What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 1

Grief belongs to the griever. No one should tell a griever how to grieve, when to grieve, or how long to grieve. No one can bind grief or limit it, usually not even the griever. It’s not so much that we go through grief, but that grief goes through us, and eventually, when grief has done what it’s supposed to do (take us from a relatively safe shared life to a relatively safe new life that can accommodate the unthinkable idea of death), it will leave us in peace.

Sociological forces try to bind our grief. Society as a whole needs people who fit in, and in today’s culture, unhappiness and pain have no importance. Even though they don’t know it, people who are close to us are often the agents of these societal forces. They urge us to move on, to stop thinking about our deceased loved one, to find someone else. Sometimes they simply wish us to be happy. Sometimes they don’t want to be confronted with the issue of death, and if they confront the reality of our loss, then they — like us — would have to confront that terrible reality of death. And sometimes, they are simply responding to societal pressures to herd us back into place.

Grief theorists try to bind our grief with their “stages” of grief, their platitudes, their easy solutions for a difficult situation. So often, the message is mixed. They try to guide us back to normalcy while telling us that everyone’s grief is different, which actually isolates us even more than we already are. No one likes to feel as if they are the same as everyone else, but being too different, feeling too different, makes us wonder if we’re crazy, which exacerbates grief. Everyone’s grief is different to the extent that we are all different, but there are similarities in the progression of grief for many who have lost their life mates, and this similarity is comforting to those who already feel out of place and outside of time.

What few people seem to realize is that there is no place for us anymore. No normalcy. When we have lost our life mate, the one person who connected us to the world and even ourselves, there is no going back. Everything has changed. And everything continues to change.

Eight years and eight months after Jeff’s death, I can still feel ripples of change. We grievers count the days, the weeks, the months, and eventually only the years from the day our loved one died. It’s as if subconsciously we know that on that day of death, we were reborn into a new life. In fact, for many of us, that particular date has more resonance than our actual birthday.

So, if someone you care about has lost a person intrinsic to their lives, please resist the urge to chivvy the griever along. Their grief does not belong to you. Grief belongs to the griever.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Manual for the Loved Ones of a Person Who Has Lost a Loved One

A friend who’s been helping proof my new grief book has suggested my next project: a book geared to the family and friends of someone who has lost a life mate. She said as she read the book, she related it to me, and she seemed surprised by all that I’d gone through. We’d talked about Jeff, his dying, and my grief, but even though I’d tried to explain the immensity and horror of the loss and the rippling effects of grief, a casual conversation doesn’t come close to seeing the truth laid out as I did in the book.

She and I met a year ago, long after the pain of loss had dissipated, so it made sense she knew little of what I’d gone through. If we’d met shortly after Jeff died, though, she probably wouldn’t have known much more because I, like most people who have lost their mates, quickly went underground with my grief. The divide between being coupled and being widowed is too great for most of us to handle, no matter if we’re the one who experienced the loss or the one who has to see us suffering.

And yet, my friend is right — people who love us do need to know what we’re going through. Too often they tell us to move on without understanding that grief is how we’re moving on. They urge us to find someone new without realizing that a new love does not negate the old, and in fact, if the new love doesn’t understand about the long term effects and changes brought about by profound grief, the new relationship can’t hold up. They see what they think is us enshrining our lost mates without understanding that we need something to hold on to. The half of the bond held by the deceased is gone, but our half is still there, like a live wire trying to find a place to ground itself.

Although my new grief book is geared for those who have lost their life mate, it can (and should!) be read by anyone who is struggling to understand what their newly widowed family and friends are feeling. Still, I understand why she suggested a separate manual for the loved ones of a person who has lost a loved one. While the starkness of this current book is comforting to those who are undergoing the angst of loss, it could be a bit too strong and detailed for the as yet uninitiated.

