Handling the News

For much of human history, news only traveled as fast as a man could run. Later, it traveled only as fast a horse, and later, as humans expanded over the face of the earth, news traveled as fast as the wind via sailing ships.

Now, news is instantaneous. What happens in one part of the world is instantly known, so not only do we have to deal with what we see, hear, feel in our personal space, and deal with what we learn from friends and neighbors about what is going on in our nearby vicinity, we have to deal with crisis all over the world. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we are constantly being inundated with stories of decades-old atrocities, lest we forget.

It makes me wonder how all this affects us. I know how it makes us feel emotionally, and it sometimes even goads us do something, no matter how futile. But for a species that grew up in relatively newsless societies, it can’t be good for us. Even if the news is true, even if the reasons for the news as well as the backstory we are being fed is true, what possible difference can knowing make? Well, the cynical me says that it keeps those of us dealing with collateral damage, such as higher prices, pacified, because no matter how bad it gets here, it’s worse elsewhere.

Still, all day, every day, we are forced to confront and be saddened by events that a couple of hundred years ago we would never have heard of until long after those events were over.

If I sounds uncompassionate, it’s because I have my own mission (not one I chose, but one that was thrust on me because of my grief writing), succoring those reeling from the death of a spouse. Just yesterday, a woman contacted me because so much of what I have written about grief over the loss of someone intrinsic to our lives struck a chord with her. In this case, it was my saying that all grief is not the same because all losses are not the same. She’s been dealing with the typical non-support and dismissiveness we all had to deal with, such as the loss of a spouse being compared to the loss of a pet. (I’m not getting into this discussion again. I know people deal with grief for any number of losses, but the truth is, if a pet dies, it doesn’t leave you with a reduced income and three young children to raise by yourself as well as the loss of your sense of identity, the exile from your coupled friends and dozens of other horrendous changes to your life, any one of which would be occasion for grief.)

If it weren’t for modern means of communication, I wouldn’t hear from these grieving people, but I do. And it’s personal because they contact me specifically. Is their sorrow any worse than the sorrow of someone interviewed on television? Truthfully, I don’t know. As with much of life, I have no answers, just one heck of a lot of questions.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if we’re equipped to handle all the news that’s being fed to us.

***

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.

Reversing an Adaptation

The only place I ever came across the idea of reversing an adaptation other than in evolutionary terms was in the novel Dead Sleep by Greg Iles. The story was obviously forgettable because I have no idea what it was about even though it wasn’t that long ago that I read it, and an online synopsis didn’t help much. But I do remember what he said about reversing an adaptation. Or rather, I remember making note of the quote from the book. “Missing persons cases that have lain dormant for years, then suddenly the child or husband turns up. It’s disorienting to people. Homo Sapiens survived by adapting to change, even terrible change. Being forced to reverse an adaptation you’ve made to survive can cause a lot of strange feelings. A lot of resentment.”

That struck a chord in me somewhere deep down because I wonder at times what I would do if Jeff ever returned. I know he’s dead; I was there. The only way the scenario would work would be if he showed up on my doorstep and said, “God decided to let me come back. So here I am.”

It seems such a betrayal of both him and my grief, but part of me is glad I will never have to deal with a reversal of my adaptation to his death. For eleven and a half years I have been adapting to his being gone. For eleven and a half years I have slowly been turning someone I wouldn’t even recognize if I were to see me from the point of view of the woman I once was. For eleven and a half years I have been developing new values — not deep down values, the ones I’ve had all my life, like kindness and loyalty — but other values, such as having a place to live out the rest of my days; of owning that place. Owning a house is not something I ever wanted or valued, and yet here I am, grateful every day for this boon.

Without knowing the name of this phenomenon — reversing an adaptation — it must have been in the back of my mind for a long time. Years ago, I was involved in a time travel writing project with other authors. My character, a widow, went back in time, saw her husband, saw herself, and was appalled at how small her life had been. She could see that she had been on the way to becoming like her colorless mother-in-law, and once back in her “real” time, she threw off the shackles of her dowdy clothes and decided to live a little.

