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.


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

Letter to Jeff, Day 366


Day 366, Dear Jeff,

Well, here I am. Survived a whole year without you. It’s puzzling — it feels like weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year go by so fast, at least in retrospect. The individual days were exceedingly long and agonizing.

I still don’t know where to put you in my mind. I can deal with your absence — as if perhaps I’ve come here to take care of my father and afterward I’ll be going home to you — but I can’t deal with your goneness. That goneness still makes me sick to my stomach at times, gives me the stepping-onto-air-instead-of-solid-ground sensation.

Today I remembered that when we met, I had the feeling you came into my life to be my guru, a companion on my journey. You know that saying, “when a student is ready, the teacher will appear”? Back then, I thought you were the one who appeared when I was ready.

I wondered if you too had that feeling about coming here as my guru, and I realized that you did, at least toward the end, and you felt burdened by it. That last year, you kept telling me you wouldn’t always be around to teach me, so I had to grow up and learn to do things on my own. You also said once that it wasn’t your job to teach me. I used to bristle when you talked that way because I didn’t know where you got the idea I thought it was your job (having completely forgotten the guru aspect of our meeting — that particular idea got lost many years ago in our struggle to survive). And yet, you did stay for as long as I needed you. You took me as far as you could on my journey.

I could accept that you left to rejoin the pantheon of radiance because your job was done, but when I factor in your illness and all your suffering, it doesn’t compute; it seems too selfish, as if our relationship were all about me, but if this “teacher” aspect of our relationship isn’t true, why did two such truth-seekers meet? And if it is true, why would such an exalted being as I once thought you were come here to help me search for truth? If ours wasn’t a cosmic connection, was it some sort of primal recognition?

When me met, “I” didn’t recognize you, but something deep inside of me did. “I” am not aware of who or what that something is. Is it the eternal me and the “I” simply the physical me? If so, that means something in us will recognize each other again if you still are, if you still have being.

This is the sort of jibber jabber you had no use for, but you’re not here to keep me grounded in reality. Hmmm . . . When I was young and would go off on such flights of fancy, I thought I’d get lost in the insanity. (For much of my youth, I did think I was crazy.) Perhaps you were here to help keep me grounded until I matured enough to handle where such thoughts would take me.

Because now, today, I do know I am sane. Totally. This grief experience has taught me the truth of that — even the natural insanities of grief didn’t rock my sanity.

Thank you for journeying with me. Thank you for being my guru. I hope my life will be an honor to you.

Adios, compadre. I love you.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.