Patterns of Grief

I’d like to clarify what yesterday’s post, Challenges of the Fourth Year of Grief, was all about. I did not mean to imply that everyone’s grief is the same, that we all face the same challenges, and I especially did not mean to imply that these “challenges” are stages people are going through or will go through. I am not a therapist or a grief counselor, so of course I don’t know how a wide range of grievers feel. Nor am I dispensing advice. I do have many friends who are pretty much on the same grief track that I am, however, and all I did was express publicly the things we are talking about privately.

I certainly am not trying to undermine the grief community’s efforts to get rid of the whole “Stages of Grief” mindset. I have railed against the stages of grief from the beginning. Kubler-Ross’s supposed stages of grief do not in any way reflect what my friends and I have gone through and continue to go through, which is why I started writing about grief in the first place — to provide a more realistic view of grief, even if it is just a recounting of my own grief experiences.

Even though everyone’s grief is different, there are still patterns of similarity.

For example, most of us (most of my friends, that is, not most grievers) are being swept by an inordinate need for adventure. This need seems to be a reflection of our birth age as well as our grief age (by grief age I mean how long it’s been since our mates have died). Younger woman still have families to care for, and in older women the need for adventure seems muted (though several have admitted to being more adventuresome then when they were married). Maybe it’s the long, empty, years that stretch before me and my friends that make adventure a necessity. Maybe it’s that grief is so epic that only an epic adventure can make us come alive. I truly don’t know where this need for adventure comes from, but the truth is, most of the women I know who are on the same grief track as I am, desperately crave adventure. Again, I don’t mean to imply that all grievers go through this, but it is a pattern, and more than anything else, I am drawn to patterns.

Which is all I was doing by describing some of the little known challenges of grief — showing a pattern.

And one of the patterns I found is that during the fourth year, most of the people I know did make the big disconnect from their mates, realizing in the depth of their being that we are each on our own path, and that whatever we do or do not do cannot affect the deceased. We only have to deal with ourselves. This understanding is why so many women wake up on the fourth anniversary to find a renewed interest in life. Maybe find they are happy. Maybe find they are in love with life again. For some people, of course, this understanding comes much later, occasionally earlier, and sometimes not at all.

The truth is, no matter what the pattern of grief, your own or someone else’s, grief is hard work. Sometimes it’s nice to know how others feel. It’s especially nice to know that we aren’t alone in how we feel.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Challenges of the Fourth Year of Grief

The challenges we face during the first year after the death of a life mate/soul mate (or any other significant person in our lives who connects us to the world), are too great to enumerate. It’s all we can do to cope with the seemingly endless chores of laying our beloved to rest while dealing with the emotional shock, the physical pain, the psychological affront that are our constant companions. Sometimes the first anniversary of his death is one of peace when we realize that we managed to survive the worst year of our life, but then we wake up to the second year and find a whole other set of challenges to meet.

The five main challenges we face during the second year after the death of a life mate/soul mate are:

1. Trying to understand where he went.
2. Living without him
3. Dealing with continued grief bursts.
4. Finding something to look forward to rather than simply existing.
5. Handling the yearning.

There are other challenges, of course, some unique to each individual, but all the challenges are dealt with the same way: by continuing to feel the pain when it erupts rather than turning away from it to satisfy the concerns of those who don’t understand; by taking care of ourselves even when we don’t see the point; by trying new things.

In other words, we meet the challenges of the second year by living. It sounds simple, but nothing about grief for a life mate/soul mate is simple. By living, we begin to move away from our pain, but we also move away from the person we loved more than any other. For some bereft, this feels like a betrayal of their love — how can you continue to live when life on this earth is denied him? For others, it seems like a betrayal of themselves — how can you become the person you need to be without betraying the person you once were?

The third year of grief seems to be a year of transition with only one new challenge — beginning to rebuild our lives. (We still have upsurges of sadness, still miss our loved one, still yearn for him, but these feelings are not as prominent as they once were.) Most of us no longer feel that continued life is a betrayal of our love because we understand that we had no choice in the matter, either in his death or in our continued life. Nor do we feel we are betraying the person we once were — we are no longer that person, though we have not yet developed into the person we are to become. Most of us are still trying to figure out who that person is and what that person wants and needs.

You’d think by the fourth year there would be no challenges of grief left, but for most of us, this is the year where we make the necessary disconnect from our loved ones, and that is big though necessary step. No matter how close we were to our mates, no matter how much we felt as if we were two parts to a whole, we realize that in terms of life on this earth, we were two separate beings on two separate journeys. The questions that haunted us, such as the big question of who got the worst end of the deal, seem muted. Our mates had to deal with death and dying, and we had to deal with grief and living. It all seems the same now — life and death — though perhaps it’s more that we’re used to them being gone than that we made any great leap of understanding. We also don’t feel their absence the way we once did. The clawing yearning to see our mates once more has by now muted to a gentler feeling of intermittent melancholy.

Although my fifth year of grief doesn’t start for another two weeks, I am getting an inkling that this is going to be the main challenge of the coming year — dealing with grief’s absence. Grief was a part of my life for a very long time and the immensity of the loss and the enormity of the pain gave my life a feeling of epic importance, as if I were standing on the very edge of eternity. Well, eternity has retreated, and I am left with the ordinariness of life, and that ordinariness seems . . . well, it seems ordinary. Still, the lessons of grief taught me well, and so I will continue to take each day as it comes. Continue to find something to look forward to rather than simply existing. Continue to look for something to be passionate about, even if it’s just life itself.

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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.