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

I Am an Escribitionist

Escribitionists are those who blog about themselves, their experiences, and their reflections. It sounds like such a bad thing, connoting, as it does, exhibitionism, but it’s simply a way of distinguishing the diary-like bloggers from those who write from a more journalistic point of view.

The danger of being an escribitionist is that it leaves a blogger vulnerable, not just emotionally, but also physically. People have been known to retaliate offline for online disagreements and, more commonly, people with a felonious bent will take advantage of those bragging about being the Bahamas for a week. So not a good idea to advertise when your house will be vacant!

In the beginning, I was very careful not to say anything of a personal nature. I didn’t make my birthday known, where I went to school, where I lived. For a long time, I didn’t post photos of myself, and I protected my gender (some people were shocked when they found out I wasn’t who they thought). I even refrained from offering opinions about anything but writing and books (but even then, I sometimes got an argument from those who misunderstood what I was saying. See: “Ah, the Difference a Comma Makes!”)

I was especially careful during the years of Jeff’s illness, particularly the last few months when he was so bad off, not to write anything about my life. I was trying to establish myself as an author at the time, perhaps with a male pseudonym, and we both agreed a professional demeanor would be best. Besides, I felt it would be a betrayal of him to talk about what we were going through, and he was afraid I would seem pathetic.

After he died, though, all that care we had taken in laying the groundwork for my career as an author no longer mattered. I was in such terrible pain and so bewildered by what I was feeling (I’d never before encountered even a mention of the utter mental, physical, emotional, spiritual agony of profound grief), that my pain burst out of me. First I screamed my pain offline (I was pacing the house one day, feeling as if I needed to scream; when I realized no one could hear me, I just let the pain rip out of me). Then I spewed my pain onto this blog.

That’s when I discovered the adage “we all grieve differently” is wrong. Many people told me that they experienced the same thing that I did. We might show our emotions differently, but the pattern of grief for a spouse, life mate, or soul mate often follows the same timeline.

By the time my pain became manageable, I was in the habit of talking about my life, so I wrote about my experiences taking care of my nonagenarian father and my frustrations with my abusive homeless brother. I wrote about my travels (making sure always to post after the fact so that no one would know where I was at any given moment).

If I made a mistake and gave too much information, it didn’t matter because I was never in one place long enough for my indiscretion to catch up to me. But now that I am in my final home and not going anywhere, I can’t run away from the mistake of giving out too much information, though I fear it’s too late.

I do try to be careful, but any hope of anonymity (at least pertaining to geography) is long gone. Too many online friends have become offline friends. Too many offline friends have become online friends. Anyone who is paying attention can string together the crumbs of my life that I scatter online, and find me if they really wanted to, though why anyone would want to go through all that trouble, I don’t know.

Still, it is a concern. Unfortunately (fortunately?), it’s way to late to change my ways. If we writers are supposed to write about what we know, well, I know writing, grief, and me. Few people like to read posts about writing (they are either writers themselves who know it all already or non-writers who don’t want to know). I’ve said all I can possibly say about grief in my five hundred grief posts (https://bertramsblog.com/archives-grief-posts/) and my two books about grief: Grief: The Great Yearning and Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One.

So that leaves . . . me.

It’s always hard to admit the truth, but there’s no getting around it. For better or for worse, I am an escribitionist.

***

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.

Finding the Courage to Blog about Personal Matters

People often ask me where I get the courage to blog about the personal aspects of my life — first my grief over the death of my long time life mate/soul mate, then my efforts to deal with my schizoaffective brother, now the problems with my aged father.

To be honest, I do find myself a bit ashamed at having to admit my frustrations with my father. Although he is ambulatory and still strong, he refuses to do much of anything for himself. Even the home health aide from the nursing service that had been temporarily prescribed for him by his doctor has admitted he doesn’t need her. He is perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He just doesn’t want to. He claims that doing the least little thing tires him, which I do understand, but so what? Life is exhausting. Being old is exhausting. People in worse shape than he is live alone and have no choice but to do things for themselves.

windNone of this is a problem except that I am generally the one who gets stuck catering to his whims, and it’s especially a problem when he wakes me up in the middle of the night because he is frantic he doesn’t have something close at hand he won’t need until the following afternoon. (As I mentioned yesterday, this sort of behavior is teaching me to stop fretting. To live in the moment. If I don’t have what I might need tomorrow afternoon, then I tell myself to get a good night’s sleep and deal with the matter tomorrow. Although I don’t much like Scarlet O’Hara, she did have a good point in her decisions to worry about things tomorrow. Even better is Rhett Butler’s rejoinder to her, “Frankly, my dear . . . Like Rhett, I just don’t want to give a damn about things that cannot be changed or do not need to be changed at this very minute.)