I do think sometimes of what my life would be if Jeff were to show up here. I try to think how to fit him into my life, into my house, but he doesn’t fit except as a photo I talk to every night. It’s been too long that he’s been out of my life. It’s been too long that I’ve been in this new life I’ve slowly been creating out of the ashes and shards of our shared life. I think it helps that I had no choice — I had to become the person I am to survive the shock of severance, the angst of his absence, the utter pain of grief.

To this day, I miss him and I continue to feel the void where he was ripped from me, so if there was an option, would I want him back? Could I deal with the truth, whichever way I decided? Could I reverse the adaptation? I have no idea.

***

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.

Lost and Broken Things

During the first months after Jeff died, I lost my grip, not just figuratively, but literally. Things often slipped through my fingers for no apparent reason. I simply couldn’t hold on. It seemed as if when I lost the connection with him, I lost the ability to connect with anything. Or maybe grief sapped all my strength. One night, a mug slipped from my hand. My fingers were crooked through the handle, so I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden the mug hit the hard tile floor and exploded. It wasn’t an expensive mug, nor did I have a particularly sentimental attachment to it — it was one of two giveaways we’d received from the phone company during a local festival — but I wept as if my heart had broken. Or as if he had died again.

Gathering up the shattered pieces and slivers of the mug, I understood for the first time that as the months and years passed, all our things would break or wear out, and every loss would take me one more step away from our life.

Looking back, it seems odd that the broken mug affected me so much. I’d spent the first two months after he died getting rid of stuff — his clothes, his personal possessions, mementos of his life before me, food and supplies I couldn’t take with me to California, all sorts of things, perhaps a third of everything we owned. It was a horrific time, and I felt so lost and lonely and devastated that no one particular thing stood out as a loss, probably because anything that had a special resonance, I kept.

A couple years after that, there was another silly loss that sent me back into grief mode. My sister made a gorgeous decoration of ribbons and a bow for a gift she’d sent, and since I thought it was too beautiful to waste, I placed it around the hat I wore to keep off the desert sun. After a couple of weeks, it blew off in the wind, and when I realized it was gone, I went looking for it. Couldn’t find it. The bow wasn’t important in the grand scheme of life and death, but it was important to me. It made me feel good, for one thing, and it was a symbol, in a way, of my struggles to create a new life for myself.

After my father died, I went through the things I couldn’t get rid of after Jeff died and found I could dispose of quite a few more things. Then before I moved here, I got rid of still other things. More recently, I disposed of a damaged mug with only a brief pang when I remembered it was the mate to the one I had broken all those years ago.

You’d think after so much loss, one more thing out of my life wouldn’t make a difference, but apparently, it does. I’ve lost an iced tea spoon that once belonged to Jeff — the only such spoon we had — and I am devastated. I’m not crying over the spoon, though I can feel the tears in the back of my throat. I liked the spoon, liked that it reminded me of him, liked the connection to a previous time. And now, that, too is gone.

It’s not as if I don’t have other things of his. I do. We had a lot of duplication in kitchen stuff, for example — the things he brought to our home, the things I brought, the things we bought together. I still have his eating utensils as well as mine, enough to last me the rest of my life. But I don’t have that iced tea spoon.

The odd thing is, as I grow older and then older still, I’ll have to get rid of even more of our things until at the end, I’ll be gone, too. So the loss of this one dainty spoon shouldn’t be a problem.

But it is.

Now that I think about it, the lost and broken things that bother me are not those I chose to dispose of, but the those I didn’t. Just as I didn’t choose to dispose of Jeff.

Of course, I’ll get over losing the spoon, just as I got over breaking the cup and losing the bow and all the rest of the things that are out of my life. Of course I’m grateful for all the wonderful new things that have come into my life.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

Everything that happens, good or bad, takes me one more step away from my shared life with Jeff.

***

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

Facing the Unfaceable

We who have lost our spouses, life mates, soul mates often have to show empathy and understanding to others rather than receiving it from them. We are the ones hurting, so why do we need to be understanding of their feelings? Because it is far easier for us to remember what it felt like to be in their situation, than it is for them to imagine what it must be like in ours.

Shortly after Jeff died, I had to let a man know of the death, though I don’t remember how I conveyed the information. It took months before I could actually say the words, “Jeff is dead.” But I do remember his response. “I know what you’re going through,” he said. “My dog just passed away.”

