Preparing for a Life Mate’s Death

People often ask me how they can prepare themselves to cope with the eventual death of their spouse, but there is no way to ever prepare yourself for such an eventuality. You cannot imagine how you will feel when they die — it truly is unimaginable — so the best thing you can do is spend time with them now, enjoy what you have together, and let the end take care of itself. If you prepare now for what you imagine you will feel then, you will miss the very things that will get you through the pain and loneliness — creating memories, knowing you did the best for your loved one that you could, having no regrets as to your actions.

The truth is, grief at the loss of a spouse is so great and so all-consuming, that it changes you into the person who will be able to live without your mate. Not at first, of course. There is no way to prepare for the pain you will feel. But as time goes on, you will become the person you need to be and you will learn to embrace life again. Even the loneliness will become bearable.

It is not our choice who lives and who dies, but we can choose to live despite their death. I have met many widows and widowers since I lost my life mate, and every one of them eventually found a way not only to survive, but to thrive.

While dealing with the horrendous loss of their mates, while still grieving well into their second and third year, women have traveled the world alone to honor their husband’s dream. By themselves, they have closed up the house they lived in for twenty years and moved halfway across the country. They have put in irrigation systems, have finished building a house, have written books, have taken up painting, have gone back to school, have started businesses, have blogged about their grief. They have made new friends. They have worked to support themselves and their families, and to pay the medical bills their husbands left behind. They have welcomed grown children back into their homes, helped take care of newborns and elderly parents. All while dealing with active grief.

Just as you cannot imagine how you will feel, you cannot imagine who you will become. So, try not to imagine the unimaginable. Celebrate what you still have, and if the day comes when you are left alone, you will be able to do whatever you need to do.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

To Everyone Who Has Shared This Day With Me

I am always touched by the comments left on this blog from those who are also struggling to live and find meaning after the death of the one person who meant more than anyone else in the world. So often I feel as if I am merely indulging myself by continuing to chronicle my progress through grief and into a renewed interest in life, especially when all I have are dreams and tentative plans that might come to naught. The comments left here show me how narcissusconnected we are, those of us on this difficult path. Although our situations are different, although our grief is individual, many of us face the same blank future that we need to color with dreams, goals, fantasies, interests, and especially a renewed love of life.

It’s as if we are children again, carefully building our futures one dream at a time. As when we were children, these dreams might not come true, but they help us expand our “what is” into new paths of “what might be.”

It could be our time of life that makes this struggle so complex. Although young widows have the same struggles we do, life is still rushing in their veins. Often they have small children, which makes their loss at once easier and more difficult — easier because they have built-in meaning so they don’t have to go searching for it, more difficult because they have to raise the children alone without that special person to share in the joys (and worries) of caring for the young ones. (Please know I am not denigrating anyone’s loss. All losses are unbearably painful, but each of us has our own unique set of collateral losses to deal with.)

As we age, we lose many things we counted on, not just people but jobs, stamina, health, and we need to find a way around these limitations to some sort of revitalization otherwise the last decades of our life would be nothing more than waiting for entropy to win. When grief and the destruction of a shared life are thrown into the mix, it’s even more difficult to find a way through the murk to joy.

And yet, somehow we do find our way. Today is the 47th 27th since the death of my life mate/soul mate. (For those of you who are arithmetic-challenged, that means in one month it will be four years since his death on March 27, 2010.) Despite my complicated and sometimes stressful situation — looking after my 97-year-old father and dysfunctional brother — I am happier than I ever imagined I could be four years ago. And I expect to become even happier.

Life is full with new friends, new activities (mostly physical pursuits, which is odd considering that until recently, I preferred a more literary life), and new dreams.

None of us knows what the future holds, but those of us who have survived a profound loss seem especially aware of that truism, and we try to live each day to its fullest. It’s all we have. It’s all anyone has — this day.

To everyone who has shared this day with me, whether in person or online with a comment, thank you. You have made this day a joyful one.

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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.

Life After the Death of a Soul Mate

What I love most about blogging is that sometimes when I start writing a post, new or buried thoughts percolate to the surface, ending up on the page and surprising me with insights. Yesterday, when I wrote Living Offline, I had no idea I was starting to look forward to the rest of my life. I’ve kept my head down, plodding along, trying new things, meeting new people, visiting new places, and apparently, somewhere along the line, I went through a renewal of sorts.

Many people who had gone through a grievous loss have told me that it takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life, and so it is with me. In just a few days, it will be three years and seven months since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I find myself involved deeply in life, not just with such difficult matters as looking out for my 96-year-old father and dealing with problematic family members, but also with taking care of myself and my well-being.

Sierra Club conditioning walkI’m physically active, eat right, and have accidentally become part of an intelligent and talented coterie. I say “accidentally” because when I joined a group of walkers, I didn’t expect to end up going to art shows that feature members’ work, hearing one member in a choir of madrigal singers, and seeing others dance. Because of these people, I’ve also learned not to fear old age. Although people of all ages walk with us, some of the most active members could be considered elderly, but I can barely keep up with those in their seventies. I have no idea what life has is in store for me, of course, but I do know that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean getting feeble. It just takes a bit of luck and a lot of physical activity and mental stimulation.

Grief goes in cycles, so chances are I will still be experiencing occasional grief surges (especially on the weekends when I can’t feast on the endorphins and friendship of the group walk), but now I know the truth: there is life after the death of the person who connected you to the world. There is even laughter. Maybe even joy.

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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.