Challenges of the Fourth Year of Grief

The challenges we face during the first year after the death of a life mate/soul mate (or any other significant person in our lives who connects us to the world), are too great to enumerate. It’s all we can do to cope with the seemingly endless chores of laying our beloved to rest while dealing with the emotional shock, the physical pain, the psychological affront that are our constant companions. Sometimes the first anniversary of his death is one of peace when we realize that we managed to survive the worst year of our life, but then we wake up to the second year and find a whole other set of challenges to meet.

The five main challenges we face during the second year after the death of a life mate/soul mate are:

1. Trying to understand where he went.
2. Living without him
3. Dealing with continued grief bursts.
4. Finding something to look forward to rather than simply existing.
5. Handling the yearning.

There are other challenges, of course, some unique to each individual, but all the challenges are dealt with the same way: by continuing to feel the pain when it erupts rather than turning away from it to satisfy the concerns of those who don’t understand; by taking care of ourselves even when we don’t see the point; by trying new things.

In other words, we meet the challenges of the second year by living. It sounds simple, but nothing about grief for a life mate/soul mate is simple. By living, we begin to move away from our pain, but we also move away from the person we loved more than any other. For some bereft, this feels like a betrayal of their love — how can you continue to live when life on this earth is denied him? For others, it seems like a betrayal of themselves — how can you become the person you need to be without betraying the person you once were?

The third year of grief seems to be a year of transition with only one new challenge — beginning to rebuild our lives. (We still have upsurges of sadness, still miss our loved one, still yearn for him, but these feelings are not as prominent as they once were.) Most of us no longer feel that continued life is a betrayal of our love because we understand that we had no choice in the matter, either in his death or in our continued life. Nor do we feel we are betraying the person we once were — we are no longer that person, though we have not yet developed into the person we are to become. Most of us are still trying to figure out who that person is and what that person wants and needs.

You’d think by the fourth year there would be no challenges of grief left, but for most of us, this is the year where we make the necessary disconnect from our loved ones, and that is big though necessary step. No matter how close we were to our mates, no matter how much we felt as if we were two parts to a whole, we realize that in terms of life on this earth, we were two separate beings on two separate journeys. The questions that haunted us, such as the big question of who got the worst end of the deal, seem muted. Our mates had to deal with death and dying, and we had to deal with grief and living. It all seems the same now — life and death — though perhaps it’s more that we’re used to them being gone than that we made any great leap of understanding. We also don’t feel their absence the way we once did. The clawing yearning to see our mates once more has by now muted to a gentler feeling of intermittent melancholy.

Although my fifth year of grief doesn’t start for another two weeks, I am getting an inkling that this is going to be the main challenge of the coming year — dealing with grief’s absence. Grief was a part of my life for a very long time and the immensity of the loss and the enormity of the pain gave my life a feeling of epic importance, as if I were standing on the very edge of eternity. Well, eternity has retreated, and I am left with the ordinariness of life, and that ordinariness seems . . . well, it seems ordinary. Still, the lessons of grief taught me well, and so I will continue to take each day as it comes. Continue to find something to look forward to rather than simply existing. Continue to look for something to be passionate about, even if it’s just life itself.

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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+. Like Pat on Facebook.

To Everyone Who Has Shared This Day With Me

I am always touched by the comments left on this blog from those who are also struggling to live and find meaning after the death of the one person who meant more than anyone else in the world. So often I feel as if I am merely indulging myself by continuing to chronicle my progress through grief and into a renewed interest in life, especially when all I have are dreams and tentative plans that might come to naught. The comments left here show me how narcissusconnected we are, those of us on this difficult path. Although our situations are different, although our grief is individual, many of us face the same blank future that we need to color with dreams, goals, fantasies, interests, and especially a renewed love of life.

It’s as if we are children again, carefully building our futures one dream at a time. As when we were children, these dreams might not come true, but they help us expand our “what is” into new paths of “what might be.”

