And So Grief Goes . . .

When you lose a soul mate or any person who connects you to the world in a significant way, you are born into the world of grief. At first, like any infant, you count your age in days, then weeks, and finally months and years.

I am long past counting the days and weeks since the death of my life mate/soul mate, though I can figure it out. (In case you’re curious, I calculated that it’s been 1,310 days or 187 weeks.) I’m even past counting the months. Today is an anniversary of his death, but without stopping to figure it out, all I know is that it’s been more than three and a half years but less than four.

numbersThis is a significant development. People who have never had to deal with the death of such an important person in their lives were spooked by my counting the days for so long, thinking I was unhealthily obsessed with the past, but that wasn’t the case at all. The days were milestones, ways of proving to myself that I could get through my grief one day at a time. And I have mostly gone through it. The horrendous pain, angst, and confusion of those first months isn’t even a memory. I can’t imagine anymore what I went through, can’t imagine how anyone could go through such a series of losses and come out the other end stronger and able to face whatever traumas life has in store. (In my case, not only did I lose my life mate/soul mate, I lost shared hopes and dreams, my most devoted fan, my best friend, and my home.)

When I talk about my grief, people assume I mean I still mourn him. To me, grief is the process, the whole spectrum of grief-related advancements including healing and rebuilding one’s life. The spectrum flows from the deepest black of despair to the brightest white of joy. Mourning is the sadness, the tears, the screams, the soul-deep pain — the physical manifestation of grief. I am long past the soul-deep pain, but I am still a long way from joy, so although I seldom mourn him any more, I still consider myself a child of grief.

Someday, that too will pass. Grief has taught me what we already know: things change. I never thought I’d laugh again, never thought I could live again. And yet here I am, all these months later, laughing and enjoying myself on occasion. I never thought I could forget him, and yet he is not always on my mind. For so long, I couldn’t bear the thought of settling down anywhere when I leave here (I am temporarily staying with my 96-year-old father, looking after him so he can be as independent as possible). All I wanted was to keep on the move. Travel See what life has to offer. I still think of leading such a spontaneous and unsettled life, but I am also weighing the possibility of settling down. I used to fear stagnation, but I am surer of myself and my solitary place in the world, and I doubt I would stagnate. I would do . . . something.

And so grief goes . . .

***

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.

No More Saturday my Sadder Day

During the past three and a third years, ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate, the date and the day he died have brought an upsurge of grief. Every 27th of the month and every Saturday I felt an increased sadness even when I wasn’t aware of the date and day. And when the 27th fell on a Saturday, I got a double dose of grief.

Last Saturday was the 27th, but there was no sadness. I simply noted the date and day, and went on with my life. Not that there was much to go on with — a walk in the desert, a movie (one of the movies he taped for us), some online activity.

Part of me wanted to feel sadness just out of habit — habits are comfortable even when they aren’t particularly productive. Part of me wanted to feel sadness because it was a link to him and to a life that is rapidly receding from me. Mostly it didn’t matter. I’d come to see that being sad or unsad didn’t make much of a difference — it was just a part of my life in the same way the sun rises and sets or the moon grows full and wanes.

It’s been several days since Saturday the 27th, and I still don’t know what to think about the lack of sadness. Three and a third years ago, I was in such pain, I couldn’t have believed this time would ever come. Some people who have lost their spouses still feel connected, but I don’t. I talk to him, of course, but never feel as if he’s listening, let alone responding. Whatever we once meant to each other, whatever we shared, I now know he’s on his own journey, just as I am.

The main problem continues to be emptiness. I don’t feel anything as dramatic as the bleakness I once felt, don’t feel much at all, to tell the truth. I do feel lonely, of course, but I’m getting used to that. I even think it might be my destiny—to be alone so I can . . . and that’s where the thought always ends. So I can do or become . . . what?

I don’t much believe in destiny, and yet it’s hard to completely disbelieve when two such inexplicable and awe-full events helped define my world: the day he came into my life and the day he left.

From somewhere deep inside, “want” is starting to seep up into my consciousness. It’s an indefinable want, perhaps a desire for life, whatever that might be. I’ve been steeped in death and aging for too long (still am — I’m currently looking out for my mostly independent 96-year-old father), and something in me is crying out for more.

Despite a growing restlessness, I need to be patient since my life is not yet entirely my own. But someday, when I am free, I hope I have the courage to run to meet my destiny, whatever that might be. I hope I have the courage for “more.”

***

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.

Another Stage of Waning Grief

Yesterday I wrote about how I am now feeling three and a third years after the death of my life mate/soul mate. I admitted I wasn’t feeling much. My life seems empty. There’s no oomph. No spark.

I wish I wanted something, was in love with something, felt something besides ever-fading sorrow. But I don’t know how to go from where I am to where I need to be.

And it’s not just me who feels this way. From the comments and emails I received, it seems as if many others who also lost their mates in 2010 feel the same as I do. Some people who lost their mates that year are in new relationships, have done something opening roseequally significant to jump-start their life, or have children to raise by themselves, but unless fate intervenes, the rest of us have to figure out how to accomplish a new beginning by ourselves. And we haven’t a clue how to do it.