Imagine, though, how comforting it would be for newly bereaved to be around those who try to understand. For example, in my new grief book I explain how the body remembers even when the mind doesn’t, and so when a particular time comes around, we re-experience the loss as if it were new. Ever since my brother died, I’ve been feeling out of sync with life and even myself. His death hit me much harder than I expected, and it reminded me (as if I needed a reminder) that Jeff too was gone. When I told my friend about this odd feeling, she asked me if it was my time. (Meaning one of the times of body memory.)

Although I don’t think this feeling of not quite connecting is part of my grief for Jeff, it made me feel good that she understood. And what a perfect thing for her to have said!

Ever since Jeff died, I’ve made it my mission to take grief out of the closet, to show there is no shame in profound grief, so a manual such as my friend suggested might be a good project for me. First, I need to get this current book published and in the hands of the people who need it, and then . . . who knows.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Too Many Deaths

It seems as if I’ve accidentally taken a vacation from the internet. I haven’t posted a blog in over a month (I even forgot to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of this blog), and I’ve made only an occasional visit to Facebook. It wasn’t planned, this vacation. It’s just that life — and death — got in the way of my usual e-activities.

My older brother’s death affected me — and continues to affect me — so much more than I thought it would. (For someone who thinks she is as self aware as I think I am, my own reactions to death always manage to surprise me.) I thought I’d grieved the loss of my brother when I left him on the street in Colorado, but death is different. Irrevocable. And I am very conscious of his being gone.

My brother had given me the stuff in his storage unit a few years ago with the caveat I wouldn’t do anything with it until he was gone. (Did he know how close to death he was? I don’t know. I thought this disposition of his possessions was just his usual doom saying.) So, in addition to dealing with his death, I had to deal with his possessions. Well, my possessions. It was incredibly sad to see his preparations for a life as a musician he never got to live. It was incredibly sad having to dispose of the provisions for that unlived life. (There is no way I could have kept his things. I have enough of my own — and Jeff’s — stuff in storage without having to add my brother’s, too.)

Jeff’s death brought to the fore questions about death and the meaning of my life as well as fears of my growing old alone. My brother’s death didn’t leave me with the mystical quest Jeff’s death did; instead, it made me question the practicalities of my life. Made me realize I need to prepare for my old age. Considering the longevity of my parents, I thought that old age would be a long time coming, but both brothers closest to me in age, one a year younger, one a year older, are now gone. My younger brother didn’t come within thirty years of my mother’s final age. My older brother didn’t come within thirty years of my father’s age.

Although I have reconnected with other siblings, I still have to deal with life on my own. They all have someone significant in their lives, and I have . . . me. I see friends sporadically, but mostly, I spend my time alone. It’s odd that I am now where I feared to be during those first years of grief after Jeff died. I used to be terrified of stagnating, of becoming the crazy cat lady sans cats, so I kept myself busy with forward-looking activities. After the seventh anniversary, that need for busyness evaporated. Luckily, as it turned out. Most of my grief group friends are now paired up, my walking friends have gone on to other activities, and my dance classes have diminished. (I stopped going to a couple of the classes because they had become a performance group rather than actual classes and caused me more frustration than joy. Most of my other classes, classes that I loved, were either cancelled or are hit and miss.) And my dream of an epic hike evaporated when I discovered the reality of my physical abilities. Or lack of abilities.

So here I am. Alone. But not stagnating. (At least, I don’t think I’m stagnating. But if I am, would I know?) I’ve been spending time with my new grief book, preparing for its send off into the world of agents. I’ve been trying to get back into walking shape — my frequent colds this year and the trips I’ve gone on (to Seattle and to my brother’s memorial) have taken their toll on me. And I’ve been trying to figure out where to go from here, not in a mystical way, but a practical way, trying to figure out where I want to be living when death begins swiping at me with its scythe.

Death. So not a friend of mine! (Though I might feel differently when I near my own end.) I don’t mean to sound morbid. There’s just been too many deaths in too short a time.

Although I should return from my accidental vacation and get back into the discipline of keeping up the blog, I truly don’t want to foist my sadness on others. I did enough of that when I was dealing with Jeff’s death, and there’s nothing new to say.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Complicated Grief

I’ve been working on my book about grief, which is why you haven’t seen me here much. I’m spending most of my words on the book; most of my time, too, so I haven’t had anything much to talk about.

