I am in the preliminary stages of writing a new book about grief, though “writing” is a misnomer. I’m mostly just thinking about the project, trying to get the structure of the work solidified in my mind, and in doing so, I discovered a hole in my grief writings. I never mentioned sex, and this topic should be included in a book that is supposed to be a comprehensive look at grief.
For people with an active sex life, the sudden cessation of sex must be truly horrendous. For me, that was a separate grief because physical intimacy ended long before my life mate/soul mate’s death. (Simply trying to stay alive for all those years depleted his resources and energy, and there was nothing left for anything but mere survival.) When that part of our shared life came to an end, I went through a horrible (and horribly long) time of what I call skin hunger, where I was desperate for the feeling of skin on skin. It wasn’t just an emotional thing — my skin itself cried out for the touch of his skin. I can’t imagine having to deal with the torment of skin hunger as well as all the other horrors grief throws at us.
And what about suddenly sleeping alone? How did you handle that? I didn’t have this problem, either. Because of his night restlessness, he slept in a different room, and then after he was gone, I left our home to go take care of my father.
And there is another sex-related issue I never mentioned but should be included in the book since it’s another almost incomprehensible aspect of grief. Some people’s bodies deal with the presence of dying and death by fighting for life, which can mean an emotional detachment from the dying partner, or something even worse — an incredibly severe upsurge of sex hormones, and a very painful, almost constant arousal.
Since this is about all I know personally of the subject, I’d appreciate anything you can add to the discussion. I don’t expect you to leave your remarks here on this blog (unless you want to), so feel free to write me via firstname.lastname@example.org. (You can write me at any email address you might have for me, but this is the only one I feel comfortable publishing here). Even if I were to use your comments, I would preserve your anonymity. This is a difficult subject and needs to be handled with delicacy.
I remember a woman showing up at our grief group once, and all she wanted to know was if she’d ever be able to have sex again. The poor woman seemed utterly bewildered by the loss of her sex life. That was the only mention of sex during my time in the grief group. Since most of us had taken care of our mates during a long illness, it wasn’t an immediate issue for us, and even if it were, I doubt any of us would have been comfortable discussing the matter in public.
Another hole in the book is a mention of the way people minimize our grief. For example, a woman in that same grief group who lived with her soul mate for years without being married, was told by another member of the group that the woman’s grief wasn’t as bad as everyone else’s because she and her “husband” had never been married. (I imagine people such as this would never understand that a surviving member of a gay couple also experiences profound and debilitating grief.) Another woman, who’d divorced her first husband to marry her soul mate, was told that she got what she deserved. This sort of belittling is totally uncalled for, and needs to be brought out in the open. If you can think of any other examples of such belittling (as opposed to the general sort of insensitivity we all experience after the death of our life mates), please let me know, either in the comments here or via the email address mentioned above.
If you can think of anything else you’ve experienced that I have never mentioned on this blog, especially if it’s something you don’t think anyone has ever felt, I’d like to know that, too.
Thank you, as always, for reading my words and supporting me in this very important project.
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.