Handling Someone Else’s Grief

In the book I am currently reading, a thirty-year-old woman lost her 5-month old baby to crib death, and now, nine months later, she is still grieving, still depressed. Because of a divorce, she and the baby had been living with her parents, and since they can no longer handle her grief — they feel as if they’d lost her as well as their grandchild — they ship her off to her godmother. The godmother is freaking out because she doesn’t know how to help the bereft woman, doesn’t know how to bring her out of her depression, and the godmother is emoting through many pages about her inability to cope.

This sort of story — this attitude — makes me so very frustrated!! It’s not enough that we (they) lost someone intrinsic to our lives, we have to deal with people’s need to help.

Here’s a clue, folks. For all of you who have asked me over the years how to help someone who is grieving: don’t help.

Let them grieve. So what if you can’t handle their pain. It is their pain. Sometimes love means letting your loved one hurt, letting them nurse their pain. Grief is how a person becomes someone who can handle the loss. You do not go from being an ecstatic mother to being a happy non-mother in a few months. It is not possible. Grief takes you where you need to go, takes you to a happy-but-sad (sad-but-happy?) place, though it takes way more — years more — than a mere nine months.

Nine months is nothing when it comes to the loss of a life. Sure, the baby had only lived a few months, but what the mother grieves along with the loss of those few months, are the young girl, the young woman, the happy wife, the radiant mother, the grateful grandmother the baby would have been. That is a whole lot of grief to deal with.

If you can’t handle a griever’s pain, realize that what they are feeling is a thousand times worse than what you are feeling. Have empathy. Swallow your pain and let them talk about their loss and sorrow. Prepare food for them if you must, but don’t guilt them into eating it.

Grief is in control. Not the griever. Not you.

It is their grief. Whether it takes nine months or nine years, it is none of your business. Sorry to sound harsh, but it isn’t. Grievers go through more than you can ever imagine, more than can ever be expressed in one silly story about helping someone overcoming the loss of their baby. So let them get on with their grieving.

You can and should be there (and still love them) when the grievers become someone you don’t know. Because they will become such a person. It is the nature of grief. And you cannot hurry grief.

It is this sort of simplistic view of grief that made me write about grief from the very beginning. It’s important for people to know the truth. It’s not the griever who has to change their attitude toward grief. It is the friends and families of grievers who must accommodate their loved one as grief takes the bereft where they need to go.

***

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: The Inside Story

One common challenge facing all of us — grievers, friends of grievers, and health care professionals — is how to help those who are experiencing grief after bereavement.

Coping with the death of a loved one can be the most traumatic and stressful situation most people ever deal with — and the practical and emotional help available to the bereaved is often very poor. I found this to be true as I recovered from the loss of my life partner.

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? Questions like these aren’t easily dealt with, and much of the literature aimed at the bereaved can read either like a medical textbook.

My new book Grief – The Inside Story: A Guide to Surviving the loss of a Loved One aims to answer these big questions in a straightforward way, and it may be of help to you or someone you know.  If you would like to know more a free easily-downloadable sample of the book, and a complete and detailed listing of its contents, is available here: https://www.docdroid.net/klBIjLB/grief-by-pat-bertram.pdf

The book trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtLwOpGpm_w

Grief – The Inside Story is now available from Amazon (www.amazon.com/dp/0368039668), and all good bookstores. If you have any questions I’d love to hear from you.

In the Past? Or Still to Come?

Now that I’m getting settled in my new place, I seem to be reverting to the life I lived before I met Jeff — reading, a few chores, an occasional meeting with acquaintances. I don’t spend much time on the computer (except for solitaire, of course). Don’t use my phone much at all except for an occasional call. Haven’t been promoting my grief book like I should. Haven’t even been writing.

Such a simple, unconnected life it was back then and so it is again.

This feeling of reliving the distant past is so strong that strangely, I find myself looking forward to when I will be meeting Jeff — not in an afterlife, but in this life. As if he’s waiting for me to find him. As if we will be starting our life together. As if what I thought was in the past might instead still be to come.

