Grief Is Unique to Each Person

My mother, far right, on her 60th wedding anniversary

My mother, far right, on her 60th wedding anniversary

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 91 if she had lived. Her life wasn’t cut short, nor was her death a tragedy — she’d lived a long life, and for the most part, her death wasn’t particularly horrendous. And even at the end of her life, she managed to get one last wish — to reach her 60th wedding anniversary.

One of the things so confusing about grief is the various lengths of lives and loves. Do you feel more grief if you’d been together for 60 years as my parents were? Do you feel less grief if you’d been together a matter of months?

I was with my soul mate for thirty-four years before death took him. After he died, I’d look at couples like my parents, and I’d envy them their long togetherness, but then I’d look at couples who had been torn apart before they ever had a chance to settle into their lives, and I would be grateful for the years I had with him.

Despite my envy/gratitude, I’ve concluded that when it comes to the loss of a mate, the length of time you were together isn’t a factor in your grief because you always grieve the entire life — everything you had and everything you didn’t have. If you’ve been together for most of your life, there is more of the past to grieve. If you had little time together, you grieve for all you never had. And in my case, I grieved for both the past and the future.

Many other factors are more important than the length of time you had together when it comes to grief. The depth of the connection matters, as does the interdependency of your lives. If you count on two paychecks to pay the bills, for example, and one of those paychecks evaporates, financial fear adds to one’s grief. If you are each other’s support group, providing a sounding board or hugs when necessary, then the loss of that support when you need it most adds to grief. Complications in the relationship can add to grief because you lose any chance of ever smoothing things out. Quick deaths add to grief because of the horrendous shock, and long dyings add to grief because of all the guilt and regrets that built up. And if you lose your mate when you’re relatively young, then you face many years without him, which adds to your grief.

All of these things combine to make grief unique to each person, but what isn’t unique is the sense of loss, the yearning, the hanging on the best we can until life opens up to us once again or until we find peace at the end.


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+

Codependency or Interdependency?

Several months ago when I was steeped in grief, I found comfort in the thought that my deceased life mate — my soul mate — was at peace, but then it occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t, that if there was some sort of life after death perhaps he felt as split apart as I did. According to one minister I talked to, my mate could be having problems depending on how codependent he was. Whatever that means. I thought a relationship was about being dependent on each other, and we were. At least until our last year together when we began untwinning our lives so we could go our separate ways — he to death, me to continued life. That’s also why my grief shocked me so much—I thought we had untwinned even before he died.

Shortly after that conversation with the minister, a woman who should have known better accused me of being codependent because I was having such a hard time learning to live without my life mate. (The truth is, I knew how to live without him because I was doing it. What I was having a hard time with was wanting to live without him. Life, of course, doesn’t care what we want, and I continued on to where now I am — mostly “healed.” ) But still, there was that C word again.

I can see that people would have questions about codependency considering how bereft I was without him and how lost I felt, but when he was alive, we were never obsessed with each other, though we were connected in so many ways. We were friends, life mates, and business partners. We always wanted what was best for the other. 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. And we supported each other any way we could. Yes, we were dependent on each other, but isn’t that what life is all about?

Long-term illness, however, does skew a relationship. Over the years, our world kept getting smaller and smaller, trapping us in a terrible situation where neither his nor my needs were being met. To that extent, perhaps, we were codependent, staying together when others might not have, but what is wrong with that? Still, I’ve felt foolish at times admitting my need for him. In this world that prizes independence so much, it seemed immature and self-indulgent.

But, as one commenter on my Grief is NOT Self-Indulgent post said, “There is nothing foolish in dependence. The foolishness lies in the notion that we are not co-dependant on each other. We are a co-dependant vulnerable species who waste a whole lot of time and cause ourselves much suffering by pretending we are not. There are many reasons why we perpetuate this denial but just as we are dependant on the earth for our physical health so are we dependant on each other for our emotional health.

“Personally I feel there is a strong connection between people not understanding grief and those same people not understanding just how precious and vital their relationships are. Every day I see people not recognizing the value of each other. It often amazes me how much we deny our dependence on each other . . .  we don’t even like the word dependant. Perhaps that is why grief is so hard to witness for then our dependence is there in the open smacking us in the face.” (She developed this idea into a blog post The Illusion of Independence at Leesis Ponders.)

Well, I no longer have to worry about whether we were codependent or interdependent. I am independent now. His death freed me, but for what? I still have to figure that out.