You Can’t Imagine

A friend is reading my grief book — Grief: The Inside Story – a Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One — not for herself so much because she is still happily and healthily married, but for those she knows who have had to deal with the death of a spouse or child.

I am impressed with her willingness to try to understand what others have to go through in dealing with such a horrendous loss. Most people don’t want to know. Not that I blame them — I would have preferred not knowing, would have preferred to continue believing I was immune to such wild emotions, would have preferred . . . well, I would have preferred a lot of things. Or rather, I would have preferred them back then. I’ve gotten so used to the way my life now is, I can no longer imagine a different life. I can barely remember, at times, what my life used to be.

My friend and I talked about the book for a few minutes, then, as people often do, she said, “I can’t even imagine . . .” And as I often do, I responded, “You can’t imagine it, so there’s no reason to even try. It truly is an unimaginable experience.”

I was going to offer further words of comfort by mentioning that she is still way to young to have to worry about being a widow. Even though I know people of all ages who have had to deal with the experience, the widows I’ve been meeting since my move here are usually much older, and had long years with their spouse. Not that the length of time with a spouse mitigates the pain, but it seems more . . . fitting? understandable? . . . than the death of a someone still in their middle years.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized this woman friend is only four years younger than I was when Jeff died. I tend to forget how relatively young I was (though I never forget how young Jeff was), probably because by the time I reared my head and looked around after all those dark years of pain and sorrow, I was way older.

I think it was my relative youth that made me so determined to live and thrive, not just survive, after Jeff’s death. Perhaps if I had been older, nearing my own expiration date, I might not have thrown myself into the whole grief experience but just . . . waited. Back then, I figured it was better to experience grief as it came rather than try to fight it off because I didn’t want to have to be dealing with the problems unlived and unresolved grief can cause in later years. (Buried grief can find its way to the surface through illness and emotional problems even decades later.) I wanted to be sure that I would be whole (except for that eternal void deep inside that still remains), that I would be able to experience to the full any happiness I could find. I also wanted to see where grief would take me.

Although I’m glad the pain and sorrow are gone (except for a residual sadness and nostalgia), I am grateful I gave myself over the experience. I never knew, couldn’t even have imagined that a person could experience such a depth of emotion, could experience something so . . . primal.

Now that I am through with that particular experience, I have no idea what I am going to do with my remaining years except continue to apply the lessons grief taught me, such as live each day the best I can, enjoy the good times, endure the bad, and be thankful for any blessings that come my way.


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

5 Responses to “You Can’t Imagine”

  1. Judy Galyon Says:

    I will try to do that too!

  2. Uthayanan Says:

    Pat as usual well written. After two years and seven months I accept the fact grief continue to deal with me. Honestly I am not depressed. My heart feel the same and I feel I will be never happy again. It is not her fault. I try to live in a way day by day and try to walk step by step and live with thousands and thousands of loving every day memories. I know that thousands and thousands miles to walk before to get some peace.
    And continue to dream to live in a way to honor and to pay hommage for her.
    I continue to walk and keep on learning……

  3. Elaine Says:

    My husband, my soulmate, the light of my life for 33yrs died 7 wks ago after 5 yrs of progressive illness. I am lost in grief seeing no way forward and found your blog during the wretched wee hours recently as I sought something, anything. I read many of your over-the-years’ posts last week, finding comfort, and what I felt was a recognition of the devastation I am feeling. Then…this posting. No. Just no. True, my husband was much older, not middle aged. True, I am nearing what you have described in some of your posts as “elderly”. But, your words that a widow being older, having a longer length of time with a spouse, makes the grief experience more “fitting”, more “understandable”, are cruel, hurtful words. I had to read the words again. And, yet again, to be sure you had actually written them. Shame on you to trivialize the pain and agony of some of us going through this experience just because we are older and had longer with our loved one. I had felt such trust in you from your previous postings. I read years of them over the last week. You hurt me and I didn’t need this hurt.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I did not mean to add to anyone’s pain. In post after post, where I talked about grief, I said that grief is the same no matter how long you had together. If he dies young, then you grieve the lifetime you didn’t have together as well as the years you did. If he dies older, you still grieve for the years you didn’t have as well as those you did.

      Keep in mind, this post was written ten years after Jeff died. I was not talking about grief from an individual standpoint but more from a societal standpoint, and yes, people in general are way more sympathetic to young widows, especially if the widow has young children. People often shrug off the death of an elderly person. And yes, it is more fitting and even understandable somehow for an old person to die than a young one. Even though that is how it seems (emphasis on the word seems), it does not make it right. I never said it was right, just that it’s the way it seems. That is the nature of life — you are born, you grow old, you die — but that does not in any way mitigate one’s grief. People in their nineties grieve every bit as much as those in their forties.

      I am sorry for your pain, sorry that I added to it, but truly, keep in mind we are in vastly different eras in the grief process. You are newly born into the world of grief. I’ve dwelled in that world for eleven years, and am looking back and around at the world of grief and how it pertains to the non-grieving and pre-grieving.

      So much of my pain was that he died so young. Would it have changed my grief if he had died older? Of course not, but his death would have not seemed like such a slap in the face.

      The reason a child’s death seems so obscene to a parent, even if their child is in his fifties, is that it goes against the nature of life as we know it — it seems more fitting to us that a parent should die first because it is the natural order of things.

      Again, I am sorry that you found pain in my words.

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