Grief is Universal

I got an email from Germany today from someone I didn’t know. It was written in German, and one of the few words I recognized was “sex,” so I assumed it was some sort of spam. (The subject line in the email was: Trauer, Sex, Hauthunger und Minimierung.) I was scrolling down to find the “unsubscribe” link when I noticed a translation of the email, and realized it actually was a message to me, a response to my blog post: Grief, Sex, Skin Hunger, and Minimization. I wondered how he got my email, but when I checked that blog, there it was, posted for all to see. (It’s actually not an email address; it’s more of a forwarding service that WordPress offers.)

Until I saw my email address in the body of the post, I thought I got his comment via email in error, so I went ahead and posted his comment on the blog. I hope he’s okay with that, because he had done what I asked in the post — added to the discussion about sex and grief. I did respond to his email and told him what I did, so if he wants me to remove the comment, I will.

Two things came to mind when I read his comment.

First, that intense grief over the death of spouse seems to be universal. The lack of information not just about the realities of grief but also the various affects grief has on us and the additional losses (such as the loss of sex and the problem with skin hunger) also seems to be universal. We all tend to suffer in silence, thinking we are the only ones who are dealing with such pain. Although I mostly kept quiet in my offline life, here on this blog, I’ve been anything but silent, which turned out to be a good thing. Now people all over the world know my experience and my belief that grief is hard, grief takes a long time, and grief should not be suffered in silence.

Second, many men don’t remarry and aren’t interested in remarrying, despite the prevalent idea that men who lose a wife immediately remarry, not just to have someone to take care of them, but so they can have sex. Some bereaved men don’t miss sex in general, though they intensely miss sex with their wives. Some men do remarry, but often it’s to have someone to be emotionally intimate with because for many men, their spouse is the only emotional support they have, the only person they feel comfortable hugging or talking about personal issues with.

These are just generalities, of course. Although I have learned that despite the cliché, not everyone’s grief at the loss of a spouse is different from everyone else’s — grief for many of us followed the same pattern and timeline — when it comes to marriage and new relationships, the cliché is true: everyone is different. We will each of us find our way to a new relationship when we feel the need, when the time is right, or when we meet the right person.

In my case, it’s a done deal. I’m okay most of the time with the idea of growing old alone (the idea of it, you understand; not necessarily the reality of it). I certainly don’t want to have to deal with the possibility of caring for someone else in their old age, especially since I’d be old myself. Besides, there’s no room in my house for another person, and I won’t give up my house for anyone. But this sort of life isn’t for everyone, though it is forced on so many of us without our having a choice in the matter.


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.

10 Responses to “Grief is Universal”

  1. Lovey Says:

    Wow Pat, once again you hit the nail on the head so to speak, in your blog about Grief bring universal…It will be six years this July that I lost my husband…I’ve written in to you a few times since then, remembering the first early devastating weeks and moths after his death… A lot has changed for me, and a lot has remained the same…The same is that he’s still gone and I am still alone. What has changed is that I don’t cry every day like before and the shock of his death has worn off. I have reluctantly gone on with my life, now teach a girl’s class at church every Wednesday and also suffered the loss of 3 of our 4 loyal dogs that have passed on since my husband died. Each one was sad, but the latest loss of my Cairn terrier Toto was especially heartbreaking and devastating… just starting to recover from that. But the addition of a little chihuahua mix that just lost his human mom to death, about a month after I lost Toto, has added some much needed vitality and fun to my female chi mix and my older Scotty, the last 4 of the original 4, and me of course. He needed me and I needed him. The reason that my dogs are so important to me is that I have no children, and my pets are such an important part of my life now, since the loss of my husband. I still have the same group of other widows that I socialize with and some other lady friends who still have their husbands. So as maybe as boring as my life may sound to some, it is a decent life and all I can manage at this point. Mine is also a done deal, as you said… no prospects of any “romantic” relationships at all, although I have occasionally “flirted” with the idea of joining some dating sites, but could never get to the point of actually doing it. My husband was a tough act to follow and I think I would feel like I was cheating on him anyway… Forget about any prospects of finding a guy at my church, they’re all coupled up like Noah’s Ark, which in itself had been a source of some envy and bitter longing on my part, but then realizing that self pity gets one no where. Now in my early 70s ( wow, how did THAT happen?) I just don’t have the desire to have to take care of someone else when I can hardly take care of myself and my pets. Also I don’t want to have to go through becoming emotionally involved again, and to suffer another heartbreaking loss if he should pass before me. I have wonderful memories of an intense love that cannot be duplicated in this life, something that many people don’t experience, even though it ended much too soon…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I did join a dating site years ago, not with any real desire to hook up with anyone permanently, but I thought it might be a good idea to meet people. The men on the site felt differently. I didn’t get a single date out of the experiment. Also, one of the houses I saw that interested me was truly in the back of beyond, and I decided not to move there because it really would put the kibosh on any possibility of meeting anyone. Now, I’m just as glad. I don’t have pets, but as with you, I have a hard enough time taking care of myself.

