Grief Has No Timetable

It seems strange that after five and a half years of pouring my heart and my grief out onto this blog, I no longer feel comfortable talking about my upsurges of sadness. Grief has no timetable, of course, but still, it seems self-indulgent to continue writing about my sadness, which is one of the reasons I haven’t been saying much the past few days.

This should be a good time for me — after six months and four days of being without a car, I finally got my bug back, newly restored, and it looks wonderful. Now I’m planning a trip across the southernmost part of the country beginning in the middle of December, which will be a fabulous adventure. I even got an invitation from an old friend to spend Christmas with her.

And yet, here I sit, with tears clouding my vision.

I have no idea Broken-heartedwhat brought on this particular bout of sadness, though it might have something to do with my car.  When my Beetle was in the auto body shop, I didn’t have to worry about anything except getting the car back — it’s as if my life were on hiatus — and now unpalatable truths are descending on me once more. Without a way to get there, I didn’t have to accept that I’m not going home to Jeff, but now that my bug is back in my possession, here it is again, the awful truth of my life — that he is gone and I will never be going home to him.  It could be that after five years of living as if I were well off, another unpleasant truth is sinking in — I will have to go back to work one day. (I haven’t worked in many years. First I took care of Jeff, and then my dad.)  Since I’ve been sitting here lamenting to myself that “it’s not fair,” it’s possible the sadness has to do with being around so many women who have been married for four decades or more, which reminds me that I didn’t have that same opportunity.

More probably, it’s simply time. I go for longer and longer periods without thinking about Jeff, go for several weeks without any sort of grief flashback, but I can never fill the emptiness inside where half my life was amputated. And sometimes the pressure of his goneness builds, pushing sorrow to the surface of consciousness.

I do well on my own. After all, I managed to clear out our home and get here to this town 1000 miles from where he and I lived. I took care of my father, and cleared out his house in preparation for sale. I arranged to get my car restored, took trips even though I didn’t have personal transportation, and . . . well, you know all I’ve done. I’ve certainly made no secret of it.

But still, I have times where I yearn to see Jeff one more time. Yearn to talk with him. Yearn for his smile. (I find myself being greedy for compliments or thoughtfulness from acquaintances, and it’s not hard to figure out what that’s about. I can’t get a single word or smile of approbation from the one person from whom I would like a nod of approval, so I try to fill that lack however I can.)

I’m debating whether to keep this post to myself. It sounds too whiny and ungrateful, but it is also my truth — no matter how long he’s been gone, no matter how well I do on my own, I still miss him, and for as long as I am on this earth, I always will.

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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.”)

Grief is NOT Self-Indulgent

I was looking at search terms people used to find this blog, and someone googled “I feel self-indulgent when I think of my deceased partner and I cry a lot.” That got my ire going — not about her feeling that way, but at the way our society handles grief. Thinking about one’s partner and crying are not wrong, but there is something seriously wrong with a society that makes the bereft feel self-indulgent for grieving. What the heck is wrong with crying? With grieving? With talking about one’s grief?

Grief is not something to be shoved under the bed like a box of junk that you don’t quite know what to do with. Grief is how we learn to deal with a world suddenly gone crazy, and tears are how we relieve the tension of that grief. I don’t know how long this particular person had been dealing with her grief, but I’m at eighteen months, and though I’ve gone on with my life, I still have upsurges of grief and bouts of crying. Though these bouts have diminished significantly and I recuperate quite quickly, I’m prepared to go the distance, however long it takes. Some people say it takes a minimum of two years to get over the sadness and tears, some say four years, some say one year for every seven years of togetherness, some say never — that even after twenty years they still have times where the truth of their partner’s death hits them and the tears flow.

Since mourning is considered by the uninitiated to be unacceptable behavior after a month or two, most people quickly learn to hide their grief. Grown children especially get irritated at tears, perhaps because they can’t bear to see their once-strong parent brought low or perhaps because they think their parent is being self-indulgent. A friend of mine lost her partner six months ago, and her son berates her for being a drama queen. Such non-acceptance of a natural process adds more agony to an already agonizing time. As I said, there is something seriously wrong with a society that demonizes grief.

After my partner died, I asked the moderator of a grief support group how I should handle questions about my grief. I didn’t want to bore people with my ongoing emotional traumas, but at the same time I didn’t want to pretend everything was fine. I’d also been blogging about my grief but wasn’t sure I wanted to continue since I didn’t want to seem whiny and self-indulgent. She told me it was okay to tell people I was coping if I didn’t want to go into details, but she suggested I continue writing about grief because people needed to know the truth of it. And I’ve followed her advice even though it was hard at times. I mean, after eighteen months, shouldn’t I have gotten over it? The truth is, you never get over a significant loss — you learn to manage living without him or her.

It used to be that women hid their pregnancies, but now they flaunt their “baby bumps.” Maybe it’s time we brought grief out into the open so that the bereft do not feel as if they are self-indulgent for dealing with loss the only way possible — with remembrances and tears.