Today is the twelfth anniversary of Jeff’s death. If I hadn’t made a note of the anniversary on my calendar, I might have forgotten to commemorate the day. I remember the date he died, of course, but I lost track of time and didn’t realize today was the 27th. It used to be I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to because the day was written in my bones, in my soul, and I could feel it with every breath I took. But now, not so much. I still miss him, still feel the void, still have the date emblazoned in my mind, but my body has forgotten.
It’s an odd — and confusing — experience, this thing called grief. I am long past the mourning stage. When rare tears do come, they barely spill over, not like the early days when tears were so copious, they chapped my cheeks. In fact, the emotion of it all is so distant, my life with Jeff and my grief after his death seem almost mythic, a half-remembered dream that dissipates in the bright light of daily activity. (Come to think of it, when I speak to him — or rather, to his photo — it’s generally at night, just a few words mentioning my day, words that really mean “I am here, I am alive, I matter.”)
It’s hard now, in my settled, peaceful, and generally pleasant life to believe I was that shattered woman who screamed her pain to the uncaring winds. That sort of wild grief seems so out of character for me. Until then I believed I was a rather placid, stoic, and resilient person, and I believe that of myself again today, but during those first years of grief? I was anything but placid and stoic. And no wonder — the very foundation of my life, my identity, my hopes for the future, everything that anchored me to the earth had disappeared in an instant leaving me teetering at the edge of the abyss.
I’m surprised I survived that feral time. Apparently, though, at rock bottom, I really am mostly placid, stoic, and resilient. It just took a while for those characteristics to rise to the surface after I was hit with the tsunami of grief, but I learned to go with the flow, to take whatever came, to feel whatever I felt, to deal with the pain however I could, and to wait for a more peaceful time. I also learned that such all-encompassing and savage grief has a strong physical component that supersedes any character trait or emotional response. Hormones go nuts, our brain chemistry changes, and often we suffer from stress-related issues. Losing a life mate ranks at the very top of stressful situations, and that stress itself causes physiological changes.
But I came through all that. And now it is twelve years later. I am different. My life is different. My expectations are different. It’s confusing when I remember what my life once was — my years with Jeff and my years of grief — and compare it to what my life is now. It simply doesn’t compute. (Which is where that mythic feeling comes in. I know it happened, I know I was that person who lived that life, but it doesn’t seem real.) I cope with the confusion over this dichotomy the same way I coped with my years of numbness during Jeff’s illnessness and my years of grief after his death — try not to think of the past, try not to think too far ahead, try to accept that each day is sufficient in itself.
Still . . . twelve years. Unbelievable.
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.