GRIEF: THE INSIDE STORY is now available!

Coping with the death of a loved one can be the most traumatic and stressful situation most people ever deal with. As the bereaved struggle to make sense of their new situation, they often find that the advice they receive is produced by medical professionals who have never personally experienced grief, is filled with platitudes and clichés, and is of very little practical help.

How long does grief last? What can I do to help myself? Are there really five stages of grief? Why can’t other people understand how I feel? Will I ever be happy again? Grief: The Inside Story answers such questions while debunking many established beliefs about what grief is, how it affects those left behind, and how to adjust to a world that no longer contains your loved one.

Although the subtitle is “A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One,” the book is written especially for those who have lost someone intrinsic to their lives, such as a spouse or life mate, and who now struggle to cope with their new realities. People always want grievers to “get back to normal,” but as Grief: The Inside Story shows, there is no “normal” to get back to back to, but grievers can eventually find renewal in their lives.

Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Inside-Story-Guide-Surviving/dp/0368039668/

If you have read the book and it proved valuable, please leave a review. The more reviews, the more visible this necessary book will become. Thank you.

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Pat Bertram is the also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Twitter. (@PatBertram) Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Unsettled

I’ve been feeling a bit down the past couple of days. My nest building has come to a standstill because I can’t do any more unpacking until the foundation of the enclosed back porch (soon-to-be exercise and storage room) is fixed, and the guy who promised to fix it has so far been too busy to do the work. It’s always “next week” and apparently, next week never comes.

That’s not really a major issue, though, just a bit of frustration that adds to my overall feeling of being unsettled.

My meeting people has also come to a standstill. Although people I encounter have been nice to me, I spend most of my time alone, which isn’t a new development, of course, but that aloneness, too, adds to my feeling of being unsettled.

What isn’t coming to a standstill are all the small things that demand attention, such as a breaker box that was stuck (it took a guy from the electric company two hours to dismantle it and put it back together), smoke alarms that need to be replaced, scammers sorted out from the official folks I need to deal with. All these things make me wonder if I’m in over my head, which contribute to my feeling unsettled.

Mostly, though, it’s the date. I’d forgotten tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of Jeff’s death, but a tightness in my chest and stinging eyes have reminded me of why I am here in this place, this house.

Because he is gone.

My sadness this anniversary is more nostalgic than painful. My missing him doesn’t feel as personal as it used to. For most of my years of grief I lamented that I never felt any different. Lamented that I hadn’t changed. But being here in this house, trying to create a new life for myself, tells me the truth. I am not at all the same person who struggled to live while her soul mate struggled to die. Not at all the same person who witnessed the death of the one person who anchored her to life. Not at all the same person who screamed her angst to the uncaring desert skies. That woman, I am sure, is still feeling the agony of his absence, but she is not me. She could never do the things I am doing.

Despite all the changes, I still worry about stagnating — becoming the crazy cat lady sans cats — and so far, there is nothing in my new life that precludes this from happening.

I tell myself to be patient, that my new life will be revealed (will unfold?) in the years ahead, but for now, I’m feeling . . . unsettled.

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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.

Video Trailer for “Grief: The Inside Story”

Learning About Ourselves From Grief

Someone asked me if we could learn more about ourselves from grief. The question  made me stop to think because whatever we might learn would in no way offset the loss of our loved one, would in no way offset the pain of grief.

But . . .

Like any traumatic experience that we’ve survived, grief teaches us that are all stronger than we believe we are, braver than we can imagine, more emotional than we ever expected, and have the ability to pick ourselves up and take another step when all we want to do is dive into oblivion.

Mostly, though, grief is a process of change, of becoming a person who can survive our loss and our grief. Often what we learn about ourselves is not something that was present before grief gripped us, but something that comes during the process. Values are turned upside down — what was once important is no longer important, and what was once unimportant becomes less so. For example: Not wasting time used to be something I valued, so waiting in line at a grocery store used to irritate me. It was such a huge waste of time. After my life mate/soul mate died, it no longer mattered if I was one place rather than another. It no longer mattered if time passed slowly or moved quickly. It no longer mattered if I wasted time or used my time effectively. So I stood patiently in line. It’s not that I learned I was patient, but that I become patient.

