A Manual for the Loved Ones of a Person Who Has Lost a Loved One

A friend who’s been helping proof my new grief book has suggested my next project: a book geared to the family and friends of someone who has lost a life mate. She said as she read the book, she related it to me, and she seemed surprised by all that I’d gone through. We’d talked about Jeff, his dying, and my grief, but even though I’d tried to explain the immensity and horror of the loss and the rippling effects of grief, a casual conversation doesn’t come close to seeing the truth laid out as I did in the book.

She and I met a year ago, long after the pain of loss had dissipated, so it made sense she knew little of what I’d gone through. If we’d met shortly after Jeff died, though, she probably wouldn’t have known much more because I, like most people who have lost their mates, quickly went underground with my grief. The divide between being coupled and being widowed is too great for most of us to handle, no matter if we’re the one who experienced the loss or the one who has to see us suffering.

And yet, my friend is right — people who love us do need to know what we’re going through. Too often they tell us to move on without understanding that grief is how we’re moving on. They urge us to find someone new without realizing that a new love does not negate the old, and in fact, if the new love doesn’t understand about the long term effects and changes brought about by profound grief, the new relationship can’t hold up. They see what they think is us enshrining our lost mates without understanding that we need something to hold on to. The half of the bond held by the deceased is gone, but our half is still there, like a live wire trying to find a place to ground itself.

Although my new grief book is geared for those who have lost their life mate, it can (and should!) be read by anyone who is struggling to understand what their newly widowed family and friends are feeling. Still, I understand why she suggested a separate manual for the loved ones of a person who has lost a loved one. While the starkness of this current book is comforting to those who are undergoing the angst of loss, it could be a bit too strong and detailed for the as yet uninitiated.

Imagine, though, how comforting it would be for newly bereaved to be around those who try to understand. For example, in my new grief book I explain how the body remembers even when the mind doesn’t, and so when a particular time comes around, we re-experience the loss as if it were new. Ever since my brother died, I’ve been feeling out of sync with life and even myself. His death hit me much harder than I expected, and it reminded me (as if I needed a reminder) that Jeff too was gone. When I told my friend about this odd feeling, she asked me if it was my time. (Meaning one of the times of body memory.)

Although I don’t think this feeling of not quite connecting is part of my grief for Jeff, it made me feel good that she understood. And what a perfect thing for her to have said!

Ever since Jeff died, I’ve made it my mission to take grief out of the closet, to show there is no shame in profound grief, so a manual such as my friend suggested might be a good project for me. First, I need to get this current book published and in the hands of the people who need it, and then . . . who knows.


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.

13 Responses to “A Manual for the Loved Ones of a Person Who Has Lost a Loved One”

  1. Jo Green Says:

    You go Pat. You are a talented writer who speaks from experience from her heart. There are do many that need to hear you. Hope you are doing better. Take care

  2. Jean Says:

    You have been blessed with such a wonderful gift! Your writings brought so much comfort to me when my beloved husband died. I can’t begin to describe how much I relief I felt when I read,and connected with, the feelings you so wonderfully described. Amazing and I can’t wait to read your next book!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Too often we’re made to feel as if we are doing something wrong by grieving so deeply, that I’m glad I’ve been able to tell the truth. The truth, I’ve found, is way more comforting than all the platitudes we’re usually offered. Wishing you peace.

  3. Terry Jean Allard Says:

    Very interesting idea! Here are a few thoughts:

    Could it border on developing a manual or protocol for grief groups?.
    How about an “Idiot’s Guide to Grief”?
    What written materials are Hospice and/or Funeral homes handing out? (possible markets)
    Since your considering going ahead in this direction there is also fictional writing based in truth.

    Hope next steps for your recent book are going well.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      To be honest, I consider this current new book to be for anyone interested in knowing the truth about grief. It would be the perfect book for grief groups. You’re right, of course, a short book for funeral homes to hand out would be perfect, but as always, the writing is the easy part. Finding someone to publish the book and make sure it goes where it needs to go are the hard parts. Thanks for the well-wishes. I need them!

    • Terry Jean Allard Says:

      My apologies if I inadvertently limited your new book to having meaning to only grievers and excluding support people who might run groups. I have never lead such a group so I am not the best judge;however. as a griever I sure would be emcouraged to know a leader had read your book. I know it was a thought I put forward when you were discussing via the blog “if” you should write it. In response to this current idea I was thinking more along the lines of you developing a sequential topic based somewhat specific outline to guide a group, There would also be suggestions of “what” to say to a griever in order to be an emphatetic listener who was leading them to feel accepted, validated, valued and when appropriate better informed about the many aspects of grief. I saw that as an extension of your new book and not as redundant.

      Again best wishes for the success of this new book…one step at a time…your writing and viewpoints are so meaningful! Time to nuture and help this important book grow!

  4. SheilaDeeth Says:

    Your friend is right and your grief book provides wonderful insight for friends. A book directed at friends and family sounds like a fantastic next project.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s always good to have a project in the back of my mind. If nothing else, I can do it as a series of blog posts. I hope you have a few fun projects in the works!

  5. rami ungar the writer Says:

    If you wrote that book, I’d give copies to both of my parents. I think they’d find it helpful, considering they’re rabbis and occasionally brush up against death and grief counseling in the course of the job.

  6. Joe Says:

    “…quickly went underground with my grief.” “…like a live wire trying to find a place to ground itself.” Those are good descriptors, Pat. My grandmother died recently at a very advanced age, so it was expected rather than traumatizing. However, the funeral triggered some aftershocks for me, not surprisingly, but it was the severity of them that startled me, reminded me of everything that had gone before, etc. I suppose each funeral to come will do something similar.

    PS: Seems like closets are emptying en masse these days, and that, IMO, is a good thing.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Every death reminds us of that one very profound loss, and unfortunately, we do go through re-upheavals of grief every time. I wonder if we will ever get so tired of grief and death that there will come a time when there’s no more that can be heaped on us, and so we can just shrug it off.

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