Other than admitting my frustrations and leaving myself open to accusations of harshness or hardheartedness — particularly since I don’t believe the aged have the right to use their infirmities as a club to control their families — I don’t find that writing about such matters takes much courage. Because I share my stories, others who are in the same dead end situations tell me about their plights, which is encouraging for all of us. Grief for a deceased soul mate, heartbreak of dealing with mentally ill alcoholics, frustrations with taking care of the aged are things so many of us have to deal with. It’s nice to be able to break the ice of aloneness and find encouragement in knowing we are not the only ones with such problems.

***

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.

My Aching Breaking Heart

My heart is breaking. I thought when my life mate/soul mate died that the organ had shattered beyond repair, but it must have healed because I feel as if it is breaking again.

When I first entered the world of grief, I was stunned by the constant assault of emotions, physical reactions, mental conflicts and torments because I’d never heard of such grief. Well, there was that one old woman who wore black the whole of her life, celebrating her widowhood, and occasionally there would be talk of someone keening in agony at her husband’s funeral. I thought those were isolated cases of unbalanced women, but I am not unbalanced. (And probably they weren’t, either.)

I wrote about what I was going through so I could try to make sense of the onslaught, and it helped. Blogging about grief also helped because I met many others on the same journey, which brought me comfort, and a few who were years ahead of me, which brought me hope.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this fathomless grief set me aside from everyone else, and perhaps I even thought I should have special consideration because of my situation. Then others I knew lost someone they loved, and I realized grief didn’t make me special. It just made me . . . bereft.

After three years, I am still sad. I tend to think I’m not making any progress, but then I hear from women who just lost their husbands, and I am drenched in tears, remembering what it was like when grief was new. And I can see how very far I have come. Sail AwayBut I also know what these women are feeling and how much they will have to deal with in the coming months and years, and my heart breaks for them.

How is it possible that so many of us have lost our mates and soul mates? It’s like a bizarre dance of butterflies, where those we love flit into our lives, bringing wonder and color and joy, and then they flit away, leaving us devastated. How can the world survive when it is so awash in grief? (Perhaps that’s where the oceans came from — the tears of the bereft. After all, throughout the ages, billions of people have mourned for their dead.)

Sometimes I see a photo of or an article about a couple who has been married for forty or fifty years. They always have helpful advice about how they stayed together for so long, but the truth is, despite all their ways of keeping love alive, the reason they were together so long is that one of them didn’t die. Not every loving couple gets that opportunity.

And my heart breaks for the ones left behind.

***

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.

Is Irritation & Frustration a New Stage of Grief?

I’ve been blogging about my grief for almost two years, and I’ve run out of things to say. Right now I have no great insights to share, no deep emotions to purge, no angst to get out of my system. I’m just going through the motions of having a life, hoping that someday something will spark a new enthusiasm, and there’s not much to say about that. It’s just a matter of waiting to see what happens.

A couple of days ago someone told me that pain at the death of my life mate/soul mate still showed through my writing, but the truth is, I’m going through a hiatus. I’m not feeling much of anything except irritation and frustration. Do these signify a new stage of grief? Perhaps I’m nearing the end of this time of great emotions and have descended into the pit of trivial feelings. But this irritation and frustration don’t seem trivial. They loom large, coloring everything I do.

I’m irritated at having to deal with the all the foolishness of life — the eating, sleeping, grooming. I’m irritated that after all these months of grieving, I’ve gained no great insights, no great growth. I’m irritated that despite all the changes in my circumstances, life seems so much the same as usual, just infinitely sadder and lonelier. I’m irritated that he’s still dead. I mean, come on — a joke is a joke. It’s past time for him to stop playing dead so we can get on with our lives. I’m frustrated that so much seems beyond my reach — understanding, enthusiasm, wonder. And I’m frustrated at all that is within my reach — loneliness, aloneness, pointlessness. I’m both irritated and frustrated that the world still feels alien with him dead. I’m both irritated and frustrated that he hasn’t bothered to call to let me know how he’s doing. I’m frustrated that I still want to talk with him and irritated that I can’t. I’m frustrated that I’m alone and irritated that I have no one to share my life. I’m frustrated that I don’t seem to be able to get a grip on my life, and I’m irritated with my lack of motivation to even try.

I still think there could come a time when everything works out for me. (My dead life mate/soul mate was a bit of a seer, and during his last days, he told me everything would come together for me, though foolishly I never asked him what he meant.) And I’m irritated and frustrated that it hasn’t yet happened.

I keep telling myself that I’m not yet where I need to be for everything to work out, and maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t keep me from being irritated and frustrated.