Sometimes people find they are more independent than they expected, but often they are forced to become independent rather than learning that they’d always been so. My mother had been a traditional wife, always catering to my father, cooking for him, cleaning, etc. After she died, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he remarried right away so he’d have someone to look after him, but my brothers taught him to “cook.” And oh, how proud he was of his new-found ability to heat up a frozen dinner or fix instant coffee and toast! He’d always been rigid, and yet, he didn’t suddenly learn he was resilient. Her death had forced him to become resilient.

A friend whose daughter had been murdered set out to learn everything she could about the law and how to get boyfriend who’d murdered her daughter. Although already forceful, she became utterly relentless in her pursuit of justice.

So yes, we learn about ourselves from grief, but often that which we learn didn’t exist before our loss. We became that person we are learning about.

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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.

Grief: Divorce vs. Death

A week after Jeff died, I had to go to the bank to open a new account in my name only, and the woman who helped me said she had recently undergone a devastating, unasked for divorce. She was the first person I met who understood at least part of what I was going through, and we commiserated with each other.

Up to a point, there are many similarities between the two losses. Both involve:

  • Deep emotions: shock, pain, yearning, angst, loneliness.
  • The death of hopes, dreams, the future the two of you had planned for yourselves.
  • The ripping apart of the pair bond, the survival unit, which causes a fight or flight hormonal upsurge and puts tremendous stress on the body.
  • A disruption of habits. 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 loss of a life mate, however, destroys this balance, and contributes to brain fog.
  • Being suddenly uncoupled in a coupled world. Ours is a culture of couplehood. Many songs, movies, books, holidays are about love and the importance of being with that one special person, and now you are expected to slough off the weight of this culture and go on as if nothing happened.
  • Dealing with betrayal and rejection. Divorce is a betrayal and a rejection, but so is death. The fact that someone who died of illness did not choose to leave does not mitigate the betrayal and rejection. It’s not as if a person has done these things to us, but as if life itself turned its back on us.
  • Learning a whole new way of living. What you once did together, now needs to be done by you alone.

But there is a divergent point, and that point is death. With all a person has to contend with while going through a divorce, they do not also have to deal with death as a concept or as a reality. Death is shrouded with an element of blank. It is the great unknown and unknowable, and our brains are not equipped to handle the immensity. And yet, while we bereaved are going through the most traumatic event of our lives, we also have to learn to deal with and accept this utterly unfathomable concept.

We all know, of course, we are going to die, but we don’t KNOW. And now we do. This knowledge sends so many chemical and electrical signals throughout our bodies, setting off a cascading series of hormonal reactions, that it leaves us feeling bewildered and traumatized. This is all in addition to our emotional grief. We feel the loss, feel the death, in the depths of our soul. We feel the very winds of eternity screaming through the gaping wound in our heart where our love had been amputated from us.

Divorced people know where there erstwhile mate is, and if they don’t, they can find out, but we bereaved don’t know, can’t know. We call for them, we wonder how they are doing, look for them in crowds. But they are no longer here in the flesh.

When people would tell me how much worse divorce is than death, I would fight back my tears and wish that Jeff really had divorced me. At least I would know he was happy (once I got over being furious with him, that is), at least I would know he was well.

Beyond this empirical evidence, there is an actual, factual difference between the two types of losses, and statistics bear out the truth of it. On a scale of 1 to 100, the loss of a life mate or child tops all at 100. Divorce, the second worse stressor is 73.

I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s pain. We all deal with the traumas life throws at us the best way we can, but ever since Jeff died, my goal has always been to help the bereaved understand what they are going through, and to help their friends understand the enormity of their loss.

Whatever your loss, I wish you peace.

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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.

