Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Grief

According to the US Census Bureau, there are now more than 52 million people in the USA who are over the age of 65, and that number will increase to over 70 million by 2030. Many of the Baby Boomer generation (usually defined as those born between 1946 and 1964) are now in their late 60s and early 70s, and the unhappy experience of losing a spouse or partner is going to be a reality for increasing numbers of Americans. The need for clear and practical information about grief has never been more urgent.

Grief is often shoved out of sight, but grief, no matter how painful, is important.

1) Grief is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. It’s how the body and mind deals with the death of a loved one. It helps the bereaved cope with the profound changes and trauma of the loss.

2) All losses aren’t equal for the simple reason that not all relationships are equal. Studies have shown that the most stressful event in a person’s life by far is the death of a life mate or a child. The closer the relationship, the more the survivor will grieve.

3) Grief does not come in neatly packaged stages. Grief for a life mate or child is more complicated and agonizing than any grief model can describe. Grief is not just emotional. It is also physical, spiritual, psychological, and affects all parts of the bereaved person’s life.

4) Tears are not a sign of weakness, but a way of relieving the stress of grief. Some scientists think that crying caused by grief is actually good for you. Biochemist Dr. William Frey says that people “may be removing, in their tears, chemicals that build up during emotional stress.”

5) Grief can manifest as illness, especially in those who cannot cry. If bereaved people find themselves frequently going to the doctor, they should mention their loss.

6) TV shows and movies often depict grieving as a process that lasts just a few weeks, but in reality fully adjusting to the loss of a partner or close family member often takes from three to five years.

7) Many bereaved people find that it is difficult to explain the emotions they feel and for their friends and family to understand. Being a good friend to someone who is bereaved involves showing patience, listening to them, and allowing them to grieve at their own pace without urging them to move on.

8) Upsurges of grief are common on anniversaries, such as the anniversary of the death. The body remembers even if the bereaved doesn’t, and this body memory accentuates the strong emotional impact of anniversaries. Understanding the process can help grievers and their loved get through these upsurges of sorrow.

9) Short-term memory problems, and a general inability to concentrate, are common effects of grief.  Making important decisions, such as whether to move to a new home, are often best delayed because of this.

10) Those who lost someone intrinsic to their lives, such as a life mate or child, can never go back to the way they were, but as grief wanes, they can go forward into a new life and eventual happiness.

***

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 Death

Death is such a strange thing. A person lives and then something happens, and they are gone. The survivors have to deal with all the terrible death tasks — arranging a funeral, taking care of finances, getting rid of the person’s effects. And then life closes around where the person used to be, and to the world at large, it’s as if the deceased has never been.

It’s only the loved ones left behind who feel the absence, who have to deal with the grief, the angst, the loss, the missing, the yearning. When grief is new, all of those chaotic feelings fill the void where the loved one used to be, and then years later, many years later, even those feelings dissipate, and what’s left behind is a photo that begins to seem like that of a stranger. Even the void left behind loses its name — it becomes just a feeling of something that should be there but isn’t.

Even with all my experience with grief, I’m just as tongue-tied as anyone when it comes to offering words of condolence. In my case, it’s not ignorance of what the person is feeling, but a recognition of the terrible angst they are going through and will continue to go through for a very long time.

Some people never get a chance to work through all those feelings. If an elderly woman loses a son, as did my mother, chances are she will die with those feelings. In my mother’s case, the death of her fifty-four-year-old son killed her. Oh, not immediately, but she never got over the shock of his death or the horror of seeing him in a casket. She got sick within a couple of months, and she died right before the one-year anniversary of his death.

A friend has recently lost her son, and I can’t help thinking of my mother and what the death of my brother did to her. In light of that, it’s almost impossible to find consoling words for something I know cannot be consoled. As I’ve often told people — it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what you do. It’s being there. It’s letting the bereaved find what comfort they can in your presence.

For a while, people do rally around the bereaved, and then gradually, they move on, getting back into the swing of their own lives, leaving the bereaved alone to deal with their grief the best way they can.

It’s not the best system, perhaps, but it is what it is. After all, as people often have said, life is for the living, and it’s the living who gradually fill in the void where the deceased used to be — someone will take over their job, someone will wear their clothes and use their things, someone will move into their house. Gradually, the remnants of the deceased’s presence will disappear and life will continue largely unchanged for most people. But for the people who lost their loved one? The void remains, and their life will never be the same.

