Terrible Anniversaries of Grief

I always dread the terrible anniversaries of grief, and this up-coming fourth anniversary is no exception. I don’t dread the pain of the day — I have learned that the days of remembrance are easy; the hard part is the grief that visits us beforehand. What I dread even more now than grief’s presence is its absence because the lack of sorrow seems to diminish him from my life even more. Once I was loved. Once I loved greatly. But “once” isn’t much to build a life on.

And so it goes . . . this awful and awe-filled journey we call grief.

In a strange sort of way, I feel lucky that I don’t have to dread grief’s absence today. I was upset over a lost item yesterday, and to console myself, I reminded myself that it wasn’t much in the grand scheme of life and death. And that, of course, reminded me of the loss of my deceased life mate/soul mate, and I couldn’t stop crying.

speedBy now, I’m used to his being gone, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the enormity of death. He isn’t just gone from me, perhaps enjoying a new love or new life thousands of miles from here. He is gone from this earth, so far away I can’t even fathom the distance. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so today we are a very long way from where we were when he died. (Considering only the speed of the earth, he died 2,349,221,000 miles ago.)

I too am a long way away from where I was when he died. In blog post after blog post during those first couple of years, I remarked that I hadn’t changed at all — it seemed to me that having gone through such a devastating loss, I should have grown stronger or kinder or wiser or changed in some fundamental way. I don’t know about wiser, but I do know I am vastly different from the woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain. That woman who still felt so broken months after his death. That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds.

Oddly, I didn’t expect to feel any upsurge of sadness this anniversary. It has been four years, and I don’t think about him much any more. If thoughts of him come to me, I don’t hold tightly to them as I used to do, but let them drift away again. If the thoughts brought me closer to him, of course I’d hold on tightly, just as I’d hold him if he showed up on the doorstep.

But the sad truth is (or maybe it’s not a sad truth, maybe it’s a glorious truth), life does go on. The hole he left in my life is gradually closing, as is the hole he left here on earth. And when I am gone, there will be no one left alive who remembers him.

I bought a bottle of sparkling apple-cranberry juice to wash away my sorrows (hard drinker that I am!), but maybe I’ll use it instead to toast his life, and mine.

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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.

 

Talking to a Facebook Friend in Real Time

I’ve met a lot of wonderful people because of opening up and blogging about the loss of my life mate/soul mate. One woman, Shannon Fisher, has become a good friend of the Facebook variety, and tonight I will have a chance to talk to her in real time. I am going to be the premier guest on her new radio show, “The Authentic Woman”. I hope you can turn in at 8:00 pm ET.

Although we won’t we talking about grief (or not much, anyway) that is something we have in common, losing our soul mates. Shannon’s wisdom helped me get through many lonely nights. One night when we were messaging each other about the realization that although we felt connected to our soul mates, an important step in grief (sometime during the third year) is the realization that we are not our mates, Shannon wrote:

That’s the toughest part – realizing that their death has nothing to do with us and that we are all, while connected through a web of energy, uniquely created beings following our own individual path. Regardless of how connected we are to some people in some ways, their path is theirs and ours is ours.

When I felt that disconnect, I was suddenly okay. He was gone. I was here. And it was okay. The fear of letting go is what keeps us in the mire. We let go when we are ready to do so, and not a moment sooner.  Our partners are gone.  We can either live in this world without them, experiencing a full, active life…or half-live a life while we are still connected to our dead great loves through the ether, which we can’t navigate or understand this side of death.

It isn’t a choice; you can’t “just get there.” But you will get there. And everything will suddenly feel new again. You will see possibilities as something toward which you want to leap, and you will suddenly feel untethered and able to make that leap.

Well, I’ve made many leaps during these years of grief, and this radio show interview is just one more leap into the untethered future.

The live show begins at 8:00pm EST here at this link: http://tobtr.com/s/6078195. If you miss it live, then use the same link for the podcast, available immediately after the live interview.

Call ins are welcome. 347-884-8266

AW

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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 is a Matter of Habit

Life is often a matter of habit. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Actually, the whole quote is “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” But this is an article about habits, not excellence.

Most of our lives are repetitive. We do the same things in the same way, eat the same foods, go to the same restaurants, see the same people, watch the same shows. It’s easy to create a habit. If we do the same thing — good or bad — often enough, the synaptic pathways in our brains get rutted, and it’s almost impossible to completely eradicate the ruts if we want to change our habits.

Recently It was easy for me to fall into the habit of playing computer solitaire for hours on end, but now it’s almost impossible to break the habit, though I did it once, so I can do it again. (After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I mindlessly played game after game just to get through another minute, another hour of grief. A couple of years ago I broke the habit of playing games, but in a fit of restlessness a few months ago, I started in again, and now I have to rebreak myself of the habit.) The secret is to do what I need to do on the computer and then get off. Oddly, some habits are easy to break. I’m in the habit of writing a blog every day, and I keep doing it because I know if I skip a day, I’ll skip another and another, until I lose the habit of writing habitually and will only post sporadically.

