Remembering

During the past couple of years, I have tried to concentrate more on what I have gained rather than all that I have lost. The tally is still vastly weighted on the loss side, but good things have happened, such as finding a house and creating a home for myself.

The past few days, however, melancholy has gotten hold of me, and I remember the losses. I don’t know whether the plethora of dark clouds and rainy days are responsible or if it’s merely one of “those” times. That this is Memorial Day is entirely coincidental. In fact, I didn’t even remember it was Memorial Day until I went to the library and found it closed. Besides, although Memorial Day has become a day to remember all our dead, its original intent was a day for remembering those who died for their country in any of its various wars.

It’s true that most of my “losses” are loved ones who have died in the past decade or so — my parents, my brothers closest to me in age, and Jeff, of course — but there are other profound losses during those same years that still shape my life, such as the destruction of my arm (though I have become used to the deformity and the remnants of pain), the lack of dance classes, the inability to hike long distances, and losing my home not once but twice (once when Jeff died and once when my dad died). The home loss is especially poignant in an area where families have remained for generations. They might not have lived their whole lives in this very town; they might have come from a nearby town, but to someone who is new to the area, this seems inconsequential. It’s not as if they moved hundreds of miles. They are still within reach of where they grew up, within reach of family and memories.

But this isn’t about them. It’s about me feeling the losses and me feeling lost. Although I didn’t list it with my losses above, I think one of the greatest losses is of myself. Grief changes a person. Being semi-nomadic changes a person. Being isolated changes a person. Owning a home changes a person. I am getting used to who I have become and am still becoming, but it’s not the me I remember being all those years with Jeff. Somehow, our being together allowed me to be a truer version of me than I’d ever been before. I tend to think I am again living a true version of myself, but it’s a different version, one that sometimes strikes me as being . . . not me.

It might be that I spend too much time alone. Although I am comfortable living alone, I must admit I still miss having someone to do nothing with. Sometimes I have someone to something with, but those days of doing nothing in particular with someone are long gone. There are so many little nothings in a day — miniscule victories or insignificant happenings that aren’t worth talking about, but that we want to mention anyway. And there are times when we’re sad or lonely or restless, and just want a moment’s connection — perhaps nothing more than a shared look — before continuing our daily tasks. I can call people or text them, but it’s not the same thing. By the time I make the connection, the moment of nothing has become something.

I don’t mean to sound as if I feel sorry for myself. I don’t really, at least, not much. I just think it’s important to occasionally stop and remember what once was and is no longer.

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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

Moving On

The first time I’d heard the phrase “moving on” was a few months after Jeff died, and thereafter I heard it frequently.

Although people often think they are helping by urging grievers to get over it and move on with their life, they are merely showing that they themselves can’t handle the griever’s grief; showing that they can’t handle the new person the griever is becoming. Friends and family want grievers to be the way they were before their loss, and the griever can’t be. Loss changes you. Grief changes you.

Sometimes when people urge grievers to move on, they are not expressing insensitivity so much as a misplaced understanding of the nature of grief. (Which is why my book Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One was written both for grievers and for anyone who wants to understand this thing we call “grief.”)

The truth is, grieving is how we “move on.” Grieving for a spouse is a process, a process of change from a person with a mate and shared life to someone who can deal with the absence, loss, aloneness.

“Moving on” or “moving forward” isn’t just used about grief. It’s used for almost everything, and one of these phrases frequently shows up in tarot card interpretations, such as the card I picked today that is supposed to be about overcoming fears and boldly moving forward. The phrase also appears frequently in novels and in discussions about writing, such as moving the plot forward, or the characters moving on from . . . whatever.

All of sudden today it struck me that I don’t even know what that means. “Moving forward” seems to connote a linear path, which might work for writing, given that the plot has to go from beginning to a satisfying end, but in life, there truly is no forward movement except that which we impose on our lives, such as time or age or career success or even traveling. We feel like we’re moving forward when we walk or drive somewhere, but that’s mostly an illusion. Unless we are permanently moving to a new house or new property, we eventually return to where we started, so that turns out not to be a forward motion at all.

The universe seems to be built more on circular motion, atomic particles and heavenly bodies are always in motion, orbiting around each other, making their way around empty space, but not really going anywhere because if there is not really a “here,” there can’t be a “there” to move on to. It seems as if motion is important, but not necessarily forward motion. For all I know, we could be moving backward, and it is just the way our brain interprets things to make it seem as if we are moving forward.

A kaleidoscope comes to mind. If all the energy that ever was exists today, then a turn of the scope brings us to what seems a different place, but is really all the same place. Karma and the idea that what goes around comes around also connotes a circular life. As does a gyroscope.

A tarot card I randomly picked twice in the past three days was about fluctuation and change. It suggested that a person who is in harmony with her life is one who can adapt to all the changes that comes her way, and keep on moving, Like a gyroscope that only holds its position when it is spinning,

But not “moving on”. Just “moving”.

Assuming we are supposed to be moving on, moving forward, moving toward something, where are we supposed to be going? Well, death, we are all moving inexorably toward death, since death is our end on this earth, but is that really a forward movement? After a certain age, it seems more as we are being pushed rather than moving on our own initiative. But other than that, what are we supposed to be moving toward? Enlightenment, maybe, though that brings up the issue of what is enlightenment.

In the case of grief, even though I am not actively grieving and haven’t been for a long time — I seldom even feel nostalgic anymore — I never actually “moved on,” never “got over” it. It’s more that the loss became subsumed into the very fabric of my life.

Admittedly, I might simply be sensitive to the phraseology because of all the people who used these words or variations of them to urge me to get over my grief, but they still seem to be rather meaningless terms no matter how they are used.

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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

Get Over It. Move On.

I notice that my latest grief posts have an edge to them — not anger exactly; more like disapproval.

This aversion is not towards grievers — never toward grievers — but towards those who don’t understand, won’t understand, can’t understand, and yet still feel they have a say in how people grieve.

Not all comments from non-grievers are as appalling as the one that prompted my post a couple of days ago, Grieving at Christmas. The comments are generally more clichéd, such as “get over it” and “move on.”

Luckily, I am past receiving any comment on my grief. Not only do I not let anyone know (except here on this blog) when I am feeling a bit of a grief upsurge, but I have mostly found an internal place to put my loss so that I can think of him and not think of him at the same time. (Or maybe I mean think of him sadly and think of him happily at the same time.)

But there are always new grievers, and the newly bereft do not need people’s attitudes. Do not need to be told to get over it. Death does not negate love. Telling someone to get over it is like telling someone to stop loving.

Sometimes when people urge grievers to move on, they are not expressing insensitivity so much as a misplaced understanding of the nature of grief. (Which is why my book Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One was written both for grievers and for anyone who wants to understand this thing we call “grief.”)

Although people often think they are helping by urging grievers to get over it and move on with their life, they are merely showing that they themselves can’t handle the griever’s grief. Showing that they can’t handle the new person the griever is becoming. Friends and family want grievers to be the way they were before their loss, and the griever can’t be. Loss changes you. Grief changes you.

If those people were truly caring and sensitive to the griever, they would simply be there for the griever even years later, listen to the griever’s pain, understand that grief is a necessary mechanism, realize that no matter how much the griever’s pain upsets them, the loss suffered upsets the griever even more.

What I really want to say to all of those people who are impatient with a griever’s grief is, “Get over it. Move on. Their grief does not belong to you.”

See? Edgy. And not necessarily kind or helpful.

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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.