I don’t know where this feeling originates, but somedays it is very strong. And, as always, when the truth hits — that he is truly gone from this Earth and anything else is just make believe — I can’t breathe, can’t help getting teary.

I seldom look at the photo of him I have by my bed, though it is often in my periphery, just as he is in my periphery. I still have his ashes, though I’d forgotten about them until I noticed them in my car the other day. (They’re waiting, I suppose, until I go back to the north fork of the Gunnison where we used to live.)

And I get caught up in this new single life of mine.

So I’m not sitting around bemoaning my loss.

But somewhere inside, I always know he’s gone. I still don’t know how that can be — even after all these years, his utter goneness makes no sense to me. We’re supposed to be preparing for our old age together. We were supposed to beat the odds, and find health and happiness and vitality together in our final years.

No matter where this feeling of the past being the future comes from, I know the truth of it. I’m preparing for my own old age, not ours.

And yet, and yet . . . in my heart, I can’t help thinking that someday I will walk into a store, just as I did all those years ago, and there he will be, behind the counter, happy and healthy and waiting for me.

***

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.

Playing House

When I was little, I wanted a playhouse. It seemed the ultimate fantasy to me — to have a tiny house of my very own to play in.

A few years ago, thinking about a nomadic life, I looked at tiny houses, campers, gypsy wagons — grown-up playhouses, in other words. As it turned out, hauling around a tiny house of any kind would be more than my ancient car could handle, so I’d not only have to buy the house, but a heavy-duty truck, too, which made that idea unfeasible.

I’m still not quite sure how it happened, but here I am with my own little house. It’s stationary, not something I could haul around, but that’s okay. I like having a plot of land with its dreams of future flowers. And I like having a playhouse. I was never one for housework — it was too energy consuming and there were always other things more important to spend my energy on. But today’s cleaning tools make housework seem so easy. Dusters that pick up the dust instead of pushing it around. Sweepers that dry mop the floor swifterly. A kitchen with a place for everything.

There’s no drudgery when you’re playing house!

The things that need fixing around the property are still not getting fixed, but I have a hunch one of these days everything will happen at once. Then I’ll wonder what hit me. For the most part, though, waiting is not a problem. I’m used to waiting, and besides, I’m getting to know the house and the town. In some respects, it’s as if I’ve lived here a very long time — I’ve made some good friends, and I feel at home here.

On a more serious note, it’s odd to think of all the deaths and traumas that led directly and indirectly to my having a home of my own — odd because I don’t really feel those deaths anymore, not even Jeff’s. It’s been too long since I was with Jeff, and I’ve become so different that I have few tears left in me. It’s hard to believe I was ever that woman, or rather those women. The one who loved with her whole being, the one who numbly kept a death vigil for many years, the one who screamed her grief to the uncaring winds. All of those women are gone. The woman I am today is both less and more than they were. “Less” because I seem to have burned out all my deep-seated emotions and come to a time of lowered expectations; “more” because I have reached a place of peace and perhaps even joy.

(I sometimes fear that I am getting so far from my grief that if a new friend loses a spouse, I will shrug it off with a private feeling of “been there, done that.” But that’s a worry for another time.)

I’m still not back to writing, though I have come upon a couple of more bits for a possible mystery. I found a remnant of fabric in the grass, and when I couldn’t simply pick it up, I got out the shovel. Turns someone had buried a red-spattered shirt. The red was part of the shirt design, but it could easily have been something more sinister. And then there was the baby photo hidden in the basement . . .

Not everything is hunky-dory, of course — it never is. My bugaboo is literally a bug. Or rather, lots of bugs. Mosquitos, spiders, monstrous beetles. But we’re reaching an accommodation of sorts. I leave them alone if they leave me alone, but they take their life in their mandibles if they get into the house. It’s a playhouse, after all, not a bug house!

***

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: 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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.