When Grief Comes Calling

desert roadGrief has been leaving me alone lately, probably because I’ve been keeping myself busy with other matters, but Friday night grief came calling. Sorrow has been with me on and off now for two days, perhaps in recognition of my upcoming three-year anniversary. I didn’t think there would be a problem with this anniversary (which is a bit naïve of me considering that I didn’t think there would be a problem with any of the agonizing stops along this grief journey). I’ve been feeling as if the death of my life mate/soul mate happened long ago, so long that he’s been fading in memory. Yet on Friday night, the memory of his last days was so fresh and new, it was as if we’d only recently parted. I could almost feel his arms around me as we said our final good-byes. Could almost see his smile, could almost hear his voice.

And suddenly, just like that, the yearning to be with him one more time overwhelmed me, and the reality lay heavy on my soul. He’s dead? Really? How is that possible?

I know how it’s possible. He got sick, was sick for years, and finally, the inoperable kidney cancer spread, hijacking his body for its own use. But dead? Part of me doesn’t get it. Part of me (just a vestigial part now) thinks I’ll be going home to him when I am free of my current responsibilities, and the truth — that he is gone forever — is again too much to bear.

I do know enough about grief to understand that this upsurge in sorrow will pass, but there will be other days — at ever-increasing intervals — when grief will again come calling. We get so in the habit of life, of dealing with our small everyday concerns, that our grief gets pushed out of sight, but we never completely get over our sadness. How can we? The person who meant more to us than any other is gone, taking part of us with him.

If that weren’t hard enough to deal with, we can never completely forget that we were helpless to keep him here even one more day, which makes life and death seem an arbitrary business. Perhaps if we knew life’s algorithms, we could see how everything fits together, but without such omniscience, we are left with only questions. Where is he? Is he happy? Is he?

Sometimes what keeps me focused on living is the thought of what he would say if we were to meet again. He’d be disappointed in me if I told him that all I did was mourn for him. I can see almost hear him say, “I died to set you free and you did nothing but cry?” Yeah, well, he no longer has a say in what I do. It’s my life and I’ll cry if I want to.

It’s not so much that I want to cry, but sometimes tears are the only way to relieve the incredible stress of grief. I had no idea stress would still come into play at almost three years, but grief, even aging grief, takes a lot out of us. Despite the upsurge in grief and the accompanying feelings of futility, I am making plans, looking forward, trying to find something to live for.

But dammit! I miss him.

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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+

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+

Grief Rant

I still have some anger in me, apparently. I occasionally “flame out” as one friend said when I disagreed with an email that friend sent. I am regaining my equilibrium, though, able to get through my days mostly even tempered, but one thing continues to raise my ire: when people assume all grief is the same, and especially when they assume they understand the grief of someone who lost a soul mate because they lost a beloved pet. Such a comment set me off tonight, and when my reply ended up being longer than some of my blog posts, I decided to publish the comment here rather than get in a grief match (“my grief is worse than your grief”) because, honestly, all loss is devastating, especially when it happens to you.

And yet . . . the death of a pet, no matter how beloved, is not the same as losing a soul mate. Nor is the trauma of losing a brother or a mother the same as losing a long-time spouse. The only thing that comes close is losing a child. (My younger brother’s death hastened my mother’s death. She died a year after he did.)

I understand there are all kinds of grief, and I know they all have to be honored. Grief of any kind that is not processed can cause additional problems. (Or not. Some people seem to do quite well walling off their grief.)

My concern has always been for those who have to deal with the death of a spouse, whether a life mate or a soul mate because that sort of all-encompassing grief is more than most people can comprehend. I thought I understood grief — after all, I grieved the deaths of my brother and my mother — but until the death of my life mate/soul mate, I never even knew such profound grief existed. During the past two and a half years, I have met dozens, maybe hundreds of women who have lost their mates, and they all mentioned the same thing — they had to hide their grief because no one understood. That is unconscionable. (I didn’t have this problem. I’m a quasi hermit, so no one was around to see me mourning.)

The truth is, it’s the very prevalence of grief that makes people uncomfortable with the profound grief of someone who lost a soul mate. People figure they got over their grief, whatever or whoever it was for, so you should, too. The trouble with losing your mate is that your grief is not just emotional, but also physical. In addition to the unimaginable agony of loss, you have to deal with shock, a blizzard of hormonal reactions, changes in brain chemistry, an incredible level of stress (losing a mate is considered the most stressful thing a person ever has to deal with; many people end up being treated for PTSD). Your death rate climbs 25% for all causes.

Added to that are all the horrendous “death” chores you have to deal with such as planning a funeral and filling out all the official and financial paperwork involved in “removing” someone from the world. As your emotions begin to stabilize, you have other griefs to deal with since a soul mate is more than a spouse — he’s also a best friend, companion, sometimes even a business partner, and all those losses have to be processed. You also grieve for the loss of yourself, at least your coupled self. And then you have to deal with the restructuring of your life. Your dreams are gone as are your plans for the future so you need to find new reasons to live. Sometimes you have to leave your home. It takes years to sort out all the losses so you can process them and begin again.

I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s grief. But, as I explained in my post, Why I Write About My Grief, people who have lost a mate deserve a lot more consideration and understanding from their family and friends than the assumption that their loss is comparable to the loss of a beloved pet.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+