Grief and Imagining the Unimaginable

My grief upsurge on Christmas took me by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. I already knew that grief doesn’t stay gone. I can be fine, even happy, ready to take charge of my life, but sometimes when I embrace the future I suddenly find myself falling back into grief because every step forward takes me further away from the one I love. And each of those steps has to be mourned.

I thought signing up for a dating site would be one of those steps, but although the decision was hard — it took one entire sleepless night — it didn’t bring me grief, perhaps because I’m not looking for a serious relationship. I did think it would be fun to meet people, maybe go on a few dates, but the site turned out to be anticlimactic. Nothing has come of my fishing in the online dating pool. Not a single date. Not even a real message or connection, which I find strange. I frequently make connections over the internet. All sorts of interesting people find their way to me online. Many of my offline friends were once solely online friends. Many other online friends will one day become offline friends when we finally meet in person. And yet, on a site geared to bringing people together, I can’t make a single connection.

Still, I don’t feel bad about spending the money. The important thing for me was to make the decision. I could never imagine myself doing such a thing as online dating, and that is why, in the end, I signed up. As William Arthur Ward wrote, “If you can imagine it, you can dream it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” It’s not so much that I want to dream about meeting someone. I just need to practice imagining the unimaginable so that perhaps someday I can dream a wondrous future for myself, or maybe even dream a better me.

I thought making the decision to join would be the tough part, but the most difficult thing has been making an effort to answer the site’s questions about what I am looking for in a friend/date. The questions remind me that I once had what I was looking for. Remind me that I’m taking one more step away from him and our life together. Remind me that I am alone.

And so it should have come as no surprise that grief visited me once again.

Eventually, perhaps, I will be so far away from him that any additional steps will cease to be a cause for mourning. But there will always be things to mourn. I talked to a woman today whose husband died eight years ago, and though she has a fulfilling life, she still has times of grief, especially around Christmas, his birthday, their anniversary.

I don’t mind anymore that grief doesn’t stay gone. In fact, I welcome the tears when they come because they connect me to a time that is rapidly receding from me. I worry that I’m forgetting him and our life together, forgetting the sound of his voice, forgetting even what he looked like, and grief helps me remember that once I loved immeasurably.

Even though we want to hurry through grief as fast as possible, grief is important. It helps us grow beyond who we are, helps stretch us beyond what we can accept. Maybe even helps us imagine the unimaginable.

Grief took me somewhere deep inside that I didn’t know existed. I never imagined there could be such pain. If there is something so awesomely painful as grief hiding in us, ready for the right catalyst to bring it to the surface, it seems to me there could be other unimaginable states — wondrous states — that need a catalyst to bring them out. This is the thought I hold on to, and who knows — it might even be true.


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.