Now that my own sorrow has considerably lessened, there have been many times when I have felt strange continuing to talk about grief. But despite the long years that have passed since the death of my life mate/soul mate, I am still bound by my grief. What I do, think, hope, even dream or not dream are because he is dead. Interestingly, I am discovering that these latter posts are perhaps as important as the early ones. Friends, relatives, and coworkers of the bereft are a lot more understanding those first months and even that first year of grief, but long before the end of the second year, they get impatient with any signs of continued grief. Most bereft stop talking about what they are feeling long before they are ready (and in way, I did, too. I spewed out my thoughts on this blog and mostly kept my mouth shut in real life).
And yet, grief is a life-long thing. And how can it not be? The pain might diminish, the hole might be filled to an extent with the gold of new relationships and new experiences, but the loved one is still dead. Even for those who believe their mate is in a better place, even for those who believe they will see them again, life is long and lonely without that special person.
If it were only about emotion and loneliness, grief would still be a massive mission, but all the physical, mental, chemical, hormonal upheavals change us and leave us feeling . . . not like us. Like some alien who no longer fits in this earthly environment.
But over the years, we do change and adapt. For this, I am glad to have continued these grief posts — people need to know they are not alone. They need to know that grief isn’t something you get over. They need to know that, unlike what some people believe, grieving long after others think you should stop is not a sign you lack resilience. Although people seldom admit it, there are gradations of grief. The death of a total stranger is not the same as the death of a soul mate. The death of a pet is not the same as the death of a child. (Yes, I understand that one grieves the loss of a beloved pet, but it is not the same, and I will delete any comment that says it is.) It’s easy to get over grief for a person you seldom saw, but grief for a person who shared your every waking moment is something you never get over. Everything that happens reminds you they are gone. Even after the pain has diminished, every moment of their not being with you makes you want to twitch with the feeling that something is not right.
But life — and grief — do go on, just maybe not the way we would prefer.
I am far enough away from those first horrendous years that I can start to see a pattern, and when I get a comment from someone who wails, “when will it be over?” I can give them an estimate. When they ask when life will get back to normal, I can safely say it will never get back to the old normal, but will eventually feel normal, though it will be a lot different from the normalcy of their shared life.
Although there is a pattern to dealing with grief after the death of a long-time spouse (or even a short time partner because you not only grieve what you lost but also what you will never have), all grief is different because all relationships are different.
I can’t, of course, tell people when it is time to find a new love — that is dependent on the person. I do know that those who manage to incorporate their first spouse’s memory into their new marriage are a lot happier than those who marry someone who feels injured by that grief, or who urges you to forget that previous marriage. I know one woman who incorporated her grief for her first husband into her marriage vows. Though she cried as she talked about her first husband, and her voice shook with emotion as she vowed to love the man she was marrying, she radiantly straddled those two worlds. It was beautiful to see.
So, if you know someone who is still grieving the loss of a spouse (or a child), please be kind; the bereft don’t live according to your timetable but according to the timetable of grief. And if you are the one who is still grieving long after others think you should have “moved on,” know that you are doing exactly the right thing, and someday you will get to where you need to be.
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 Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.
December 10, 2017 at 7:09 pm
Thank you for writing this post. I know there are many people – those who knew us before our son died – who don’t understand about the length and depth of our grief. Many would rather we just not talk about it at all. Insisting someone pretends like there is no grief is equal to insisting someone pretend that special person who is no longer with us never lived. It’s not logical..and it’s not fair.
December 10, 2017 at 10:07 pm
It’s hard. Even when the thought of the person doesn’t bring tears, no one wants to talk about the deceased in case it would upset you, not knowing that the reverse is true. I think it’s healthy to talk about those who are gone, to remember that once they were a vital part of your life. I am so sorry. I know a person never gets over the loss of a son.
