Every Moment is a Once in a Lifetime Event

When I was at the library a little while ago, stocking up on my reading for the next couple of days, the librarian asked me how I was doing. I told her I was doing great, and it was the truth.

At that moment, I did feel great. And why not? I was at a library, warm and comfortable, rosy from my walk, talking to a very nice woman, filling my carryall with books I want to read. Nothing else existed. Not any pain bleeding over from the past, no thinking or worrying about the future (except for thoughts of cozying up to read later in the day).

I had that same feeling last evening. I was reading a book about a sixty-something cop who was in his final year of work, and no matter what happened, he felt that each moment was golden knowing that the work he loved was coming to an end. I stopped to think about the golden moment I was living through and realized again, as I have done so many times before, that no matter what, each moment of our lives are golden.

Some of those moments are breathtaking, such as watching the setting sun paint the skies gold with a never-again to be seen piece of art.

Some of those moments seem dimmed by the pain of loss or the ache of age, but still, they are special in their own way — once in a lifetime events that will never be repeated in exactly the same way.

Admittedly, when things are difficult or we are in the middle of the seemingly unending angst of grief, it’s almost impossible to see the gold in the moment, but those traumas teach us to live in the moment and not look too far ahead. No matter how agonizing, you can live through the moment.

So later, much later, when joy or peace or wonder unexpected steals over you, you can take the discipline you learned from grief and live in the moment. Experience it as if it were a once in a lifetime event.

Because it is.

Wishing you the joy of your moments.

***

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: Not One and Done

When I was writing my second grief book, Terry, a blog reader who’d lost her husband (her best friend) and who helped proof the book, did not like my working title and suggested “Not One and Done.” At the time, I had never heard of the saying “one and done” (never even knew where it came from until just now when I Googled it), so I thanked her for the suggestion and acknowledged that she was correct about my original title not being good enough. I eventually decided on Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One since it was self-explanatory.

Now, however, I do understand what she meant by her title suggestion. Too often, people have the idea that we go through stages of grief — a simple, straightforward slog toward the first anniversary, and then it’s done, the slate washed clean, and we are ready to start to live as if we’d never been married, never had a soul mate, never had a child, never loved someone who was more important to us than ourselves.

The truth is much murkier than one and done. There are no stages of grief, just a chaotic mess of emotions, physical reactions, and spiritual torments that visit us over and over again in a seemingly unending spiral. The spiral eventually widens enough so that we can see the end to the pain, and sometimes widens so much that we are barely aware of our loss, but the spiral is always there, ready to snap back into place. Even years after we reached the point where we feel we have a handle on our grief, it can come back at us as if our loss had just occurred.

Someone recently asked me if there was something wrong with him. His wife had died years ago, and he was happily remarried, but he went through a bad time at what would have been the twenty-fifth anniversary of his first marriage.

Someone else asked me what was wrong with her because she still couldn’t deal with the loss of her best friend, even though the friend had died in May.

It saddens me that people need to ask such questions. It saddens me that our present grief culture is so out of sync with reality it makes grievers think their feelings aren’t valid.

Grief is normal. Life-long grief is normal. Grief upsurges decades after the death are normal. Still dealing with grief a mere eight months after a significant loss is not only normal but to be expected. Oftentimes the second year after the loss of a spouse or a child is worse than the first because both the shock and the widow/widower’s fog have dissipated, and the truth — that you have to live without them for the rest of your life — slams home with a vengeance. This is normal. It’s all normal.

What isn’t normal is that the experts categorize our grief as to what is normal and is abnormal. Sometimes I just want to tell the experts they should hang their collective heads in shame for filling the heads of bereaved people with their ludicrous nonsense.

Even better, I wish my book Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One was required reading for anyone, especially professionals and so-called experts, who deal with people who are grieving. Grievers have enough angst without having to worry about whether or not they are normal.

Admittedly, we who have lost significant people in our lives do learn to deal with their absence. Most of us eventually find a way to live that accommodates our loss. Many of us thrive. Many of us find happiness. Many of us find new loves. But always, somewhere deep in the recesses of our souls, we are aware of our loss.

Grief is not one and done. Grief is forever undone.

***

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.