I basically live the same way now as I did when I was coupled, but what took on significance when it was for “us” seems lame when it’s just for me. It’s not that I don’t think I’m worthy — of course I do because I am. It’s more that when the two of us were together, everything we did somehow seemed to help build our shared life. Every idea seemed to expand “us.” Every finished project seemed to fulfill “us.” Even something as simple as jointly preparing a meal was for “us.” Each of those things was also an act of love, a commitment to each other, even if it didn’t seem so at the time, which made them doubly or triply significant.

Now a meal is just a meal. A project finished is nothing more than a task completed. A bright idea is simply blog fodder.

If I were new, starting out in life for the first time, none of this would be a problem since everything is new and exciting when one is young, but I’ve done most of what I wanted to, or at least tried to do it. To be honest, the things I wanted to do were essentially cerebral — reading, researching, thinking, writing. I haven’t traveled the world but never wanted to. Haven’t lived lavishly but see no need for it. Haven’t partied till I dropped but never had the energy for it. I have done volunteer work but now there’s no cause I’m passionate about. (I’m still doing volunteer work, but it’s mostly online, so it doesn’t do much to give me something to live for.)

It’s possible this oomphlessness is simply another stage of waning grief — it generally takes four to five years to fall in love with life again (assuming one was ever in love with life) and most of us 2010ers are still many months away from that magic number. If this is the case, the emptiness will disappear by itself once I’ve come to term with it, or it will metamorphose into another equally confusing phase.

But it’s also possible this is what my life is, in which case I’ll have to find a way to make the insignificant happenings significant again, because frankly, spending the rest of my days feeling like this is unthinkable.

***

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.

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.

Waiting Quietly For an April Time

It’s been three years and two months and two weeks since the death of my life mate / soul mate. It’s been a rough time for me, working through the pain of his death and our separation, adjusting to life without him, learning to think of him with gladness instead of sadness, searching for new ways of being and new reasons for living, realizing that he is he and I am I and we have separate paths in life.

Every once in a while now, beneath the bleak frozen ground of grief, I can feel the first green stirrings of hope, maybe even a promise of new life.

These feelings are right on time. Everyone I have talked to who has dealt with such a grievous loss has said it takes four years to find a renewal of life. (Apparently four years is the half-life of grief.)

As one woman who has been there told me, “Our partners are gone. We can either live in this world without them, experiencing a full, active life . . . or we can half live a life while we are still connected to our dead great loves through the ether, which we can’t navigate or understand this side of death.

It isn’t a choice; you can’t “just get there.” But you will get there. And everything will suddenly feel new again. You will see possibilities as something toward which you want to leap, and you will suddenly feel untethered and able to make that leap.”

In ten months, by next April, I will have passed my fourth anniversary. April. A time of renewal. Maybe a time of my renewal.

In her book The Stillwater Meadow, Gladys Tabor wrote: “People have seasons . . . There is something steadfast about people who withstand the chilling winds of trouble, the storms that assail the heart, and have the endurance and character to wait quietly for an April time.”

And so, I will continue dealing with the upsurges and downswings of grief, with the tears and loneliness, with the uncertainty and confusion, and wait quietly for my April time.

***

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.

Fishing For Life

Today is the 3 and 1/6-year anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death, and I’m still sad, still missing the spark to get my life going again. For thirty-four years, he was my spark — everything was so much more vibrant when he was in my life — and without something to spark my interest again, my life will continue to feel sad and flat.

A few days ago, in Dreaming My Life into Being, I wrote about my plans to go fishing for life. Well, today, I went. (The second part of that plan was to turn off my computer for a day, and as you can see, I didn’t do that, but following through on half a plan is better than doing nothing, right?)

Today’s fishing trip wasn’t a major journey by any means, just a long hike through the desert on a quest to find the trail to the top of Bell Mountain. I’d climbed halfway one day, but gave up when the trail petered out to 60-degree angle. There is no way I could have climbed that sort of slope with only my tennis shoe-clad feet and bare hands — who am I trying to kid;  there is no way I could ever have climbed that slope — so I turned around and came back. (Slid down halfway, I’m sure, though I don’t remember. It was in the midst of the worst of my grief, and there are blank spots of pain in my memory.)

Bell Mountain

Bell Mountain

I’d recently read online that there is a trail to the top, though it’s on the other side of the mountain, so my quest today was to make my way to the other side and find the trail. Again, I had to turn back. I’d walked for two hours, and perhaps another two hours would have taken me around to the trailhead, but then, I’d have been too exhausted to make my way back. So once again, the mountain defeated me.

The way back.

The way back.

Just because one goes on a fishing trip doesn’t mean you’ll get what you went for, but still, it was a lovely day in the sun with just enough wind to keep me from dying of the heat. So I did catch something — a bit of life.

I also caught a thought. We talk about life being a journey, but it’s always a forward motion or maybe even sideways. No matter how far we go, we continue on from there. Unlike other physical journeys, such as a hike, we don’t have to return to home base. So we can give it all we have without needing to keep anything in reserve for the return trip.

