Preparing for a Life Mate’s Death

People often ask me how they can prepare themselves to cope with the eventual death of their spouse, but there is no way to ever prepare yourself for such an eventuality. You cannot imagine how you will feel when they die — it truly is unimaginable — so the best thing you can do is spend time with them now, enjoy what you have together, and let the end take care of itself. If you prepare now for what you imagine you will feel then, you will miss the very things that will get you through the pain and loneliness — creating memories, knowing you did the best for your loved one that you could, having no regrets as to your actions.

The truth is, grief at the loss of a spouse is so great and so all-consuming, that it changes you into the person who will be able to live without your mate. Not at first, of course. There is no way to prepare for the pain you will feel. But as time goes on, you will become the person you need to be and you will learn to embrace life again. Even the loneliness will become bearable.

It is not our choice who lives and who dies, but we can choose to live despite their death. I have met many widows and widowers since I lost my life mate, and every one of them eventually found a way not only to survive, but to thrive.

While dealing with the horrendous loss of their mates, while still grieving well into their second and third year, women have traveled the world alone to honor their husband’s dream. By themselves, they have closed up the house they lived in for twenty years and moved halfway across the country. They have put in irrigation systems, have finished building a house, have written books, have taken up painting, have gone back to school, have started businesses, have blogged about their grief. They have made new friends. They have worked to support themselves and their families, and to pay the medical bills their husbands left behind. They have welcomed grown children back into their homes, helped take care of newborns and elderly parents. All while dealing with active grief.

Just as you cannot imagine how you will feel, you cannot imagine who you will become. So, try not to imagine the unimaginable. Celebrate what you still have, and if the day comes when you are left alone, you will be able to do whatever you need to do.

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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.

Spreading the News

I’ve joined a new online site, Quora.com, to help spread my message of the importance of grieving and perhaps to find readers for my new grief book: Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One.

Much of what is written about grief is either shrouded in dense scientific terminology or filled with meaningless platitudes and slogans. Very little relates to the lived experience of grief, leaving many bereaved bewildered and troubled by the unhelpful advice they are given, which makes my book — and my mission — so important.

Quora is a question and answer site where anyone can ask a question, and anyone can answer.

For example, someone asked: How do you stop missing deceased loved ones? I responded:

I don’t think you ever stop missing deceased loved ones because they are always gone. The miracle of grief is that grief will diminish with time, rather than continue growing. Since every year takes us further from our beloved mate, it would seem as if the pain of loss should deepen, like layers of watercolor washed one on top the other until the shape of the missing part of one’s life is darkly hued. And yet, through some miracle of grief, our pain does not increase through the years, but instead, the watercolors lay softly on our lives, reminding us of what we had, reminding us of the loved one we still yearn for.

However, that being said, one way to stop missing them so much is to do new things, things you would not have done while that loved one was alive. Travel someplace you would never have gone with the deceased. Try something you would not have done if they were alive (in my case, it was dance classes). Every new memory you make takes you one step further from the past and one step further into a future where you can still miss the person but live a happy and fulfilled life. For example, if you have strong memories of the loved on Christmas, create a new tradition for yourself alone.

My profile on Quora is: https://www.quora.com/profile/Pat-Bertram-1 If you too are on Quora, please follow me so I can follow you.

Another way you can help me spread the news about Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One is to post a review on Amazon after you have read the book. The more reviews, the more Amazon’s algorithms kick in, and the more people see the book.

Thank you, as always, for your support.

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

UNFINISHED is on Sale at Amazon!

If you have a stack of Amazon gift cards that are burning a hole in your pocket, the paperback edition of my novel Unfinished is on sale today.

The story: 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 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 purchase the print version of UNFINISHED (published by Stairway Press) here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1941071651/

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram 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: THE INSIDE STORY has now been published!

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 and is filled with platitudes and clichés, and 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 debunks 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 aimed at 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.

For those of you who read — a appreciated — the manuscript (working title “Things I Wish I’d Known About Grief”) please leave a review on Amazon. The more reviews, the better chance Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One will have of getting into the hands of those who need it. Thank you.

You can find Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One here: https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Inside-Story-Guide-Surviving/dp/0368039668/

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

 

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 9

I recently read that Nietzsche said people tended to exaggerate their traumas. I don’t know whether Nietzsche actually said it since I couldn’t find such a quote from him, but I do think the sentiment is true, at least to a certain extent.

It’s this tendency to exaggerate our traumas that leads others to downplay the role that grief plays in our lives. If we tell the truth, they assume exaggeration, and so they shrug off as hyperbole what is very real to us. Since most people have experienced some sort of grief in their lives, they assume they know what grief is. If we try to explain what we are feeling when we lose someone intrinsic to our lives, someone to whom we are profoundly connected, it doesn’t match with what they feel, so they think we are over dramatizing ourselves.

