The other night I talked to Jeff’s photo, as I sometimes do. I think it was Christmas night, and I was feeling a bit lost. And confused. So much of what has happened to me in the past twelve or thirteen years (the years of his dying and the years of my grief) still doesn’t make sense, but for the most part, I just go on about my life, concentrating on the day I am living.
Even so, sometimes, the confusion makes itself felt. For example, I really do like my house, my life, having a place to call home, but it all came about because Jeff died. If he hadn’t died, my life would have been completely different. I wouldn’t have missed this current life, of course, because I would never have known it existed, but still, the confusion is there.
I also continue to be confused about life and death, what it is, where we go, and all that, but again, generally I don’t think about it, just take it as a fact that he is gone and I am not.
And I’m still confused about a lot that happened that last year we were together. I don’t worry about it much — after all, it was a long time ago — but there is one episode that still makes me feel ashamed.
When people talk about those who care for their dying spouses, we imagine tender care, patience, and the warm glow of love. After all, that’s how it’s portrayed in movies, and movies are a reflection of real life, right?
Well, no. Many of us endure a love/hate relationship — we want to be with them and savor ever moment we have, yet at times we can’t stand the stress, the turmoil, the pain (theirs and ours), the sleepless nights and all else that goes along with trying to survive while your mate is struggling with death. We can’t always be the person we want to be, and even worse, as the months pass and the exhaustion and numbness take hold, we become someone we’d just as soon pretend never existed.
Even during a year where death hovers, life still reigns. So we live. We get impatient and frantic and frustrated and surly. And, even though sometimes we wish they’d die and get it over with, we never really believe they are going to die. We forget that each day might be the last, and so we forget to be patient and kind.
It’s one of those time that still shames me. He was looking at Google Earth and visiting all the places he once knew. I listened to his stories of old Denver for a while, and then suddenly I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I got impatient and left. I still don’t know why I felt that way, so that adds to the confusion. There wouldn’t have been a problem if not for Death. If there had been another time, I would have made a point of drawing up a chair and soaking in the time together, but there wasn’t another time. And I am left with the knowledge of how I am not always the kind and patient and generous person I wish to be.
And I am left with confusion.
So much of that time is gone, out of mind. Even if I wanted to remember it, I couldn’t. I can’t even, at times, remember being with him, even though he was the most important person in my life for decades. Even after he died, he continued to be important because of the grief I experienced.
I don’t think I will ever truly find my way out of the confusion. Despite all my studies and experience and contemplation of dying, death, and grief, so much can’t be known. Most of the time, I can live with the confusion in the same way I live with the knowledge that one day I will die. It’s there, but doesn’t have any meaning on a day-to-day level.
Until, of course, there comes a day when the confusion wells up, and I end up pretend talking to Jeff.
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