Until today.

In my research for the book, I keep stumbling upon a particularly odious phrase, “complicated grief.” We all know grief is complicated, straining, as it does, all our physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual resources beyond their limits. Complicating grief even more is its illogicalness, our inability to rationalize death, the unexpected and sudden triggers and upsurges of sorrow, having to find meaning and rebuild our lives after the death of person fundamental to our life, and a dozen other such complications.

But this is not what the professionals call “complicated grief.” To them, complicated grief is a medical condition that needs treatment. According to the Mayo clinic, signs and symptoms include:

  • Intense sorrow, pain and rumination over the loss of your loved one
  • Focus on little else but your loved one’s death
  • Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
  • Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Numbness or detachment
  • Bitterness about your loss
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one

Um, folks. This is called grief. Pure and simple.

The professionals say everyone grieves differently, but if your grief differs too much from other people’s grief, then you might have complicated grief disorder. I’ve been reading enough scholarly papers to know how they decide what is “normal.” They interview people. And if you’re one of the 7-15% whose grief falls outside the “norm,” then you have complicated grief disorder, no matter who died or how they died. (Apparently, in their studies, an aged parent who died quietly in bed should be grieved the same as a child who was murdered, and if it’s not, then the murdered child’s parent might have complicated grief disorder.)

They say grief takes as long as it takes, but if your grief takes longer than other people’s, then you might have CG. (Cute name, huh?)

According to one research paper I read, reactions such as having difficulty accepting the death, searching for and preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased, or being stunned by the death may well indicate complicated grief if they are present beyond the first few months after the loss. Thus, complicated grief involves the presentation of certain grief-related symptoms at a time beyond that which is considered adaptive. We hypothesize that the presence of these symptoms after approximately 6 months puts the bereaved individual at heightened risk for enduring social, psychological, and medical impairment.

Six months? Huh???? It takes at least a year just to get over the shock of it all!!!

The same study says: Complicated grief is the failure to return to preloss levels of performance or states of emotional wellbeing. Again, huh? Don’t they realize that once you have lost your life mate/soul mate, you can never return to preloss levels of anything. Everything changes, including us. Grief is a matter of becoming. Becoming the person who can survive the loss. Becoming the person who can live comfortably in a suddenly alien and hostile world. Becoming the person we need to be in order to find a new state of emotional wellbeing.

The professionals say if you have strong feelings of yearning for your deceased loved one, you might have complicated grief disorder, but studies have shown that yearning is the primary emotion of grief after the death of someone intrinsic to our lives.

They say that everyone’s loss is different, but they treat all losses as if they were the same. The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University says: Mental health training does not usually include learning about the syndrome of complicated grief. However, trainees often are taught that grief is complicated if there was an ambivalent relationship to the person who died. This is a misconception. Adapting to a loss is more difficult if a person can imagine how things could have been different. People might do this because the relationship was conflictual. However, this is uncommon. Most people with complicated grief have had an especially strong and rewarding relationship to the person who died.

So, let me get this straight. If we have had an especially strong and rewarding relationship with the person who died, as we do with a life mate/soul mate, the resulting profound grief is . . . wrong?

How the heck to do these people think? Don’t they read what they write? Do they truly have no idea that the loss of a distant cousin, for example, no matter how well loved, might . . . just might . . . be different from the loss of the person we intimately shared a life with?

Or maybe they are saying that the strong relationship is bad? Oh, right they do say that. They call it co-dependency. Cripes. What a world.

Apparently, they don’t understand that love is an interdependent relationship. They don’t understand how important love is and that the loss can be so devastating that you cannot get over it in a few months, and that such grief is not a disorder but an absolutely normal order. They don’t understand about the constant triggers that remind us that we’re alone. When you lose your one true love to death, all of a sudden you are supposed to be able to slough off your loss as if love didn’t matter, and go on with your life. Everyone else is celebrating their love, but you are supposed to accept that yours is over and you are supposed to have a good attitude so you inconvenience others as little as possible.

