If You Are Sick Of Hearing About My Loss . . .

Someone left a comment a couple of days ago saying she is tired of hearing about my loss and so is cancelling her subscription to this blog. To be honest, I don’t really blame her. I never expected the death of one man (my life mate/soul mate) to have such an impact on my life that I could feel the ripples of his absence three and a half years later. I certainly never expected to still be mentioning my loss after all this time (it seems a bit pathetic), but I can’t ignore the single most significant event of the past few years of my life. Everything I am, everything I will be stems from that loss.

Death is such an inhuman and inexplicable event that our brains scurry around trying to solve the enigma of a presence that has become an absence. Some people are lucky enough to believe in a benevolent God and a beatific afterlife. Others of us strive to find meaning, and if we don’t succeed in finding it, we have to create meaning.

For now, this bSierra Club conditioning walklog is my meaning. Or rather, the means to my meaning. I was so stunned at all I felt after his death, so shocked at how little I understood such profound grief despite having lost a brother and my mother that I used this blog as a way of helping other bereft find their way through the labyrinth of pain. I wanted to let them know they are not crazy if they continue to feel grief long after their family and friends (and blog readers) have become tired of their sorrow. The truth is, we too get tired of our loss, but we have no choice but to continue our struggle to live.

And it is a struggle. I realized long ago that the only way I could make sense of his death is to do things that we wouldn’t have done together, or to do things that I wouldn’t/couldn’t have done while he lived. Even though I am no longer actively grieving and in fact am quite happy at times (I seldom cry any more, and if I do, it’s only for a moment or two), I still honor my loss with all that I am doing. I continue to blog about grief, take night walks with the local Sierra Club, travel a bit, write, amble in the snake-infested desert, and do things I am not necessarily comfortable doing.

Although it might seem as if I am still bemoaning my loss by continuing to mention his death, the truth is, I am not embracing loss. I am embracing life — my life. I’m still not convinced life is a gift — there is way too much pain in the world — but my loss is the means of my future gain. I will not waste the freedom his death brought to me. I will not waste the courage he bequeathed me. I will not waste what is left of my life, even though I have to continue alone.

It seems to me that my struggle to create a meaningful life is worth writing about. So, if you are sick of hearing about my loss, feel free to unfollow me, but I am going to continue to blog about my life, and my life includes his death.

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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.

Countdown to One Hundred and One Adventures

I’m on the left side of the photo

Things are settling down in my life and revving up all at once. My father finally was able to start his breathing treatments and now is more alert, has a bit more energy, and shows more interest in food, so we’re settling back into our quiet life without alarums and excursions. (Hospital excursions, that is.)

My headlong rush into life slowed this past year — I didn’t really do much to embrace life except yoga lessons for a while and walks in the desert. In an effort to revitalize my life, I promised myself to seek one hundred and one adventures, but the promise didn’t give me the push I expected because life got in the way of my embracing life. (I guess, though, as long as I am present even in the unsettling times, I am embracing life, which is an adventure in itself.)

But now I’m on track, at least for this month, with two great adventures planned. Tomorrow night or Thursday morning, depending on when she gets here, I will be meeting my best friend from high school for the first time in decades. The whirlwinds of life flung us in different directions, but now those same winds are bringing us back together. I doubt I will recognize her, but voices seem to be the last things to change, so I should at last recognize the sound of her voice. (Now that I think about it, it seems odd that we’ve only emailed sporadically this past year and never once talked on the phone, so I have an only an assumption that she still sounds the same.) After all this time, will we have anything to say to each other? Will we like each other, or will we take each other in aversion? It should be interesting to find out. (Besides . . . of course she’ll like me. What’s not to like, right?)

Then at the end of the month, I’m heading to Seattle for a gala weekend. My sister and brother-in-law are treating me to a showing of Shen Yun. 5,000 years of Chinese music and dancing, limousines, champagne, a wonderful dinner. Sounds like an adventure fit for Cinderella.

Even if rags and an out of season pumpkin are all that await me at the end of the Seattle trip, well, there is still a matter of the other 99 adventures I promised myself. I wonder what I will do next?

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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+

Let It Be . . . Me

I know you’ve seen the video, everyone has. It’s been emailed and remailed, Facebooked and Twittered, blogged and Gathered, clogging cyberspace with the message: Let It Be. At first I thought that perhaps this was the answer to my confusion over the death of my mate of thirty-four years. Just go on with my life and let it be. Forget my grief. Forget the pain of losing him. Forget trying to make sense of it all. Just . . . let it be.

My second thought as I continued watching this very looooong and repetitive song (Sheesh! What was Paul McCartney thinking when he wrote it? Not much, apparently) was how my mate would have enjoyed seeing all those faces as they are today. We have so many of them in his movie collection, and they are always that age, the one they’d reached when they made that particular movie (such as a much younger Sherilyn Fenn in The Don’s Analyst or a very young and fit Steve Guttenberg in Surrender).

My third thought was let what be what? And that’s where the thoughts stalled — in a semantics word jam.

I finished watching the video, thinking nothing, just watching the parade of faces, but now I’m wondering if Let it Be is really a philosophy I want to embrace. It seems too accepting of life’s vagaries and not enough of . . . well, embracing.

The whole purpose of going through grief is to process the pain and the loss, to mend your shattered life and heart so that one day you can embrace life in its entirety once again. I haven’t dealt with all these months of tears, anger, frustration, emptiness, loneliness, pain, just to spend the rest of my life letting it be. I want to let it be me —  the one who’s strong enough not to have to simply let it be.

Grief: Denying Denial

I never really had a choice about feeling my grief. It wasn’t so much that I embraced it, but that it embraced me. It took hold of my life and didn’t let go, though it is easing enough so that I am able to see the process for what it is.

People talk about denial as if it’s a bad thing. If I’d been able to deny grief and just go on living as if my mate of thirty-four years hadn’t died, I’d probably have done so. Grief is debilitating, disorienting, causes innumerable physical and emotional reactions, makes one susceptible to cancer, accidents, and other closer-to-death encounters and on top of that, it’s just downright painful.

So why deny denial? Because in the end, it’s better to embrace grief, to learn to live with the pain (which does diminish, though according to comments left on this blog from others who have also lost their mates, it never goes away completely. It can resurface even years later). By embracing grief, by learning how to cope with it, you can learn how to feel deeply again, look forward to the future, and embrace life. This in no way negates your loss, but allows you to honor his death with your life.

Another reason to deny denial is that grief will affect you whether you embrace it or not, but the effects of denied grief are not overt ones such as crying, eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, feeling as if you’ve been kicked in the gut, feeling as if half your heart is missing. Instead, grief that goes underground can create in you long-term problems, including the symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder. Two friends — both of whom lost their husbands a few month ago, both of whom are deluged with family and family obligations that give them no time to grieve  — were diagnosed with PTSD after days of internal quivering that only responded to drugs. They do not have time to spare for grief, but grief is not sparing them.

Grief is stressful, which is why crying, screaming, beating up on defenseless sofas are necessary — they help relieve that pent-up stress. You can go into denial and hold grief in, but it’s like holding in your stomach for years on end — you can never think of anything else but your stomach. If you hold yourself tightly against memories, dreams, unexpected encounters with photos, you have no time for living. Perhaps you don’t see a purpose for living now, but if you do your grief work (and grief is work, there’s no doubt about that) chances are you will regain your desire to live. You might even be able to love fully again, and that means risking more pain, but after dealing with your grief, you will be strong enough to accept the risk.

At least, that’s the way I’ve interpreted the grief process. You might see different reasons for either denying grief or denying denial.