***

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

Neighbors

For a hermit, I see rather a lot of people, at least on a casual basis. This morning, I talked with the woman who is helping me look after the house of mutual friends who are out of town dealing with a medical emergency. On my way back from watering their plants, a friend pulled her car up in front of me, and inquired about those friends. We talked for a while, then I headed on home. I spied my next-door neighbor outside, and so I stopped to chat with her for a few minutes. And then I chatted with the fellow who recently moved to the house on the other side of mine.

I’d been worried about having neighbors on both sides since I’m not one for noise, but so far, it’s been nice. Although the new neighbor has a dog, he’s been quiet, which I appreciate. It means that since he doesn’t bark at any little thing, there have been no major problems. I might rethink this once the new guy starts working with his power tools to turn a bus into a motor home, but I can’t really complain since I’ve been the source of noise over the past two years — building the garage, for example.

This is a temporary arrangement because when the bus is finished, the new neighbor will take off, but for now I like having neighbors on both sides. Not only is it a friendly way to live since the neighbors on both sides are nice, but it makes me feel safe.

The electricity isn’t turned on next door yet, so the guy asked if he could use my electricity for a couple of projects. My tendency is always to say yes and regret it later, so I told him I would have to check with my brother. My brother’s tendency is always to say no, so it helps give me reality check. In the end, his main objection was that the neighbor would take advantage (which I told the neighbor, sort of as a joke as well as a warning), but if that doesn’t happen, the good will would be worth it. (The owner has always been nice to me in a rather distant way, though he did let me transplant some lilac shoots, which was truly neighborly.)

Besides these neighbors, there is a third neighbor who lives across the alley behind me that I talk to frequently, as well as one across the street I talk to occasionally.

I’m surprised, but I like having friendly neighbors. It is fun, especially at this time of year when we are all outside more. In a way, it feels like it did when I rented a room in a house, where everyone had their own lives and their own space and yet the casual encounters were friendly. It’s also nice knowing that someone would be aware if something happened to me. My permanent next-door neighbors and I have a sort of code — when I wake in the morning, I raise a certain shade, and they tend to look for it. So far, I’ve not had a problem, but if I didn’t raise the shade, they would at least send a text to find out what was going on.

It’s amusing to me that of all the situations I could have imagined before I moved here, I never imagined that I would end up being so much a part of a neighborhood.

And speaking of neighbors, these tulips belong to another, more distant neighbor, but I had to take a photo to assuage my tulip envy. Maybe someday, I’ll have a patch of tulips as extensive as hers!

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Saying Goodbye

A dear friend left town today to go back overseas where she grew up so she can be with family and friends as she lives out her last months. I never got a chance to say goodbye, though I’m not sure that matters. This way I can always think of her the way she was the last time I saw her: happy, contented, glad to be done with pain for a while.

To be honest, I am glad she is going to be with her people. Although she fit in well with our small-town America environment, she’s from a major Asian city with food and shopping and friends on every block, and she missed all the bustle.

To be even more brutally honest, though it might make me seem small, I am glad I won’t have to watch her deteriorate. I’ve watched too many people die, and I simply cannot do it again, especially not when it comes to her.

From the first moment we met, we connected, as if we were long-lost sisters. She was so vital, so charming, so interested in everything, that the news about her being afflicted with cancer came as a shock to me. Even worse was when I found out the cancer had metastasized. And now she is gone from my life, though for a time, at least, we can still connect via email or FB messenger.

Her husband, who’s also become a friend, has already been through this before. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to find a new love and then once again, to lose that love to death. He’s got a hard time ahead, not just watching her fade away, but having to be jolly in the face of it because she doesn’t want anyone to be sad.

After the sorrow of this day, knowing she is journeying far beyond my reach without one last hug, I intend to honor her wishes and think of her at home. Happy. With her husband and family and old friends.

There will be time enough for mourning when her days are finished, but maybe even then I will simply think of her as being home where she belongs, and be happy she came into my life.