Fake News and Grief

I’ve been spending time on Quora in an effort to become known on yet another networking site. Quora is a question and answer site with a news feed similar to Facebook, but what appears on the feed are questions. It’s kind of a fun thing, and even makes me think. When I saw the question, “What do fake news and losing a loved one have in common?” I just passed it by. I mean, they don’t have anything in common, right? And yet, as I got to thinking about it, I realized that in both cases, people believe a lot of things that are not true, and they act on those false beliefs, creating heartache.

The complex and painful experience of grief for a life mate or child is not something we see on television shows, in movies, or read about in novels. Through thousands of movies and books, we are taught to be stoic, to hold back our tears, to be cool. Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven was the epitome of western cool, gliding across the film’s landscape without a single show of emotion.

Fictional folks shed a fictional tear or two, perhaps go on a fictional spree of vengeance, then continue with their fictional lives unchanged.

Because of this cultural conditioning (and because we quickly learn to hide our grief from view), people believe that grieving is a much faster process than it actually is, so just a few weeks after the funeral, the phone stops ringing, people we encounter no longer mention our loved one, and our family and friends start urging us to move on.

This can be disheartening, especially since this is when the awful realization starts to sink in that our loved one really is gone. Those closest to us go home to their husbands and wives and unchanged lives. We go into our sad and empty rooms, apartments, houses to be faced again—and again and again—with the knowledge that who we loved was gone, what we had was gone, what we needed was gone, what we hoped for was gone. All gone.

And we’re supposed to be okay with that.

I had lunch one day with some women friends, and one woman’s husband was off on a trip. The woman went on and on about how much she missed him, and the women were all sympathetic toward her. Yet when I mentioned that I missed my deceased life mate, there was a long moment of silence, and then one of the women told me I had to get over it and move on with my life.

She wasn’t an unsympathetic friend. She just based her advice on the “fake news” that it’s best to forget the dead and concentrate on living.
With news, it’s always good to check your sources and not assume what you hear (and believe) is is true. With grief, it’s always good to check your source (the griever herself) and not assume that what you have heard (and believe) is true.

Becoming a person who can live forever while missing that one special person takes a long time — years, even. Becoming a person who can live happily while missing that person takes even longer. But always, you miss them.

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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.

Anniversary Reactions

Anniversary reactions are the strong physical and emotional effects experienced on or around the anniversary of a particular trauma. Our bodies remember even if we don’t, and for those of us grieving the loss of an intrinsic person in our lives, body memory accentuates the strong emotional impact of anniversaries.

Body memory is often associated with extreme stress. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.

People often tell us to try to put our deceased loved ones out of our minds. They have the erroneous idea that if we don’t think of our mates, then we won’t grieve.

At first, it’s impossible not to think of our loved ones all the time. Perhaps we feel as if by holding them in our minds, we can stave off their death, even though it’s already happened. Or maybe we want to continue to feel connected. Or it could be that the enormity of death is so overwhelming, we can’t think of anything else.

But eventually, we do learn not to hold as tightly to these thoughts, and sometimes we even forget to think of our loved ones. But our bodies still keep the faith.

When the brain is overwhelmed with stress and trauma, such as when we are dealing with the death of a life mate, the brain imprints the memory on its fear circuits. Later, when a date or a scent or a sound or the weather triggers that memory, we feel the undiluted power of the trauma.

Now that I no longer have these body memories, I purposely try to remember Jeff’s death anniversary. It’s a way of honoring him, of being grateful he was in my life, of celebrating what we once had.

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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.

Comforting Strangers

When I drove to Seattle last year, I unexpectedly found myself turning into a rest stop. I worry (unnecessarily, perhaps) about my car not starting up if I stop along the road, so I never visit rest areas when I drive. Although my Bug is reliable, it’s . . . not new. I figure it’s better to wait until the next fuel station in case there is a problem. But something seemed to pull me into that rest stop. I walked aimlessly around for a bit, not sure what I’d expected to find, and then returned to my car. When I got back to the parking lot, a big wind came up, and the door of the car next to mine flew open and dented and scraped the paint on the fender of my newly restored Bug. An old lady sat there, just staring at me, as if I were the one in the wrong. “It was the wind,” she said. And it probably was since she seemed too frail to have held the door, but I wanted more of an acknowledgement of the damage than that.