  2. Estragon Says:

    My wife died just before Bob hit, and I was surprised at how much the “skin hunger” affected me. Having never been much of a hugger, and being one who really likes to keep my distance from most people, you’d think it wouldn’t be an issue. I recall my adult daughter giving me a weird sort of covid-safe back-hug a few months into the first lockdown that felt almost electric. For a little while, maybe an hour or two, my hands almost stopped shaking (they had been shaking pretty much uncontrollably in those early months). Physical contact was verboten, so that was probably the first time I’d touched or been touched by anyone in months.

    When the brain fog lifted enough to read anything, among the first issues I started reading about was skin hunger. There wasn’t a ton of good quality research on it, and what there was dealt mostly with infants or the very old in institutions. Even so, it does appear to be “a thing”. For example, I learned there are people who hug professionally (i.e. they get paid for hugging)! Maybe there will be some better research post-Bob.

    On the subject of new relationships, I firmly believe we’re old enough to arrange them any way we want. When we’re young, there are all sorts of expectations (like raising a family) that can involve third parties. Most of these don’t apply any more, but a lot of people seem to forget this. Relationships may or may not include sex, living together, sharing resources, and so on. For example, an older (maybe mid-80s) couple who live nearby across the street from each other get together once or twice a week for dinner and TV. Good for them. Her daughter thinks otherwise though, and won’t speak to her or let her see the grandkids. My own kids are uncomfortable with me seeing anyone (which I partly understand), and one won’t have anything to do with me (which I don’t). I think that’s a problem they’re going to have to work through. I’m not going to let them make it my problem.

    Relationships can and should be whatever we choose them to be. You and “Lovey” are perfectly entitled to stay alone (or partly alone, or not at all alone) if that’s what you choose, and a pox on anyone who says otherwise.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      One of the weirdest things about life after the death of a spouse is how everyone has an opinion of what you should do. A person’s grief — and how they handle life going on — belongs to them. I can’t imagine having to deal with a grown child’s attitude as well as everything else grief throws at us.

    • Lovey Says:

      Lol thank you Estragon!!! Wishing you all the best. My condolences in the loss of your wife.

  3. Judy Galyon Says:

    I’m with you on this. I have no interest in finding another man. It’s been 2 years and I doubt I’ll live long enough to ever have that urge. I can live fine alone.

  4. EvelynKrieger Says:

    I admire your honesty, Pat. I’m in the “never say never” camp. While I believe it’s good to know what you want, sometimes takes unexpected turns and you suddenly want what you didn’t even know you were missing. I wish you continued healing and joy in whatever you choose. Love and companionship
    can come in may forms.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I definitely agree about suddenly wanting what you didn’t even know you were missing or wanted. I never had any interest in dancing, but I started taking classes after Jeff died, and suddenly I had something I never even knew I wanted. Same with house ownership. I never wanted to own a house, and buying this house turns out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I have no idea what will come next, but I’m open to anything.

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