***

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

You Are Not as Alone as You Thought

John Steinbeck wrote, “We are lonesome animals. We spend all our lives trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — ‘yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’”

In no other life experience is this need to share stories as vital as with grief. In other life transitions, such as graduating from school, falling in love, having a baby, there are other people around to share the experience, to tell their stories. In the case of graduation, there are your classmates, and hopefully, at least one of them is your confidant. When falling in love, there is the lover with whom to share the experience. When becoming a parent, there is the other parent, and if not that, maybe a mother, grandmother, midwife, sister, friend, someone who knows the same trials and terrors and awe and sheer love you are experiencing.

But when it comes to grief over the death of a spouse, life mate, soul mate, we are alone. Often, we are the only person in our circle of acquaintances who have had to deal with such a loss, so the loneliness is exacerbated beyond our ability to cope. Our friends and family don’t understand, can’t understand. Everyone has grief in their lives, but the all-consuming grief after the death of the one person who meant life and meaning and connection is simply not understood or even understandable by the uninitiated. We grievers don’t even understand. It doesn’t seem possible that one heart/soul/mind can be in such turmoil, and survive.

Yet we do survive, often by seeking out the stories of those who have been where we are.

The responses to a recent grief post, Note to My Grieving Blog Visitors, illustrates the need to share our experiences. I went to a grief support group until I got kicked out because they didn’t think I was grieving enough. Despite the ignominious end, it was an important time for me. I heard other people’s stories, both from the newly bereaved and those who have lived for months without their mates. I have often written about grief over the years, and people have shared their stories with me. They found comfort and inspiration in my words, I have found comfort in their telling me, “Yes, that’s the way it is. That’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.”

I often think of the blog reader who told me at the beginning that she’d lost her husband ten years previously, and though she was happily remarried, she still grieved for him. It helps knowing that we don’t forget, because yes, that is a fear. We hold tightly to our grief because it is the only thing we have still connecting us to our deceased beloved. If we loosen the hold, will we forget? The truth is, there are days I forget, but there is in me a void remaining where he once resided in my heart and soul, and even if I forget that I once loved, once was so connected to another human being that he almost pulled into the abyss with him when he died the void holds the memory.

I’m glad there is a growing trend toward blogging about grief. Grief is one of those things that no one wants to acknowledge. They have to believe we did something wrong, that we purposely lost or misplaced our loved one, otherwise the thought that the same thing could happen to them would be more than they could bear. They urge us to move on, not just for our comfort, but for theirs. They don’t like the reminder of death and mortality that hangs on our shoulders like a mantle, so they want us to shrug off the mantle of grief and get on with the business of living, without ever realizing that grief is how we are going about the business of grieving.

The metaphor of the cloak of grief does not originate with me. After about three months of writing about grief, a fellow writer, a widower, told me it was time for me to drop the mantle of grief. I didn’t, of course. It might have been important for him to pretend his life was the same, but I couldn’t. I felt the need to tell the truth. My intense grief shocked me to my core. It seemed astonishing that even though I’d read tens of thousands of books, seen thousands of movies, read copious article, that never once did I come across talk of such intensity. Oh, there is always that one old woman in widow’s weeds in mafia movies falling on the coffin of her son and screaming her anguish. This scene always seems so over the top and is played up for the almost comic melodrama, but comes closest to how grief for a spouse or child feels. (In fact, the death of my younger brother killed my mother; she died exactly a year later.) But mostly, there was silence when it came to grief such as I’d experienced.

So yes, it’s important to tell our stories. We need to know that whatever we feel, others have felt the way we do. We need to know that despite the belief we can’t survive either the death of our loved one or our grief, we will. We need to know that we will never forget. We need to know that life goes on. We need to know that we are not as alone as we think we are.

***

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

Good Girls

I’m reading a book about a dying rapist/killer who is remorseful for what he did and wants to atone before the end. Is this plausible? Or are such folk unable to see that they did anything wrong? Could they change so much at the end? I suppose anything is possible, but mostly I’m looking at this from my life and so the truth of the character doesn’t really matter.

I am very glad I didn’t do anything terrible in my life, at least, not that I know. We all do things that affect others, and somewhere down the line, our innocent actions might have dire consequences, but since we don’t know what those consequences might be, we have no reason to feel remorse.

