Although I have experienced many losses in my life, the one I talk about is the death of my life mate because that is the big one. The one that devastated me. The one that catapulted me into pain beyond imagining. The one that destroyed life as I knew it as well as all our hopes, our plans, our shared dreams of a golden old age.
It’s also the grief that’s most incomprehensible to outsiders. (For that matter, it’s often incomprehensible to those who are living it, which is why I’ve spent so many words over the past nine years trying to explain how grief for a life mate feels.) Such grief is frequently minimized by witnesses. Partly, the uninitiated can’t believe it’s that bad — after all, they too have experienced grief and their life went on, so the griever’s life should too. And partly, they cannot face the idea that they might also be hit by such devastation, so they have to minimize other people’s grief to minimize their own fears.
All this adds pain upon pain. Not only are the grievers faced with the destruction of their shared life, they have to face other people brushing off their grief as if it isn’t important. Which leaves the grievers, living alone in a home created for two, even more isolated.
One person’s grief can’t be compared to another’s grief because no one knows what anyone else is feeling. But you can compare realities.
And the reality is, the most stressful event in a person’s life by far is the death of a life mate or a child. The reality is, such a death is so devastating that the survivor’s death rate increases by a minimum of 25% percent. The reality is that such grief brings about brain chemistry changes and lowers the capacity to function. Three finance professors from major business schools investigated Danish CEOs who lost someone significant in their lives, and they found that family deaths were strongly correlated with declines in firm operating profitability. The loss of a child or a spouse brought about the largest declines. (The death of a mother-in-law correlated to a small but definite increase in profitability.)
I don’t write this to minimize anyone’s grief — all losses are traumatic. I just want people to understand the incredibly complex experience of grief for a spouse and to stop minimizing such a loss. If nothing else, it will help them when/if their time comes.
A woman I know lost her husband, and one of her friends was rather dismissive of her grief. Then her friend’s husband died. Grief stricken, the friend called the woman and apologized. She truly hadn’t known what our mutual friend was going through.
You don’t know. You can’t know. And I truly hope you will never learn the truth first hand.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.