Patterns of Grief

I’d like to clarify what yesterday’s post, Challenges of the Fourth Year of Grief, was all about. I did not mean to imply that everyone’s grief is the same, that we all face the same challenges, and I especially did not mean to imply that these “challenges” are stages people are going through or will go through. I am not a therapist or a grief counselor, so of course I don’t know how a wide range of grievers feel. Nor am I dispensing advice. I do have many friends who are pretty much on the same grief track that I am, however, and all I did was express publicly the things we are talking about privately.

I certainly am not trying to undermine the grief community’s efforts to get rid of the whole “Stages of Grief” mindset. I have railed against the stages of grief from the beginning. Kubler-Ross’s supposed stages of grief do not in any way reflect what my friends and I have gone through and continue to go through, which is why I started writing about grief in the first place — to provide a more realistic view of grief, even if it is just a recounting of my own grief experiences.

Even though everyone’s grief is different, there are still patterns of similarity.

For example, most of us (most of my friends, that is, not most grievers) are being swept by an inordinate need for adventure. This need seems to be a reflection of our birth age as well as our grief age (by grief age I mean how long it’s been since our mates have died). Younger woman still have families to care for, and in older women the need for adventure seems muted (though several have admitted to being more adventuresome then when they were married). Maybe it’s the long, empty, years that stretch before me and my friends that make adventure a necessity. Maybe it’s that grief is so epic that only an epic adventure can make us come alive. I truly don’t know where this need for adventure comes from, but the truth is, most of the women I know who are on the same grief track as I am, desperately crave adventure. Again, I don’t mean to imply that all grievers go through this, but it is a pattern, and more than anything else, I am drawn to patterns.

Which is all I was doing by describing some of the little known challenges of grief — showing a pattern.

And one of the patterns I found is that during the fourth year, most of the people I know did make the big disconnect from their mates, realizing in the depth of their being that we are each on our own path, and that whatever we do or do not do cannot affect the deceased. We only have to deal with ourselves. This understanding is why so many women wake up on the fourth anniversary to find a renewed interest in life. Maybe find they are happy. Maybe find they are in love with life again. For some people, of course, this understanding comes much later, occasionally earlier, and sometimes not at all.

The truth is, no matter what the pattern of grief, your own or someone else’s, grief is hard work. Sometimes it’s nice to know how others feel. It’s especially nice to know that we aren’t alone in how we feel.


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.

Where My Books Originated

Last night, while working on an online interview to be posted in a few weeks on a book interview site, I had an interesting epiphany. (Interesting to me, anyway.) I’ve written one non-fiction book about grief and four suspense novels, which at first glance are all completely different from one another. I did know the four novels had similar themes, but since the grief book was a personal account of my first year of grief rather than an imaginative story, I didn’t think it had anything in common with my fiction, but it does.

The unifying theme in all of my books is the perennial question: Who are we? More Deaths Than One suggests we are our memories. A Spark of Heavenly suggests we are the sum total of our experiences and choices. Daughter Am I suggests we are our heritage. Light Bringer suggests we are otherworldly. And Grief: The Great Yearning suggests we are what we love.


I’m also a bit of an iconoclast, and my books reflect that character.

Both More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire debunk much of what we know about our shared past, especially when it comes to government control and human experimentation. (We have entrusted our lives to men and women who have not only not protected us from willful harm but instead have sold us out for . . . quite frankly, I’m still not sure what they sold us out for. Cash, in some cases, I’m sure. Power and political position, probably. The good of the whole at the expense of the few, possibly.)

Daughter Am I debunks some of the gangster myths that have been propagated by Hollywood.

Light Bringer debunks UFO myths, while at the same time postulates a greater UFO mystery.

And Grief: The Great Yearning debunks many of the myths about grief we have come to accept as truth.

The grief stages that Kübler-Ross proposed often don’t hold true for someone who has suffered a grievous loss, such as a child or a soul mate. In fact, those stages represented what she observed in terminal patients grieving for themselves and their own life. The final stage is acceptance, and acceptance of one’s own death is completely different from acceptance of another’s. I can learn to live without my soul mate and even accept it. I can admit that death relieved him of his suffering, but it is not my place to accept his death, since acceptance carries a connotation of it being okay, and I will never believe that it is okay for him to be dead. (For articles about the real stages of grief, see: The Mythic Stages of Grief, Grief and Lingering Feelings of Resentment, and Why “Grief: The Great Yearning” is Important.)

I suppose it makes sense that the same themes appear in all my books, no matter what the subject matter is since they all originated in the same place: a questioning mind that has often pondered the questions: Who are we? and What is life all about?


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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

The Silent Language of Grief

The so-called five stages of grief are so ingrained that most people think that’s all there is to grief. You deny, you get angry, you feel pain and guilt (and sometimes you bargain for the return of your loved one), you feel depressed, and finally, you accept. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? A brief checklist of stages, and then you get on with your life.

