Grief Update: Four Years and Four Months

It’s been four years and four months since Jeff — my life mate/soul mate — died. These have been rough years, first dealing with the heartbreak of his death, then dealing with the agony and the void of his being gone, now dealing with the trauma and drama of my father’s dying, my brother’s dysfunction, my sister’s presence.

I’ve shed a few tears today, but I don’t think they are for my lost love. They seem more self-pitying than that, perhaps tears of exhaustion from trying to rectify a situation I cannot settle — everyone is pushing/pulling me, and it’s impossible to resolve the matter in any way that will satisfy or even half-satisfy everyone. Despite my efforts to help, I know that there is no resolution. Even if it’s not this week, my father’s end is nigh. Even if it’s not this week, my homeless brother will be forced back onto the streets. Even if it’s not this week, my sister will still have to deal with whatever comes, as will I.

The truth is, I can barely remember my life with Jeff. It’s so far away in time, place, emotion, that his being gone seems to have no impact any more, and yet his death defines my life. If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here in this house of horrors, wouldn’t have gone through unimaginable grief, wouldn’t be drifting in this transitional state, waiting for my “real” life to begin. (Silly to think that — as John Lennon supposedly said, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” On the other hand, it’s horrific to think that this is my life. Ouch.)

If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have wondered for thousands of hours in the desert. (I meant wandered, of course, but I’m leaving the typo because it is actually truer than what I’d intended to write. I did wonder as I wandered. Wondered about life, death, his current whereabouts, my future, the meaning of it all.) If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have made so many wonderful friends. Wouldn’t have found dance (my redemption, my joy, my life).

I miss Jeff, but it’s with the dull ache of a half-remembered dream. I know he was real — he was the most real person I ever met — and yet, though he used to be “my North, my South, my East and West, / My working week and my Sunday rest, / My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,” he no longer has any substantial reality in my life. I talked to him when I was out walking in the desert today, but I had no feeling of connection. It was just me, the heat, the restless air, the sandy soil, the oppressive low-lying clouds, and perhaps a lizard or two.

I keep a photo of Jeff — the one photo I have — where I can see it to remind me that this was not always my life. Once I loved deeply, so deeply that I still felt shattered years after his death, so deeply that I could only scream the pain of my loss to the uncaring winds.

I still have his ashes, but one day soon I will have to figure out what to do with them. When my father is gone, I’m going to have to put my stuff in storage, and though there is nothing left of Jeff in his “cremains,” I cannot see storing them as if they were just more detritus of my life. And I still have many of Jeff’s things to dispose of, things that once I couldn’t bear to part with because he might need them. Now I know the truth — feel the truth — he will never need them. I will never be taking them home to him. I will never be going home to him. Will never talk with him again.

It’s been four years and four months and six days since Jeff and I talked. Tomorrow it will be four years and four months and seven days.

And so the days pass.

***

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.

Four Years and Two Months of Grief

In two days it will be four years and two months since Jeff — my life mate/soul mate — died, and even now I can feel the effects of his goneness. I still have occasional grief surges that bring a quiet bout of tears and a great yearning to see him once more. Chances are, I will have will have such upsurges for the rest of my life, though perhaps at a continually diminishing rate.

I keep busy, so I’m not subjected as often to the desperate loneliness and aloneness that plagued me for the first three and a half years of my grief, but holiday weekends, when everyone else is involved with family, brings the loneliness home to me. (I’m not strictly alone, but my 97-year-old father is involved with his personal end-of-life rituals, and my dysfunctional brother is . . . well, let’s just say I am much better off when he leaves me alone. Neither man sees me as real, so although I am not strictly alone, I am actually more alone than if I were truly alone.) Sometimes I wish I had someone for my own, but I’m desert knollsnot interested in getting involved. Not only is it too soon for another connection, but a connection would pull at me, keeping me from doing what I want/need to do — whatever that might be. So I deal with the loneliness as best as I can.

For thirty-four years, I was connected to another human being on such a profound level that when he died, it felt as if half of me went with him, as if I were straddling the line between here and eternity. I don’t feel the nearness of eternity any more, don’t feel the awesome gap between life and death — in that respect, my life has gone back to “normal.” But even after all this time, something in me yawns wide and cries out to be filled. Sometimes I try to fill the emptiness with physical activity. Sometimes I try to fill it with chocolate and other treats. Sometimes I try to fill it with reaching out to others. But it is always there, an itch beneath the surface of my consciousness.

Despite Jeff’s absence, despite my brother’s presence, I am happier than I ever thought possible, and yet . . . Jeff is still gone. Still dead. Still, strangely, a part of my life.

I went walking in the desert today. I haven’t been out there for a while, keeping my ambulation more as a means of transportation than recreation, but it felt right. I used to talk to him in the desert, used to feel close to him in the vastness the open land, used to show him the steps and positions I learned in my various exercise classes, but today I just walked. Felt the ground beneath my shoes, felt the heat on my shoulders. Just . . . felt.

