Grief for a life mate takes much longer than everyone assumes that it does. Long after our family and friends have grown weary of our sadness, long after the grief experts say we should have returned to our normal life, we still grieve. Even we grievers underestimate the time it takes — most newly bereft think that the one-year anniversary is some sort of magic goal, and it is a goal, though not the end of grief. When we wake on day 366 to continued sorrow, it hits us that this not some sort of test. It’s real. They are gone for the rest of our lives.
The complex and painful experience of grief for a spouse, life mate, soul mate is not something we see on television shows, in movies, or read about in novels, so we get no sense of how long grief takes. Fictional folks shed a fictional tear or two, perhaps go on a fictional spree of vengeance, then continue with their fictional lives unchanged.
Of course, there is always that one old woman in Mafia movies who, draped in black from head to toe, throws herself on the casket, screaming for her Joey. Or the even older woman, also draped in black, who moans for her long-deceased Vinnie. These characters are so overdone, we cannot believe their grief is normal, but in many ways, this portrayal of grief is more realistic than the character whose life isn’t affected at all by the death of a life mate.
Despite the experts’ belief that our lives should return to normal after six weeks or even six months, our lives never return to normal. Usually, by the fourth anniversary (though sometimes not until the fifth or even longer), we’ve created a different normal for ourselves that makes room for the absence of our life mate as well as the possibility of future happiness.
Even then, grief isn’t completely gone. Many people feel a strong resurgence of grief during any life passage, such as the wedding of a child or the birth of a grandchild. Any subsequent loss brings back grief for that special someone. Any trauma brings with it a yearning for support from the one who is gone.
Still, the pain and the sorrow do pass. It just takes so much longer than anyone ever assumes that it does. So if you are grieving, be patient with yourself. If you know someone who is grieving for longer than you think is healthy, think again. They are doing the best they can, finding new ways of living, filling the emptiness (or trying to fill it). And yet, through it all, the dead are still dead. You might not remember that fact, but believe me, your grieving friend will always remember.
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.
October 15, 2018 at 1:26 pm
Thank you so much for this article. I find that others feel that I should have moved on by now. They have no idea those who act this way have never experienced the loss of their spouse. I use to feel that I was not moving out of my grief fast enough but I have learned to just take my time, one day at a time. I have learned to allow my feelings to be me in which they are, if I have a day that is not so great I say I am where I need to be right now. It will be four years next month since my husband suddenly passed away. I know that 44 years spent with a soulmate is nothing to shake a stick at. Some act as those my mate is gone so that is the end of it. These same people tend to always want to tell me all of their plans and vacations with their husbands. When I have listened enough I just cut it off. Enough! Little do they know how I feel deep inside.
This article made me feel better I know I will continue to grieve and everything will be in my own time. I have learned to simply ignore the persons that act like my feelings about my loss do not matter. There is no time limit to grief. Each person is different. Now that it is the Autumn season I find myself taking care of a lot of things that my husband use to do in preparation for Winter. I say to myself a little at a time and I will achieve these projects. What I can’t do myself I get help. Thank you.
October 15, 2018 at 3:55 pm
Something that still irks me about other people’s reaction to my grief is that they seem to think it’s okay that Jeff died.
That it’s okay I’m alone. That somehow it’s what I deserve. They act as if they did something special by still being coupled. We’re supposed to be happy for their continued couplehood, but we’re not supposed to be sad that we don’t have that anymore. The duality of this is so unfair. I do understand they don’t want to deal with our grief in any real way because then they will have to deal with the whole idea of death, and deal with the possibility that no matter how positively you think, terrible things still happen.
It sounds to me like you’re doing fine. People seem to me more accepting of the grief of a someone who lost their husband to divorce — the most prevalent idea there is that it takes one year of grief for every year married. So why is losing someone to death supposed to not count?
If it were just me who dealt with this attitude, I could accept it a lot easier, but putting others through this? Not acceptable!
October 15, 2018 at 10:24 pm
I continue to applaud you as you write about grief. You are right about my life seems a bit more normal now. Whatever that means. And I do have moments of peace. But I am by far a much sadder person than I ever was before. And I don’t see that changing in the future. And It is okay! Thank you Pat. You do a great service to all people who grieve.
October 16, 2018 at 8:49 pm
Pat- very sorry for your loss. I love the way you write and present and I am sure your posts are helping many…
October 16, 2018 at 10:12 pm
Thank you. I do hope my writing helps comfort others, or at least explains what they are going through.
October 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm
[…] is not the neighbor’s responsibility. Grief belongs to the griever. Second, as we discussed in Part 3, grief for a life mate takes a long time, and from I have come to understand from fellow grievers, […]