I stared at him, unable to process those words. To this day, his remark appalls me, though I have come to understand he was reaching out the only way he knew how.

Death is shrouded with an element of blank. It is the great unknown and unknowable, and our brains are not equipped to handle the immensity. While we are in the grip of our grief, the survival mechanisms of those around us are triggered. To avoid facing the unfaceable, people close to us will indulge in self-protective behaviors that shut us out.

Sometimes long-time friends, especially couples, draw away from us. The death of our spouse and the demise of our couplehood change the dynamics of our friendships. People fear we will now be uncomfortable in the company of couples. At the same time, they are uncomfortable with us because all unwittingly, we are a reminder of how fragile life really is.

This drawing away is often an unconscious reflex — they know we are hurting, know they feel helpless in the presence of our pain, but they don’t really know they are acting any different and certainly they don’t know why.

The jargon of grief is that of illness, of negativity, of . . . fault, as if somehow we who are grieving chose our state and now we have to overcome, heal, recover, move on, get over, return to normal. By blaming us for grieving too long, by refusing to admit that our grief is normal, onlookers to our grief can more comfortably return to their job of surviving, and leave us alone with our sorrow.

Even those who are kind to us bereft, even those who continue to be supportive, lose the urgency they had at the beginning. They cannot sustain that same level of support because grief takes way too long, and they need to focus on their own lives.

Despite these protective behaviors and the almost bumbling way people treat the bereaved, and despite my occasional acrid comment about the insensitive things people say to grievers, people do care, and they do want to say the right thing. In the last couple of days, more than 3,300 people landed on my blog post What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? after Googling such things as “how to say Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” “how to wish someone a Merry Christmas after a loss,” “Christmas greeting for grieving person,” “how to wish Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” In fact, since I posted that particular blog in 2011, more than 80,000 people have viewed the article.

Many thousands more have viewed What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving.

The true villain here is death. While the very idea of death drives non-grievers away, it draws us grievers in, forces us to face the unfaceable, makes us an accomplice. And yes, even allows us to show empathy to those who don’t understand but who try to show sympathy the only way they can.

***

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.

Fan Mail Brings Me Grief

Grief: The Great YearningI must be only author who grieves when she gets emails and comments from readers. For most authors, fan mail is a wonderful and affirming event. It is for me too, but the affirmation is usually accompanied by my tears because most often when readers write to tell me how much one of my books meant to them, they are referring to Grief: The Great Yearning.

It’s nice to know that people who are going through grief find comfort in my words, but oh, it breaks my heart to know that yet another person is dealing with the devastating loss, disbelieving shock, unfathomable pain of losing a spouse.

Those who haven’t lost their life mate, soul mate, partner, the person who makes life worth living, the person who connects them to the world, cannot comprehend the reality of the situation. In fact when people tell me they can’t imagine having to deal with such loss, I tell them not to even try. There is no way anyone can imagine the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional upheaval such a loss brings. And yet, the people who reach out to me in their grief know. As do I.

And so I weep.

The tears don’t really help anyone. We all have to find our own way through the horror, and yet, there they are, these prisms refracting my soul. Still, I do love hearing that my words mean something to people, that they brought a bit of comfort. It helps give meaning to those long years of pain.

If you are suffering a soul-numbing loss, maybe you, too would find comfort in my words. And I promise, despite my tears, I’m always glad to hear your story.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.

Grief Work

Grief work after the death of a spouse or anyone who makes your life worth living encompasses many tasks, from the simple task of getting out of bed in the morning to the complicated tasks of arranging for funeral services and dealing with financial matters.

As time goes on, the tasks of grief seem to increase, especially the emotional, mental, and spiritual tasks. We need to work through the pain, adjust to the absence of our loved one, find ways and reasons to continue living despite the absence, realize we each have our own path in life, remember them with joy not just sadness. (These might not be tasks so much as the natural progression of grief, but they all fall under the category of “grief work.”)