December 10, 2017 at 8:10 pm
Pat, thank you for this excellent article – the Massive Mission of Grief. I am into 1 yr & almost 5 months of losing my beloved husband/soul mate/ best friend/companion & other half. How this grief lingers & spills over into everything in my life now. It’s almost like another head grew onto one’s shoulder, with a mind of its own, directing emotions, plans, memories, and realizing the future is bleak, without the beloved one to share it with. Holidays are a nightmare, to be gotten over with as soon as possible. I am so lonely – but only for him, I want no one else. Just imagining myself with anyone else would feel like I was cheating on him. I look at “my” house now – the house I took pride in, decorating it lovingly, to make it into a home he was comfortable & happy to be in. The house my Dad & he built almost 30 years ago. Now just things & walls, and empty of him, the love of my life. My own mortality stares me in the face as well. Torn with the desire to leave this life, and go find him – wherever he went. And then – to stay here and take care of my precious animals – what would become of them? Besides – my life’s length is out of my control, as was his. God holds it.
And – how true that this black ink of grief permeates EVERYTHING about the grieving person.. Physically – my hormones are way out of whack, walking more hunched over from lower back pain, my mind often fuzzy, forgetful, I am afraid to get on the scale, only guessing how much weight I’ve gained. How can that be – I thought grief was supposed to make one lose weight? My emotions are all over the map, unsteady, with tears at the surface threatening to spill out when talking about him to a stranger. My own spiritually has been on a roller coaster, running away from the God who saw fit to take my husband, the one He made into my other half. Then running back to Him for forgiveness, for feeling this way, realizing I need Him more than anything else. I have tried to keep in contact with the outside world, am active in my church, and go out a lot with my women friends, but – it is at best, robotic, and joyless. How it hurts, to sit in church alone, where I used to sit with him. Driving home alone in my car is when I most acutely feel his loss.
How right you are, when you said that long before the 2nd year of grief is finished, our community of friends & family are long done & over with our grief. I am “lucky” enough to be blessed with a couple of women friends who understand my deep grief and what I lost when I lost him. They listen, wish they could help take the hurt away, yet realize they cannot, and are gracious enough to just let me talk about him, and how I still cannot believe he is gone, how suddenly he was snatched from my life, how our being a couple was so quickly ended. Just 34 years. The best part about me was being his wife, having found love, true love, later in life, after ‘husband’ #1 deserted me, many mistakes, and looking for love in all the wrong places. He also fought his demons of substance abuse in his early years, and finally both of us found our savior Jesus, then each other. After years of thinking we “paid our dues” we settled into a tender, sweet, funny, deeply satisfying, and loving marriage. He told me I completed him, I told him he was my soul mate, and God’s main purpose for my life was to be his wife & helpmate. How I loved that role. We fought the good fight together, we just never thought the victory we gained would be over so soon.
December 10, 2017 at 10:17 pm
It’s always over too soon, and we are left to pick up the pieces. I hope you will check out some of my grief blogs (you can find them here: https://ptbertram.wordpress.com/archives-grief-posts/ ). They are in order from oldest to newest. If you find the ones that start around the eighteen month mark and read the comments, too,, you might find comfort knowing that others at your grief “age” felt the same. I am so sorry for your pain. It’s really hard, especially when people say, “but you had him for 34 years.” Not enough. Not nearly enough. Wishing you peace.
December 11, 2017 at 12:12 am
I think what’s interesting Pat is that there are some clear patterns to grief. Your post today is certainly true, other people ‘move on’ with brutal speed. Even mentioning one’s deceased spouse can provoke unease in others – I wonder sometimes if they think you are in the middle of some mental breakdown which has induced a wave of denial? Losing the person you love most in all the world basically changes you into another person – who you didn’t ask or try to be, but are forced to become. It seems to me that outsiders see a person crying and think that ‘it will pass’; when what they are really looking at is you having to metamorphosize into someone else.
Seriously Pat – it would be so good if you could create a mainstream journal article, almost as much for the benefit of bystanders as the bereaved themselves. When we most need other people to have consideration we seem to be either delicately avoided; or told – however gracefully – to stop making such a fuss. The more I read your blogs the angrier I become at the rubbish it was suggested I might read when I first lost my wife. You’re the woman for the job in my opinion!
December 11, 2017 at 4:52 am
I related to all of this blog being at month 32 in my grief. VALIDATION is a beautiful gift…..Thank-you Pat. Also, I am pleased I could bring a bit of insight to you in the previous blog and proud you referred to me as “friend”…my same to you!