Because oh, yes, not only do we have our grief to contend with, we have the whole sociological horror to deal with: friends and family — and even mere acquaintances — who don’t understand what we’re going through trying to control our grief, sometimes with gentle (and not so gentle) reminders that we have to move on. People who are uncomfortable in our presence or who find our grief and inconvenient reminder of the fragility of life shunting us off to the side.  And of course, amateur and professional psychologists who try to define our grief as a disorder or a syndrome.

The grief — the normal grief — for a life mate can take years. We’re not necessarily actively mourning all that time; we often have long patches of peace. (According to the American Cancer Society, mourning is the outward expression of loss and is part of the grieving process. Grieving is the process of coming to terms with the loss. Researchers often get this backward, which complicates even further their already complicated papers on complicated grief.)

It takes a very long time to process death, to come to terms with our shattered couplehood, and to find a new way of living that can encompass the loss. In fact, I have found a distinct pattern to grief after the loss of life mate to whom we had a particularly strong attachment, and if the professionals had been reading this blog all these years, they’d see it too.

I do understand that some people get stuck in unhealthy thoughts and actions and so need help to get unstuck, but for most of us who have lost our life mate/soul mate, if we let grief do its work — no matter how hard it is or how long it takes, and no matter how abnormal it might appear to outsiders — we will get to where we need to be.

Maybe I should write a book about grief and tell the truth.

Oh . . . right. I am. Perhaps the professionals will even read it and learn something.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Did You Experience Widow’s/Widower’s Fog

I’m working on my new book about grief. Currently I am looking for something different to say about widow’s fog. Although it’s supposed to be universal, I never really experienced this grief-induced amnesia, dazedness, and fogginess that people say shrouded them after the death of a spouse or life mate, mostly because the things I did to help make sense of my grief were the very things that get rid of widow’s fog. The fog basically comes from an overloaded prefrontal cortex. Most people, when faced with the enormity of grief, try to suppress the emotions and think their way out, and this overloads their brains even more. But I didn’t. I just let everything flow. I’d walk for hours in the desert, feeling my grief, letting my mind wander without trying to think about anything in particular, and apparently, this “not thinking” is the very thing that reduces the overload. Also, telling ourselves the truth about what we feel and labeling our emotions help us through the fog, and that is what I did on this blog. Just being in the moment helps, and I did that, too.

Consequently, I have nothing really to say on the matter and no way to describe how it feels, and such a common part of grief should be included in my book. Did you experience this fog? If so, would you mind telling me about it? You can either leave your answer here as a comment or email me at pat@bertramsblog.com. If you have a scientific bent and can lend me your expertise, that, too, would be appreciated.

Oddly, I’d never even heard of this fog until a couple of years ago when I did a dance performance for a widows and widowers group. So maybe it’s not as universal as it’s supposed to be? If you didn’t experience it, I’d like to know that, too.

While I’m at it — what did you do to comfort yourself and relieve the stress of grief? I have written that chapter several times, and it never comes out right. I mean, how many times can I say I cried, and screamed, and beat up defenseless sofas? That’s not enough to fill a chapter.

(For those of you who are interested in what I’ve been up to and why I haven’t been blogging, this book is the reason. Lots of thinking, researching, writing.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Hello, Sorrow, My Old Friend

Any of you who have followed this blog for the past few years know of my struggles to deal with my troubled brother while I was taking care of my father. I finally had to drive my brother back to Colorado, which was the most horrifying trip of my life. He was out of control, and I wasn’t sure I would survive.

But we got there safely. After being stymied at finding a place for him to stay, I finally had to give up.

I still remember the last time I saw my brother. I was sitting at the wheel of a rental vehicle, and he was standing outside the window. He begged me to stay one more night, but I knew the next night he would beg, and then again, and I had to make a clean break.

