Letter From a Griever

I received this email yesterday from a blog reader:

Dear Pat. Would you allow me a guest slot on your blog to talk about the book, and your grief writing in general?  I quite understand if you’d rather not needless to say, but I’d quite like to enthuse about your work if I may. — Treve

Of course, I said yes, not just because I was flattered but because what Treve has to say about me, my grief writing, and Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One is important to both grievers and those who know grievers.

I first came across Pat’s blog in about 2015, about eighteen months after my wife died of cancer.  During that first year and a half, like most grievers I had experienced extraordinary emotional turbulence, the like of which I have never had before nor since.  It seemed to me that nobody ever tells you about what grief is really like, you just guess that it’s not nice and assume that it probably gets better after a while.  If only it were so simple!  I would occasionally browse the internet to see if there was some help or advice that would make sense to me, but it usually seemed to be written as if it were generic lifestyle advice, rather than designed for people experiencing profound turmoil. 

Be kind to yourself.  Everyone grieves differently.  Go out with friends and try to enjoy yourself.  Try to move on.  

It seemed to me that whoever wrote these sort of things had never actually experienced the kind of grief I was going through.  Perhaps it was just me, maybe this sort of advice would make sense to most people?

After 18 months, I chanced across Pat’s blog.  I can’t remember with absolute certainty, but I think the first of her posts I read was “The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief” —  [https://bertramsblog.com/2012/01/08/the-five-major-challenges-we-face-during-the-second-year-of-grief].  I think I spent a whole evening reading through Pat’s writings about grief, and I was amazed.  For the very first time I was reading something that actually reflected what I was going through.  And the really weird thing was that Pat was an American lady some years older than myself (a British man in his early forties at the time), and yet she was the first – and only person – who was writing about grief in a way that made sense to me.  And I began to realise that a lot of the received ‘wisdom’ about grieving seemed to be based on various absurd notions, such as the so-called ‘five stages of grief’, that had no real basis in reality.  I was captivated, because for the first time it seemed to me that there might be some common pattern to grief, despite the profoundly different backgrounds of the grievers.  Seven years on I still occasionally read material about grief, often written by highly-trained ‘experts’, that bears no relation to what I went through (and I suspect what most grievers go through).

I was delighted when Pat published her book Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One.  It was fascinating to be able to read her considered reflections about grief, not least because she had obviously had years of contact with fellow grievers who had shared their feelings with her.  Two chapters in particular are of great importance to me.  ‘Why Can’t Other People Understand My Grief?’, which discusses why so many folks seem to be embarrassed or uneasy when they around those who express their grief.  Likewise the chapter entitled ‘Metamorphosis’, on how grief changes us irrevocably.  This has shaped my thinking about grief, and continues to help me even today in trying to make sense of all that has happened to me in the last seven years.

I would sincerely urge any grievers reading this blog to buy Pat’s book, and keep it close to hand.  It covers the first few years of grief, and how its nature and impact change over time, written with great clarity by someone who has experienced it all first hand.   Nobody can take away the intense sting experienced at losing a loved one, but having a wise guide who can point out the emotional and practical road ahead (and also hazards along the way) is a huge help in dealing with grief.  I will always be grateful for the help Pat has given me through her writing.

8 Responses to “Letter From a Griever”

  1. Sky Book Says:

    So…what does one do with Covid, when they are all alone, have a volunteer shop twice a month, do not drive, and I can not afford to get sick with the virus? I am 72, together 52 yrs, have 2 parakeets to care for, feed the wild birds see daily, and he died suddenly in our kitchen of V fib…luckily, I just found a grief therapist who meets by phone once a week with me. I also have a very small widow group from FB/Soaring Spirits w/ whom I can email/test, & TALK on the phone with. I have not had a hug in nearly 16 months!
    Why don’t more widows want to talk on the phone?? Sad.
    Thank you for the blog,

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m so sorry about your husband. It’s good that you have a therapist to talk to. When the isolation is over, maybe you could join a live support group, I do know a lot of people have found just as much comfort in online support groups, but as you said, there’s no hugging in such groups, and we desperately need hugs. Once when I was housebound, I hugged a large teddy bear. It wasn’t the same, and of course, the bear couldn’t offer any comfort, but I did find a bit of respite in holding something tight. I know someone who wrapped her husband’s urn in a blanket to make it softer, and she hugged that. Are you able to walk at all? Taking walks (even short ones) doesn’t help with the hug problem, but it does help relieve some of the stress of grief.

      Wishing you peace.

  2. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Grief, I think, applies to more than the death of family members and close friends. In my experience, it includes the loss of a loved one who walks away. When the person I planned to marry walked out of my life fifty years ago, I was emotionally crushed beyond recognition. The scars are still there. And the hurt and depression can be just as huge today as they were then. For me, grief has been forever. I cope with it as best I can. If you remember the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Hello Darkness My Old Friend,” then I can say that there are days when I can say, “Hello Grief My Old Friend.” Blogs like this one help all of us even when no literal death was involved. Like your letter writer in this post, I’m thankful you’re here–listening.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Yes, I’m always listening. Grief is such a huge force in our lives — a huge ignored force — that someone needs to understand, and someone needs to listen. Even when we find a way out of the darkness, grief still makes its presence known.

      Thank you for telling me this story.

  3. Joe Says:

    You know, this part, “I began to realise that a lot of the received ‘wisdom’ about grieving…” and this part “…material about grief, often written by highly-trained ‘experts’, that bears no relation to what I went through” made me stop and think. It applies in no small part to the “wisdom” and “expertise” of people who know little or nothing about certain things but have a platform to spread their ideas. For example, male doctors for the longest time promoted ideas about women’s health that we now know are ridiculous. In another example, for the longest time, everything in print about gay or lesbian people was written by preachers and physicians, and was hostile, derogatory, hysterically imaginative, stereotypical, and just plain wrong. Thankfully, most of the tropes are being phased out. Science and research show a fuller picture of the human experience of whatever kind, enhanced by the internet enabling people to speak authoritatively about their own experiences to counter misinformation.

    How interesting that anything that is “underground” or suppressed because it’s frightening is burdened with battling such a disproportionate amount of misinformation or nonsense, until the voices of experience can dispel misconceptions and offer nuance that is often missing. It’s a little like the saying “A lie can run halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.”

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Good points! And true, though In some cases, the truth never did catch up. Women’s health for example — even though there are more women doctors, they so often inherit the old male attitude or a male-oriented point of view. For example, statins. It has been shown over and over again that the livers of men and women differ in thousands of tiny ways, which means that statins are processed differently in men and women. The help some men, do no damage to most men, but help few women and do damage to a lot of women. Even women doctors don’t believe their women patients when they complain of joint problems, memory issues, muscle weakness and a whole host of other ills after starting a statin regimen.

      • Joe Says:

        I’m familiar with the statin issue for some years now and wouldn’t agree to Mark taking them when some doctor or other suggested it. His sister was prescribed them and she was having chest pains and maybe those other effects you mention, and I sent her some info about statins, and she stopped, from what I heard. And they’re pushing this crap on kids, too! Jeez. Follow the money. 🙄 Yes, definitely the old attitudes persist, and even psychotropic medications (for psychiatric conditions, severe/chronic depression etc) are often tested, in drug trials before release to the market, on volunteers who are often white and male. The effects on women and non-white people are less known, or the meds work differently, or have bad outcomes due to physiology. 🙄

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I was shocked to discover that statins are the most prescribed drugs worldwide. Not so shocking is the fact that except for a very narrow range on middle-aged men, they do absolutely nothing to stop heart attacks or strokes.

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