(I did ask Jeff if he’d watch over me when I took my epic walk, but he didn’t respond.)

I know he couldn’t have stayed. I know I couldn’t have gone with him (except for the part of me that died when he did). I know I’ve had and will continue to have many adventures I never could have had if we were still together. I know, though I seldom admit it, that when I am finished with my responsibilities here and head out on my own, my life will be better without him and the demands of his illness.

And yet. And yet . . .

***

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.

Fourth Anniversary of Grief

It’s very windy today, with gusts up to 40mph, but the sun is shining through the clouds.

And so begins my fifth year of grief.

Four years ago today, my life mate/soul mate died without a sound, not even so much as a whimper. His Adam’s apple bobbed once, twice, and then he was gone.

100_1807aThe world is poorer because of his absence. I am poorer. He was the best person I ever knew, kind and helpful to all, not just those who were close to him. (In fact, it was his unfailing kindness to others that cemented my love for him.) He was smart and wise and witty. He was exceedingly knowledgeable about many things — movies, music, mobsters, history, humans, health. It always seemed odd to people that someone so interested in health had physical problems, but his lack of good health is what made him interested in how the body worked and what could be done to make it work even better. He believed in self-discipline and, even at the end, despite pain and debility, he strived to learn, to be better, stronger, wiser.

I’ve gone through a couple of days of sorrow and tears as I neared this anniversary, and I’m glad I did. I seldom cry any more — in fact, I didn’t even know there were tears left in me — and oddly, I miss the tears. Tears kept me connected to him in a way nothing else has since he departed this earth. Besides, he deserves my sorrow now and again. I don’t want to live blithely without a thought for him and what he meant to me.

As always, once the time of his death passed (12:50a.m. MDT), I started to regain my equilibrium. I miss him, but the reality is that as much as I hate it, he isn’t here.

And I am.

Many of my grief mates (those who lost their mates within a few months of when I did) still have relationships with their deceased spouses. Their belief in the continued survival of their soul mates is so strong, they know without a doubt they are still connected; some people can even feel the connection. Others have moved into new relationships. While I . . . I do the best I can on my own, taking each step as it comes, trying not to cling to the past, trying not to fear the future.

And I strive to learn, to be better, stronger, wiser.

It’s what he always did, and I can do no less.

***

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.

Small Losses and Great Losses

I lost something today. It 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 perfect, for another. I can cobble together a replacement, but I will never find the joy that I did in the original item. It was a symbol, in a way, of my struggles to create a new life for myself, and now . . . well, now the symbol is gone. But only the symbol. My new life is still here. I am still here.

In two days, it will be the fourth anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate. The fourth anniversary of my new birth. I’ve come a long way in those years, so much so that I’m not sure the woman I was would recognize the woman I am today, but the inexplicable loss of this symbol reminded me of that other loss, the most important one I ever experienced, and I can’t stop crying. I haven’t cried for him in a long time. When I think of him, I don’t try to hold on to the thoughts as I have in the past. I just let them drift away. But today, when I felt that sick sinking feeling of an inexplicable loss, I was reminded once again that he is gone.

Sometimes it feels as if he’s been gone for decades, yet in some respects, his being gone is still very new. My plans, my thoughts, my dreams continue to be tinted through the dark glass of his goneness. Someday, as he recedes even further from me, the influence of his absence will wane. Or perhaps not. The truth is, it’s his death that inspires my life. He faced the end so courageously, I can only face my life with as much courage. In a strange sort of way, his death set us both free, he from pain, and me from being tied to an invalid (which he would have hated — he always told me that if he ever became incapacitated, I was to walk away. But I couldn’t). A small life, a life of not much, a life of not trying new things would dishonor that act of freedom.

I no longer expect him to call and tell me it’s time to come home, as I did for the first couple of years after he died. I no longer feel his vast goneness from my life, yet I always miss him. I’ve stepped back from the abyss of death, back into a celebration of life. I’m adding so much to my life — friends, excursions, dance — that I feel silly at times for still yearning for one more smile from him. I guess if I want smiles, I’ll have to generate them myself.

And I will. Just not tonight.

***

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.

Counting Down to Four Years of Grief

I’m counting down to the fourth anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate. I used to count the minutes and hours, and now I count the months and years. One day I will count only the years, or maybe just the decades. He is gone, so very gone that I seldom think of him any more, though something deep inside of me will never forget.

I remember how hard it was for me even to take a breath right after he died — each gulp of air took all my strength and will. The pain consumed me — at times, all I could think about was getting through that very minute. And now I have managed to get through 2,065,726 minutes, one minute at a time.

At the beginning of my grief, a friend passed on words of wisdom from her mother that I never could quite figure out. The mother said that “you never get over losing someone. Their absence just becomes part of what their presence always meant.” And now, all of a sudden, I understand what she meant.

