For All of You Who Are Experiencing Grief

I always know when someone who is grieving has discovered my blog — the number of views increases dramatically while the number of visitors stays the same. Only an intense loss (or upcoming loss) keeps someone here long enough to read a sampling of my grief posts.

Although I am on the downward slide of grief, every day someone else encounters the shock of grief that bewilders, steals their breath, shatters their lives, and makes them question their very being.

A long time ago, long before the internet and blogs, I used to write soul-searching letters, similar to my blog posts. I never expected my friends to save the letters. I was young, changing rapidly, and the letters reflected my thoughts about life at any given moment. Once, years after such a spate of letters, my then best friend called me, told me she’d found a stack of letters. She read portions of them aloud to me, and laughed. She couldn’t understand my hurt — she’d seen how far I’d come, and she thought I’d be as amused as she was by my younger self. I tried to be a good sport, but her laughter seemed such a betrayal, I never felt the same about her again. Nor did I ever feel the same about writing letters. In fact, I never wrote another personal letter again lest my feelings linger far beyond their meaning.

Then came blogging and the loss of my life mate/soul mate. I wondered if I would ever regret pouring out my soul on this blog as I did in those letters, but I understood how important it was for both me and my fellow bereft to try to find words for what we were feeling, so writing such personal posts never bothered me. I also knew that if anyone laughed, they were more to be pitied than castigated — only profound and complicated love leads to such all-encompassing grief, and if they’d never felt such grief, well, there was nothing I could do about it. Writing about my grief was simply a risk I took.

But no one laughed.

At the beginning, my grief posts reflected the feelings of me and others in my grief age group (those who lost their mates a few months before or a few months after I did). But grief is eternal. We may not still be lost in the anguish of new grief, lost in the confusion of grief that lingers beyond what family and friends think acceptable, or lost in the maze of trying to create a new life for ourselves, but someone is.

For all of you who are experiencing grief, know that I’ve been there. I understand at least a little of what you are going through, and my heart cries out to you. People who dealt with profound grief before I did told me that someday I will find renewed interest in life, generally (though not always) within four to five years. It was true for them. It was true for me. And it will be true for you.

Until then, wishing you peace.

***

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.

Getting Grief Right in Writing

Long before I knew the truth of grief and its power, I wrote A Spark of Heavenly Fire. The story begins thirteen months after the death of Kate Cummings’ husband, and she is still haunted by her small unkindnesses during his long illness. It surprises me that I got that part right because so much of the grief journey has been a shock to me, including how much I regret my own small undkindnesses toward my life mate/soul mate. I didn’t do anything bad, just lacked generosity of spirit at times during his last year. If he had lived, of course, these lapses would have passed unnoticed in the commotion of daily life, but with his death, they loomed like vultures over my spirit, waiting to tear me to shreds. If I had known how close to death he was, I would have been more patient, more understanding of his dying ways, but I didn’t know. I’ve come to realize that we were under such stress those last years that both of us did the best we could in the untenable situation. Dying is an unpleasant business for both parties.

Here are a couple of excerpts from A Spark of Heavenly Fire that show Kate’s torment. I wasn’t as feisty as Kate. I didn’t kick furniture or slam doors (well, maybe just once), and I didn’t give in to my anger until after he was dead, but otherwise, these passages show how much we bereft regret the small things we did:

Kate hauled herself upright and groped for her eyeglasses. After sitting on the edge of the bed for a moment, gathering her strength, she dressed and wandered through the house. She hesitated by the closed door of the second bedroom where her husband had lived during the last years of his protracted illness, touched the knob with her fingertips. Yanked her hand away.

This is ridiculous. Joe’s been gone for thirteen months.

Taking a deep breath, she grasped the knob, but could not force herself to turn it. She rested her forehead on the door for a minute, wondering if she’d ever be able to face the ghosts of sorrow and regret locked inside, then squared her shoulders and headed for the front closet to grab a coat and hat.

[Later in the book, Kate explains this inability to open the door to her new friend, journalist Greg Pullman.]

“A little over a year ago, during one of Joe’s rare remissions,” Kate said. “I mentioned we were coming up on our fifteenth wedding anniversary. When he ignored me, I asked, ‘Would it kill you to be nice to me once in a while?’

“He didn’t answer.

“I went out for a walk. When I returned, he was gone.”

“Dead?” Greg asked.

“No. Not then. He’d taken our car, an old Volvo, and left. I didn’t know he felt strong enough to drive. He could barely walk and had a hard time gripping so much as a glass of water.

“When the state patrol called to tell me Joe had been in an accident, that he’d driven off a cliff in the mountains and had died instantly, I wasn’t surprised. It did surprise me when they ruled it an accident. It seemed so obvious to me he’d taken his own life that I was sure everyone else could see it, too.”

Kate gave an unamused laugh. “I never did buy another car.”

Greg looked at her, a frown wrinkling his brow. “I don’t see that you did anything shameful.”

Kate toyed with her empty cup. “I’m not proud of what I said, and I hate knowing those were the last words I ever spoke to my husband, but I don’t think it had anything to do with his suicide. I doubt he even heard me.

“About two weeks after the funeral, I decided to clean Joe’s room. I didn’t feel up to sorting out his things, but I thought I should dust and vacuum in there. I cracked opened the door, as if expecting Joe, or at least his spirit, to inhabit the room. I stepped inside, but seconds later I scrambled out again and slammed the door.

“Memories of all the shameful, petty, inconsiderate things I had done over the years haunted the room, and I couldn’t bear to face my own mean spirit. Too many times I snapped at him or purposely waited a few minutes before going to see what he wanted when he called out. Other times I felt so angry at the way life had treated us, I stomped around the house, slamming doors and kicking furniture. Usually, though, I pounded my pillow, or cried. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I cried, wishing I had a normal life with healthy children to take care of instead of an uncommunicative and disabled man. Sometimes I even hated him for what he had become, as if he chose to get sick. Can you believe that?”

She didn’t pause for a response, but hurried on, wanting to get it all out. “Worst of all, I realized I was not a strong woman who had shouldered her burden with courage, but a weak woman who lacked generosity of spirit.”

Greg reached across the table and put a hand over hers. “We are a sad pair, aren’t we?”

She gave him a wistful smile.

A full minute went by without either of them speaking, then she asked, “Would you like some more hot chocolate?”