, just the bitter truth that grief is hard and lasts a long time. To my surprise, the response I got in return for this harsh email was a warm message telling me how much my words help.

On reflection, it makes sense that those stark words describing the bleak reality of grief would be a help. I think what grievers most want from others is acknowledgement of their pain, maybe even validation of their grief. Oddly, even though everyone dies, not everyone goes through profound grief. (The math explains it — when one of a couple dies, only one is left to experience the grief.) And when you lose a partner at a relatively young age, there aren’t many people around who understand.

At the beginning of my grief, I was offered plenty of platitudes, a lot of blank stares, even some wary looks, as if a mournful woman was a bizarrely alien creature. The most helpful comments were from people who had gone through the same thing, people who told me that even ten years later, they still missed their partner. The least helpful comment came from people who said that grief took as long as it took, which contains an underlying feeling of exaggerated patience or that something is wrong with you if you don’t “get over” grief as quickly as others. (Sort of like telling the unathletic kid to take as long as she needs in order to run around the track even though all the athletic kids finished ages ago.) The most bewildering and least welcome comments were from people who told me they wished they could take away my pain. I didn’t want my pain taken away. It was the only thing connecting me to him, and besides, the pain wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he was dead, and no one could fix that.

If you’re one of the bereft, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never experienced the death of a life mate/soul mate, a child, or any other profound loss, I hope you will listen when people tell you of their grief, even if you don’t understand. Don’t try to mitigate their pain with words that make you feel better but don’t address their reality at all.

But then, what do I know. The world has managed to struggle along without advice from me for billions of years. Just know that if you are experiencing any sort of grief, profound or not, I understand.


See also: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? And if by chance you know someone who is grieving, either of my books about grief — Grief: The Great Yearning or the novel Unfinished would make a nice gift.

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

10 Responses to “Validating Grief”

  1. Jean Says:

    So well said! My husband died almost five years ago and it’s still hard. Not as crushing but still hard sometimes. Your grief book was a comfort when I really needed it. It does “take one, to know one”!❤️❤️👭👭

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you for your kind words.

      It was still hard for me at five years, too. I don’t know what happened after the 7th anniversary, but since then I haven’t had a grief upsurge. Somewhere I read that the eighth year is about letting it all go, and perhaps it’s true. Wishing you peace.

  2. 2gatherstones Says:

    Thank you – only those who walked this path can grasp the depth, the loss, the despair – I am sorry for your loss and I a grateful that you share. That makes a “safe” place for others to grief without hearing the cliches

  3. paulakaye Says:

    I’ve just stopped talking to people about my grief! No one understands but the one who had that connection with that person and now he is gone. It’s different for each of us. I am past three years and still have so many upsurges of devastating grief that I wonder if I will ever get past it. I just do it alone now! Thank you Pat for your understanding of this horrible life event!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      With all the research you did ahead of time, I was hoping you’d have an easier time of it, though I was afraid you wouldn’t. I thought I’d gone through grief ahead of time because of his long illness, and it shocked the heck out of me at how shattered I was afterward. It’s just so very hard.

      • paulakaye Says:

        I was certain that I was prepared and that I would not grieve. How naive of me!! Totally naive. There are still days that I am gripped with the grief so badly that I can’t even get out of my chair.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Same here — dreadfully naive. There is simply no way to prepare. People always tell me they can’t imagine it, and I tell them, “don’t even try. Just appreciate what you have, no matter how bad it is.” There simply is no way to imagine something you’ve never felt before. Even now, looking back, I cannot believe what I felt. I can’t believe I was that woman who grieved so wildly. I simply do not have strong emotions. Or so I thought.

          I am sorry it’s still so bad. I hope you have days where you find some peace.

  4. Terry Allard Says:

    I am most like Paula. This Christmas it will be 32 months and I feel so tired of feeling anything,… of trying,,,,of needing courage,…. of being period.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I hear you and sympathize. Thirty-two months. Yes, I can imagine how tired you are of it all. It’s not much help, but it wasn’t until after 7 years that I was able to let go of the trying. It’s one of the “stages” of grief that no one mentions — the trying to be courageous, of trying to be, of trying to find a way to live, of trying to find a way live with the reality of goneness, of trying . . . just trying. It’s exhausting. I hope you don’t have to wait as long as I did for the trying phase to dissipate.

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