In my case, his presence gave me courage to be bold, to try new things, to be spontaneous and not to worry too much. At least, that’s the way it was at the beginning. When he got sick and continued to get sicker for many years, our lives became constrained, both because of financial troubles and because of the demands of his health. During those years, I sunk into myself, unable to bear what was happening to him, to us. Now that he’s gone, his absence gives me what his presence once did — the courage to be bold, to try new things, to be spontaneous and not to worry so much.

From the beginning of my grief, I knew I couldn’t continue to do the things that we did together. His hard-won death set us both free, and if I had continued to live the way we always did (or do what I so often wanted after he died — just go to bed and nurture my pain) — then I would have wasted his death. Instead, I used grief’s anger to propel me forward.

Like many bereft in my grief “age group” —- those who lost our mates about the same time — I have developed an inordinate need for adventure. I’m not sure why we feel this need except that perhaps both our love and our grief were so immense that only something equally immense will satisfy our souls. Oddly, few of us are able to indulge in adventure except in a minor ways — we seem be gripped by responsibilities, either taking care of young grandchildren or elderly parents. It’s possible that before we are able to set out on an adventurous life, the passing of the years will dim that craving for adventure, and we will shrink back into small lives.

I may not have the physical strength and necessary skills to undertake such an adventure as hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I may not have the financial reserves to spend my life on the road, traveling around the country. I may not even have the desire to try to walk 1000 miles, live abroad for a year, or take a freighter to New Zealand. But I will do something epic, something just a bit beyond my desires, strengths, skills. His absence gives me the courage for such a step. In fact, his absence makes it necessary to live large.

But oh, just between us, I am tired of trying to live large, tired of trying to expand my sphere beyond the day-to-dayness of life. I’d give anything for one more comfortable day with him, one more conversation, one more small smile. But such is not possible. And so I continue on alone, living each minute to the fullest, with whatever courage, boldness, and spontaneity I can muster.

***

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.

Life is a Matter of Habit

Life is often a matter of habit. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Actually, the whole quote is “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” But this is an article about habits, not excellence.

Most of our lives are repetitive. We do the same things in the same way, eat the same foods, go to the same restaurants, see the same people, watch the same shows. It’s easy to create a habit. If we do the same thing — good or bad — often enough, the synaptic pathways in our brains get rutted, and it’s almost impossible to completely eradicate the ruts if we want to change our habits.

Recently It was easy for me to fall into the habit of playing computer solitaire for hours on end, but now it’s almost impossible to break the habit, though I did it once, so I can do it again. (After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I mindlessly played game after game just to get through another minute, another hour of grief. A couple of years ago I broke the habit of playing games, but in a fit of restlessness a few months ago, I started in again, and now I have to rebreak myself of the habit.) The secret is to do what I need to do on the computer and then get off. Oddly, some habits are easy to break. I’m in the habit of writing a blog every day, and I keep doing it because I know if I skip a day, I’ll skip another and another, until I lose the habit of writing habitually and will only post sporadically.

Sometimes a change of circumstances, such as a move,  forces us to change our habits. When people tell me they have a hard time getting used to a new town, I suggest they go to the same place or do the same thing everyday to help themselves get acclimated. One woman who took this advice went to the same coffee shop every day, another took a walk ever day. And gradually, new comfortable ruts were built into their brains.

One of the collateral problems with grief is the instant loss of habits. In my case, we (my life mate/soul mate and I) had done most things together for decades — watched the same movies, ate the same foods, ran errands, watered the hundred or so trees we planted. As he got sicker, we put one foot in front of the other and kept on going the best we could out of habit. His death catapulted me out of the habits of my life. I still had the ruts of togetherness in my brain without someone to be together with. I also had to move from our home where we’d lived for decades to come look after my now 96-year-old father, so I didn’t even have the habits of living in the same house.

I felt as if the ground had been yanked from beneath me. When I tried to put one foot in front of the other, I became disoriented, as if I were falling into nothingness. I felt like such a baby, since all I could do was crawl in my alien world of no mate, no habits, nothing to connect me to the past but painful memories.

During the ensuing years of grief (in approximately two weeks, it will be three and a half years since he died) people who have been through the same sorrow have told me that grief makes a change around the four-year anniversary. That’s when many people find some sort of renewal, such as a new commitment to life.

I call this four-year mark the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then by four years, less than half our cells will bear the imprint of our mates. And so our physical grief fades. (By physical grief, I mean the physical pain and symptoms of grief as opposed to the emotional pain.) At the same time, the ruts from the habits of our old life have evened out, and we have developed new patterns of living, new habits, new ruts. And as we repeatedly do new things alone, we become persons who can survive — and even thrive — without our mates because in the end, despite love and grief, learning and yearning, life is a matter of habit.

***

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.