Getting Over Grief

People often ask me how to get over grief, but the truth is (despite the title of this piece), we never get over grief for the simple reason that the person being mourned is gone for the rest of our life on Earth. Still, over time, the focus does change from the past and from our lost love to the future and perhaps a new love.

At the beginning, our focus — when it’s not on what we have lost — is about breathing. Taking one breath after another. Generally, breathing is simple. It’s something we do without thinking. But after the death of a person intrinsic to our life, such as a spouse or soul mate, it’s as if they took our breath with them when they left us, and breathing becomes something we need to focus on. A breath in, a breath out. Such a painful thing, those breaths! Adding to the complication is that so often we don’t want to breathe. We’d just as soon it was all over for us, too, and yet, we are compelled to continue taking those breaths.

As the years pass and the pain begins to subside, we hold on even tighter to our pain because grief is all that connects us to our lost love. During all those months and years, grief does its job, changing us into a person who can survive without the person we most loved. And gradually, a new love creeps into our life. Actually, I should say, a new focus comes into our life. Whatever it is that we find to focus on, it’s compelling enough to take our mind off our pain and sorrow and loneliness for a short time. And over the next months and years, all those “short times” add up. New memories are made. The past lessens its demands. The future becomes more compelling. And life goes on.

This new love or focus doesn’t have to be a person. It can be almost anything. Visiting museums. Hiking. Planning epic adventures. Yoga. Dance classes. Traveling. A new home. Gardening. For me, it was all of those things.

I tried so many things at the beginning. I wrote about my grief. I walked for hours. I visited museums. I went on day trips with people from my grief group. I took yoga classes. Sometimes, I could forget myself and my pain for minutes at a time, but nothing held. When the moment passed, I was right back where I started, in full grief mode.

It wasn’t until I started learning to dance that the focus lasted more than the moment. I started thinking about dancing, started practicing at home. Although grief didn’t leave me alone for long, it did start to lose its intense hold on me, and I could finally focus on something other than my loss and my pain.

As grief further eased its grip on me and I could sometimes imagine a future, I dreamed of — and planned — epic adventures. I was going to visit independent bookstores all over the country to see if they would sell my books. I was going to walk up the coast to Seattle. I was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I was going to take a freighter to New Zealand. I was going to go on a year-long camping trip. I was going to drive cross-country in my vintage VW. I still have the research I did for all these adventures, but in the end, the only one I followed through with was my 12,500 cross-country road trip as well as a north/south trip along the western coast and several trips from California to Colorado.

A couple of years ago, I changed my focus yet again when I bought a house and found a place to call home.

And now, what I find compelling enough to propel me into the future is gardening.

I’m far enough away from my focus on grief that I seldom get snapped back to those early months, but for the first seven years, no matter how compelling my current focus was, I often found myself blindsided by grief.

I’m not sure how a person goes about finding a new focus. I tend to think that when a griever is ready, a new focus — a new love — appears, rather than needing to search for it, but however it happens, the readiness and the new focus are part of this process of change we call grief.

***

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

Sweating the Small Stuff

I try to live by the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff,” but sometimes it is impossible to do especially since some of the really small stuff seems to be the biggest stuff.

Some of the small things I am currently sweating are mosquitoes, gnats, and other insects. They wouldn’t be a problem if they left me alone, but already, so early in the season, I am dealing with mosquito bites, gnats up my nose, grasshoppers eating my petunias. (Luckily, so far the petunias are all the hoppers seem to like, though they have nibbled on other plants to see if that foliage were to their liking.) There’s not much I can do about the gnats or the grasshoppers, but I have sprayed permethrin on my gardening clothes (khaki pants rather than my usual black because mosquitoes love black) and I use eucalyptus lemon oil on my face and hands, but they still manage to get me despite those precautions. It’s possible they get into the house at night and feast on me then, but I’ve only seen one mosquito in the house so far. (Although I would never hurt a fly, I have no compunction about offing critters that drink my blood.)

Another small thing that I sweated was an eyelash that got caught in my eye. I couldn’t get it out last night, though after a while I couldn’t find it anymore, so I thought perhaps I’d removed it without knowing I’d done so. Today, however, I woke up with a sore eye. I finally found the lash masquerading as an inflamed blood vessel. I eventually managed to work it over to the corner of my eye where I was able to scrape it off. That is one “small stuff” I had to sweat because it’s not good to have something foreign in one’s eyes.

And yet another small thing that looms large is that each of the past few evenings, I’ve had tearful moments of missing Jeff. After eleven years, most people would think that missing him should no longer be an issue, especially since I’m doing okay, but occasionally it is. I’ve been trying to be upbeat, to see the good in my present life, to not look back but not look forward, either. Neither looking back nor forward does me any good. There is nothing I can do about the past because it’s done and there’s nothing I can do about the future because that is out of my control. Besides, aging is a factor in my future, though people often disagree and tell me that it isn’t. The truth is, looking to the future, I can see myself getting older and feebler and trying to do the best for myself with diminishing strength and energy, and that’s not something I want to dwell on now.

So I look to today, but sometimes, as it has the past few evenings, that concentration on today seems . . . phony. As if I’m trying to be someone I’m not.

Still, there’s nothing I can do about Jeff being gone, and all I can do about missing him is let myself feel bad for a few minutes then dissipate the sadness with some sort of activity. Last night I dissipated those sad energies with dusting the furniture and dry mopping the floors.

Nor can I do anything about the other small stuff I’m sweating, including literally sweating — it was already eighty degrees when I went out to water the garden this morning. (It’s now 95 degrees Faranheit, 35 Celcius.)

Although a more positive or upbeat attitude seems phony to me, as if I’m not being true to myself, I tend to think it’s not really phony but simply another way of dealing with whatever comes my way. And what’s coming my way, for the most part, are a few flowers here and there.

I am glad to have the flowers, and glad that the hoppers around here aren’t as voracious as they were where Jeff and I lived. I blamed myself for my inability to grow a garden back then, thinking it was due to a brown thumb, but it was actually due to the large, brown grasshoppers that ate everything down to the ground, even the three-foot trees we planted. (The only things they left alone were lilacs and Siberian elms.) So I am grateful that I’ve managed to grow anything!

See? Even in a post about my various “small stuff” troubles, I end up with a glad and grateful attitude, though that wasn’t my intention.

Phony or not, that seems to be the way I am now.

***

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

Grief Is Neither Simple Nor Logical

Most people, when they think of grief, if they think of it at all, tend to believe that grievers go through a series of stages, and once each of those stages have been dealt with, the person goes back to normal. Well, at least as normal as most people are or rather as they assume they are.

But going back to normal is not feasible. The truth is, there are no stages when it comes to grief. In fact, the five stages of grief model is dangerous because it makes grief seem like a checklist, as if grief were logical, but there is no logic to grief. Grief has its own timetable, its own method, and whenever we think we understand the process, grief changes its tactics. For days, weeks, months on end, a dozen emotions will attack us all at the same time making us feel that we can never get a grip. And then, for no fathomable reason, we hit an emotional trough where we feel nothing, and we begin to think that we can handle our grief after all, and then—pow! Out of nowhere, grief returns and slams us in the gut, and we go through the whole gamut of emotional and physical symptoms again. And again. And again.

Sometimes, even years later, someone who survived the death of a spouse or other person intrinsic to their life, will be blindsided by grief. A friend, whose first husband had died more than a decade before, was happily remarried, but when the daughter she had with her first husband got married, she had a full-blown grief attack. This sort of thing makes sense to those who have experienced profound grief because any major life experience reminds us of what we lost, of what the deceased lost, and so, for a short time, we are back at the beginning when grief was new.

I haven’t been blindsided by grief for a long time, though I did have a weird bit of vertigo the other day. I was simply walking down the hall (a very short hall) when I got an awful falling-elevator feeling, and I remembered . . . again . . . that Jeff was dead. I have no idea where either the vertigo or the thought came from, except that the anniversary of his death is coming up in sixteen days, so he — and my memory of that time — are close to the front of my mind, rather in the back where they generally reside.

Perhaps some people can put the deceased entirely out of their heads, but most of us can’t, at least not all the time. They were a big part of our lives for many years, and even after they died, they were a big part of our lives through our grief, our memories, our attempts to find a new life for ourselves. Who I am today exists because he lived. Who I am today exists because he died. I have no idea who I would be if I had never met him; have no idea who I would be if we were still together. But none of that matters. I have to deal with the reality of my days, and the reality is that every once in a while, for no reason at all, grief makes itself felt.

Admittedly, this recent episode lasted only a moment or two, but such moments are important, if only to remind us that our grief is never completely finished. How can it be? No matter how much we get used to the void in our lives where they once were, the void is still there. And they are still gone.

My mission in talking about grief, to the extent I had a mission, has always been to let people know that grief is normal. Even years later, if one breaks down in tears or gets a vertigo attack or whatever manifestation grief happens to take at that moment, it’s still normal.

What isn’t normal is believing that someone’s life can be the same after the death of someone intrinsic to their life. What isn’t normal is believing that grief is simple and logical and fits into a few recognizable stages. What isn’t normal is believing that grief is easily dispatched. Well, actually, all that is normal since that’s what most people believe, but just because most people believe something, it doesn’t make that belief true or right.

***

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

Grief’s Gravity

I’ve had requests to continue writing about grief, but the truth is, it’s hard to write about something I no longer particularly feel. And yet, whether I write about it or not, grief is still part of my life.

It’s been almost a year since my last real upsurge in grief, and though I’m just as glad not to have to deal with the horrendous sorrow and the bleak outlook that comes from grief, I feel that something is missing — not just Jeff, because of course he is missing from my life, but also a wildness that came from grief.

I had never experienced anything as massive as grief before Jeff died, except perhaps falling in love. Grief is an all-consuming state that seems to swallow you whole. In addition, if you have been deeply connected to the deceased loved one, you often feel as if you are straddling the line between this life and eternity, as if part of you went to the other side with him, and part of you remains here. Gradually, you move away from the abyss, but that feeling of being on the edge of eternity, as much as the death itself, leaves its mark.

Whenever I have to explain what my life is like, I usually mention how little I have to anchor me to the world, with no house, no children, no living parents, no place I really want to be, and no mate. The other day a woman told me, “You say Jeff is gone, but he is still in your life.” This wasn’t a patronizing remark; it was said more as an observation.

The truth is, he is gone from my life in any real concept of the term — I cannot touch him, cannot hear his voice, cannot see his smile, cannot take care of him, cannot be comforted by him.

His absence, however, is in my life. His absence bounds my life.

If I were still with him, I would never have come to the desert, never have taken dance classes, never have gotten the madcap idea of an epic hike or even a short backpacking trip. I wouldn’t be searching for something to fill the hole in my life because there would be no hole. I wouldn’t be looking to experience “something more,” because I probably wouldn’t know there was more.

It’s grief that taught me about “more.” If there is such an awe-full and awful state as grief that we humans can experience, a state that changes our very being, perhaps there are other unknown states to experience. Love, of course. But could there be more?

A downside to this lingering phase of grief, for lack of a better term to describe it, is difficulty in putting up with some people’s spirit-draining chatter and their perpetual self-aggrandizement. Even if their narcissism comes from a sense of their own inadequacy, I can understand and sympathize, but in no way do I want to have to deal with their negativity. Because if there is more, I don’t see why I should have to settle for so little.

To be honest, no one — grief-stricken or not — should have to settle for less than pure wonder. There is a whole lot of world out there to experience. If you can walk, you don’t even need to go to other countries, don’t need to do tours and such to see the wonders. Every step shows you a new marvel, every turn of the path gives you a new view to contemplate.

What it comes down to is that even though I’m not exactly grieving anymore, not trapped in the wild center of the whirlwind we call grief, I am still caught in the outer fringes by grief’s gravity.

And chances are, I always will be.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Eve of Seven Years of Grief

1:40 AM tonight marks the seventh anniversary of when my life mate/soul mate died. If it is true that our bodies are renewed every seven years, then this anniversary is another death — the death of whatever remains of him in me. When two people live together for an extended period of time, in our case thirty-four years, you not only exchange ideas and energy, you also exchange atoms and molecules, and DNA via benign viruses, so for all these years I carried a bit of him with me. And now he is truly gone. (I still have his cremains, haven’t decided yet what to do with them, but that is another story.)

A month ago, I entered a spate of grief so profound, I felt almost the same as I did at the beginning, as if parts of me were being amputated. Could that be when the last iota of him in me died? As romantic as the notion is, I have a hunch the upsurge of grief was simply that — an upsurge. Generally the month leading up to the anniversary is much worse than the anniversary itself, and I expected the past month to be a horror of pain. During that grief upsurge though, I wrote him a letter, and also printed out a photo of him to hang on my wall. (My photos are all packed away in a storage unit, and since I cannot drive because of my arm, they are not available to me.) Because of this renewed connection, as ephemeral though it might be, or maybe just because after all it’s been seven years since he died, the past month has not been a horror of grief, but rather a time of relative tranquility.

I still don’t understand life, death, grief. Don’t understand why some people are allowed to live out their lives with a special person, and others are fated to go into old age alone. It used to bother me, this unknowing, and sometimes it still does, but generally I try to live in the moment, to take from the day what I can and leave the immortal questions for another time.

I do know I will always be grateful he shared his life with me, even though memory of that life is fading behind newer memories of my life alone. And I know I will always miss him. We shared a special bond, not like a long married couple, not even like soul mates, though that is how I describe our relationship — more like cosmic twins. For most of our life together, I thought the bond was so strong it would pull me into death when he went, and I resented his having five years more of life than I would. As it turns out, something in me did die that day but other things were born, such as a determination to live, and I have now lived two years longer than he did. I resent the extra years on his behalf, though I hope he is beyond caring.

I don’t know where the next seven years will lead me — no one knows what the future will bring, of course. Will it end with me sitting at my computer telling you about the 14th anniversary of his death? By then, I will be elderly. No, I don’t want to even think about that. I’m still afraid of growing old alone, still afraid of being old alone. But today, living in the moment, there is no fear, just a sense that . . . I don’t know . . . maybe that my life is unrolling as it must.

There probably won’t be room for tears tomorrow. I have pre-op doctor and lab appointments that will take up much of the day. (As of now, the surgery to have the external fixator removed from my arm is scheduled for April 4th.) And I am packing one handed for a move to a nicer room and a nicer neighborhood.

Changes.

So much has changed in the past seven years. For a long time, I lamented that his death and my grief did not change me, but looking back, I no longer know who that woman was who clung so firmly to life when all she loved was swept away.

One thing has not changed — a great yearning to see him one more time. To see his smile that so often warmed me. To see the light in his eyes when something interested him.

And one other thing has not changed — disbelief. I can’t believe he’s been gone so many years. Can’t believe I survived.

And yet, changed,/ unchanged, here I am.

***

(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.

Vulnerability and Upsurges of Grief

Lately I have been experiencing an upsurge of grief so strong it feels as if Jeff died a short time ago and is just out of reach. If I could only stretch my arm a bit farther. . . and farther . . .

But no matter how far I reach, he is gone. In one month it will be seven years. Always the weeks leading up to an anniversary are hard, but this year is much harder. I even had to resort to writing Jeff a letter last night, which is something I haven’t done in years. The letter writing helped enough that I will probably repeat the exercise until I get through this difficult time.

Because of this blog, I have been in touch with many people who have lost their mates, and I discovered that a common occurrence was a huge upsurge of grief at 18 months just when we thought we were over the worst of it. My current upsurge makes me wonder if there is a significance to the seventh anniversary. It’s been said that because of the constant changing of cells in our bodies, every seven years we have undergone a complete changeover. After the loss of a life mate/soul mate, it takes 3 to 4 years to find a renewal of life. I call that time the half-life of grief because half the physical connection is gone. Does this mean that at seven years, any remaining iota of his physical presence in my life and body is now gone and hence this grief upsurge?

This morning while texting with a friend, I mentioned my upcoming anniversary. She thought my grief had less to do with the number seven and more to do with increased vulnerability because of my poor shattered arm and my needing “a soft place to lean.” (She also thinks I should be documenting what I’m going through for a possible future book that might help others who are dealing with a similar situation, but this blog is all the documentation I will need.)

She could be right about my needing a soft place to lean. Ever since my fall, I had been feeling a bit of an upsurge in grief, both for my arm and for my now long-gone shared life, but it wasn’t until I lost my occupational therapist (the one person I had to lean on) to bureaucracy that I began this downward slide into profound grief. But also, coincidentally, that is when I began the downward slide to the anniversary.

Whatever the truth of the matter, this current upsurge surprised me because I thought I left such deep sorrow in the past. You’d think after all these years of learning about grief firsthand, there would be no more surprises left for me, but grief does what it wants.

People tell me to get over it, to move on, not to be sad, and in recent years I have been doing all those things, even went on a great adventure. But now, suddenly, I am in a place of “not doing.” I have to be very careful with the fixator attached to my arm. Because the pins go through skin and muscle and all the way through bone, the insertion points are prone to infection, and it is a full-time job keeping them clean. I want to hurry up with my hand exercises, to try to quickly get back as much range of finger motion as I can, but too much stress and stretch aggravates those puncture wounds. So here I sit, isolated, alone with my hand-me-down Nook filled with books, and my computer. (Though the poor Nook is threatening to quit on me, and my aged computer is struggling to keep up with today’s technology.)

I don’t feel quite so sick or so lost in the post anesthetic fog as I did the first couple of months after the fall, and I only take pain pills now to help control the pain so I can sleep. I hope that one day soon I can go back to writing. I try to put myself in a happy place, and it seems as if it’s been years since I’ve been happy, it was only a few months ago. Last October. Writing. Finishing my dance novel.

When I started working on my grieving woman book, I couldn’t help feeling sad for that poor woman and all she went through, so it did not bring me much happiness. But now that my normal state is sadness, writing might offset some of the sorrow. It does amuse me, though, thinking that this grief upsurge, so reminiscent of the early months, puts me in the proper frame of mind to write about a brand-new widow. Also amusing, though in a more ironic way, I can’t figure out how to end that woman’s story, just as I can’t figure out how to end mine.

Luckily, I have a treat in store for me today — I am going grocery shopping! A friend who comes to town occasionally to help with her aging mother makes time to help me with errands, and today is the day! I will revel in the company, the laughter, the largess spread out all around me, and be grateful for this chink in my isolation.

And tonight, if tears flow once again, I will write Jeff another letter, thank him for letting me share his life, and tell him how glad I am that at least one of us is spared any further pain and sorrow.

But dammit, I miss him.

Apparently, I always will.

heart

***

(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.

Lonely in a Crowd

I spent most of the past three days alone, and I made an interesting discovery. It’s not being alone that makes me feel alone and lonely. It’s being with too many other people that makes me feel alone and lonely. Every grief upsurge I’ve had recently has come after spending too much time with people who don’t enrich my life. (I don’t mean you, of course!) So often when I am with others, I sit and listen. I can’t contribute anything to the conversation because they talk about things that have nothing to do with me or my life, nothing to do with anything but their own insular and insight-less agendas. So I sit. And listen. And slowly disappear.

ReadingA friend invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with  her five-generation family, which was very nice, and I was invited to dinner and a movie Friday evening, but the rest of the time, I was alone. (Didn’t even have to see or hear my strange roommate because he’s gone for the week.) Yesterday I did nothing but read. Just lolled around with a book in one hand and fruit in the other, which made it a doubly fruitful day. Today was a repeat of yesterday, though I added a hike in the desert to round out my solitary festivities.

And I never once disappeared. Never had a single pang of loneliness.

As it turns out, this isn’t such a great discovery, this realization that other people make me feel lonely, because there’s not much I can do about it. Obviously, I can’t spend my life alone. (People need people. Isn’t that the general thrust of life, love, and happiness?) I suppose I could make an effort to talk more when I am in a crowd, maybe even try to steer the conversation to make it more about me, but if I had anything to contribute, I would already be commenting. The sad truth is, I have nothing to say. (Which is why I so seldom blog any more. No insights, no interesting observations, no emotional highs or lows to ponder makes for mighty boring reading.) Admittedly, most people have no problem talking when they have nothing to say, but I have never quite mastered the art of talking to no purpose. Pointless conversation seems . . . pointless.

Anyway, this is not the week to worry about such things. My belly dance class will be performing a couple of numbers in a dance program at the local college this coming weekend. I’ll be with people most of the time — dance classes in the morning, rehearsals in the afternoon or performances in the evening, so I’ll set this conundrum aside for another time and simply enjoy being part of this special event.

***

(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.”)

A Downsurge of Grief

I’ve just passed through an upsurge of grief (though it was really more of a downsurge — I’ve been in a funk the past few weeks). I hadn’t realized I was experiencing an episode of grief — it just felt as if it were sorrow as usual — until this morning when I noticed the grief had seeped away leaving behind a strange feeling of optimism. (Strange because there is no reason for it — nothing has changed, no issues have been resolved, and a blank future still lies ahead of me.)

Why that particular upsurge? I’m not really sure — grief needs no reason. I have a hunch, though, it had to do with the odd anniversaries of grief I’d just passed through. First there was the anniversary of the worst day of my life, then there was the anniversary of leaving our home. I’d barely noticed these days during my second and third years of grief, so I never expected to even remember them this far into my journey, but apparently my body did. (It remembers even when I don’t.)

Or perhaps the grief upsurge could have been instigated by the recent loss of a couple of friends. (Lost not to death but to differences of lifestyle and opinion.) Any loss seems to bring on an upsurge of sorrow, reminding me of that most grievous loss — the death of my life mate/soul mate.

Or maybe I’m just making a big thing out of no thing. Maybe I’m blaming the normal vicissitudes of my life on grief, when in fact this is the new me, though I hope not. I hate to think that I’ll always be so emotionally frail, given to tears over the least little upset. At least with grief, there is always the possibility of someday being able to reclaim my equilibrium and once again take life as it comes.

Though come to think of it — are tears really so bad? They relieve stress and help wash away the hormones that build up because of that stress. (Remember Holly Hunter in Broadcast News? Peppy little thing, always on the go, always thinking, always two steps ahead of everyone, then when she’s alone, she breaks into tears for a few minutes. I never understood that part of her character . . . until now.)

Maybe I should worry more if the tears dry up forever.

***

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.

Upsurges in Sadness Are Like Shortness of Breath After Exercise

I’m fine. Truly I am. For all of you who have expressed concern over my current upsurge in grief, I just want to tell you there is nothing to worry about. Upsurges in sadness do not in any way affect my life or my dealings with other people. They are just there, a fact of my life like shortness of breath after exercise. If I didn’t write about my feelings, no one would know about my times of sadness. There is so much bad advice given to people about grief, such as acceptable durations and ways of grieving, that I want to provide a counterpoint, and I wouldn’t do much good if I kept silent about what I happened to be feeling at any given moment.