A younger woman came, entered the old woman’s car, and started it. I stood behind their vehicle so they couldn’t drive away. I’m not sure what I wanted, but I wanted . . . something. Soon the younger woman got out of the car and told her mother was sorry, that their insurance would pay for it. The old woman started to cry, which made me feel bad for being so stubborn about the situation. I told her it is was okay, that I didn’t expect them to pay for the damage. Then younger woman explained that the tears weren’t just about my car, but that her father (the old woman’s husband) had just died, and she was trying to give her mother a little vacation.

Oh, my, that broke my heart. I hugged both women, comforted them, and then, before I drove away, I told the daughter that her mother would mourn a lot longer than she would, and please be patient with her. I cautioned her not tell her mother to move on or get over it. She thanked me. I hugged both women again, refused to take their insurance information, and said that every time I saw the dent, I’d think of them. And I do.

I often think about these women, and not only when I see the dent. I’ve never known what to make of this incident. I’m not a big believer in fate, but it makes me wonder if sometimes things happen to benefit not us, but someone else. Maybe fate needed me to be there. Or maybe the woman’s grief called to me.

I don’t have the answer, but I still have the dent.

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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.

Being There For a Bereaved Friend

Many bereaved people find that it is difficult to explain the emotions they feel and even more difficult for their loved ones to understand what they are going through. Being a good friend to those who are bereaved involves showing patience, listening to them, and allowing them to grieve at their own pace without urging them to move on. (This is the big one — do not ever urge them to move on or tell them they need to get over their grief no matter how long it takes. Depending on the loss and the depth of their connection to the one who is gone, it can take years.)

If your bereaved friends cry, don’t tell them to stop. If they can’t cry, don’t urge them to try. If they want to talk, listen to them, but don’t urge them to talk about their grief if they don’t want to. Instead, ask about the person who died, what they were like, what was a favorite memory of them, which might be something bereaved will respond to. A lot of people hesitate to ask about the deceased loved one because they don’t want to make the griever sadder, but it’s nice to honor those who are gone by talking about them, and it’s even nicer to know that others haven’t forgotten the one who is gone.

If your bereaved friends don’t answer your questions, don’t push. If they pushes you away, don’t feel hurt or push back. Hug them if they will let you. When you are together, act normal. Don’t try to “feel their pain.” You can’t, and they will feel burdened by your empathy. Mostly, just be there for them.

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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.

Continuing My Lonely March Into the Future

An older article Resuming My Lonely March Into the Future was inexplicably posted to Facebook yesterday as a new blog post. People have been responding with care and support, and at first I felt guilty that I was gathering sympathy for something that was long past, but when I re-read that five-year-old post, I realized that most of it reflected current feelings. I was particularly sad this Christmas season, more than I have been for a long time. I did shed a few tears, though to be honest they came more from self-pity than raw grief. I simply could not bear another minute of trying to move on with my life. The void of his absence is still there, though of course nowhere near as strong as it was five years ago, and I am tired of his being dead. It remains true that sometimes the hardest thing we have to do is keep marching into the future, especially when the person who connected us to the world lives in our past

More than that, though, the past year was a hard one. I often felt unwell (nothing serious, colds and allergies and the lethargy that results from them). I stopped going to dance class for a while because it was no longer a haven. I delved back into the depths of my sorrow so I could write an honest book about grief. (Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One) Despite all my efforts to fulfill my dreams, this year I finally had to let go of my two-decade-old dream of finding a major publisher, my three-decade-old dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, my forever dream of getting youthfully fit, and oh, so many things. I also had to deal with my older brother’s recent death, which has shaken up my life and made me realize I need to start finding ways to prepare for taking care of myself when I get old. (Like finding a place to settle down, perhaps.)

But, as I did five years ago, I let myself wallow in sadness and indolence, and now I’m steadfastly (and optimistically) resuming my solitary march into the future.

Wishing us all a year filled with wonderful new dreams and good surprises.

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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.