Let Grief Be

Sometimes people ask me questions on a Q&A internet site about grief that I cannot answer because the question makes no sense. For example, one person asked if interrupting the grieving process makes it harder to complete the process. Someone else asked how people could start the grief process for the loss of a loved one when they still haven’t even been able to process that the loved one was gone. And of course, there is the ever-popular question about how to help a griever move on.

To me, questions like this are like asking “How do you peel an orange if you only have an apple?” Totally nonsensical. I suppose it’s a good sign that people are asking questions about grief since it’s a subject few people understand, and I suppose it’s good that they know grief is a process even though they haven’t a clue what that process is.

Processing the loss of a loved one, processing that they are gone, is the grief process. It is how we move on.

From what I understand about grief, there is no real volition to the matter. You don’t start the grief process and you can’t interrupt it. Grief is in control. Some people can bury their grief; others can simply decide not to grieve, others don’t feel grief at all. Generally, though, if the person who died was an intrinsic part of the survivor’s life, such as a spouse or a child, grief is not a process you can direct or an emotion you can redirect, but is a thing of the body, mind, soul. Such a profound death leaves behind a void that the survivor can never fill. It creates enormous stress (and is in fact the most stressful life event a person can experience, causing a 25% increase in the chance of the survivor dying, too). The death of a person deeply connected to you changes your brain chemistry, makes hormones (especially adrenaline) go out of whack, kills your sense of self, and plunges your life into chaos because what once was — the pair bonding, for lack of a better word — is no longer.

Oddly, the more you try to process your grief, the more chaotic it all becomes. So much of life is habit, and when one’s habits are obliterated, as so often happens after the death of a spouse, then the brain goes into overdrive because not only is it trying to process the meaning of the person’s absence and trying to understand death, which is something it cannot understand, the brain has to think about how to do things that you once did out of habit. And some of those habits die hard — for example, if you’re used to making coffee for two people in the morning, sometimes you forget that there is only you, and you inadvertently make a whole pot instead of half.

I’m not sure what it would even mean to “complete the process.” To a certain extent, we who have lost our mates are always somewhere in the process because the death affects us for the rest of our lives. We might not always be actively mourning, might even find happiness again, might find new habits and new loves, but still, the loved one is always gone so the void they left behind will always be there.

When it comes to grief, all you can really do is let grief take you where you need to go. You don’t try to start it, don’t try to stop it, don’t try to interrupt it. For some people, especially those with young children or aged parents to take care of, or if the survivor has a serious illness, grief bides its time. When they no longer have to focus on other needs, then grief comes and helps them move toward the next phase of their life. (I met several of these people at my grief support group; even though the death they mourned happened years previously, the grief was new.)

There are, of course, people who have the ability to bury their grief, but it still makes itself known in various ways — in illness, in mental issues, in emotional traumas — so my theory is always to let grief be; to let it do what it wants to do. As so often happens, if you do this, there is a good chance that years later you will end up in a completely different place — mentally, emotionally, or geographically — a place you could not even imagine but that brings you comfort and perhaps even joy.

I make grief sound like a good thing, don’t I? Perhaps it is. Although it is painful, grief is not the problem. The problem is that a person we loved more than life itself is dead. Grief is how we move from a shared life with that person to a new life that is ours alone.

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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

The Winds of Eternity

In one month, it will be the tenth anniversary of Jeff’s death. I can’t even begin to comprehend what that means — is it a lot of time? A little time? It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been so many years since I last saw him, though looking back over the decade since he died, it’s obvious that a lot of time has passed. I’ve felt much, lived much, changed much.

My grief has changed over the years, too, from unimaginable pain to nostalgia, from angst to acceptance (not acceptance of his death — never that! — but acceptance of the reality of my situation). Grief now is the scaffolding of my life, forming the framework of who I am rather than being all that I am. (In the beginning, grief took hold, and it felt as if there was nothing else, would never be anything else. Grief is still there, deep inside, but is now only a piece of who I am, not all of it.)

