Grief Update: Going on Alone

A week ago I mentioned that all of a sudden my grief seemed to have changed, and that change appears to be holding true.

After the second anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate I didn’t feel any different than I’d felt the previous year. I was still sad and weepy at times, and more recently I had a week-long grief upsurge starting on the fourth of July, but lately, as I’m nearing the two-and-a-third-year mark, I seem to have made some sort of accommodation with his death and my grief.

For most of the past twenty-eight months, I’ve felt bad for him, for the horror of his last years, and for all that he is missing out on, but I don’t feel bad for him any more. I’m glad he’s out of this life, glad he doesn’t have to deal with any of the political, financial, and medical changes that are coming our way, glad he no longer has to contend with growing old or to be fearful of ending up as a helpless invalid.

I’m sorry his life was cut short, but his death doesn’t shatter me any more. I take comfort in knowing that for the most part, he did it his way. He endured incredible pain, but he knew any drugs strong enough to end his suffering would also end him, and that proved to be true. When he finally had to start taking morphine, he became someone else, and I’m glad he didn’t have to endure living as that stranger for very long. I still miss him, will always miss him, but someday I will be dead, too. He just went first. It would have been nice if we’d had more good years together, but because of his illness, the good years were behind us. It would have been nice to have had more of our dreams come true and more of our hopes work out, but they no longer matter since our shared hopes and dreams died when he did.

I still have times of doubt and fears, sorrow and tears, still question the meaning of it all, but I’m getting used to the idea of going on alone, getting used to the idea of being alone.

Tomorrow, of course, I could be back in the depths of grief, feeling shattered beyond repair, but I don’t think so. The tears that come now are more nostalgic than agonizing. When I think about it, I still hate that he’s dead, but I don’t think about it much. I try to focus more on being me, on being here in this day. I still feel a disconnect, as if some of the tendons connecting me to life that ripped when he died have never healed, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The disconnect reminds me that everything comes to an end sooner or later, even me.

Getting over the worst of the pain of grief is only the first step. Next comes rebuilding. Although I don’t believe in destiny and signs and things that are meant-to-be, part of me clings to the idea that he wouldn’t have left me if he hadn’t known I’ll be okay. I hold on to that thought because otherwise the idea of growing old alone scares me, as does the idea of creating a whole new life for myself.

I won’t say reconstructing my life will be easy in comparison to the agony and angst of losing the one person who connects me to the world since I don’t know what challenges lie before me. But I will say that after surviving such devastating grief, I have become stronger than I ever thought possible, and I will be able to handle whatever comes my way.

Wondering About Life And Death And The Meaning Of It All

I don’t think I had survivor’s guilt after the death of my life mate/soul mate, but I do feel bad that I’m leaving him behind. I get a second chance at life, new friends, new vistas, new experiences, but he has been denied that. And in fact, he was denied all those things long before his death since his protracted dying kept him from doing much except struggling to get through one more pain-filled day.

He often told me that when he got incapacitated, I had to put him in a home and walk away. Just forget him. I know he’d want me to do the same thing now that he is dead, but I didn’t walk away when I had to put him in the hospice care center, and I can’t walk away now, and for certain I can’t just forget him.

But perhaps I am looking at the situation backward. His being dead is still the thing that drives my sadness — sadness not just for me but for him. And yet . . . what if it is he who left me behind? Perhaps he has gone on to a wondrous new life, in which case my sadness on his behalf is misplaced. And maybe none of this has anything to do with me. Maybe it’s not up to me to worry if he was cheated or not, or even to wonder if he’s in a better place. Despite our deep connection, he was still his own person. Maybe I’m poking into something that is his alone.

Just as I have to accept that my life is mine alone now.

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. Something shut off right then, and a voice deep inside me said, “He might dying but I have to live.” For all 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 fell in love with him all those years ago.

Because of that disconnected year, a year where I felt dissociated from him and our life, I didn’t expect to grieve, but here I am, two years and seven weeks later, still struggling to deal with the wreckage of our shared life, still sad, still wondering about life and death and the meaning of it all. When life makes sense, death doesn’t. When death makes sense, life doesn’t. It would be nice to talk to him and compare notes about what we’re both doing, but so far he’s remaining silent.

One thing has changed recently. In between the moments of angst and wanting it all to be over with, in between the pinchings of grief and not caring what happens to me, that determination of several years ago is making itself felt.

He might be dead, but I have to live.

I just wish I knew how.

A Different Level of Sadness

I reached a different level of sadness today, both better and worse. For twenty-five months now, I’ve grieved the loss of my life mate/soul mate. As much as I hate the word “loss” when it refers to death, it was an unbearable loss to me when he died. All my hopes were lost along with our shared life and too many collateral losses to enumerate here. At times I could barely breathe for the pain. But somehow, I have managed to survive.

I truly never expected to grieve — he’d been sick so long and had suffered so much, that I was relieved when he died. In fact, I wished that he would. I’ve had a hard time these past months remembering that his death was actually a good thing — all I could think was that he should never have suffered in the first place. And he shouldn’t have. No one should have to deal with such pain for so many years. He stayed away from drugs as long as he could, suffering unbearably, because he knew the truth: the same drugs that would relieve his pain would addle his mind and disorient him. He wanted to be himself as long as he could (though he already was drifting from himself — the cancer had invaded his brain, and the poor man could barely hold two thoughts in his head.)

I wrote once about grief and our lizard brain. That feral part of us eventually adapts to the different reality, and the effects of new grief pass — the nausea, dizziness, inability to sleep or the inability to stay awake, the inability to eat or the inability to stop eating, the loss of one’s grip, the loss of balance and equilibrium, the hormonal storms. And finally, even some of the emotional storms pass, and there are times when we can see a bit clearer.

As I’m learning to face my new truth — that I’m going to have to find a new way of life, a new focus and new meaning — I’m recalling how relieved I was that he died. I feel selfish and self-indulgent for wanting him back, for yearning for him, for begging one more word or smile from him. Even the thought that he might have stayed a while longer if he could to satisfy my selfish longings makes me weep for him and for me. He was terrified of lingering as a helpless invalid, and if he hadn’t died, if he had remained here with me, he would have been helpless. I’m glad he didn’t have to deal with that, glad he’s safe from further indignities, glad he’s spared pain and a reliance on drugs. (He was taking so many drugs that he feared becoming a drug addict but, knowing how little time he had left, I could tearfully promise him he would never become a drug addict.)

Can you tell that I’m crying as I write this? As I said, this is a new level of sadness — better because I am learning to be at peace with his death and the need for it, worse because I feel as if I’ve lost him yet again. Every step away from grief seems to bring with it a new and different grief. Not as breathtaking, perhaps, but still sorrowful.

I will continue to yearn for him, of course — that is the nature of grief — but perhaps (at least some of the time) I will remember that he deserves to be at peace, even if it’s the serenity that only death will bring.