We talked for a while, then he told me I shouldn’t drive far before getting a room, that he was worried about my falling asleep. This concern for me, the first he had shown in the fourteen months we were together, broke me. I started to cry. Then he told me several sights I should be sure to see, and I cried harder. “Do you think this is a fun trip for me?” I said. “It’s killing me. I don’t want to leave you here on the streets.”  He briefly touched my hand, and my tears poured down my face. He expressed surprise that I cared, and I explained that of course I cared. I’d spent the past fourteen months trying to keep him off the streets, which is why I’d lobbied for his camping out in the garage.

I reached out for my brother’s hand, needing that one final touch, but he turned and walked away, tears of his own in his eyes.

I cried all thousand miles back to my father’s house.

I knew I’d never see him again, so I thought I’d finished my grieving, but still. the news that he died last night has torn me apart.

Now I am crying again. All I can think of is that brilliant boy I so idolized, and the tortured man he turned into.

And I can’t help reflect that both brothers near to me in age, the one a year older, the one a year younger, are now gone. Both died way too young. It’s as if my childhood, such as it was, has died too.

Yeah. Sorrow.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Ironies of Grief

I’ve been working on my new book about grief, and I noticed how often I used the word “irony.” No wonder. Grief seems to be fraught with ironies.

It is devastatingly ironic that the one person we need to turn to help us with our grief is the very person who is gone.

It is ironic that it is we bereft who have to be understanding of and make allowances for the thoughtless things people say to us.

It is ironic that when we most need people, they make themselves scarce, as if grief is a terrible and terribly contagious disease.

It is ironic that while grief is not a disease, it is a dis-ease.

It is ironic that when we are at our weakest, as we are after a grievous loss, we have to be our strongest.

It is ironic that grief, which seems to be something that needs to be healed, is actually the way we heal from the traumatic assault perpetrated by the grim reaper.

It is ironic that we’re supposed to believe life is worth living at the very same time we’re supposed to believe the dead are in a better place.

It is ironic that while we are dealing with the most profoundly painful time of our lives, we have the most mundane tasks to complete.

Some of these might not be strictly ironies, but I’m padding the list.

Can you think of any more ironies of grief? I’d like to do a chapter for the book on irony, but what I have here wouldn’t make much of a chapter. Normally, I’d fill out a chapter with explanations of my various points, but there’s really no need to explain any of these ironies because the irony is evident.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

One Star Review. Eek.

I’ve been updating my various networking sites in an effort to position myself for becoming a bestselling author. (Even though my new book on grief hasn’t yet been written, I need to believe that it will be a success, otherwise my old friend futility will begin banging on the inside of my head, and the book will never get written.)

Although I try not to read reviews (that’s a lie, actually; it’s hard not to want to know what people think and it’s even harder to overcome the need to feel validated in some way) I found a one star review for Unfinished. One star? Eeek!

The woman claimed that the book was not at all what she thought it was, that there was too much about the character’s grief. I’m not surprised. We do not often read about a character going through the trauma of grief. In fact, one of the many reasons I began writing about my grief (and why I specifically wrote Unfinished) is the lack of grief I found in fiction. In one book I tried to read after Jeff died, a woman’s husband was murdered, and the widow cried for a single night, decided that was enough, and set out to find the killer. No other mention of grief in the book at all.

In a second book I tried to read around that same time, a woman’s husband died, and the only acknowledgment of her grief was a single sentence: She went through all five of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief.

In the third book I tried to read, the main character was a grieving widow with a young daughter, and the only indication of their grief was a conversation about how the two needed to be strong and not cry.

Up to then reading had been my life, but after those experiences, I gave up reading for many years. There has to be something in a book that resonates, and nothing anyone wrote resonated with me as a griever. Hence, Unfinished.