The biggest change I notice is that the screech of death and the winds of eternity have receded once more into the background, and my life seems much quieter. When Jeff died, it felt as if part of me had died with him. A whole chunk had been amputated and I have never gained it back. For years, I felt as if I were standing at the edge of eternity the abyss yawning at my feet, the storms of time raging around me, one hand held out to try to grasp something, anything, to balance me and keep me from being pulled into the void where that amputated part had gone. I could feel the breath of the eternal, the awesomeness of life and death. I could feel—or almost feel—the driving force of the universe.

That seems fanciful, and I suppose it is, but it’s also how I felt. Looking back, grief seems so . . . noisy. Sobs and gasps and even screams came from my mouth, and loud questions and clamorous confusion filled my head. Death is shrouded with an element of blank. It is the great unknown and unknowable, and our human brains are not equipped to handle the immensity. And yet, when we lose someone important to us, the very fact of death is thrust into our lives, forcing us to deal with it the best we can.

How do we bear the unbearable? How do we fathom the unfathomable? We don’t, not really. We grapple with the conundrums and wait until eternity recedes and our brains settle into new patterns of thought.

I used to miss the feeling of significance grief gave me, with its great emotion, crucial questions, and the nearness of eternity, but now I am merely grateful for the internal quiet.

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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

Press Release for Grief: The Inside Story

I’m trying to write a press release. Grief: The Inside Story is an important book that has helped many people, but it needs to find a wider readership. To that end, I’d like to send out a press release.

A press release sometimes prompts newspapers to contact the author for more information. Sometimes the newspaper will print the item as a whole if they need a filler. Either way, the release needs to be compelling. Short, but compelling.

Since I am not well known, the press release has to depend on factors other than name-recognition to make it newsworthy. This is what I have so far:

Death is No Longer a Fact of Life

Death used to be a fact of everyday life. Today, however, the average American has a life expectancy almost a decade longer than it was in the 1970s. That’s great news, but as Toby Scott, head of communications at Hospice UK, a charity for end-of-life care says: “It is rare now for anyone to experience being with someone who they know is dying let alone anyone who has recently died.”

For the boomer generation, often the first time they experience death is when their parents begin to fade. It’s no wonder that few people understand grief, know what to expect, have the skills to cope with the emotional upheaval.

Not only do boomers have little firsthand experience of death to prepare them for the many ways grief affects them, but the complex and painful experience of grief for a spouse, life mate, soul mate is not something people regularly see on television shows, in movies, or read about in novels. So, like others of her generation, when author Pat Bertram lost her husband, the very presence of grief shocked her.

In the United States a death occurs approximately every twelve seconds. And almost every one of those deaths leaves someone behind who is shocked and bewildered by what they are feeling.

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?

In Grief: The Inside Story, Pat Bertram, author and grief survivor, answers these and other big questions in a straightforward manner. Bertram acknowledges the pain that others so often try to hide, shows how important grieving is, and gives hope that yes, there is happiness on the other side of grief.

Grief the Inside Story by Pat Bertram is available on Amazon (www.amazon.com/dp/0368039668), and through all good bookstores.

Any comments? Suggestions?

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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.

Grief: The Inside Story

One common challenge facing all of us — grievers, friends of grievers, and health care professionals — is how to help those who are experiencing grief after bereavement.

Coping with the death of a loved one can be the most traumatic and stressful situation most people ever deal with — and the practical and emotional help available to the bereaved is often very poor. I found this to be true as I recovered from the loss of my life partner.

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? Questions like these aren’t easily dealt with, and much of the literature aimed at the bereaved can read either like a medical textbook.

My new book Grief – The Inside Story: A Guide to Surviving the loss of a Loved One aims to answer these big questions in a straightforward way, and it may be of help to you or someone you know.  If you would like to know more a free easily-downloadable sample of the book, and a complete and detailed listing of its contents, is available here: https://www.docdroid.net/klBIjLB/grief-by-pat-bertram.pdf

The book trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtLwOpGpm_w

Grief – The Inside Story is now available from Amazon (www.amazon.com/dp/0368039668), and all good bookstores. If you have any questions I’d love to hear from you.