I was always the “good girl,” though I didn’t want to wear a halo. I just didn’t want to be punished. I remember as a teenager and how some of the kids got into trouble with drinks or drugs or sex, but I never did. Even then, I understood the long-term effects of alcoholism, drug addiction, and teenage pregnancy, and could see no viable reason for flirting with disaster.

When you’re young, being considered a goody-two-shoes or whatever the current phrase might be, is a terrible fate, and although I railed against such names, I never gave in. My logical mind always stood in the way of peer pressure. Of course, as time went on, people just crossed me off without hassling me, but the name stuck.

Now that I am far beyond those younger years, I can be glad for that lack of “bad girl” behavior. I have a hard enough time with remorse for my small unkindnesses, petty transgressions, and lapses in generosity of spirit. I can’t imagine trying to deal with the crushing remorse of actually having done something that got someone killed or maimed or sent to prison.

I don’t even have to worry about my lungs, or at least not much. Like me, my mother never smoked, yet she died of lung cancer, and her death certificate erroneously called her a life-long smoker. So, I might not have smoke-damaged lungs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have damaged lungs from other causes, like breathing, perhaps.

I do find it interesting that people who started smoking after the sixties can still blame their habit on ignorance. The information was available when I was a kid, which is why I stayed away from such things. Well, that, and a distaste for the activity as well as an allergy to smoke.

I don’t mean to sound smug and judgmental, especially since some of you might have succumbed to some habit or other. I’m just glad I never got talked into being a getaway driver, or heard voices telling me to kill someone, or became so angry, I fatally lashed out. It makes these last years so much more peaceful than they could have been if I had been other than that scorned “good girl.”

***

“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Connecting to the Past

I grew up with a hand-me-down life — most of the clothes I wore were hand-me-downs from a much older, much shorter, and much thinner cousin, which, as you can imagine, gave me a bad body image way before such things were fashionable. (It’s funny to think that people don’t do that anymore — hand down clothes — except perhaps for baby clothes. Instead, we donate garments that no longer please us to the various world-wide thrift stores, and end up destroying the cloth and clothing industries in the very areas that need such industry.) I probably sound ungrateful, but truly, back then I was glad for such “new” clothes, even if they had to be altered to fit me.

I also got my cousin’s outgrown books, which did a lot to counter whatever harmful connotations her clothes might have had. Then, as now, I read in the same way I breathe — inhaling without thinking. It’s just what I do, what I have done from the moment I learned how to read. (I know there must have been a time when I didn’t know how to read, but I don’t remember such a time, nor do I remember learning to read. It’s as if I truly have always read.)

Those books from my cousin were the staple of my early life. I went to the library often during the winter and every day during the summer, but during the times I couldn’t get library books, such as when I was sick, I reread my hand-me-down books. I also read my parents’ books they kept on the bookhselves in the room we called the library. This library was a separate room from the living room, and had shelves for books, my mother’s desk, and the chiming clock that formed part of the soundtrack of my early life. (I even read some of my mother’s old nursing textbooks, and will never forget the garish photos of various organs and diseases. I still have nightmares about the smallpox picture.)

I had most of the Judy Bolton series back then. I don’t remember getting rid of them, but I must have cleared them out during a move at some point. Still, I remember those books with the mottled pink cover (the Nancy Drew covers were the same, only they were blue) as if I’d seen them just the other day.

The point of all this nostalgia is that I found a few of the books on the Gutenberg Project website. I certainly hope the site is as they claim, that these books are in the public domain, because I downloaded the few Judy Bolton’s that I could. And now I am reading them.

I’ve always known that books connect us to the others who have read them, a much deeper connection than from writer to reader. I’ve known that certain books connect us to the ages — to the people long dead who also read those very stories.

What I didn’t realize until rereading these Judy Bolton books is how books can connect us to our past selves.

Although I don’t remember the stories so much, I remember the characters, the feel of the stories, and the feel of the books themselves. And I remember reading them.

I’m holding a Nook in my hand instead of the hard back book, but the words are the same. And I feel . . . timeless. The person I am today is reading the same book I last read fifty years ago. It seems miraculous. The older person who lived so much during the intervening years — loving, sharing, grieving — is, through these familiar words, connected to that girl child who could only dream and hope of a life that was to come.