UNFINISHED

Amanda Ray thought she’d grow old with her pastor husband David, but death had other plans. During David’s long illness and his withdrawal from her, Amanda found solace in the virtual arms of Sam Priestly, a college professor she met at an online support group for cancer patient caregivers. Amanda thought that when their spouses were gone, she and Sam would find comfort in each other’s arms for real, but though David succumbed to the cancer that riddled his body, Sam’s wife, Vivian, survives. Vivian had been in the process of divorcing Sam when she fell ill, and after the diagnosis, Sam agreed to stay with her until the end. Since Sam plans to continue honoring his vow, Amanda feels doubly bereft, as if she is mourning two men.

Rocked by grief she could never have imagined, confused by her love for Sam and his desire for her to move near him, at odds with her only daughter, Amanda struggles to find a new focus for her suddenly unfinished life. As if that weren’t enough to contend with, while clearing out the parsonage for the next residents, Amanda discovers a gun among her devout husband’s belongings. Later, while following his wishes to burn his effects, she finds a photo of an unknown girl that resembles their daughter.

Having dedicated her life to David and his vocation, this evidence that her husband kept secrets from her devastates Amanda. If she doesn’t know who he was, how can she know who she is? Accompanied by grief and endless tears, Amanda sets out to discover answers to the many mysteries of her life: the truth of her husband, the enigmatic powers of love and loss, and the necessity of living in the face of death.

Although the feelings of grief Amanda experiences are based on my emotional journey during my first two months of profound grief, the story itself is fiction. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to deal with not only the loss of one’s mate, but the loss of the idea one had of one’s mate. Well . . . yes, I guess I can imagine how it would feel, because I wrote the novel! I hope you will read UNFINISHED. It’s an important book because too few fiction writers portray the truth of new grief, and that lack leaves the newly bereft feeling isolated and as if they are the only ones dealing with grief’s craziness.

You can you can purchase both a print version and Kindle version of UNFINISHED (published by Stairway Press) on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/1941071651/

***

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.

Facing the Unfaceable

We who have lost our spouses, life mates, soul mates often have to show empathy and understanding to others rather than receiving it from them. We are the ones hurting, so why do we need to be understanding of their feelings? Because it is far easier for us to remember what it felt like to be in their situation, than it is for them to imagine what it must be like in ours.

Shortly after Jeff died, I had to let a man know of the death, though I don’t remember how I conveyed the information. It took months before I could actually say the words, “Jeff is dead.” But I do remember his response. “I know what you’re going through,” he said. “My dog just passed away.”

I stared at him, unable to process those words. To this day, his remark appalls me, though I have come to understand he was reaching out the only way he knew how.

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. While we are in the grip of our grief, the survival mechanisms of those around us are triggered. To avoid facing the unfaceable, people close to us will indulge in self-protective behaviors that shut us out.

Sometimes long-time friends, especially couples, draw away from us. The death of our spouse and the demise of our couplehood change the dynamics of our friendships. People fear we will now be uncomfortable in the company of couples. At the same time, they are uncomfortable with us because all unwittingly, we are a reminder of how fragile life really is.

This drawing away is often an unconscious reflex — they know we are hurting, know they feel helpless in the presence of our pain, but they don’t really know they are acting any different and certainly they don’t know why.

The jargon of grief is that of illness, of negativity, of . . . fault, as if somehow we who are grieving chose our state and now we have to overcome, heal, recover, move on, get over, return to normal. By blaming us for grieving too long, by refusing to admit that our grief is normal, onlookers to our grief can more comfortably return to their job of surviving, and leave us alone with our sorrow.

Even those who are kind to us bereft, even those who continue to be supportive, lose the urgency they had at the beginning. They cannot sustain that same level of support because grief takes way too long, and they need to focus on their own lives.

Despite these protective behaviors and the almost bumbling way people treat the bereaved, and despite my occasional acrid comment about the insensitive things people say to grievers, people do care, and they do want to say the right thing. In the last couple of days, more than 3,300 people landed on my blog post What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? after Googling such things as “how to say Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” “how to wish someone a Merry Christmas after a loss,” “Christmas greeting for grieving person,” “how to wish Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” In fact, since I posted that particular blog in 2011, more than 80,000 people have viewed the article.

Many thousands more have viewed What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving.

