The Loosening Spiral of Grief

Yesterday I wrote about The Unchanging Face of Grief, and how a journal entry I wrote exactly three years ago mirrored what I was feeling — Just drifting. Marking time. Hoping . . .

But the truth is, there is a vast difference between yesterday’s feelings and those of three years ago. Three years ago, when I wrote that entry, I had accomplished most of what I needed to do immediately after the death of my life mate/soul mate. I had him cremated as he wished, opened a new checking account, disposed of most of his effects and a lot of “our” things that weren’t desert knollsworth storing, got myself to my father’s house to look after him since he could no longer live alone. There was nothing I needed to do, that day three years ago, and the great pain of grief provided insulation from the normal irritations and aggravations of life, offering me the illusion of freedom. I just drifted in a fog of pain, spending hours in the desert, thinking not much of anything. Just wandering. Marking time. Hoping my life was actually going somewhere and wouldn’t always feel so stagnant.

People often talk about the “stages” of grief, as if grief were a staircase you ascend, step by agonizing step, until you climb out of the pit, but grief is more like a spiral that slowly unrolls, returning you over and over to the same places, each time with a bit less pain and emotion. At the beginning, these changes from vast pain to numbness, from despair to hope, from determination to helplessness come so quickly, it’s as if you’re inside a slinky that some over-active child keeps tossing around. You don’t even have time to acknowledge one state of mind before you’re in a different state.

My spiral of grief is still unrolling, but now, after more than three years, the changes come slowly and have little power. And the upsurges of angst are over quickly. But this feeling of waiting, of stagnation, seems to be ever present.

I don’t seem to be going anywhere with my life. I remember at the beginning, I was anxious to be done with my grief so I could embrace my new life with arms outstretched. I expected wonderful things to happen, and why shouldn’t they? Doesn’t it make sense that great happiness should come to balance out such great pain? But here I am, long past the worst of my pain, and I still seem to be running in place.

Admittedly, I am stuck in place geographically, unable to make plans except for a few days in advance since my father’s health takes precedence, but my life has more often been a life of the mind instead of action, and that mental life seems stuck too. Even worse, the waning pain of grief no longer protects me from the aggravations of life. (And right now there seem to be more aggravations than normal.)

I have had a couple of revelations out walking in the desert though, so perhaps I am not stagnating as much as I think I am. A few days ago, I was talking to my deceased mate, complaining about all the aggravations I have to deal with, and telling him that when I was free to live my own life, I still wouldn’t be free since I have other commitments to consider. A few minutes after I shut up and the walking lulled my mind, the thought entered my head, “Don’t consider other people. Do what you want.”

(I’m pretending this thought came from him in response to my complaints, but more probably it came from my subconscious.) Doing what I want is easy. Figuring out what I want is hard, but maybe someday it will come to me as I wander.

Another revelation, that I’m not sure I understand, is that life is a tool that we write with, much as we write with a pen. I’m still thinking about that one.

Despite the feelings of going nowhere, I am still trying to keep open to “somewhere.” Still trying to embrace life. Still trying . . .


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.