I got through the eleventh anniversary of Jeff’s death without a major upsurge of grief, just a feeling of nostalgia and a bit of sadness. For a moment, before I retired for the night, I wanted to cry if for no other reason than a recognition that he is gone, but no tears came. I think I’m cried out, which in itself is ironic because for so many years, it felt as if the tears would never stop.
I once heard a saying that I didn’t understand until after Jeff died: Nothing changes and then everything changes. For years, nothing changed in our lives. It seemed as if we would always be like that — him struggling with dying, me struggling with living. Then he stopped breathing, and in that moment, everything changed.
Well, not everything. One thing has never changed. After all these years, he’s still the person I most want to talk to. We shared so much over the years, it is bewildering to me that we can’t sit down and get caught up. Or stand up and get caught up — looking back, it seems as if we were always standing when we talked. Who better to help me make sense of our lives both before and after his death? I do talk to him, or rather to his picture, though my comments are nothing more than asides, mentioning my day, maybe listing something for which I am grateful, or asking him how he’s doing. It’s hard to have a deep meaningful conversation when it is all one-sided.
I discovered a strange thing this morning. Although I have picked a tarot card to read the first thing every morning, I noticed a blank spot on my tarot journal where yesterday’s card was supposed to be. My morning routine is quite rigid. I do some stretching exercises, make the bed, fold three origami cranes, then shuffle whatever tarot deck I am using, and pick a card. Somehow, after I folded the cranes, I must have become distracted, and spaced out the whole tarot thing.
It’s nothing major, just a weird lapse, but it makes me wonder if subconsciously I blocked it out. After all, the tarot readings are a sort of memorial to my brother, and he loathed Jeff. Or maybe I simply didn’t want to know what the card would say. Either way, it’s unsettling to me — I don’t like forgetting to do things that I thought had become habit. Though, to tell the truth, this sort of forgetting does happen with me.
When I was in my late twenties, I ran a mile every day for years, and then days would go by, and suddenly I’d remember that I’d forgotten to run. One day I stopped running altogether. I simply forgot. It’s the same reason I am adamant about blogging every day — if I don’t blog every day, the days might pass without my ever writing a word. I have forgotten to blog a couple of days, but remembered sometime the late in the evening, so I was able to do my daily stint. Would it matter if I forgot? Probably not, but I do like the discipline of writing something every day, and if I let a day lapse, and then another and another, chances are I won’t be as willing to get back to blogging. (If I do forget to remember to blog one day, don’t worry. It has happened in the past, and will probably happen again, though I do try to remember not to forget.)
But that’s not important. What is important is that today starts my twelfth year of living without the person I thought I’d grow old with. Well, I am growing old; it’s just that I’m growing old alone. I’m mostly okay with that, at least, today I am. Tomorrow might be different.
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
March 28, 2021 at 7:57 pm
Lots of people were with you with compassion. Nobody can replace Jeff because he is unique. Continue your journey as you feel like.
Jeff is always with you for your inspiration and lots of people admire your writing, your books and your blogs.
Peace and love for your 12th year.
Bon courage ! For your continuation.
March 28, 2021 at 9:19 pm
March 28, 2021 at 9:23 pm
I’m not spending much time on line these days. I have a blog post half finished but don’t know when it will get finished. I haven’t blogged since Christmas, so I’m not optimistic about this one. But I’m pretty sure my days will continue whether or not I get it done.
I’m glad you made it through yesterday without too much trauma. Memories can be a blessing, but they can also be painful at times. Friday evening our family was having a Zoom ‘Remembering Lisa’ gathering (our granddaughter died on March 17th from an aggressive brain cancer. She was only 34). Lots of memories, laughs and tears, but no opportunity for hugs.
Blessings to you as you move into and through this twelfth year.
March 29, 2021 at 8:41 am
I am so sorry about your granddaughter. It seems as if there have been too many losses. And not enough hugs. Sending you an e-hug.
March 29, 2021 at 4:48 am
My condolences for Jeff’s death. I identify with many of the feelings you have expressed and have continued my daily journaling thanks to the model you set. I wish there were more words to describe the continunum of emotions such loss has brought me. Some words that lay between grieving and not grieving…all the many shades.
March 29, 2021 at 8:43 am
Shades of grief is a good description, much better and more realistic than the usual “stages.” Thanks for your condolences. And you have mine.
March 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm
“Trying to remember not to forget”.
Most computers have (at least) two types of memory. There’s a limited amount of short-term working memory. It’s generally very fast and efficient but not persistent. Then there’s a potentially very large amount of storage memory, which is much slower and less efficient. User programs request access to these memory areas based on their needs (fast working vs slow storage), but the actual storage is generally controlled by lower level software. This software will “swap” data out from working memory to storage as working memory becomes scarce, and may keep data intended for storage buffered in working memory if possible to speed up operations on those data. This swapping/buffering might be a least-recently-used algorithm in a general purpose computer. It generally works pretty well, but not always. Sometimes, software manages to hog almost all the working memory, making the computer access data in storage memory too often (thrashing). This is why, sometimes, operation slows to a crawl and it becomes necessary to reboot the thing.
Our brains may work in a similar fashion. A persistent and rather uncomfortable feature of life since my wife’s death has been an apparent lack of working memory and reduced ability to access stored memory. Going for a walk seems to help a bit, but maybe a more drastic reboot is in order.
Anyway, it’s possible this might help explain the “forgetting to remember” the tarot card on the anniversary. It just got swapped out to storage temporarily by your brain’s wetware in favour of other working memory needs on the day.
March 29, 2021 at 5:42 pm
Brain fog and reduced ability to access memory is a common feature with grief the first year or so.
. Because we grievers are on total emotional overload, our prefrontal cortex is unable to process all the information it is being fed from all parts of the brain. The more we try to suppress our emotions and try to think our way out of grief, the more overloaded the brain becomes.
Basal ganglia is an area of the brain beneath the prefrontal cortex and is associated with habits, pattern recognition, and automatic actions such as walking, dancing, or riding a bike. Once a behavior becomes automatic, the prefrontal cortex no longer has to make decisions about that particular behavior, which saves the prefrontal cortex from becoming overwhelmed. Disruption of routine after the death of life mate, however, destroys this balance, and contributes to brain fog.
When your daily routine and habits are changed abruptly, both the basal ganglia and the prefrontal cortex go into overdrive. The basal ganglia are trying desperately to identify new patterns and the cerebral cortex is trying to decide what to do about it all. This is in addition to all the emotional responses the limbic system is sending to the prefrontal cortex, so the brain becomes even foggier.
None of that, of course, should apply to me after eleven years, but I think you’re right about my brain swapping out the tarot card memory with other things that were more important to remember.