I Thought I Was Through With Grief, But Grief Wasn’t Through With Me

I’d planned to stop writing about grief. Someone I respect said, “There comes a time when it’s healthy for one to move on and drop the grief banner. It comes at different times for different people and it is an important part of the healing process.” I thought I was at that point. I’ve been getting on with my life, living each day as it comes, dealing with the loneliness, seeing the whole of our shared life rather than the terrible end.

For the most part, we had a good relationship. We were friends, life mates, and business partners. We helped each other grow. We never expected the other to fix our individual problems, though we often took each other’s advice. We didn’t cling, demand, or base our relationship on unrealistic expectations. Together we provided a safe environment where each of us could be ourselves. We supported each other in any way we could. And we enjoyed being together.

Long-term illness, however, skews a relationship. Over the years, our world kept getting smaller and smaller, trapping us in a life where neither his needs nor mine were being met. In that constricted world, small betrayals loomed large. Small disagreements seemed insurmountable. And there was guilt galore. After he died, I worked through all of those leftover problems, came to a greater understanding of our relationship and what his ill health had done to us, and finally realized we both acted the only way we could in such an untenable situation. I also dealt with the soul searing pain of loss, with the confusing physical symptoms. (Like falling in love, falling in grief causes changes in hormones and brain chemistry, and creates incredible stress, but unlike love, you can’t regulate those changes with sex. Unless you’re into necrophilia.)

I thought I was through with grief, but grief wasn’t through with me. There was no great realization, no lightning bolt of discovery, just the truth settling into my soul: I’ll never see him again in this lifetime.

Seems an obvious conclusion, doesn’t it? I’ve been saying for fifteen months that he’s gone, though I always accompanied the statement with a bewildered remark about not being able to fathom the sheer goneness of him. And yet somehow, someway, in the dark recesses of my mind, I felt as if we were on a break, as if I’d come to take care of my father for a while, just as I did for my mother, and soon I’d be going back to our life. It didn’t help that, when I drove away from our home for the last time, his car was sitting out in front as it always did when I left. (I’d donated it to hospice, and they hadn’t yet come to pick it up.) Nor did it help that I’d made this same trip, stayed in this same room several times before.

I’ve often listened for the phone, hoping he’d call to ask me to come home as he’d once done, but now I know the truth, I feel it.

Eleven months ago I wrote: I dread the time it hits me deep down in my soul that he is dead, that I will never be going home to him, that I will never see him again. Well, this is that time. There are no more issues to work through, guilt to suffer, or blame to lay. No more feelings of being rejected or abandoned (as if it were his choice to leave me). There is no more stress or gut-wrenching pain. Just pure and simple heartbreak. And silent tears.

Grief Update: A Yearning as Deep as the Black Canyon

I haven’t been writing much about grief lately. Partly I’ve been trying to keep an upbeat attitude so I can focus on promoting my new book, Light Bringer, which was published on the anniversary of my soul mate’s death, and partly I haven’t wanted to admit how much his being gone still hurts. It seems a bit pathetic since there are so many earthshaking and earthquaking events happening in the world today, and it has been more than a year since he died (a year and fifteen days to be exact). I am doing okay, but I still feel his absence from the earth, still miss him, still yearn for one more word or one more smile.

Fridays and Saturdays are particularly hard. He died at 1:40 am on a Friday night (which made the actually date a Saturday) and my body can’t decide which day is the right time to mourn, so my upsurge of grief spans both days. I say my body can’t decide, because there is an element of physicality to grief, especially when it comes to the death of someone who shared more than three decades of your life. You feel his absence in your cells, in your marrow, in your blood. I can sometimes feel (or imagine I feel) his vibes still surrounding the things he used, the things we shared. I find myself stupidly hugging a dish before I use it, remembering him eating off that plate.

Most of our stuff is packed away because of my temporary living arrangements. Yesterday, I felt a moment of panic when I realized that eventually I would unpack and begin using our household goods, and I would feel his energy permeating them. Usage will dissipate that energy, but for now, it’s still there. Perhaps when I need those items, the psychic remnants of him will bring me comfort, the way using a few of our things bring me comfort now, but it could just as easily set off a whole new strata of pain.

But I won’t — can’t — think of that. It still takes almost everything I have just to get through the days, to concentrate on this day. I can live today. What is one day without him when we had so many? I am most at peace when I forget that he is dead, when somewhere in the far reaches of my mind I feel that he is back in the house we shared, waiting for me. It’s not that I can’t live without him. I can. It’s that the world is such an alien place now that he is gone. I still remember how right the world felt when I met him. I had no expectations of having any more of him than that first relationship of customer (me) and storeowner (him), but back then, just knowing a person such as he existed made the world a more radiant place. When he died, he took the radiance with him.

It’s sort of odd, but I can’t identify that specific quality of radiance he brought to my life. He was sick for so very long, we gradually untwinned our lives, he to dying, me to aloneness. And yet, that connection, that depth, that radiance remained until the end. In his last weeks we even found a renewed closeness, a renewed commitment, but before that, we endured months, maybe years of unhappiness.

And, childishly, I am still unhappy. I want what I cannot have. I try to find in myself the radiance (the center? the heart? the home? — whatever it was that he gave me). I will need that to keep me going through the coming decades, and I fear I am not enough. At times, I think I have depths enough to plumb, other times those depths seem an illusion, an opaqueness that masks my shallows.

But what isn’t shallow is how much I miss him. That yearning is as deep as the Black Canyon.

The Gift of Possibilities

I have been given a very special and unwelcome gift this year — the gift of possibilities.

Thirty-eight weeks ago my life mate — my soulmate — died. During the previous few years, the constraints of his illness bound our lives, and it felt as if we were doomed to an eternity of decreasing possibilities. Every day he became weaker, could do less, had fewer options. We could not plan for our future, knowing each day was all he might have. We could not even spend much time together — it took all his strength and concentration just to make it through another hour.

And so we lived. Waited.

His death brought enormous changes to my life, but during these months of grief, I have focused on the  impossibilities. It is impossible for him to come back to me and it’s impossible for me go home to him. It’s impossible for us ever to have another conversation, watch a movie, play a game, take a trip, start over in a new location as we so often did during our decades together. It’s impossible for me to stop missing him, impossible to conceive of living in a world from which he is absent. It’s been impossible, too, to concede that perhaps my life could be easier without him. What difference does that make when our being together was all that ever mattered to me?

And yet, and yet . . .

I am getting glimmers of myself now, myself alone. I no longer have the financial and emotional burden of his illness. I am no longer weighted down by my own grief, though it is still a part of me, and probably always will be.

I still feel as if I am waiting, but I’m beginning to feel as if I’m waiting for something rather than simply waiting, though I don’t know what I am waiting for. I do know that — slowly — the world of possibility is opening up to me again. I might not be able to do whatever I want — people are so wrong when they say anything is possible — but many things are probable when you’ve been given the gift of possibilities.