Another point the reviewer made was the unbelievability of a woman having a cyber affair while her beloved husband lay dying. Actually, this says more about the reviewer and her unfamiliarity with a dying mate than it does about my writing. Anyone who has had the care of long-dying mate knows the insanity of one’s thoughts (and actions). Mostly, I was numb, going through the motions of living, though there were times I hated Jeff. There were times I wished he’d hurry up and die and get it over with. There were times I desperately needed to get a start on living my life without him. There were times I wondered who that silent graying man was, and how I ended up with him. There were times I bristled when he “lectured” me. (Although we didn’t know it, his brain was clouded with cancer metastases. Since this made him unable to hold more than a single thought in his head, the fabulous, wide-ranging conversations that formed the basis of our shared life were . . . simply gone.)

And that was our life for a year, two years, eternity — me struggling to live while he struggled to die.

A few weeks before he died, during a time of clear thinking, he reached out to me. We had a long, wide-ranging talk about us, our shared dreams that never came true, the future we’d never have — oh, so many things — and I fell in love with him all over again.

Six weeks later, he died, and grief slammed into me with a force I could not have ever imagined. (Think of grief as a proliferation of emotional, physical, spiritual, mental line drawings, one piled on top of the other so densely that all you see is solid black. Then try picking out each of those images from the totality. Grief is that immense.)

Although I thought someone (well, me) should write a novel about a widow trying to deal with the practicalities of life while undergoing such trauma, I hesitated for many years. I didn’t expect people to like such a raw book. And I knew it wouldn’t change anything. People who knew grief didn’t need to be shown what it was like. People who didn’t know grief wouldn’t believe it or would find it oppressive, so I do understand the reviewer’s comments.

What I don’t understand is her complaint of too many typos, missed words, and writing mistakes.

Huh? Typos are a fact of writing, and though we do our best, as do our copy editors, typos do creep in. But writing mistakes? I don’t make writing mistakes. If it’s in the book, it’s meant to be there.

Being the rather obsessive person I am (and rather demoralized), last night I went through the book again, and I did find a couple of typos. (One of which I already knew about.) But writing mistakes? The only thing I can think of are the letters the dying fellow wrote to his wife that she found after his death. Yes, there were mistakes, but they were the character’s mistakes, not mine. (For example, he complained about his “stupefried” brain.) In fact, I thought the letters were too cohesive considering the cancer in his brain and all the drugs he was on, but the letters needed to be understandable. (I kept a note Jeff wrote the last night he was home, but I haven’t a clue what it says.)

I do think it’s unfair of folks to complain about typos and then not list them to give me a chance to get them corrected. So, if you ever read a book of mine, and find typos, please let me know what they are. Such errors are inadvertent, and are not meant to taunt you. I promise.

If you are the person who wrote the review, I appreciate your taking time to post your thoughts. I don’t mean to be disrespectful in this rebuttal, and in fact, I don’t normally write rebuttals since it is unprofessional, but I needed to write this. Blogging is how I “unobsess” about things, and I cannot allow myself to believe what you wrote, otherwise I would be too discouraged to write my new book on grief, and it does need to be written.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Always Writing

I’m laughing at myself. Well, chuckling, anyway. I’ve often railed against the foolish comment, “A writer writes. Always.” For one thing, “always writing” is a physical impossibility — you also have to eat, sleep, work, do at least a minimum of household and personal chores. For another, spending all your time writing gives you nothing to write about because you are writing, not living. (Though some people would argue that writing is living.).

Of course, if you accept a broader definition of writing that would include living, thinking, outlining, researching, learning the craft, promoting, then yes, a writer spends much of his or her time writing. But still, that does not have the same meaning as “A writer writes. Always.”

So why is this amusing me today? Well, I’d planned to spend the past few days going through all my grief blog posts and my email responses to messages from fans and supporters to glean what bits of wisdom I can for my new book on grief, and I’ve only managed to get through part of the correspondence. Haven’t even started rereading the hundreds and hundreds of blog posts I wrote on the subject of grief.

Apparently, while denying that a writer always writes, I’ve been always writing.

It turns out this is a good thing. I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve said during the eight years I’ve spent writing about grief. (Not surprising since most of it was stream of consciousness more than long thought theories.) Even though it’s painful visiting the past, many salient points have been buried beneath all those words, and those points need to be considered for inclusion in the book.