It’s not surprising people can’t imagine what we feel. Most of us who lost our mates couldn’t believe what was happening to us — couldn’t even imagine it though we were living it. Because of this all-consuming feeling, there is no way we could ever have imagined grief exaggerated beyond what we experienced.

The truth is, there is no way to exaggerate profound grief. Profound grief is exaggeration — an immense magnification of emotion. An amplification of loss. An excess of pain. A trauma that affects every part of us and our lives. A process that changes us and our relation to ourselves and all that surrounds us.

This blog post itself seems an exaggeration, especially in the bright sun of this day so many years after Jeff died, and yet, I know the truth.

My message is as it always is — if you are experiencing what seems to be an insane level of grief, it is normal. Horrendously painful, but normal. Know that one day, you will find peace.

If you haven’t experienced such grief, be kind to those who are dealing with a profound loss. If you think someone is exaggerating grief years after the death of a child or soul mate, give them the benefit of their own truth. Don’t dismiss their feelings or downplay their grief as self-dramatization. I’m sure they wish that’s all it was — a bit of melodrama — but be assured they still feel the loss in every cell of their being.

Wishing you all a peaceful — and kinder — day.

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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.

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 8

Marrying again after the loss of a life mate can be a tricky business because a new love does not negate previous loves. Nor does a new love negate grief.

I’ve met people who started dating quickly after the death of their spouse because they couldn’t stand the pain and loneliness of their grief any longer. To their shock, and to the shock of their new mate, grief did not abate. In at least one case, the new spouse felt betrayed by his wife’s continued grief, thinking his love should have made a difference to her grief, and she felt isolated — and unloved — because he didn’t have compassion for her bouts of sorrow.

Whether we remarry, embark on a long-term relationship without remarrying, or never find anyone else to love, the emotional attachment for the first partner remains a part of us. Despite continued grief for one partner, both men and women are able to form new attachments that can be just as strong as the previous one. The key is to understand the nature of grief and love and to let grief continue to happen, which is why the strongest remarriages are often between widows and widowers.

This concept — that remarrying does not negate grief — is important for both grievers and their friends and family to understand. Sometimes friends and family us urge us to “move on” (meaning to find someone else), and as well-meaning as this might be, it ignores the intrinsic nature of grief — that grief is how we move on after the death of our beloved mate. A new love will not change that. Occasionally, friends or family will feel conned if a widow or widower “moves on” too quickly, thinking that perhaps the grief was a sham or that the griever hadn’t really loved their first partner.

Many of us never find anyone else to love. This doesn’t mean we are holding on to our grief, are not “moving on,” or are refusing to accept a new love. We can’t control what happens to us, and love doesn’t always happen again. We do the best we can with what life (and death) deals us and all we can do is hope that our loved ones will support us even if they can’t understand what we are feeling.

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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.

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 7

We don’t need to be angry at someone or something to feel anger as part of grief. This anger is not a stage of grief, not a complication, but an intrinsic part of the process. Since much of grief is visceral — a response to perceived danger — we experience a tremendous fight or flight hormonal upsurge. The panic we feel after the death of a life mate is a natural part of this survival mechanism; it alerts us to the danger of being suddenly alone. Anger is the other side of this mechanism, the part that generates the energy necessary to take action.

In many cases, the anger comes first, and the reason for the anger second. Our minds scurry around trying to find a reason for how we feel because as rational beings, we cannot accept unfocused anger, so we search for a focus. Sometimes there really are causes for anger, such as doctors who don’t tell us the truth or who made horrendous mistakes that caused the death. Other times we focus on the deceased, for example, a smoker who died of lung cancer after refusing to give up smoking. Other times we are angry at the cancer that stole our loved ones, at death, at the loved one for leaving us, at ourselves even for not being more of whatever we think we should have been.

Anger is generally considered to be a negative emotion, but like all emotions, it has a positive side. In small doses, anger is a good thing. Anger can give us the strength to survive. Anger can give us the energy to do things we couldn’t do under normal circumstances. Anger can give us a feeling of control in uncertain times, and for sure, grief is an uncertain time. Anger can keep us going when we want to give up. Anger can give us the courage to live with the injustice of death. Anger can motivate us to find solutions to problems, can motivate us to undertake dreaded tasks, can motivate us to change our lives.

Much of grief is a process of change, of adaptation, taking us from a relatively-safe shared life to a relatively-safe solitary life. And it is anger that helps get us there.

In those first weeks after Jeff died, not only did I have all those ghastly end-of-life chores to do by myself, such as arranging for the disposition of his body and dealing with banks and government agencies, I had to pack up and leave our home to go take care of my ninety-three-year-old father. I managed to do everything necessary by using the power of anger. When I was too enervated to do anything, when I was too dazed to think or too stressed, I cried, or paced, screamed or went to bed, but when waves of anger came over me, I didn’t fight the feelings. Instead, I used the faux energy of anger to get things done.