The true villain here is death. While the very idea of death drives non-grievers away, it draws us grievers in, forces us to face the unfaceable, makes us an accomplice. And yes, even allows us to show empathy to those who don’t understand but who try to show sympathy the only way they can.

***

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.

Get Over It. Move On.

I notice that my latest grief posts have an edge to them — not anger exactly; more like disapproval.

This aversion is not towards grievers — never toward grievers — but towards those who don’t understand, won’t understand, can’t understand, and yet still feel they have a say in how people grieve.

Not all comments from non-grievers are as appalling as the one that prompted my post a couple of days ago, Grieving at Christmas. The comments are generally more clichéd, such as “get over it” and “move on.”

Luckily, I am past receiving any comment on my grief. Not only do I not let anyone know (except here on this blog) when I am feeling a bit of a grief upsurge, but I have mostly found an internal place to put my loss so that I can think of him and not think of him at the same time. (Or maybe I mean think of him sadly and think of him happily at the same time.)

But there are always new grievers, and the newly bereft do not need people’s attitudes. Do not need to be told to get over it. Death does not negate love. Telling someone to get over it is like telling someone to stop loving.

Sometimes when people urge grievers to move on, they are not expressing insensitivity so much as a misplaced understanding of the nature of grief. (Which is why my book Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One was written both for grievers and for anyone who wants to understand this thing we call “grief.”)

Although people often think they are helping by urging grievers to get over it and move on with their life, they are merely showing that they themselves can’t handle the griever’s grief. Showing that they can’t handle the new person the griever is becoming. Friends and family want grievers to be the way they were before their loss, and the griever can’t be. Loss changes you. Grief changes you.

If those people were truly caring and sensitive to the griever, they would simply be there for the griever even years later, listen to the griever’s pain, understand that grief is a necessary mechanism, realize that no matter how much the griever’s pain upsets them, the loss suffered upsets the griever even more.

What I really want to say to all of those people who are impatient with a griever’s grief is, “Get over it. Move on. Their grief does not belong to you.”

See? Edgy. And not necessarily kind or helpful.

***

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.

Grieving at Christmas

The misconceptions people have about grief are appalling. Someone asked me today what grievers hope to accomplish by being depressed at Christmas (and not doing anything about it) when the grievers know being depressed won’t bring back their loved one.

As if we a choice about grieving. As if we want to be sad. As if drugging oneself into happiness is a viable choice.

Depression and grief are not choices. They happen whether we want them to or not.

Besides, grief over the loss of a loved one, at Christmas or the rest of the year, is not depression. Clinical depression is being sad for no reason. Grief is its own reason.

Holidays are painful. The first wedding anniversary, the first birthdays, the first major holidays. Each of these days brings a greater sense of grief because we are intensely aware that our life mate is not here to experience these once-happy holidays with us. Whatever traditions we developed together become obsolete when only one of us remains to carry on. The pain and the yearning to be together once more during these times can be devastating.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years are the big holidays with the biggest challenges. These special days are family celebrations, and often we are left alone with our memories and our feelings, even if we are surrounded by family.

The holidays during the second and third and fourth and even beyond can be just as difficult. Not only are our traditions gone along with our loved one, every commercial, every song, almost every movie tells us we should be happy, but all we know is that the person we most want to be with, the person who helped bring us happiness or helped magnify our happiness is gone. Even worse, we often need to pretend to be happy about our situation to keep from ruining the festivities of others.

The grief we feel at this time of year is not a conscious choice and comes even if we aren’t reminded of the holidays.

Our bodies remember the special occasions. Our bodies as well as our minds and spirits grieve, so even if we are able to put our deceased loved ones out of our minds, our bodies grieve for us with an upsurge of adrenaline and a change in brain chemistry.

It takes a lot of energy to try not to remember, not to grieve, which overwhelms the brain and exacerbates the very stresses we are attempting to overcome.

This is all in addition to normal seasonal effects, such as depression from the shorter days and longer nights. It’s also in addition to the normal stresses of the holidays.

No one wants any of this. No one ever thinks grief will bring the loved one back. We wish . . . oh, how we wish for one more smile or one more word, but it’s not going to happen, and we know that. But still, watching others have what we don’t is very painful, even if we are happy for them and their love.

