A Retrospective of Grief

Another 27th. This is the 46th twenty-seventh of the month I have survived since the death of my life mate/soul mate death on March 27, 2010. At the beginning of my grief, each minute, hour, day seemed unfathomably long. I felt as if I lived years during that first month. I still don’t understand how I made it through that eon. The pain started out unbearable and got progressively worse. Each breath took such effort that it seemed as if it would be easier to stop breathing altogether. And yet I continued to breathe, one agonizing gulp of air at a time.

For the first three years, I could feel the grief surging as each twenty-seventh crept up on me, but today I only knew the date by the calendar. Even so, I might not have noticed if I hadn’t advanced his perpetual calendar.

perpetual calendarAbout a month before he died, he told me he wanted me to keep the calendar. It was special to him — a family heirloom and a relic of his childhood — and he didn’t want me to throw it away with the rest of his effects. Which I probably would have done. I thought such calendars silly because if you don’t remember to advance the calendar each day, the calendar loses its effectiveness. He, of course, had the discipline to advance the calendar. No matter where we lived, no matter the state of his health or the stresses of our life, he always advanced the calendar first thing every morning.

And now so do I. It has become a way of honoring his life, of remembering him, of being connected to him in a small way. For a long time, I felt connected to him through grief. (Odd, that. It was the feeling of being disconnected from him that grieved me in the first place.) Now that my grief has waned, there is nothing to connect me to him. Unlike many who have lost someone important to them, I have never had a visitation, a sign, any indication that he still exists somewhere. He is simply gone — gone from my life, anyway.

The tears are gone, too.

It seems strange now that I grieved so deeply. I can barely remember loving someone so profoundly that his death tore me apart. Can barely remember that shattered woman who screamed her pain to the uncaring winds. Was that really me or simply a character in the book of my life? (I meant this as a metaphor, but I did write a book about my life, or rather my life of grief. That seems strange, too.)

We live each day as it comes, deal with each pain and sorrow, and somehow, through the years, we become something other than we were. I am no longer a schoolgirl dealing with the small dramas of grades, cliques, unacceptance. No longer a young woman desperately and radiantly in love with a man. No longer an adult struggling to live while her soul mate was dying. No longer a grieving woman.

At the moment, I am thrust in the role of caregiver for my 97-year-old father and homeless brother, but someday, I won’t be this woman, either. I don’t know what will become of me, don’t know what I will become (other than older), but chances are, I still will be advancing that ancient calendar in honor of the life that meant so much to me.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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.