For example, in response to a fellow who said he didn’t know how to forgive himself for the things he’d written to his mate during an argument. I wrote, “Don’t forgive yourself,” which shocked the heck out of him because the advice goes against everything we are taught and everything we believe.

I’d completely forgotten this exchange, and yet, it’s true. Why should he or any of us forgive ourselves for things we said while in a living relationship? The only thing wrong is that his mate died. If death hadn’t intervened, they would have made up, and life would have gone on. But life didn’t go on. Death did. We so often think we are the villains of our life, and yet death is there off to the side, waving its bloody hands and yelling, “Me. Me.”

Well, here I am, adding more words to an already overloaded gallery of words instead of tackling the dreaded task of revisiting my grief. But what else can you expect from a writer who seems to be always writing?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief, Sex, Skin Hunger, and Minimization

I am in the preliminary stages of writing a new book about grief, though “writing” is a misnomer. I’m mostly just thinking about the project, trying to get the structure of the work solidified in my mind, and in doing so, I discovered a hole in my grief writings. I never mentioned sex, and this topic should be included in a book that is supposed to be a comprehensive look at grief.

For people with an active sex life, the sudden cessation of sex must be truly horrendous. For me, that was a separate grief because physical intimacy ended long before my life mate/soul mate’s death. (Simply trying to stay alive for all those years depleted his resources and energy, and there was nothing left for anything but mere survival.) When that part of our shared life came to an end, I went through a horrible (and horribly long) time of what I call skin hunger, where I was desperate for the feeling of skin on skin. It wasn’t just an emotional thing — my skin itself cried out for the touch of his skin. I can’t imagine having to deal with the torment of skin hunger as well as all the other horrors grief throws at us.

And what about suddenly sleeping alone? How did you handle that? I didn’t have this problem, either. Because of his night restlessness, he slept in a different room, and then after he was gone, I left our home to go take care of my father.

And there is another sex-related issue I never mentioned but should be included in the book since it’s another almost incomprehensible aspect of grief. Some people’s bodies deal with the presence of dying and death by fighting for life, which can mean an emotional detachment from the dying partner, or something even worse — an incredibly severe upsurge of sex hormones, and a very painful, almost constant arousal.

Since this is about all I know personally of the subject, I’d appreciate anything you can add to the discussion. I don’t expect you to leave your remarks here on this blog (unless you want to), so feel free to write me via pat@bertramsblog.com. (You can write me at any email address you might have for me, but this is the only one I feel comfortable publishing here). Even if I were to use your comments, I would preserve your anonymity. This is a difficult subject and needs to be handled with delicacy.

I remember a woman showing up at our grief group once, and all she wanted to know was if she’d ever be able to have sex again. The poor woman seemed utterly bewildered by the loss of her sex life. That was the only mention of sex during my time in the grief group. Since most of us had taken care of our mates during a long illness, it wasn’t an immediate issue for us, and even if it were, I doubt any of us would have been comfortable discussing the matter in public.

Another hole in the book is a mention of the way people minimize our grief. For example, a woman in that same grief group who lived with her soul mate for years without being married, was told by another member of the group that the woman’s grief wasn’t as bad as everyone else’s because she and her “husband” had never been married. (I imagine people such as this would never understand that a surviving member of a gay couple also experiences profound and debilitating grief.) Another woman, who’d divorced her first husband to marry her soul mate, was told that she got what she deserved. This sort of belittling is totally uncalled for, and needs to be brought out in the open. If you can think of any other examples of such belittling (as opposed to the general sort of insensitivity we all experience after the death of our life mates), please let me know, either in the comments here or via the email address mentioned above.

If you can think of anything else you’ve experienced that I have never mentioned on this blog, especially if it’s something you don’t think anyone has ever felt, I’d like to know that, too.

Thank you, as always, for reading my words and supporting me in this very important project.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is 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 Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.