Supposing we could do something about our sadness at Christmas, what do you expect us to do? Drug ourselves into oblivion? That’s a heck of a lot worse than feeling sad. Grief connects us in a tenuous way to our lost love; it’s a way of honoring them, and feeling the pain is the best way to learn to live without our love.

Jeff has been gone long enough that I no longer feel much of an upsurge in grief at this time of year, but I am very aware of what it used to be like for me and what it remains like for many grievers.

So, if you, too, have archaic ideas about grief, like the person who asked the question, please try not to foist your ideas on grievers. After all, one day you might be grieving at Christmas, too.

See also: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? and Dealing With Grief During the Holidays.

***

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.

Dreaming of Our Dead

A friend told me the other day that she reads my blog, and she agrees with all I say about grief, but that I never mention one thing: dreaming of our dead.

The truth is, I hate dreaming. I don’t like the feeling of weird and inexplicable things happening, I don’t like the feeling of being out of control, and mostly I don’t like being controlled by any nightmarishness. Researchers say that to aid in dream recall, one should take Vitamin B6 before bed. When I read that, I immediately stopped taking any B vitamins before bed, and that certainly aided in my ability not to recall dreams.

That being said, I have the impression I do dream of Jeff, though mostly as a reflection of my everyday thoughts. He is seldom far out of mind, so it makes sense that he would appear in my dreams as a nebulous character.

There were times, though, that I had specific dreams about him, and those were terribly upsetting. One dream, for example, seemed to be about the end of his life when he was so often disoriented. He was trying to cook something, and he continued pouring whatever it was into the pan after the pan was filled, getting the food all over the stove, him, the floor, even me. I tried to catch his attention so he’d stop, and when I couldn’t, I slapped him to bring him back to reality.

I woke feeling ashamed. I’d never raised a hand to him, never even raised my voice, and yet, in the dream, I did both, and I couldn’t bear it.

Dreams about the dead seem inordinately real. Sometimes they feel like a visitation. Once I dreamt that he came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. He was in his underwear, and in the dream, I knew he’d come from where he’d been sleeping, though I had the impression he’d been with someone, as if he had another life. He said, “I miss you.”

When I woke, I felt as if he’d come to see me one last time, though I have no idea what is true when it comes to life, death, and especially dreams.

Even when we know it’s a dream, what happens in the dream affects our waking life. Once I dreamt we were going somewhere on foot, and I realized that it would be cold before we got back, so I went inside to get a coat. In my closet were two of his coats — a jacket and a trench coat, which I have in fact kept. As I was pulling the jacket off the hangar, I remembered that I had gotten rid of most of his things after he died, and I panicked, wondering how to tell him that his stuff was gone. I left the room, and met one of the moderators of the grief group I had attended. He asked how I was, so I explained the situation, then I added, “It’s a good thing this is a dream, otherwise he would be really angry.”

When I woke, I was still glad I didn’t have to tell him his things were gone even though I had done what he wanted me to do with his stuff. The reason I still have his coats is that he wanted me to keep them since coats are always a good thing to have.

The most powerful dream came at about six months. After a restless night, I finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, and I dreamt.

I dreamed that Jeff was dead, but I woke to find him alive and getting well. It was wonderful seeing him doing so much better. I could feel the tension of grief seep from my body, and a quiet joy seeped over me.

I started to wake. In the seconds before full consciousness hit, I continued to feel the joy of knowing he still lived. And then . . .

Wham!

The truth hit me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, like an aftershock, came the raw pain, the heartbreak of losing him . . . again.

I’d been feeling a bit smug that I was getting a grip on my grief so early in the process, and the dream caught me unaware. In the depths of my being, I believed that he hadn’t died.

It took me weeks to regain the equilibrium that the dream cost me.

When it comes to grief, it seems as the dreams are a facet of our reality. What we feel in the dream continues into our waking state. There is no separation. Even if in a dream we act a way we would never act, we still have to deal with the effects of those acts once we wake. If the deceased in the dream acts in a way they would never act, we are left to deal with that, too.

Although I would love to visit with Jeff once more, if only in a dream, I’m just as glad it never happens. Except for an occasional brief episode of grief, I am in an okay place, both physically and mentally, and any sort of visitation would upset that equilibrium.

Maybe that’s why he never visits me in my dreams. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s why I never dream of him.

