The Half-Life of Grief

SRecently I’ve been coming across a lot of articles and books touting the idea that people don’t need to grieve — it’s detrimental to their happiness and it doesn’t really gain them anything. These writers believe that when sad thoughts enter your mind, you should simply observe them and let them go. They are only thoughts, nothing real, nothing that can hurt you. The same goes for feelings of sadness. Examine them and let them go. In themselves, the feelings have no power. The only power is what you give them.

Sounds good, right? And to a certain extent this method works. But . . .

First of all, thoughts are real. When you study particle/wave physics and even quantum physics, it’s hard not to believe that at rock bottom, we are all just thoughts. Together, we think our current world into existence. Maybe we even think ourselves into existence. Or perhaps we are thoughts of the eternal Thinker. Who knows, certainly not me. But the point is, thoughts may not be something that can be touched with your fingers, but they are still tangible.

Second of all, grief is important. It’s a way of honoring those who have died, a way of pulling our world around us to accommodate the void they left behind, a way of learning to live with their absence and without their presence, a way of developing into our own person and renewing our reasons for living. Of course, we can develop and renew without grief, but being so familiar with death brings an urgency to the process.

Third of all, not all grief is emotional and mental. Sometimes grief is visceral. Physical. If you have lost a child or a soul mate, you literally lose a part of your physical self. Your child is connected to you by shared genes, and in the case of mothers, a shared body. With soul mates, you are connected by your very being. A lifetime of living together also connects you physically by the air you breathe, the foods you eat, the cellular materials that are exchanged via viruses and microbes, the energy fields that overlap.

One of the reasons such grievous losses as that of a child or a mate are so devastating is that not only do we grieve, so does our body. There were many times I could keep from feeling the loss emotionally or mentally, but I could still feel it in the marrow of my bones, in my cells.

People tell me that it takes three to five years to get past the worst of such a loss. Most people I know woke on their fourth anniversary to find a sense of renewal, and it makes sense that four years would be the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then at my current stage of grief — 2 and 2/3 years — most of my cells still bear his imprint. By four years, less than half my cells will bear his imprint. And so gradually, the physical grief fades.

From the beginning, I was determined to get through my grief as quickly as possible so that I wouldn’t dishonor him (and me) by mourning his death for the rest of my life. I thought I was so strong and emotionally stable that I’d whiz through the process, but that did not happen, partly because I never took physical grief into consideration. I never even knew such grief existed, and neither, apparently, do writers who say that all you have to do to be happy is to let the feelings of sadness pass without feeding them.


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+

A Gift From the Universe

I’m continuing my experiment in sanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, so as usual today, I went for a walk in the desert, following the same rocky paths I’d trodden the past few days. It was exceedingly hot, much hotter than yesterday or the day before, and I was drenched in sweat by the time I got to my standing spot — the spot where I stood the past couple of days and let myself just be.

The air was still. I heard the far-off whine of an airplane, the faint alarm of a distant piece of heavy equipment backing up, the buzz of a fly as it whizzed past my head. Today I saw no jackrabbit, no humans. There was just me, those few slight sounds, the desert knolls surrounding the area, the creosote bushes dotting the sandy expanse, the hot still air, the clear blue sky.

I quieted my thoughts, then after a minute or so, I spoke my new mantra.

This “mantra” appeared when I tagged my article Being Where I am Supposed to Be. I used the tags “being happy,” “being me,” “being where I am supposed to be,” and I had to smile at the sappy little ditty those tags formed. So today, out there in the desert, in the still of the heat, I said, “I am happy. I am being me. I am where I am supposed to be.” As soon as I finished speaking the word “be,” a cool current of air flowed by.

I stood there, blissfully comfortable, until the air stilled again, then I continued my walk.

I do not believe in signs or intentional gifts from the universe. The truth is, a small breeze shows in up the desert at about that same time every day, and the timing was entirely coincidental. (People think I’m silly for walking in the desert heat, but that mid-morning breeze makes the desert cooler than the city.)

Still, intentional or not, coincidental or not, that coolness was a wonderful gift, and it made me realize that once again, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It also proved my point, that as long as one is not indulging in self-destructive or insane behavior, sanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Being Where I am Supposed to Be

I was happy today. I didn’t feel giddily gleeful, just a quiet peace that came from knowing I was where I was supposed to be.

I’d been walking in the desert, ruminating over my petty concerns. I have no major problems at the moment — I have a place to stay and food to eat, and I feel no great lingering sorrow over the death of my life mate/soul mate — but there are small matters that niggle at me. I seem to have crossed some invisible line where I no longer attract people through my words, but am actually starting to repel them — people have been blocking me on Facebook, and often it’s because of a simple non-combative comment I made in one of my discussion groups. I also wonder how to entice people to read my books, and I still ponder the whole issue of my writing. Although I am coming to an accommodation with continuing to write despite lackluster sales, I still am not comfortable with the idea of being a writer among millions of other writers — never have liked being a face in the crowd.

So there I was, walking, thinking, talking a bit to my deceased mate, when it suddenly dawned on me that at that very moment, I was not a face in the crowd. There was no crowd — just me. I stopped and looked around. A jackrabbit loped by, but other than that, no creature made itself known. I felt the breeze cooling my sweat, heard the air whistling faintly as it passed my ears. I stilled my thoughts and simply stood there in the middle of the desert, deep blue skies above, sun-warmed soil beneath the soles of my shoes, desert knolls surrounding me and blocking any view of the nearby city.

A friend who has endured far worse grief than I have, told me that she is finding peace by telling herself that she is happy. Alone out there in the desert, I decided I was finally ready to take the next step in going on with my life, so I thought, “I am happy.” And I realized that was the truth of it. Right then, I was happy. I had no sense of longing for something or someone, no sense of waiting. My entire life — all the joys and pains, the learning and creating, the loves and losses — had led to that very moment, and I felt as if I had arrived where I was supposed to be. There was no reason for me to be there, nothing to for me to do, no task to accomplish. All I had to do was simply . . . be.

One cannot stand in the middle of the desert forever, so eventually, I continued my walk, still feeling the effects of that moment. There are few perfect moments in life, but that was one of them. (I’m smiling as I write this. Can you tell?)