There are the horrendous tasks of dealing with the loved one’s effects, clearing out the things they no longer have any use for. Sometimes this particular bit of grief work can take years. Although I disposed of most of my life mate/soul mate’s things, I still have items I cannot get rid of, either because he asked me to keep them or because getting rid of them is still unthinkable after Untitledmore than three years. For example, I can’t get rid of his keys, eyeglasses, and wallet. Something in me balks at that, as if he still has use of such things. Especially ridiculous are his car keys. I donated his car to hospice, but kept a set of keys. I just can’t get rid of them.

And then there are the self-imposed tasks, the ways each of us find to honor the end of our shared life. For me, this self-imposed task is watching movies. Think it’s easy? No way!

Long ago, when we realized that we were renting the same movies over and over again because we couldn’t find anything better, he started taping movies for us. Started out with movies for us to watch together, and then expanded into movies he liked but I didn’t. As he got sicker and more housebound, he occupied his time by taping TV movies and television shows by hand so he could cut out the commercials.

There were more than a thousand tapes, some of them with a full six hours of movies or shows. Many of these tapes I had never watched, but during the past two-and-a-half years, I have been watching these tapes, sorting out the ones I have no interest in, keeping the ones that I like or that remind me of special occasions. I started with the tapes he made at the end, the ones I had never seen, and they were painful to watch — so many of them dealt with people who were dying or people who had to find a new way of living after the death of a spouse. It’s almost as if he were leaving me a message telling me to get on with my life.

Even more painful is when I reached the tapes that we always watched together. As I watch each of them, I am aware that the last time I saw the movie, he was by my side. I remember the things we said, the looks we gave each other, the connection we felt. These once-loved movies now seem dull and bland as if a vital spark is missing. And it is missing. He is missing.

I’ve almost worked my way through all the tapes, and I have a hunch that this particular self-imposed task is prolonging my grief since they connect me to the past and at the same time make me aware that the past is gone forever.

Despite all this grief work, there are two things I will never be able to deal with. I will always hate that he is dead. And I will always miss him.

***

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.

When Grief Comes Calling

desert roadGrief has been leaving me alone lately, probably because I’ve been keeping myself busy with other matters, but Friday night grief came calling. Sorrow has been with me on and off now for two days, perhaps in recognition of my upcoming three-year anniversary. I didn’t think there would be a problem with this anniversary (which is a bit naïve of me considering that I didn’t think there would be a problem with any of the agonizing stops along this grief journey). I’ve been feeling as if the death of my life mate/soul mate happened long ago, so long that he’s been fading in memory. Yet on Friday night, the memory of his last days was so fresh and new, it was as if we’d only recently parted. I could almost feel his arms around me as we said our final good-byes. Could almost see his smile, could almost hear his voice.

And suddenly, just like that, the yearning to be with him one more time overwhelmed me, and the reality lay heavy on my soul. He’s dead? Really? How is that possible?

I know how it’s possible. He got sick, was sick for years, and finally, the inoperable kidney cancer spread, hijacking his body for its own use. But dead? Part of me doesn’t get it. Part of me (just a vestigial part now) thinks I’ll be going home to him when I am free of my current responsibilities, and the truth — that he is gone forever — is again too much to bear.

I do know enough about grief to understand that this upsurge in sorrow will pass, but there will be other days — at ever-increasing intervals — when grief will again come calling. We get so in the habit of life, of dealing with our small everyday concerns, that our grief gets pushed out of sight, but we never completely get over our sadness. How can we? The person who meant more to us than any other is gone, taking part of us with him.

If that weren’t hard enough to deal with, we can never completely forget that we were helpless to keep him here even one more day, which makes life and death seem an arbitrary business. Perhaps if we knew life’s algorithms, we could see how everything fits together, but without such omniscience, we are left with only questions. Where is he? Is he happy? Is he?

Sometimes what keeps me focused on living is the thought of what he would say if we were to meet again. He’d be disappointed in me if I told him that all I did was mourn for him. I can see almost hear him say, “I died to set you free and you did nothing but cry?” Yeah, well, he no longer has a say in what I do. It’s my life and I’ll cry if I want to.

It’s not so much that I want to cry, but sometimes tears are the only way to relieve the incredible stress of grief. I had no idea stress would still come into play at almost three years, but grief, even aging grief, takes a lot out of us. Despite the upsurge in grief and the accompanying feelings of futility, I am making plans, looking forward, trying to find something to live for.