I hope I remember that when next I feel as if I can’t continue my life’s journey.

***

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.

My Aching Breaking Heart

My heart is breaking. I thought when my life mate/soul mate died that the organ had shattered beyond repair, but it must have healed because I feel as if it is breaking again.

When I first entered the world of grief, I was stunned by the constant assault of emotions, physical reactions, mental conflicts and torments because I’d never heard of such grief. Well, there was that one old woman who wore black the whole of her life, celebrating her widowhood, and occasionally there would be talk of someone keening in agony at her husband’s funeral. I thought those were isolated cases of unbalanced women, but I am not unbalanced. (And probably they weren’t, either.)

I wrote about what I was going through so I could try to make sense of the onslaught, and it helped. Blogging about grief also helped because I met many others on the same journey, which brought me comfort, and a few who were years ahead of me, which brought me hope.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this fathomless grief set me aside from everyone else, and perhaps I even thought I should have special consideration because of my situation. Then others I knew lost someone they loved, and I realized grief didn’t make me special. It just made me . . . bereft.

After three years, I am still sad. I tend to think I’m not making any progress, but then I hear from women who just lost their husbands, and I am drenched in tears, remembering what it was like when grief was new. And I can see how very far I have come. Sail AwayBut I also know what these women are feeling and how much they will have to deal with in the coming months and years, and my heart breaks for them.

How is it possible that so many of us have lost our mates and soul mates? It’s like a bizarre dance of butterflies, where those we love flit into our lives, bringing wonder and color and joy, and then they flit away, leaving us devastated. How can the world survive when it is so awash in grief? (Perhaps that’s where the oceans came from — the tears of the bereft. After all, throughout the ages, billions of people have mourned for their dead.)

Sometimes I see a photo of or an article about a couple who has been married for forty or fifty years. They always have helpful advice about how they stayed together for so long, but the truth is, despite all their ways of keeping love alive, the reason they were together so long is that one of them didn’t die. Not every loving couple gets that opportunity.

And my heart breaks for the ones left behind.

***

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.

Thirty-Seven Months of Grief

Today it is 37 months since my life mate/soul mate died. It is also a Saturday, and for more than two and a half years, Saturday was my sadder day. He died late Friday night or early Saturday morning, depending on how you look at it, and often my mind/body saw it both ways, with an upswing of grief on Friday that grew to a crescendo on Saturday and didn’t dissipate until sometime on Sunday. Even if I paid no attention to the calendar, grief surged, which always mystified me — how could my body know when I didn’t? And when the date of his death (the 27th) fell on a Saturday, that was always a double whammy of grief.

But today, I don’t feel much of anything. Well, the usual thread of sadness that bastes my life together, but other than that, I am mostly . . . blank. And tired. I am tired of his being gone. Tired of being sad. Tired of being lonely. Tired of this alien world that still, after all this time, doesn’t quite seem normal with him out of it. Tired of trying to be positive and open to new experiences. Tired of trying to find a way to live through the rest of my life. (Hmmm. Maybe I’m just tired?)

Those who still have their mates simply live. We live without. It colors our world and depletes our energy.

I’m sitting here staring at the page, too blank to think of anything to say about grief that I haven’t already said a dozens times before: I miss him. I yearn for one more smile from hm. I hope he is happy. I hope he is. That’s just the way it is, and probably always will be.

***

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.

The Surprise and Sadness of Grief’s Journey

Every step I take on grief’s journey brings with it surprise and sadness. I’ve come far enough that I am no longer wracked with pain and sorrow at the death of my life mate/soul mate, though sadness and loneliness do shadow my life, and tears are sometimes needed to wash away my yearning to see him once more. Now that the trauma of his years of dying has dissipated, I remember more of what he once was, and those memories have both given him back to me in an oblique sort of way (which surprises me), while separating us even further because of the profound reminder that he is no longer here (which saddens me).

For so long, the two images I had of him in my mind were the last time I saw him, right after he died, before the nurses enshrouded his body in a white blanket and first time I ever saw him when he was young and vibrant. The juxtapositioning of those two images shattered my already broken heart. I could not understand how that strong, radiant being became the wasted unbeing who barely made a dent in the bed.

I had a lot to process during those first years of grief and now that I’m past the shock and disbelief and have even managed to come to terms with the anger, guilt, and regrets, those two images are fading to the same sepia tones as the rest of our thirty-four years together. His goneness — the very void of his absence — haunted me for almost three years, but now I’ve become modesert roadre used to his absence (though I still do not like it at all!), and that too, serves to give him back to me, at least in memory.

But the truth, that I will never again see him in this lifetime, is still incomprehensible. How is it possible that he is gone? How is it possible that I am still here?

Maybe I have tasks to undertake that he cannot help me with, and that is why I am here — to complete these tasks by myself. Maybe it’s simply chance that he died and I didn’t. And maybe the reason (or absence of reason) is as unfathomable as death itself. But in the end, the reasons don’t matter. It’s the reality I have to deal with, and the still unpalatable reality is that, however near he sometimes seems in memory, he is immeasurably far from me.

***

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.