It could be our time of life that makes this struggle so complex. Although young widows have the same struggles we do, life is still rushing in their veins. Often they have small children, which makes their loss at once easier and more difficult — easier because they have built-in meaning so they don’t have to go searching for it, more difficult because they have to raise the children alone without that special person to share in the joys (and worries) of caring for the young ones. (Please know I am not denigrating anyone’s loss. All losses are unbearably painful, but each of us has our own unique set of collateral losses to deal with.)

As we age, we lose many things we counted on, not just people but jobs, stamina, health, and we need to find a way around these limitations to some sort of revitalization otherwise the last decades of our life would be nothing more than waiting for entropy to win. When grief and the destruction of a shared life are thrown into the mix, it’s even more difficult to find a way through the murk to joy.

And yet, somehow we do find our way. Today is the 47th 27th since the death of my life mate/soul mate. (For those of you who are arithmetic-challenged, that means in one month it will be four years since his death on March 27, 2010.) Despite my complicated and sometimes stressful situation — looking after my 97-year-old father and dysfunctional brother — I am happier than I ever imagined I could be four years ago. And I expect to become even happier.

Life is full with new friends, new activities (mostly physical pursuits, which is odd considering that until recently, I preferred a more literary life), and new dreams.

None of us knows what the future holds, but those of us who have survived a profound loss seem especially aware of that truism, and we try to live each day to its fullest. It’s all we have. It’s all anyone has — this day.

To everyone who has shared this day with me, whether in person or online with a comment, thank you. You have made this day a joyful one.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Retrospective of Grief

Another 27th. This is the 46th twenty-seventh of the month I have survived since the death of my life mate/soul mate death on March 27, 2010. At the beginning of my grief, each minute, hour, day seemed unfathomably long. I felt as if I lived years during that first month. I still don’t understand how I made it through that eon. The pain started out unbearable and got progressively worse. Each breath took such effort that it seemed as if it would be easier to stop breathing altogether. And yet I continued to breathe, one agonizing gulp of air at a time.

For the first three years, I could feel the grief surging as each twenty-seventh crept up on me, but today I only knew the date by the calendar. Even so, I might not have noticed if I hadn’t advanced his perpetual calendar.

perpetual calendarAbout a month before he died, he told me he wanted me to keep the calendar. It was special to him — a family heirloom and a relic of his childhood — and he didn’t want me to throw it away with the rest of his effects. Which I probably would have done. I thought such calendars silly because if you don’t remember to advance the calendar each day, the calendar loses its effectiveness. He, of course, had the discipline to advance the calendar. No matter where we lived, no matter the state of his health or the stresses of our life, he always advanced the calendar first thing every morning.

And now so do I. It has become a way of honoring his life, of remembering him, of being connected to him in a small way. For a long time, I felt connected to him through grief. (Odd, that. It was the feeling of being disconnected from him that grieved me in the first place.) Now that my grief has waned, there is nothing to connect me to him. Unlike many who have lost someone important to them, I have never had a visitation, a sign, any indication that he still exists somewhere. He is simply gone — gone from my life, anyway.

The tears are gone, too.

It seems strange now that I grieved so deeply. I can barely remember loving someone so profoundly that his death tore me apart. Can barely remember that shattered woman who screamed her pain to the uncaring winds. Was that really me or simply a character in the book of my life? (I meant this as a metaphor, but I did write a book about my life, or rather my life of grief. That seems strange, too.)

We live each day as it comes, deal with each pain and sorrow, and somehow, through the years, we become something other than we were. I am no longer a schoolgirl dealing with the small dramas of grades, cliques, unacceptance. No longer a young woman desperately and radiantly in love with a man. No longer an adult struggling to live while her soul mate was dying. No longer a grieving woman.

At the moment, I am thrust in the role of caregiver for my 97-year-old father and homeless brother, but someday, I won’t be this woman, either. I don’t know what will become of me, don’t know what I will become (other than older), but chances are, I still will be advancing that ancient calendar in honor of the life that meant so much to me.

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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+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Resuming My Lonely March Into the Future

Sometimes the hardest thing we have to do is keep marching into the future, especially when the person who connected us to the world lives in our past.