But dammit! I miss him.

***

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+

All Right With Death?

Mystical desertA friend who lost her husband sent me an email today, relating something a woman told her. The woman said, “I’m not trying to put anything bad on my husband, but I think that if he died I would be all right with that.”

The statement shocked my friend, not just because of the tactlessness, but because of the lack of feeling.

People have said the same thing to me, and to be honest, it’s the way I felt when my life mate/soul mate was dying. I truly thought I would be okay. He’d been sick for so long and in such pain, I thought I’d be relieved when he died. And I was. For about an hour. Those last years of his life, I did many things to prepare myself for going on alone, and I thought I was prepared. That’s why my grief shocked me so much — it came from somewhere so deep inside, I had no idea such a place existed. My grief was beyond rationality, beyond emotion. It was visceral, as if part of my body and half my soul had died.

Some women truly don’t feel much after their husbands die. Sometimes the husband had been sick for so long they did their grieving before he died. Sometimes their relationship was so bad they were glad when it was over. And sometimes people are unable to feel anything. After all, about 5% of all humans are sociopaths — not killers, simply people without human emotions.

But the woman who made the remark could also be in denial, or not know the power of grief. If you know how you would feel if your spouse died, it would put an unbearable burden on you, especially if you think you are an independent woman. I mean, grief to such an extent as I felt seems anachronistic in this liberated day when we are all supposed to be strong and self-reliant. When people found out about my loss, they often gave me strange looks, as if I were an alien species they could not understand. Sometimes after such a look, people would said they could not imagine how they would feel if they lost their spouse. I always told them not to imagine it. They couldn’t. Until you have been there, you do not know the depths of such grief. You cannot know.

To be honest, I wish I didn’t know. Such grief changes your whole perception of yourself and your relationship to life. It makes you rethink who you are, where you came from, and where you are going, and there are no easy answers. The truth is, I was strong and self-reliant. Sure, my mate and I did everything together, but I was perfectly capable of doing things on my own. Still, 2 and 2/3 years after his death, I am struggling with feelings of pointlessness and meaninglessness, as if our shared life was the only thing that mattered. And maybe it was — then. For thirty-four years he was the focus of my life, and to a certain extent he still is. I feel his absence the way I once felt his presence.

For me, the strangest part of the woman’s sentence is her implication that not only would she be all right after he died, but she’d be okay with his death. In my case, I am mostly doing okay dealing with my mate’s absence. I can even accept the idea that he is dead — I have to so I can go on with my life. But as long as I am alive, I will never be all right with his death.

***

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+

One Thousand and One Days of Grief

clockAlthough yesterday’s post 1000 Days of Grief — and this one — might make it seem as if I am still counting the days of grief, I actually stopped counting after the first year. Once when I could not imagine ever being able to get through another hour, I counted to the 1000th day and marked it on the calendar. It seemed like a significant number — a guidepost — and I thought I should know the date. It is astonishing to me that I have managed to survive so many days since the death of my life mate/soul mate, but in truth, I am doing more than simply surviving. I am living.

Of the articles I have recently written, posts about celebrating various aspects of life outnumber my posts about grief, which puzzles me since I am not feeling at all festive. When you lose the person who connects you to the world, you have to find new ways of reconnecting to life, and apparently those celebratory posts are indicative of the changes in me, of how on a visceral level, my focus is turning away from death to life.

For so long, I didn’t feel right about embracing life when he was dead. I knew he wouldn’t want me to be sad, but frankly, he had no say in the matter, and for the most part, neither did I. Grief is a force, like a whirlwind, and all I could do was endure as best as I could until it lost its power. Even when the power of grief began waning, I still didn’t feel right about embracing life. It’s not so much that I had survivor’s guilt (especially since I wasn’t sure I still wanted to be here), but that it didn’t seem fair. If life is a gift, why was it taken from him?

Maybe he got the worst end of the deal by having to die so young. Maybe I got the worst end of the deal by having to live. This conundrum of who got the worst of the deal tormented me for a long time, but now I see that it doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. He died. I didn’t. That’s the way things are.

I’m starting to see myself as just me now, not as a shattered, left-behind half of a couple; starting to feel that whatever our life together meant, whatever our connection, this is my life. Not his. Not ours. Mine.

