I Am an Eight-Year Grief Survivor

Today is the eighth anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate. How is this possible? I remember that after Jeff died, eight minutes seemed like a lifetime, eight hours almost an eternity, eight months incomprehensible. But eight years? Totally unthinkable and unimaginable. How did I survive such sorrow? How do any of us survive?

Actually, I do know the answer to that — we survive one agonizing breath at a time.

The miracle of grief is that the pain does lessen over the years, but I truly don’t see how it can — every year that passes is one more year I did not have with him, everything I do is one more thing I could not do with him, every thought is one more thought I could not share with him.

During these past eight years, most people continued on with their shared lives — happy and sad, arguing and making up, in sickness and in health — and I, and all my brothers and sisters in sorrow, kept going somehow, trying to find a place to set first one shaky foot and then another in our suddenly broken and bleak lives.

Over and over, we had to listen to people tell us to move on, and yet, after their sometimes compassionate, sometimes irritated words, those people went home to their husbands and wives, and we went into our sad and empty rooms, apartments, houses to be faced again — and again and again — with the knowledge that who we loved was gone, what we had was gone, what we needed was gone, what we hoped for was gone. All gone.

Incredibly, I have become used to the goneness. Incredibly, I have moments of happiness. Incredibly, I have even come to like being alone. And yet, I wish I didn’t have to do this anymore, this building a life from scratch, this living without him. Sometimes I want desperately to go home to him. If not that, then see him one more time in the flesh. Be warmed by one more smile. Hear one more word.

For those of you who are still comfortably married, how long has it been since you saw your husband or wife. Eight hours? Eight minutes? Eight seconds?

Well, it’s been eight years since I last saw Jeff. Eight years (and five days) since I last talked to the one person who understood me fully, the one person I never had to explain myself to, the one person who shared my sense of humor, my sense of honor, my sense of history.

Eight years. What was totally unthinkable and unimaginable in the beginning remains totally unthinkable and unimaginable.

For those newly inducted into this hall of horrors, I hope you will find comfort in knowing that a person can survive, find a sense of renewal, maybe even find  new dreams.

For those of you who have friends and family who still mourn their deceased spouses, next time you want to tell them to get over it or move on, think about how long it’s been since you saw your spouse and think how long it’s been since they saw theirs.

Eight minutes. Eight hours. Eight days. Eight months. Eight years. It’s all the same. Grief truly knows no time.

The one thing that does change, the one thing that makes the goneness bearable is us. Grief gradually changes each of us bereft into a person who can survive the loss, but that change brings with it another loss to grieve — the loss of the old self.

Have I spent the totality of the past eight years drowning in tears and sorrow? Of course not. The person who was born when Jeff died has never shared her life with another. That person has always been alone, done things alone, developed into a strong person, gained some wisdom. But the person she left behind is still grieving, and last night, the grieving woman came to visit, bringing her endless tears, her great yearning, her profound loss.

And we comforted each other — the woman who died when Jeff did and the woman who was born eight years ago into the world of grief — as we kept vigil until his time of death.

Eight years. Unfathomable.

After last night’s tearfulness, today I gathered my courage and valiantly began my ninth year without him.

And so it goes.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home

When I was young, my favorite song was Joe South’s “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home.” Back then, the lyrics spoke to me of poignancy, change, and the way growth was destroying the special places in the world.

Now, I couldn’t bear to listen to the song. It would speak to me of grief, of loss, of my inability to ever go home again. And oh, I do so want to go home!

This is an especially hard time for me because I am nearing the eighth anniversary of Jeff’s death. I’ve been holding on to myself, not giving in to sadness, (or rather, not welcoming it), just trying to take life as it comes.

Well, today at dance class, life came hard. After we’d practiced the dance we’re learning for a performance, the others were standing around talking about the dance and how to do things or change things or something unimportant like that.  So I took the opportunity to step outside and scratch myself discreetly. As I left, one woman called after me as if I were doing something wrong, “Pat, don’t be like that.”

Well, I scratched, took a few deep cleansing breaths, and went back inside to where a couple of the women were talking about me. Then the teacher lectured us on how there is no animosity in dance class.

Huh? Animosity? The only animosity I felt today was against this itch that won’t go away. Through ballet class and then belly dance class, I’d barely said anything to anyone, just minded my own business, and for what?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore, but I still don’t know where to go, still don’t know how to create a new life. Still don’t know how to earn a living. (I’ve always hoped I’d be able to make a living with my books, but I can’t even give them away.)

I just know I want to go home and there is no home to go home to. Jeff was my home. He’s gone, and I am just so damn tired of it. I’ve done very well with my meager resources all these years, finding renewal, finding a dream, even finding joy at times, but still, he’s dead.

I spend a lot of time counseling grief-stricken folks — sometimes just through this blog, sometimes through email or phone conversations, and I always tell people the truth. That it is almost impossibly hard. That they will always miss him/her. That they will find renewal, though it might take many years.

What I’ve never said is that the one thing you never get over is being tired of their being dead. How can you? Although your efforts through time do make things better, it’s the passing of time that continues to make things hard, because every year that goes by is another year they’ve been gone, another year you’ve had to live without them.

Luckily, this month is more than half over, and every day that brings me closer to the anniversary also brings me closer to my May trip. I can’t make changes until after the trip since I won’t know until then if any sort of epic hike is possible, so I’m sort of just hanging in there by the tips of my fingers. Holding myself together the best as I can.

But oh, I’m so tired of having to do any of this.

If I could just go home for a little while . . .

But I can’t.

Dammit.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.