But grief is not that simple. First, those stages were described by Kübler-Ross to show how people come to terms with their own death and perhaps that of a loved one. It bears little resemblance to how people grieve after the death of a long time mate. Sure, we bereft have moments of anger, times of depression, some feelings of guilt, but most of us undergo a completely different set of stages, such as shock, bewilderment, hopelessness, loss of identity, anxiety, panic, isolation, loneliness, yearning. (For most of us, not anger or guilt but a vast yearning to see our mates once more drives our grief.) We also have physical changes to cope with that aren’t addressed in the Kübler-Ross model, such as immune system deficiencies, stress, dizziness, nausea, changes in brain chemistry, hormone disturbances, loss of equilibrium, and a higher death rate from all causes than non-grievers.

Still, whatever stages of grief a person goes through, there does come a time when you accept the truth deep in the marrow of your being — he is gone forever. You think this acceptance signifies the end of your grief, but do you want to know what often lies on the other side of acceptance? Heartbreak and tears. Sure, there are times of peace as you become used to your aloneness, but acceptance feels like another death, and it needs to be grieved. (It’s one thing to know he’s never coming back, and another thing to KNOW it. This acceptance is why the second year of grieving is often worse than the first year.)

Grief is a way of processing information. We know our loved one is absent, but is it possible to comprehend how very gone he is? To understand the nature and finality of death? Perhaps not, but by feeling the pain of separation and releasing it through tears, we can come to accept (however unwillingly) the idea that our loved one is gone from this earth.

It’s been sixty-nine weeks since my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I still have bouts of tears. I was always a stoic and believed in facing reality, but this is one reality I cannot comprehend. I try to conjure him up in my mind, but he is forever out of reach. Forever gone.

According to Voltaire, “Tears are the silent language of grief.” When we have no words to describe our loss, when we have no way of comprehending the incomprehensible, all we have left are tears to communicate to us the depth of that knowledge and the depth of our loss. And so I weep.

Advice to the Newly Bereft

A couple of newly bereft joined the grief group I go to, and seeing how lost and bewildered they are showed me how far I have come these past months. I’ve reached a modicum of peace (though I still have moments of intense grief) and I don’t feel quite so lost and bewildered.

The Kubler-Ross formula for grief is so ingrained in all of us that we think those are the only stages of grief, but I have discovered dozens of phases more universal and potent than denial, guilt, anger, depression. Loss and bewilderment are two such phases. They are major components of grief, though I haven’t found them listed anywhere as a stage the bereft have to deal with.

The worst problem of grief, of course, is that someone who was a vital part of our life is dead. The second worst problem is that we are flooded with so many emotions, topped off with excruciating pain, that it is almost impossible to sort everything out. All these emotions gridlock the brain’s synapses, and we are left feeling lost and alone and totally bewildered. Where did our loved one go? How can he no longer be here? How can the world continue without his presence? How can I continue without his support and love? How can he be so very gone?

That “loss” everyone tells us they are sorry for is not our loved ones. Our loved ones are not lost, not misplaced; they are dead. We bereft are the ones who are lost. Whatever place we thought we had in the world is gone, perhaps forever. The world is different without our loved ones, and this is especially so if the dead we loved was a life partner, a soul mate. They’d become such a part of the fabric of our lives, of our very being, that when death rips them from us, we no longer recognize ourselves. We wander lost, bewildered, in this alien world. Some people manage to find themselves again, others become so changed they never find their way back.

I’d gone through the typical stages of grief before my life mate — my soul mate — died. I’d denied, raged, bargained, accepted, so that I thought I was “over” him, that after his death, my life would continue, sadder, but not much different. The depth of my grief, my loss, my pain, my bewilderment stunned me. I’d gone through all the stages of grief, so I should be okay, right? Wrong. Real grief begins where those so-called stages of grief leave off. Those stages of grief were first noted as the way people learned to accept their coming death, and they bear only a shadow of a resemblance to what those left behind experience.

My life mate and I used to talk about who had it worse — I thought he had it worse because he was the one suffering. He thought I had it worse. It turns out he was right. His suffering is over, but mine will last the rest of my life. My grief will continue to change, to go through additional changes, will abate, might even be forgotten at times, but it is now a part of my life.

And he is not.

That is the crux of the issue, the cause of all that bewilderment, pain, and loss. How do you live with someone who is no longer there? How do you live without them? Here’s how: you find comfort wherever you can, however you can. (Besides drink and recreational drugs, that is.) No matter what you do to get through the worst of your pain, no matter how crazy it is, be assured that others have done it, too. Hug the urn with his ashes, carry his identification, smell or cuddle or wear his clothes, talk to him, scream for him, cover the wall with his photos, write to him, write blogs about your grief. Do whatever it takes to get you through, because, as hard as it is to accept, you are still alive.