On a larger scale, perhaps, there is no such thing as “my life” and “his life” and “your life.” Maybe we are all somehow connected, like books on a library shelf, our stories interlocking and making a whole. But I cannot think of that larger scale right now. I need to be me, or rather, to find a new way of being, and oddly, this seems to be a typical leg in grief’s journey. I am taking a yoga class (therapy yoga, a gentler form of yoga that allows for one’s imitations) as part of my effort to open myself to new possibilities, and I recently discovered that, coincidentally, all the women in the class have lost their husbands. Our losses vary from one to ten years, but we are all striving for a new way of being, a new focus. We are also all trying to learn how to take care of ourselves in our old age since we won’t be growing old with anyone.

Whether I count the days or not, time is still passing, and at an increasingly rapid rate. On September 16, 2015, it will be 2000 days since his death. (No, I didn’t count those days, I used a decimal birthday counter.) What will I be like in another 1000 days? What will my life be like? If the changes come as rapidly as in the previous 1000 days, I doubt I will recognize me. Whatever happens, though, the number of days since I was born into this new life that his death forced on me, has little significance except as another guidepost. Each day stands alone. Each day finds its own meaning. Each day is mine to survive, or to celebrate, as best as I can.

***

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+

Grief Rant

I still have some anger in me, apparently. I occasionally “flame out” as one friend said when I disagreed with an email that friend sent. I am regaining my equilibrium, though, able to get through my days mostly even tempered, but one thing continues to raise my ire: when people assume all grief is the same, and especially when they assume they understand the grief of someone who lost a soul mate because they lost a beloved pet. Such a comment set me off tonight, and when my reply ended up being longer than some of my blog posts, I decided to publish the comment here rather than get in a grief match (“my grief is worse than your grief”) because, honestly, all loss is devastating, especially when it happens to you.

And yet . . . the death of a pet, no matter how beloved, is not the same as losing a soul mate. Nor is the trauma of losing a brother or a mother the same as losing a long-time spouse. The only thing that comes close is losing a child. (My younger brother’s death hastened my mother’s death. She died a year after he did.)

I understand there are all kinds of grief, and I know they all have to be honored. Grief of any kind that is not processed can cause additional problems. (Or not. Some people seem to do quite well walling off their grief.)

My concern has always been for those who have to deal with the death of a spouse, whether a life mate or a soul mate because that sort of all-encompassing grief is more than most people can comprehend. I thought I understood grief — after all, I grieved the deaths of my brother and my mother — but until the death of my life mate/soul mate, I never even knew such profound grief existed. During the past two and a half years, I have met dozens, maybe hundreds of women who have lost their mates, and they all mentioned the same thing — they had to hide their grief because no one understood. That is unconscionable. (I didn’t have this problem. I’m a quasi hermit, so no one was around to see me mourning.)

The truth is, it’s the very prevalence of grief that makes people uncomfortable with the profound grief of someone who lost a soul mate. People figure they got over their grief, whatever or whoever it was for, so you should, too. The trouble with losing your mate is that your grief is not just emotional, but also physical. In addition to the unimaginable agony of loss, you have to deal with shock, a blizzard of hormonal reactions, changes in brain chemistry, an incredible level of stress (losing a mate is considered the most stressful thing a person ever has to deal with; many people end up being treated for PTSD). Your death rate climbs 25% for all causes.

Added to that are all the horrendous “death” chores you have to deal with such as planning a funeral and filling out all the official and financial paperwork involved in “removing” someone from the world. As your emotions begin to stabilize, you have other griefs to deal with since a soul mate is more than a spouse — he’s also a best friend, companion, sometimes even a business partner, and all those losses have to be processed. You also grieve for the loss of yourself, at least your coupled self. And then you have to deal with the restructuring of your life. Your dreams are gone as are your plans for the future so you need to find new reasons to live. Sometimes you have to leave your home. It takes years to sort out all the losses so you can process them and begin again.

I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s grief. But, as I explained in my post, Why I Write About My Grief, people who have lost a mate deserve a lot more consideration and understanding from their family and friends than the assumption that their loss is comparable to the loss of a beloved pet.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+