My life mate/soul mate meant more to me than anything or anyone else for almost thirty-four years. His death forty-five months ago brought me more pain than I could ever have imagined, and it still brings me pain, particularly when
I remember the reason he’s out of my life — that he’s dead. Death is incomprehensible to me, and maybe always will be. Even more incomprehensibly, he died relatively young. 63. That’s hardly any age at all in a time when so many live into their nineties.

I do well most of the time. I know I can’t live in the past, especially not the past where we were happy. (A lot of the time during the last decade or so as his health declined, we weren’t happy, but it didn’t matter as long as we were together.) I try to concentrate on today, make what plans I can for the future, add new people to my life in an attempt to combat my loneliness. Mostly, I try to become a person who can survive such a tragic loss, maybe even one who can thrive.

And yet, on Christmas afternoon, I couldn’t stop crying.

It’s odd — Christmas didn’t mean much to us. We weren’t big on celebrations or traditions, but by default, we created our own traditions. Since we couldn’t work or run errands or do any of our other usual tasks when the world was shut down, we spent the day watching movies and nibbling on finger foods — cheese, meats, crackers, fruit, vegetables.

I spent a quiet day this Christmas. I fixed a festive meal for my father, went for a walk, then watched a movie with a plate of food in my lap. And that’s when my forward thinking collapsed, and all I could think of was the past.

I’ve signed up for an online dating service, and even have been trying to connect with people, but today I remembered why I’m trying to move on with my life, and something inside of me rebelled. I don’t want to move on. I want what I had. I want to go home to him, ask his forgiveness for whatever I did that made him leave me, see if we can reconnect. But he didn’t leave me, at least not voluntarily. He died.

I’m tired. I’m tired of his being dead. I’m tired of trying to move forward alone. Tired of trying to fill a void that seems endlessly deep.

But what other choice do I have? I allowed myself that time of sadness on Christmas, but now that it has run its course, I’ll steadfastly resume my lonely march into the future.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

I Am a Three-and-a-Half-Year Grief Survivor

Three and a half years ago today, my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. It seems an impossibly long time ago, as if I knew him in another life. It also seems as if it’s only been a few months since I last saw him.

Yesripplesterday I watched his version of Fly Away Home (he edited out parts of movies he/we didn’t like, such as heavy drama and prolonged arguments, which makes what he did leave in very personal). When Jeff Daniels told Anna Paquin that she had to continue the flight by herself, that she had to leave him behind and follow her dream, it seemed as if were a message to me from my mate to just go on with my life, follow whatever dreams I can muster, and leave him behind. (In fact, he often told me I’d have to that very thing — just leave him behind. He was losing his sight, his hearing, his strength, and he didn’t want me to hang around if he became a lingering invalid.)

Well, now I do have to leave him behind. Or maybe he left me behind. (I still don’t have any firm belief about what actually happens when one dies.) Either way, I am becoming comfortable with being single in a coupled world. I don’t panic about growing old alone as I did at the beginning — it seems oddly inevitable, as if it had been written long ago.

During all these painful months and years, those who have lost their mates often told me that around the four-year mark, they found a renewed interest in life, and so it is with me. I find myself coming alive again. Feeling eager to do new things, meet new people. I’m becoming more active physically — taking exercise classes and walking with a group two or three nights a week in addition to my solitary desert walks.

It seems fitting, in a way, all this physical activity. During the first months after we met, I was often restless, going for long ambles around the city (Denver had an interconnecting system of parks and parkways, and I could walk for hours along greenbelts). And now I am again restless, needing more than a single walk to get me through the day.

I still don’t know where I am going with my life, don’t know what I want other than to be more than I am (though at the same time, I am more accepting of who I am and how I look than ever before). Lately I find myself wishing on the first star I see at night, but the only thing I can think of to wish for is to be spectacular. I’m leaving it up to the universe or fate or a future me to decide what “spectacular” means.

It seems strange that of all the grief updates I’ve posted during the past three and a half years, this one is more about me and less about him, and that too is how it should be since my life is now more about me and less about him. I still miss him, still feel his absence in my life the way I once felt his presence, but I no longer feel as if I am a remnant of a shattered couple. I am just me — a woman alone who one day might be spectacular.

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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+. Like Pat on Facebook.