Grief Work

Grief work after the death of a spouse or anyone who makes your life worth living encompasses many tasks, from the simple task of getting out of bed in the morning to the complicated tasks of arranging for funeral services and dealing with financial matters.

As time goes on, the tasks of grief seem to increase, especially the emotional, mental, and spiritual tasks. We need to work through the pain, adjust to the absence of our loved one, find ways and reasons to continue living despite the absence, realize we each have our own path in life, remember them with joy not just sadness. (These might not be tasks so much as the natural progression of grief, but they all fall under the category of “grief work.”)

There are the horrendous tasks of dealing with the loved one’s effects, clearing out the things they no longer have any use for. Sometimes this particular bit of grief work can take years. Although I disposed of most of my life mate/soul mate’s things, I still have items I cannot get rid of, either because he asked me to keep them or because getting rid of them is still unthinkable after Untitledmore than three years. For example, I can’t get rid of his keys, eyeglasses, and wallet. Something in me balks at that, as if he still has use of such things. Especially ridiculous are his car keys. I donated his car to hospice, but kept a set of keys. I just can’t get rid of them.

And then there are the self-imposed tasks, the ways each of us find to honor the end of our shared life. For me, this self-imposed task is watching movies. Think it’s easy? No way!

Long ago, when we realized that we were renting the same movies over and over again because we couldn’t find anything better, he started taping movies for us. Started out with movies for us to watch together, and then expanded into movies he liked but I didn’t. As he got sicker and more housebound, he occupied his time by taping TV movies and television shows by hand so he could cut out the commercials.

There were more than a thousand tapes, some of them with a full six hours of movies or shows. Many of these tapes I had never watched, but during the past two-and-a-half years, I have been watching these tapes, sorting out the ones I have no interest in, keeping the ones that I like or that remind me of special occasions. I started with the tapes he made at the end, the ones I had never seen, and they were painful to watch — so many of them dealt with people who were dying or people who had to find a new way of living after the death of a spouse. It’s almost as if he were leaving me a message telling me to get on with my life.

Even more painful is when I reached the tapes that we always watched together. As I watch each of them, I am aware that the last time I saw the movie, he was by my side. I remember the things we said, the looks we gave each other, the connection we felt. These once-loved movies now seem dull and bland as if a vital spark is missing. And it is missing. He is missing.

I’ve almost worked my way through all the tapes, and I have a hunch that this particular self-imposed task is prolonging my grief since they connect me to the past and at the same time make me aware that the past is gone forever.

Despite all this grief work, there are two things I will never be able to deal with. I will always hate that he is dead. And I will always miss him.

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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.

Thirty-Four Months of Grief

desert roadThirty-four months ago today, my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. For thirty-four months now, I have been posting updates on my progress through grief, and that astounds me. Thirty-four months? How is that possible? Written out, it seems such a short time for him to have been gone, and yet it feels immeasurably vast — so many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and now years, spent trying to come to grips with what happened to us. For most of our lives we were connected by some mystical bond, a cosmic twinning, that kept us together even when times were rough. And then suddenly, in a single breath, that connection was broken. I am here, alone, and he is . . . well, I don’t know where he is or even if he is.

I never had survivor’s guilt for the simple reason that I wasn’t sure which of us got the worst end of the deal, but I have felt uncomfortable going on without him, as if somehow I were being disloyal. We helped fight each other’s battles, sticking up for each other, caring for each other, waiting for whichever of us happened to be lagging behind, always taking the other into consideration, and it feels as if I should still be doing so. But he is beyond my reach, beyond my care, beyond my consideration.

I have come to see that continuing the disconnect that began with his descent into death is one of the tasks of my grief. (Grief seems to be not so much about passing through stages, but more about completing tasks, such as processing the loss and learning to live again.) Until I understand within my depths that for all practical (earthly) purposes we are not one, I will never be able to embrace fully what life has in store for me. We are separate persons, each with our own experiences, our own journey, and our own destination. For a while, our paths crossed, but now, I have to continue as me, alone. No matter what I do, or think or feel, it cannot change the past. No matter how much I hate that he is dead, no matter how much I rail against the unfairness, no matter how much I miss him or wish desperately for one more word or smile, he is no longer in my life.

For most of those thirty-four months, this disconnect has seemed an impossible task, but there is a bit of light illuminating my path. Last week, when I went to my Yoga class, they asked how I was, and I said, without thinking, “I’m doing great.” It stunned me to hear those words come out of my mouth, because for more than five years, during the last of his dying and these many months of grief, I have had times of feeling okay, and I thought that was the best I could do. But at that moment, I did feel great. It didn’t last long, only about an hour before I began sliding into sadness again, but that hour stands as a beacon for what might be.

Up until that class, this year has been one of increased sorrow and tears, and such grief upsurges often precede or follow a deeper level of acceptance. It’s not so much that I am learning to accept his death — I accepted the truth of it from the beginning, though I hate it and will never be able to comprehend it — but I am learning to accept that I am alive, and that is a much harder thing to accept.

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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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+