Grief Update — Throwing a Tantrum

I haven’t blogged about grief recently. Actually, I haven’t blogged about anything for a while. I’m in a transitional stage — not sure what I’m feeling, not sure what direction I want to go with this blog, not sure what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’ve been purposely thinking of other things than the death of my soul mate, though grief does geyser up without my volition now and again, especially on Saturdays, the day of the week he died. Even if I’m not consciously aware of that day, still, nine and a half months later, something in me acknowledges the date, and sadness grabs hold of me.

Except not this Saturday. This Saturday (yesterday), I wanted to throw myself on the ground and beat the floor in a full-fledged tantrum. I’ve never thrown a tantrum in my life, but if I’d been someplace where no one could hear me, I would have made an exception. I wanted desperately to talk to him. His death was the most significant aspect of our lives since the day we met, and he’s not here for us to compare notes. I want know how he’s doing. I want to know what he’s doing. Is he doing anything, feeling anything? Or is he drifting on a sea of light, like a newborn star?

It seems impossible that he’s gone, and the simple truth is that I don’t want him to be dead. Sure, I can handle it. Sure, I can deal with living the rest of my life alone. Sure, I can do whatever I need to do. But I don’t want to. I want him. I want to see him. I want to see his smile. I want . . . I want . . . I want . . . All those wants erupted Saturday night, hence the desire to throw a tantrum.

I’ve never heard of tantrum as a phase of grief, but I’ve never heard of most of the stages I’ve gone through. My grief cycle does not at all resemble the stages defined by Kubler Ross. Hers is a simplistic view of grief when in fact grief is a cyclical emotional and physical quagmire. The frequency of my grief eruptions has diminished, and so has the worst of my pain, but the hole his death created in my life remains. I try filling the emptiness with physical activity, talking to people, reading, writing, even eating, but nothing fills the want.

How can someone who was so much a part of my life be gone? Even if he is waiting for me on the other side of eternity, he’s still gone from this life. And I don’t want him to be. I want . . . I want . . . I want . . .

Clear the area. I feel a tantrum coming on.

I Am a Four-Month Grief Survivor

People who have not suffered a devastating loss don’t understand grief, and those who have suffered such a loss often cannot describe what they are going through. No wonder few writers are able to accurately portray a grieving person.

I read a novel the other day about a woman who lost her husband, and the only acknowledgment of her grief was a single sentence: She went through all five of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. I wish grief were that simple, that clinical, but grief is one of the most complicated — and agonizing — states a person will ever suffer. There are not just five stages of grief, or even seven. There seems to be an infinite shading of emotions in the process we call grief, and Kubler-Ross’s stages form the merest scaffolding.

We bereft feel do feel shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, depression, and perhaps acceptance (I say perhaps because I can’t vouch for acceptance since I have not yet reached such a stage. In fact, I fight it — what right do I have to say it’s acceptable for my life mate to have died?). We also feel anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, despair, helplessness, panic, questioning (both as a need to know why and as a cry of pain), loss or gain of faith, loss of identity, loss of self-esteem, identifying with the deceased (taking on their characteristics or wearing their clothes), resentment, bitterness, isolation,  inability to focus, suspended animation, waiting for we know not what, envy of those who are still coupled or who have yet to suffer a loss. And we suffer myriad physical symptoms such as queasiness, dizziness, sleep problems (too much or too little), eating problems (too much or too little), bone-deep pain, inability at times to breath or swallow, exhaustion, lack of energy, restlessness, and seemingly endless bouts of tears.

Even worse, we do not move through these stages one at a time as if it were a checklist, but we experience several emotions and ailments at once. Worst of all, we visit each of these states again and again. I suppose there is an end to this spiral of grief, but I am so far from seeing the closing stages that I have to put my head down and endure however I can.

If there were a market for tears, I would be a very rich woman.

Every time I think I’m getting on solid footing, something happens to slam me back into the black hole of grief. The hardest times to get through are the day of the week he died (Saturday) and the day of the month (the 27th). Sometimes unexpectedly coming across a note in his handwriting reminds me of all I am missing. Other times such a find makes me feel close to him. There is no logic to grief. It has its own timetable, its own method, and whenever I think I understand the process, grief changes its tactics.

I am a private person (at least I was until grief turned my life inside out) and not a joiner. But after he died, I was in such unbearable pain I didn’t know what to do, so I went to a bereavement group sponsored by Hospice. When I relocated, I started in with a new group. It’s good to be with people who understand, who have suffered what I am suffering. It’s good to know that one can survive. It’s good to see a bit of life growing in the cracks of grief.

You’d think that after all this, I would know what to say to someone who has suffered a loss similar to mine, but I am as tongue-tied as the uninitiated. A friend recently lost her mate of two decades, and all I had to offer her were my tears.

So much sadness. So much anguish. I still don’t know how any of us get through this, but we do.


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.