Grief at Thirty-Five Months

video[7]Today marks the thirty-fifth month since the death of my life mate/soul mate, yet today is a day like any other. There is no particular upsurge in grief, no particular focus on his death or my loss (two separate things).

This “acceptance” of the day is not a positive step forward so much as the combination of a couple of non-related factors. For one, I’m dealing with a major sinus infection, and upsurges in grief and upsurges in ill health don’t seem to happen at the same time, probably because both take an enormous toll on the body so one gives way to the other.

Even old grief, grief that is past the first year of raw pain, is stressful because you walk an unsteady path in an alien world, and you have to make mental compensations to travel that path, the same way you have to make physical compensations if your ankle is broken. During that first year, a person who has lost a spouse has 25% higher death rate from all causes than those who are not grieving, and even beyond that first year, the bereft seem to have a higher rate of illness since the stress of grief affects the immune system. (Sometimes it even seems as if there could be a bit of body/mind interaction, where the mind gets tired of grieving, and so allows the body to become sick, though that isn’t what happened in my case since I haven’t had a major upsurge of grief in a while, just upswings of sadness.)

The other factor involved in making this day less emotional than expected is that I’m looking after my aged father, who has taken a turn for the worse, and I find myself falling into the same mindset I had when I watched my life mate/soul mate die. In such a case, you take a step back from your emotions, wait to see what happens, do the best you can in any crisis, and bear the burden of helplessness as lightly as possible.

Seeing myself getting into this mental state again makes me realize that I did the best I could three years ago, that so much I regretted or felt guilty about was beyond my control. I’d worked past those concerns, so they haven’t been haunting me lately, but now I have a graphic illustration of truth. I did the best I could for him, just as I will do the best for my father.

The thing I regretted most about my mate’s death is that I took it for granted. He was ill for a long time, and after a while, his dying became a way of life. I see that happening again, that my father’s aging and inevitable dying is becoming a way of life. My life.

The odd thing for me is that I’ve spent the last three years trying to embrace life again, to get away from the stasis of dying and grief, but now, willy nilly, I am back in neutral. Not looking forward. Not looking back. Just taking life each day as it comes, even if the day marks the thirty-fifth month of my grief.

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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+

“Golly gee what have you done to me?”

As part of my quest to refigure the pathways in my mind and open myself up to more light, I’ve been doing my version of dance therapy — dancing to a peppy song or two every day. I hop a bit, wave my arms around, and surrender to the rhythm. It generally works to lighten my mood, but today, Saturday, my sadder day, the song had the opposite effect and I ended up pummeling the air instead of bopping to the beat.

The song? Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Any More.

Cripes. As if I really needed to hear Buddy singing, “There you go and baby here am I / Well you left me here so I could sit and cry / Golly gee what have you done to me?”

Someone told me that grief over the death of a mate is like a relationship gone bad, and sometimes it does feel that way. I talk to him, and he says nothing in return. I beg for a hug, and he ignores me. I yearn for him, and he remains remote. I ask what happened to us, what did I do that was so terrible he had to leave me, and he doesn’t answer.

And then I remember — he didn’t leave me, he died. Now he is there and I am here with no way to bridge the gap. We don’t even have the opportunity to get together to fight about who gets what — I ended up with everything by default. If he were here, he could have everything. I’d even let him have the silly dishes we argued about that last year. (I received a set of Melmac dishes for Christmas when I was young. It was some sort of giveaway, and my mother got the whole set and saved them for my hope chest — though it wasn’t a chest, just a shelf in the kitchen cabinet. I still use those dishes occasionally — they are a wonderful size, and so very light.)

He and I shared everything during our years together, but for some reason I got very protective of those vintage dishes the last year of his dying. We’d started cutting up beets and other colorful vegetables for salads and I asked him not to use those plates — they were white and the beet juice stained them — but he kept using them anyway. (I should have known something was dreadfully wrong with him — he was the most considerate person I’d ever met.) I don’t know why my frustration over his continued decline focused on those dishes, but it did. I don’t even know why it  mattered. It sure doesn’t matter any more.

The song (“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” written by Paul Anka) continues, “Now you go your way baby and I’ll go mine / Now and forever till the end of time.” Yeah. A real spirit lightener.

The song ends with the words, “baby / We’ll say we’re through / And you won’t matter any more.”

We might be through — my life mate and I — and I wish I could say he doesn’t matter any more, but he does. And he always will.