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 email@example.com. (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.
June 24, 2018 at 3:44 am
I miss (inadequate word..like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch)sooooo many things about touch with my husband.Yesterday,I gardened at my married son’s home. It felt good working the dirt in my bare feet as I weeded with a not to hot sun warming me. I liked the sensory experience of it. I happened to come into the house as my son was leaving for work. He bent over my sitting daughter-in-law as he kissed her with a hug saying “love you, I’ll call you later”. My heart said “you’ll never have that again” and when I went back outside the dirt seemed well pretty much like dirt and not much else. I think the only thing which could have made it worse would be to voice the feeling and risk someone saying “WELL, its been 3 years..you should date!”
June 24, 2018 at 11:31 am
I sent you an email asking if I can use this story for my book, giving you credit or not as you wish. It is such a perfect and beautifully written example of the long term effects of grief, it should be given a wider readership than this blog.
June 24, 2018 at 3:51 am
PS Just to be clear….my son nor daughter-in-law would never make such a comment. I had some others in mind.
September 5, 2018 at 6:13 pm
Well… as a man who spent 18 years loving and then caring for another man who died 18 months ago, I feel qualified to say a lot about belittling comments and attitudes. They’re common, and they cause harm, sometimes through insensitivity and sometimes through idle malice. They can lead to poor health outcomes, especially if the couple is not free to be themselves in a rehab or nursing home setting. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this blog, so I have no idea what you’ve covered already, but I have yet to see this topic broached anywhere, including in-person grief support groups.
September 6, 2018 at 7:37 am
I can’t even imagine how hard it’s been. I have made my new grief book as inclusive as possible because grief for the loss of a lifemate is excruciatingly painful no matter who is involved. Men are generally left out of a lot of the grief literature, and from my experience, they feel as deeply as women, if not more so because of the lack of support. Wishing you all the best as you continue this terrible and lonely journey.
March 15, 2022 at 9:56 am
Werner from Germany wrote:
I just came across your website two hours ago — Your life, which you describe, yes, it is very similar to my life.
My wife passed away from breast cancer 5 years and 10 months ago. I share your pain, in the intensity and the long period of mourning fully! Hence my writing now. Everything I read from you is very much the same. It scared me, you are already in the year 12 of mourning Jeff!!! Now I know it’s a very, very long way, and water is flowing again out of sight!!
Now for grief, sex, skin hunger and minimization. Of course, every relationship has its own strength or intensity. Bärbel and I lived together very, very intensively, 30 years of marriage.The older we got, and that’s no joke, and also far from Bärbel described before death, the older we got the more intense/better our relationship became, in everything, pronounced in everything!!And therefore also in sex! Yes, of course you look for people to live with could design. I have to say there is nothing in it, a partnership or maybe from a new marriage, and we’re still a long way from having sex. Yes, grief, sex, skin hunger and minimization apply to me 100%!! It’s an added agony!! For me, sex with another woman is and was until today unimaginable!!!There has also not been a touch of another woman to this day and maybe it’s just hard for me to take.is due, Bärbel and I enjoyed each other very sensitively and intensively! My summary, touch, massage, sex, are for me in the moment after almost 6 years of mourning, unthinkable with another woman!!The memory/sensations are too strong, soo strong and so often and so intensely we did it. And everything was fine the way we did it and it’s not a big problem that it is missing, but of course it is missing.
I hope to have made a contribution. For questions, always open.
March 15, 2022 at 10:05 am
I am very sorry about your wife. Thank you for telling us of your experience. There is so little talk about grief, especially this aspect of grief that it’s important for us to tell our stories so that others realize they are not alone. As for Jeff being gone for twelve years — I still feel the void and I still miss him, but truly, it is a lot easier than it was even five years ago, and a considerably easier than it was at the beginning. Wishing you peace as you continue dealing with your loss.