In one month, it will be the tenth anniversary of Jeff’s death. I can’t even begin to comprehend what that means — is it a lot of time? A little time? It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been so many years since I last saw him, though looking back over the decade since he died, it’s obvious that a lot of time has passed. I’ve felt much, lived much, changed much.
My grief has changed over the years, too, from unimaginable pain to nostalgia, from angst to acceptance (not acceptance of his death — never that! — but acceptance of the reality of my situation). Grief now is the scaffolding of my life, forming the framework of who I am rather than being all that I am. (In the beginning, grief took hold, and it felt as if there was nothing else, would never be anything else. Grief is still there, deep inside, but is now only a piece of who I am, not all of it.)
The biggest change I notice is that the screech of death and the winds of eternity have receded once more into the background, and my life seems much quieter. When Jeff died, it felt as if part of me had died with him. A whole chunk had been amputated and I have never gained it back. For years, I felt as if I were standing at the edge of eternity the abyss yawning at my feet, the storms of time raging around me, one hand held out to try to grasp something, anything, to balance me and keep me from being pulled into the void where that amputated part had gone. I could feel the breath of the eternal, the awesomeness of life and death. I could feel—or almost feel—the driving force of the universe.
That seems fanciful, and I suppose it is, but it’s also how I felt. Looking back, grief seems so . . . noisy. Sobs and gasps and even screams came from my mouth, and loud questions and clamorous confusion filled my head. Death is shrouded with an element of blank. It is the great unknown and unknowable, and our human brains are not equipped to handle the immensity. And yet, when we lose someone important to us, the very fact of death is thrust into our lives, forcing us to deal with it the best we can.
How do we bear the unbearable? How do we fathom the unfathomable? We don’t, not really. We grapple with the conundrums and wait until eternity recedes and our brains settle into new patterns of thought.
I used to miss the feeling of significance grief gave me, with its great emotion, crucial questions, and the nearness of eternity, but now I am merely grateful for the internal quiet.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator