The Surprise and Sadness of Grief’s Journey

Every step I take on grief’s journey brings with it surprise and sadness. I’ve come far enough that I am no longer wracked with pain and sorrow at the death of my life mate/soul mate, though sadness and loneliness do shadow my life, and tears are sometimes needed to wash away my yearning to see him once more. Now that the trauma of his years of dying has dissipated, I remember more of what he once was, and those memories have both given him back to me in an oblique sort of way (which surprises me), while separating us even further because of the profound reminder that he is no longer here (which saddens me).

For so long, the two images I had of him in my mind were the last time I saw him, right after he died, before the nurses enshrouded his body in a white blanket and first time I ever saw him when he was young and vibrant. The juxtapositioning of those two images shattered my already broken heart. I could not understand how that strong, radiant being became the wasted unbeing who barely made a dent in the bed.

I had a lot to process during those first years of grief and now that I’m past the shock and disbelief and have even managed to come to terms with the anger, guilt, and regrets, those two images are fading to the same sepia tones as the rest of our thirty-four years together. His goneness — the very void of his absence — haunted me for almost three years, but now I’ve become modesert roadre used to his absence (though I still do not like it at all!), and that too, serves to give him back to me, at least in memory.

But the truth, that I will never again see him in this lifetime, is still incomprehensible. How is it possible that he is gone? How is it possible that I am still here?

Maybe I have tasks to undertake that he cannot help me with, and that is why I am here — to complete these tasks by myself. Maybe it’s simply chance that he died and I didn’t. And maybe the reason (or absence of reason) is as unfathomable as death itself. But in the end, the reasons don’t matter. It’s the reality I have to deal with, and the still unpalatable reality is that, however near he sometimes seems in memory, he is immeasurably far from me.


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.

One Thousand and One Days of Grief

clockAlthough yesterday’s post 1000 Days of Grief — and this one — might make it seem as if I am still counting the days of grief, I actually stopped counting after the first year. Once when I could not imagine ever being able to get through another hour, I counted to the 1000th day and marked it on the calendar. It seemed like a significant number — a guidepost — and I thought I should know the date. It is astonishing to me that I have managed to survive so many days since the death of my life mate/soul mate, but in truth, I am doing more than simply surviving. I am living.

Of the articles I have recently written, posts about celebrating various aspects of life outnumber my posts about grief, which puzzles me since I am not feeling at all festive. When you lose the person who connects you to the world, you have to find new ways of reconnecting to life, and apparently those celebratory posts are indicative of the changes in me, of how on a visceral level, my focus is turning away from death to life.

For so long, I didn’t feel right about embracing life when he was dead. I knew he wouldn’t want me to be sad, but frankly, he had no say in the matter, and for the most part, neither did I. Grief is a force, like a whirlwind, and all I could do was endure as best as I could until it lost its power. Even when the power of grief began waning, I still didn’t feel right about embracing life. It’s not so much that I had survivor’s guilt (especially since I wasn’t sure I still wanted to be here), but that it didn’t seem fair. If life is a gift, why was it taken from him?

Maybe he got the worst end of the deal by having to die so young. Maybe I got the worst end of the deal by having to live. This conundrum of who got the worst of the deal tormented me for a long time, but now I see that it doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. He died. I didn’t. That’s the way things are.

I’m starting to see myself as just me now, not as a shattered, left-behind half of a couple; starting to feel that whatever our life together meant, whatever our connection, this is my life. Not his. Not ours. Mine.

On a larger scale, perhaps, there is no such thing as “my life” and “his life” and “your life.” Maybe we are all somehow connected, like books on a library shelf, our stories interlocking and making a whole. But I cannot think of that larger scale right now. I need to be me, or rather, to find a new way of being, and oddly, this seems to be a typical leg in grief’s journey. I am taking a yoga class (therapy yoga, a gentler form of yoga that allows for one’s imitations) as part of my effort to open myself to new possibilities, and I recently discovered that, coincidentally, all the women in the class have lost their husbands. Our losses vary from one to ten years, but we are all striving for a new way of being, a new focus. We are also all trying to learn how to take care of ourselves in our old age since we won’t be growing old with anyone.

Whether I count the days or not, time is still passing, and at an increasingly rapid rate. On September 16, 2015, it will be 2000 days since his death. (No, I didn’t count those days, I used a decimal birthday counter.) What will I be like in another 1000 days? What will my life be like? If the changes come as rapidly as in the previous 1000 days, I doubt I will recognize me. Whatever happens, though, the number of days since I was born into this new life that his death forced on me, has little significance except as another guidepost. Each day stands alone. Each day finds its own meaning. Each day is mine to survive, or to celebrate, as best as I can.


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+

There is Something Totally Bizarre About Grief

Sometimes grief strikes me as being totally bizarre. For example, the eighteen-month mark is particularly difficult, sometimes even more so than the one-year anniversary. I do not know why, I just know that it is because so many of us bereft experience the same thing. In my case, for a couple weeks around the eighteen-month mark, I felt as I had during the first months after my life mate/soul mate died. Somehow, someway, it seemed as if he just died. And maybe in a way, he had. Grief is a journey of starts and stops, retracing steps, standing still to catch your breath, and then being pushed into the future again. Each step forward in grief’s journey is a step further away from our loved one, a step further away from the last time we talked, or hugged, or smiled at each other. Now, all we have left of them are our memories, and as each memory fades, a bit more of our loved ones die.

But such incremental deaths do not explain the upsurge of grief at eighteen months. (Here’s an ironic twist — I googled “Why is there an upsurge of grief at eighteen months? And the top three links that came up were links to this blog.) Oddly this upsurge is not a conscious one. I knew the date, of course, but I had no expectation of feeling any different at eighteen months than I had at seventeen months, so once again, grief took me by surprise. But the upsurge happens even if you lose track of time.

I received this email from a bereft friend today: I woke up crying at 6 this morning and didn’t stop until after noon. This reminds me of those months right after he died. I haven’t had such severe morning cries for a long time. I guess I might be heading into that upsurge a little earlier than expected.

I emailed her back, saying she was right on time since this was her eighteenth month.

Her response: Good grief. Time is losing meaning for me. I’ve been thinking my 18th month starts in February. I guess I’ve been subconsciously trying to avoid it.

See? Even when you get the date wrong, your body knows. There really is something totally bizarre about grief.

I Am a Twelve-Month Grief Survivor

Twelve months.

One full year.

It seems impossible that my life mate — my soul mate — has been gone for so long. It seems even more impossible that I’ve survived.

His death came as no surprise. I’d seen all the end signs: his unending restlessness, his inability to swallow, his disorientation, his wasting away to nothing, the change in his breathing. Nor did my reaction come as a surprise. I was relieved he’d finally been able to let go and that his suffering (and the indignities of dying) had stopped. I was relieved his worst fear (lingering or a long time as a helpless invalid) had not had a chance to materialize. What did come as a surprise was my grief. I’d had years to come to terms with his dying. I’d gone through all the stages of grief, so I thought the only thing left was to get on with my life. And yet . . . there it was. His death seemed to have created a rupture in the very fabric of my being — a soulquake. The world felt skewed with him gone, and I had a hard time gaining my balance. Even now, I sometimes experience a moment of panic, as if I am setting a foot onto empty space when I expected solid ground.

I have no idea how I survived the first month, the second, the twelfth. All I know is that I did survive. I’m even healing. I used to think “healing” was an odd word to use in conjunction with grief since grief is not an illness, but I have learned that what needs to heal is that rupture — one cannot continue to live for very long with a bloody psyche. The rupture caused by his dying doesn’t yawn as wide as it once did, and the raw edges are finally scarring over. I don’t steel myself against the pain of living as I had been. I’m even looking forward, curious to what the future holds in store for me.

Strangely, I am not ashamed of all the tears I’ve shed this past year, nor am I ashamed of making it known how much I’ve mourned. The tears themselves are simply a way of easing the terrible stress of grief, a way of releasing chemicals that built because of the stress. And by making my grief public, I’ve met so many wonderful people who are also undertaking this journey.

I’ve been saying all along that I’d be okay eventually, but the truth is, despite the lingering sorrow, my yearning for him, and the upsurges in grief, I am doing okay now.

I expected this to be a day of sadness, but it is one of gladness. I am glad he shared his life (and his death) with me. Glad we had so many years together. Glad we managed to say everything that was necessary while we still had time. Tomorrow will be soon enough to try to figure out what I am going to do now that my first year of mourning is behind me. Today I am going to watch one of his favorite movies, eat a bowl of his chili (his because he created the recipe, his because he was the one who always fixed it), and celebrate his life.