I imagine there will come a time, perhaps fifteen to twenty years from now when I am elderly and frail and rereading these books, that I will look back to me on this day and think the same of this me as I think of that little girl me — that I was young and still full of hopes and dreams.

I imagine I will think back to all that has connected me to myself through the years, and I will be grateful for all breaths I took and all the books I have inhaled.

***

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

Feeling the Feelings

Sometimes when I speak or write, a truth comes out that I didn’t know I knew, but I’ve come to trust those words as if they were . . . well, true.

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend about emotions that are considered negative, such as sorrow and anger and loneliness. She said she didn’t have anyone but me to talk about such things with because other people want her to feel more positive.

I heard myself saying, “There are no positive or negative feelings. There are simply feelings.” And I realized that’s true. What we do with those feelings — such as take out our anger on our families — could be construed as negative, but the feelings themselves have no positive or negative connotations. Like in physics. Protons have what is called positive charge while electrons have what is called a negative charge, but there is no good/bad connotation for those names. As far as I can understand, they are more about push/pull than what we think of as positive and negative. Batteries have a positive and negative side, but again, but sides work together as a whole rather than one side being good and the bad, or one being right and the other wrong.

It’s the yin/yang of life — the cosmic duality, the two opposing and complementing principles that guide the universe and all things in it.

And so it is with feelings. We feel happiness and sadness, anger and fear, pride and shame — sometimes both sides of the feeling at the same time. Other humans are always trying to categorize us in some way, not just by our vocation or avocation (writer, scientist, teacher, parent) but also what sort of personality we have (optimistic, pessimistic, melancholic) as well as our political and religious beliefs, but we are not any one thing.

The truth is, we are not one-dimensional creatures; we are each a universe unto ourselves and have an infinite number of sides. We aren’t limited to the so-called “positive” feelings; we have a wide-range of feelings that we can — and should — feel.

It’s not important what we feel at any given moment. It’s only important that we feel. (Even if we’re not actively feeling anything, we’re feeling something — serenity, perhaps.)

Even the less compelling emotions, the less admirable ones such as envy or loathing are important to feel if we’re feeling them, if for no other reason than to figure out why we feel such things. Do we want to be more like those people we envy or loathe? Do we see ourselves in them? It’s only after identifying the reason for the feeling that we can take action to neutralize the effect of the feeling. But the feeling itself is merely a feeling. It is not a judgement call.

On a more personal level, grief for a life mate/soul mate might be uncomfortable for others to witness, but that grief belongs to us. We need to feel it; it’s how we become what we need to become to continue living in this world without our mates. We don’t need to figure out why we are feeling the chaotic mix of emotions that comprise grief. We know what caused it — the death of a person dear to us. We just need to feel what it is we are feeling.

Feeling a whole range of emotions teaches us to be compassionate and understanding of others. It allows us to accept compassion and understanding from others. It helps us understand (and perhaps even create) ourselves. It help us take action when necessary. It helps us survive in the wilderness of human interactions.

So, whatever I am feeling, I let myself feel it. Whatever you are feeling, just feel it. Don’t let anyone try to squelch your feelings.

Feeling the feelings is better for all of us in the long run.

***

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

Breaking Bread

I’m feeling proud of myself lately, and for a rather trivial reason. I try to eat right, or at least not to eat too many things I know are bad for me (not necessarily bad for you, but definitely for me), but it’s always hard for me to say no to gifts of food, to invitations to meals, to social occasions that involve food (and they almost always do).

Some people can sit with a group and not eat anything if they are on a voluntarily restrictive diet, but I’ve never been able to do that. It always seemed . . . I don’t know . . . unsociable or even self-righteous, as if I were subconsciously condemning them for eating less than healthy foods. At the very least, it makes people uncomfortable to eat if they are the only one eating, and I am always cognizant of trying to make people around me feel comfortable. Beyond that, though, so much of being with friends is “breaking bread together,” a simple phrase that used to literally mean sharing a loaf of bread, but is now mostly used as the name of religious rite. Even when the phrase is used in a secular manner, to mean sharing a meaningful connection over a meal, it’s still a spiritual rite. I’ve always intuitively understood the need of sharing a meal (one friend and I literally used to share a meal — every time we went out, we’d get one order of whatever and split it) and all that went along with the meal. Because of course, you don’t just share a meal, you share a space, an exchange of energy, a sense of camaraderie — a connection, in other words.