Many people have told me that after the death of their husband, they never found happiness until they married again. People have told me that even after they got married, they still experienced upsurges in grief, sometimes years afterward. People tell me they never got over grief at the loss of a life mate, it just got different. The death of a cousin or even a brother doesn’t affect us the same way as the loss of a child or a soul mate, so the severity of the loss has to be taken into affect before you start wondering if someone is grieving inappropriately. Some people do fall in a pit of depression and cannot get out without help, but I am not one of them. Nor am I ruining my health by riding out the sadness. That’s what tears are for — to release the stress. Walking, exercising, and blogging also relieve the stress of trying to create a new life for myself out of the embers of the old one.

For me, an upsurge in grief usually comes right before or right after a new level of acceptance or a greater understanding. This latest upsurge began on Independence Day. It’s a day for families to get together, to have fun, to do whatever it is that families do when they get together, and I was alone. I understood that this could be the way holidays will be for the rest of my life, and I found it difficult dealing with the unwelcome understanding. Also, while walking in the desert recently, I’ve had several revelations that are helping me with my search to find a new focus for my life, and such forward motions bring on an upsurge of sadness because they take me further away from the past I shared with my deceased life mate/soul mate.

And anyway, even though I am no longer a child in the world of grief, I’ve not yet achieved full growth, either. Therapists who have studied grief and grievers admit that it takes three to five years to find your way back to life, and I am just past two years. I still have a long way to go. Besides, what’s a few tears among friends?

The truth is, though, I am more exhausted than sad. I’m tired of living in an alien world, tired of having to figure out where to go from here, tired of not feeling like me, but mostly, I’m tired of his being dead. Whether I continue to be sad or find happiness, whether I continue floundering of find new focus, he will still be dead. And absolutely nothing I do or say or feel will ever change that.

Facing My Dreads

Yesterday was Saturday, typically a sadder day for me, but today I felt strong enough to face some of my fears. Or at least my dreads. Facebook has been threatening to switch me over to their new timeline format and today I decided to run toward my dread so I could get it out of my head. I wasn’t sure what photo I wanted to feature. I’d planned to use photos of my books, but since I used them for my page, I didn’t want to confuse the issue by using the same image for my profile. I’d played around with word art once, so I decided to use that. Spent a couple of hours getting it just right. So now I have timeline. And I have overcome one dread.

Then I decided to go after the big one. Watching a movie.

My life mate and I used to watch movies together — all kinds, from westerns to serial killer movies to comedy to romance. He taped hundreds of movies for us, and they’ve been packed away since his death two years ago. I just could not bring myself to watch the movies, especially the romantic ones because I knew how much it would hurt.

Flush with the success of overcoming the dreaded timeline, however, I decided to watch Notting Hill. I’d pulled it out of storage to view on the one-year anniversary of his death, planning to celebrate his life, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even put it away. The tape has been sitting on the shelf, waiting for me to watch for a year and two weeks. And it is again sitting on the shelf.

I put the tape in the VCR, watched for about forty-five minutes, and then came the gusher. Not just tears but sobs and gasps for breath and a yearning to see him one more time that clawed at me with a ferocity I haven’t felt in months.

I know two years isn’t that long, but I never imagined I would still have such upsurges of grief. Mostly I can handle being alone, though I do have times of gargantuan loneliness. I even have times now, such as when I’m focused on completing a task, where my missing him gets pushed into the background. And sometimes I can even look forward to the future. But the one thing I can never seem to get a grip on is the thought of his being dead. I have come full circle to a realization of how necessary it was for him to die. He was in such pain and could no longer function that continued life would have been torture. But even so, I hate knowing that he will never eat another meal. Never read another book. Never plant another tree. Never watch another movie.

I do still have the ability to watch movies, and someday I will finish watching this one.

Just not today.