After the initial anger dissipated, I clung to the vestiges of anger to help me get through the lonely days.

The wild grief for a life mate/soul mate makes us feel as if we are out of control or even crazy, but understanding the process and realizing what we are feeling is normal, can make it easier to deal with those feelings.

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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.

Adventurous Spirit

A legacy of my grief for my life mate/soul mate is a sense of adventure. During the worst of my grief, this adventuresomeness was more of a need than a sense. I don’t know if the extra effort adventure took helped balance the pain, if doing something epic helped make me feel alive, or if I simply wanted to keep from drowning in loneliness, but for whatever reason, I sought adventure.

Now, after more than eight years, I don’t crave adventure in the same way but a sense of adventure has become part of me.

I’m on a road trip, and because of an unexpected snowstorm road trip, I had to stay an extra night at a motel rather than heading on down the road, which tickled me. And when the motel lost power for a few hours, I couldn’t help smiling. It all just seemed so . . . adventurous.

I can live with that.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

On the Road

Is there anything lonelier than watching Hallmark Christmas movies by yourself, in a motel room miles from anywhere, when you are alone? Probably, but at the moment, it doesn’t feel as if there is.

Of course, I could a) not travel, b) not watch television, or c) hmm. Can’t think of a c. A and b should be enough.

I won’t stop traveling, and the only time I watch television is when I stay with friends, but after a long though easy day of driving, I didn’t feel like listening to silence. (Odd, since silence is my favorite music.) Hence, the movies.

I am lost. Sort of. I took a wrong turning and don’t exactly know where I am since it was dark when I happened on this motel, but I don’t think I am so lost as know it is still months until Christmas.

But still . . . here I am.

The first movie I watched last night was simply trite, but the second was as irritating as a walk through a briar patch. One woman is marrying a friend’s fiance, and she can’t understand why the friend can’t forgive her because “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just fell in love.”

It has never made sense to me if love is so compelling that any horrific betrayal in its name is forgivable, when death steals your loved one from you, you are (after a very short time of bereavement) supposed to simply shrug it off as if it didn’t change you and your life forever.

This dichotomy makes an already difficult situation even worse. Which is why I prefer silence to love songs, thrillers to romantic novels, being by myself than with couples.

I sound melancholic don’t I? But I’m not. Not really. Maybe I should get an early start today so I can stop before dark so I don’t get lost so I don’t need sound so I don’t watch idiot movies. It won’t solve the main problem of Jeff being gone, but it won’t make me feel bad.

Because after all — I am on the road! That is certainly something to celebrate.

Even if it isn’t Christmas.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 6

People who haven’t experienced the profound grief for a life mate or a child presume grief is simply an emotional and psychological response to the death, so they tell us not to think about our loss, as if that will make the pain go away. (And yet, oddly, at the same time, they try to make us feel as if it’s okay the person died by saying the deceased will always live in memory.)

For some losses, such as an aged relative who lived a long and happy life, pushing aside grief might work. But when it comes to a child or life mate, not thinking about the loss in no way mitigates the grief because the grief is also in our bodies, not just our minds and hearts.

When we are profoundly connected to another person, when their well-being is as important to us as our own. when the two of us share the air we breathe, the electrical emanations from our hearts and brains, the atoms in the atmosphere, the cell information that gets passed back and forth via viruses, we grow so entwined that we become a unit—a survival unit. We humans are essentially pack animals, and our very survival depends on the strength of this pack unit.

After our beloved life mate dies and the unit is dissolved, our lizard brain goes into a panic. Danger! Danger! Something is wrong. Where is the rest of you? What happened? What do I do? Do I freeze you? Make you run? Make you fight? It 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.

To make things worse, our half of the survival bond remains strong, a constant reminder of our grief.

Yet people tell us just to forget our loss. To think of something else.

Even if it were that simple, even if we could put the deceased out of our minds, we’d still grieve because our bodies remember. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.

Jeff died early on a Saturday morning, and for a long time, I would hit emotional lows on Saturdays, even if I didn’t recall what day of the week it was. The effects of body memory were most potent as I neared the first anniversary of his death. For example, after a hiatus of a couple of weeks during the eleventh month where I was mostly at peace, I was so overcome with grief that I wanted to scream out in anguish. I couldn’t figure out what hit me or why, but when I tracked down the source of the pain, I realized it was the first anniversary of the last time we kissed. Apparently, my body thought it was an anniversary worth remembering.

For those witnessing our grief, our plight seems simple, but for us living the horror, as you can see, things are not simple at all.

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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.