***

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.

All I Have Lost

Grief seldom visits me anymore, but last night, I couldn’t keep the tears from falling. I thought I’d gone through all the firsts — first Christmas after Jeff died, first birthday, first everything. But there was one first I hadn’t expected.

I’d gone to a women’s club Christmas dinner, and it turns out that husbands were invited. In all the years since Jeff died, although I’ve often been in the company of married women, this was the first time I’ve been in a group with mostly couples. I had no idea that such a first would be a problem. But it was. Since the couples wanted to sit together, I got shunted toward the end of the table, between two husbands, both of whom were faced away from me.

I didn’t know any of the men at the dinner, barely knew the women, didn’t know any of the people they talked about, didn’t understand any of the local issues they discussed, so there I sat . . . alone. Toward the end of the evening, a couple of women made the effort to talk to me, so I was able to keep my tears in check, but as soon as I got home, I started crying.

I thought I was over this part, this feeling out of place in a coupled world. I’ve been spoiled in that most of my new friends are widows (or once were widows). There is no feeling of being a third wheel or fifth wheel or any sort of wheel when I’m with them, so the feeling of being superfluous hit me hard. I’m still feeling sad and unsettled. In a little over three months, it will be ten years that Jeff has been gone. It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve lasted this long. It doesn’t seem possible that I can still feel so bad and for such a silly reason.

I’ve been doing a good job of looking forward instead of back, of not lamenting all I’ve lost, but last night, it was simply too much. I wanted go out into the dark and scream about the unfairness of it all, wanted to wail, “But I didn’t do anything wrong.”

But death doesn’t care about fairness. Death doesn’t care about rightness or wrongness. Death came ten years ago, and sometimes, like last night, I can still feel the cold winds of grief it left behind.

Part of me feels as if I’ve been playing a game, playing house, playing at being sociable, and I was suddenly brought back to the reality of my aloneness. Luckily, there’s nothing I have to do today, so I can find my center again before I once more put on my smile and act as if this life is what I wanted all along.

Don’t get me wrong — it is a good life. But sometimes, oh sometimes, I can’t help but think of all I have lost.

***

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.

My Life as Told by a Set of Dishes

My Christmas presents the year I was in sixth grade were a used Featherlight sewing machine that my father bought from someone he’d recently met, a set of Melmac dishes that had been a giveaway at Safeway (one piece each week with a purchase), and a new school uniform.

I was pleased with these gifts, even the uniform. My uniforms were the only clothing that was ever bought specifically for me; generally, I wore hand-me-downs from a tiny cousin. (And boy, did having the seams let out to the maximum give me a bad body image at an age when most girls were barely aware of their bodies!)

Back at school, when kids asked me what I got for Christmas, I told them. All day, I could see kids huddled together, glancing at me, and I could hear their tittering. As often happened during those years, I had no idea what I did to make myself a figure of fun. One day, though, a friend came to the house, and with a snicker, she asked to see my gifts.

The snickering stopped when she saw the real sewing machine and the grown-up set of dishes. Apparently, she along with all my classmates thought I got a toy sewing machine and a child’s set of dishes, and they’d been making fun of my childishness.

After that, they still gave me the cold shoulder, which taught me that people blame the victim when they have erred. Apparently, too, being given toys at the advanced age of eleven was infantile, but being given grown-up stuff was plain weird.

I kept the sewing machine until after Jeff died, but I couldn’t keep all three of my sewing machines — my Featherweight, an additional Featherweight that had been handed down to me, and the Pfaff that I had bought in my early twenties when I managed a fabric store. Selling those two Featherweights cheap was a mistake — it turns out they were worth 50 times what I sold them for, and even worse, the Pfaff is so heavy, now that I am getting older, I can barely lift it. (It is solid metal, and I mean SOLID.)

As for the set of dishes, I still have them. They were a source of contention that last year of Jeff’s life. As he pulled away from me, I pulled away from the hurt of his pulling away, and I did not want him to use my plates. The Melmac plates are a nice size, so we used them even more than the Corelle dishes we purchased together since the Corelle plates were too big. But that year, I got concerned about knife gouges and food stains, so I asked him not to use them. But he still did. He liked using things in rotation, so I put Melmac plates at the bottom of the stack. He still used them.