A shared meal feeds the soul, so this ritual of breaking bread has always been more important to me than the need to stick to my self-imposed food restrictions (sugar-filled desserts, baked goods, fried foods to name a few), so it was always a struggle to maintain any sort of food routine. I’m one of those who does well as long as I don’t ingest any of my verboten foods, but one reason I try to stay away from them is that they set up cravings for more of the same. My only hope of not gaining weight (I seldom lose, but I gain easily) is to remain true to my diet.

The first year I was here, I gained a lot of weight because of all the sociability. Every time I got together with people, it was over food. And there always seemed to be such occasions. And the food was always on my proscribed list. Still, I broke bread with my new friends.

Even before The Bob, I’d started backing away from social occasions. Although I enjoyed being with people, I didn’t particularly enjoy the meals, and didn’t like the way I felt after eating them. The isolation because of The Bob has helped me get into my “groove,” so now I don’t even want any of the foods I shouldn’t eat. And because of it, I can finally say “no” when it comes to eating with people.

For example, I always fix a snack for the woman I sit with a few hours a week, and she wants me to eat with her. So I scrounge, and if there is something in her refrigerator I can eat, I will. If not, I just smile at her, then turn aside to give her privacy so she doesn’t feel like a prize exhibit in a one-person eating contest.

When it comes time to socialize again — if it ever comes time — I hope I remember this and remain firm to my own self-interest. I know I will be giving up something by not being able to break bread with people, but I gain, too. The last time I decided it was okay to eat anything put in front of me (actually, I didn’t decide, I just did it), it took years to get back on my regime. Suffice to say that at the moment, I am feel good about being able to stick to doing what is right for my body.

And that is what I am proud about. See? A trivial thing, but important to me.

***

If you haven’t yet read A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my novel of a quarantine that inspired me to call this current disease The Bob, you can read the first chapter online here:  http://patbertram.com/A_Spark_of_Heavenly_Fire.html

Buy it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0024FB5H6/

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Betrayal?

Jeff and I had such a deep, seemingly cosmic connection that for many years, I thought I’d be pulled into death when he died. It didn’t seem fair because he was five years older than me, and I thought I’d be cheated out of five years of my life.

About a year before he died, I hugged him and accidentally touched his left ear. I know now cancer had metastasized all the way up his left side and into his brain, but at the time, all I knew was that he pushed me away, wincing in agony. Some part of me closed down at that moment, and a voice deep inside me said, “He might dying, but I have to live.” During that year, we went our separate ways, he to dying, me to living. Then, six weeks before he died, he made the connection with me again. He needed to talk about what was happening to him so he could gather courage to face what was coming, and during that daylong conversation, I remembered why I’d fallen in love with him all those years ago.

Because of the disconnect during our final year, a year where I felt dissociated from him and our life, I didn’t expect to grieve, so the depth of my pain stunned me. I struggled for many years to deal with the wreckage of our shared life. Although he did not pull all of me into death with him, apparently he did pull part of me into the abyss, and that hole — that amputation — will always be a part of me.

During my grief struggles, I felt at times as if I’d betrayed our love because in the end, our connection wasn’t strong enough to keep us together, not in life and not in death. I did get my five years. And more. I continued to grow older than Jeff ever would, to develop my own unshared and solitary life.

As of today, I have lived exactly six years longer than he did. It doesn’t seem right, not that I have lived all these years, but that he didn’t have the choice. Well, neither of us had a choice. That voice inside me didn’t say “I want to live.” It said, “I have to live.’

I no longer feel any sense of betrayal. We each did what we needed to do, both when we were together and when death ripped us apart.

During those last weeks after we reconnected, we tried to support each other, each of us thinking the other was getting the worse of the deal. I thought he had it worse because he had to die in pain; he thought I had it worse because I had to live and suffer through life — and grief — alone. I still don’t know who got the better deal. I had these years, but I will also have to deal with dying one of these days.

But not today. Today I am honoring the six years of life that were given to me, years that were denied to him. It’s not exactly a celebration, but it is something worth reflecting on.

Or not. In the end, we each live our allotted years the best we can, and hope we can meet the end with courage.

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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