It seems silly now all the emotion I invested in protecting those silly plates. I felt guilty, too, at my selfishness. It took me years to realize the symbolism. I couldn’t protect him, couldn’t protect myself from the pain I was going through at the time, couldn’t protect myself from the grief I would feel after he was gone, but I could protect those plates! But I couldn’t even do that. He simply did not understand what I’d asked of him, and if he did understand, he didn’t remember. Now I know that the cancer that had spread to his brain caused the problem, but at the time, I thought he was being . . . I don’t know . . . inconsiderate, maybe. I don’t use the dishes much any more. Perhaps I’m still protecting them. Or me.

I vaguely remember also having a problem with his using my silverware. (Stainless steel flatware, actually, that had been a giveaway at the bank when I was in my late teens and early twenties — one piece for each deposit). Jeff and I had always intermingled the household things we each brought to the relationship, but for some reason that last year, he began exclusively using my spoons. I preferred those spoons to his because they were a bit narrower and thinner, and seemed to fit me better. Maybe as he got sicker, they seemed more comfortable to him, too, but it left me having to use his thicker spoons, and I resented it. The irony is that after he died, I started using his flatware, and that’s what I mostly use now.

Do you see a pattern here? A set of dishes that’s lasted this long with only one cup missing and a couple of chips on the edge of one small plate. Flatware I’ve used practically my whole life and still use. A sewing machine I bought decades ago and still have. A car I bought new forty-odd years ago and still drive. Could be those kids back in grade school were right — maybe I am a bit weird.

It does seem odd though, that these things are still here, while both my parents, two brothers, and Jeff are gone.

***

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.

 

Dealing With Grief During the Holidays

This is an excerpt from my book: Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One:

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The first year of grief after the loss of a spouse or a life mate is hard because our grief is so new and so raw that it’s all we can do to take one painful breath at a time. All the firsts we experience during this period can make things even harder.

The first holidays are painful. The first wedding anniversary, the first birthdays, the first major holidays. Each of these days brings a greater sense of grief because we are intensely aware that our life mate is not here to experience these once-happy holidays with us. Whatever traditions we developed together become obsolete when only one of us remains to carry on. The pain and the yearning to be together once more during these times can be devastating.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years are the big holidays with the biggest challenges. These special days are family celebrations, and often we are left alone with our memories and our feelings, even if we are surrounded by family.

After Jeff died, I went to take care of my ninety-three-year-old father. That first Thanksgiving, my brothers and sisters-in-law came to have dinner with us. I felt awkward because my widowed father sat at one end of the table, and I sat at the other end in my mother’s place, even performed her hostess duties. Despite that weirdness, it was a nice meal, but as the guests were leaving, two by two, I fell into a deep crevice of grief that took a couple of weeks to crawl out of.

Christmas is even more challenging because if we do opt to join the family in festivities, assuming we have such an option and want to make use of it, our families don’t know what to say to us. They are afraid of saying “Merry Christmas,” because they know there can be no merriment for us. Their fumbling to find something to say makes us so much more conscious of our situation than the rote greeting, “Merry Christmas,” would have done. After all, no one truly is wishing us, or anyone, merriment. It’s simply the thing we say.

We each have to find our own way to deal with the holidays. Talking to someone about our loved one, perhaps sharing a special memory can help, and if there is no one to talk to, writing a letter to our deceased mate can make the upsurge of grief around the holidays easier to handle. There is great power in writing to our dead because it gives us a sense of connection and continuity. We are verbal creatures, so putting our feelings into words can be therapeutic and can decrease the stress of the holidays.

Sometimes we grievers find comfort in doing things the way we always did because it makes us feel closer to our departed loved one. Sometimes we need to create new traditions for us alone, which is how I dealt with the days.

Jeff loved Christmas lights, and since he still lived in my heart, or so people said, I took him for a walk that first Christmas Eve and showed him the abundance of lavishly decorated houses in the neighborhood. As fanciful a notion as that was, it helped.

Over time, as we build new memories on top of the old ones, the emotional resonance of the holidays and anniversaries diminishes, as does the dread leading up to these days. The upsurges of grief we experience soften to a feeling of nostalgia and even gratitude that once we were loved, once had someone to love, once had someone with whom to share our life.

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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.