Sometimes a change of circumstances, such as a move,  forces us to change our habits. When people tell me they have a hard time getting used to a new town, I suggest they go to the same place or do the same thing everyday to help themselves get acclimated. One woman who took this advice went to the same coffee shop every day, another took a walk ever day. And gradually, new comfortable ruts were built into their brains.

One of the collateral problems with grief is the instant loss of habits. In my case, we (my life mate/soul mate and I) had done most things together for decades — watched the same movies, ate the same foods, ran errands, watered the hundred or so trees we planted. As he got sicker, we put one foot in front of the other and kept on going the best we could out of habit. His death catapulted me out of the habits of my life. I still had the ruts of togetherness in my brain without someone to be together with. I also had to move from our home where we’d lived for decades to come look after my now 96-year-old father, so I didn’t even have the habits of living in the same house.

I felt as if the ground had been yanked from beneath me. When I tried to put one foot in front of the other, I became disoriented, as if I were falling into nothingness. I felt like such a baby, since all I could do was crawl in my alien world of no mate, no habits, nothing to connect me to the past but painful memories.

During the ensuing years of grief (in approximately two weeks, it will be three and a half years since he died) people who have been through the same sorrow have told me that grief makes a change around the four-year anniversary. That’s when many people find some sort of renewal, such as a new commitment to life.

I call this four-year mark the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then by four years, less than half our cells will bear the imprint of our mates. And so our physical grief fades. (By physical grief, I mean the physical pain and symptoms of grief as opposed to the emotional pain.) At the same time, the ruts from the habits of our old life have evened out, and we have developed new patterns of living, new habits, new ruts. And as we repeatedly do new things alone, we become persons who can survive — and even thrive — without our mates because in the end, despite love and grief, learning and yearning, life is a matter of habit.

***

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.

Grieving For Grief

A woman who lost her life mate/soul mate around the same time as I lost mine told me about an insignificant event that briefly stirred up her low-lying grief, and then she said, “I wonder if I were grieving for grief.”

It sounds strange, but the truth is, we do grieve for grief. Grief for a spouse or a soul mate is so all-consuming, that it fills, in a strange sort of way, the hole they left in our life. Grief, as hard as it is, makes us feel, which makes us feel alive. Grief keeps us connected, if only by pain, to our mates. Grief reminds us that we once loved, and perhaps were loved in return. Grief gives us a glimpse of the vastness of life and the void of death and makes our existence feel important, makes us feel important. When grief passes, we have none of those things, just an emotional and spiritual emptiness. And so we grieve for the loss of our grief. Eventually, I hope, we will find something to replace grief, as grief replaced our love, but who knows what that will be and when or if it will come.

One of the tasks of grief is to help disconnect us from the past so that we can embrace the future while living as fully in the present as possible without being stuck forever in the half-life of loving someone who is dead. Then, of course, we have the problem of disconnecting ourselves from the grief. Disconnecting from grief is a much easier task, of course, since we don’t bridgereally thrive on pain (I don’t, anyway. Never have been much of a masochist), but still, whether we welcomed it or not, grief does become our life. It’s how we connect to the world and ourselves. It’s how we move past the trauma of losing the one person we loved more than anyone else in the world. It’s how we bridge the gap between the meaninglessness of death and finding new meaning in life.

I can see that as my grief is waning, I am disconnecting from my life mate/soul mate. Or maybe it’s the other way around, as I’m disconnecting from him, my grief is waning.  Either way, I’ve come to the realization that although it seemed we were connected soul to soul, my mate and I are/were two separate people. For a while we traveled the same road, but now we are on separate journeys. After he was gone, I had grief as a constant companion, urging me forward, but now, with the waning of grief, I see the bleakness of myself alone, fading, dying.

But that’s not all there will be, nor is it necessarily the truth. I have years, maybe decades of life in me still. It’s just a matter of finishing the tasks of grief, of grieving briefly for the loss of grief, then heading out on the highway of life and seeing what comes my way. Sounds easy and life-affirming, doesn’t it? I wonder if the coming leg of the journey will be as hard as all the rest.

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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.

My Aching Breaking Heart

My heart is breaking. I thought when my life mate/soul mate died that the organ had shattered beyond repair, but it must have healed because I feel as if it is breaking again.

When I first entered the world of grief, I was stunned by the constant assault of emotions, physical reactions, mental conflicts and torments because I’d never heard of such grief. Well, there was that one old woman who wore black the whole of her life, celebrating her widowhood, and occasionally there would be talk of someone keening in agony at her husband’s funeral. I thought those were isolated cases of unbalanced women, but I am not unbalanced. (And probably they weren’t, either.)

I wrote about what I was going through so I could try to make sense of the onslaught, and it helped. Blogging about grief also helped because I met many others on the same journey, which brought me comfort, and a few who were years ahead of me, which brought me hope.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought this fathomless grief set me aside from everyone else, and perhaps I even thought I should have special consideration because of my situation. Then others I knew lost someone they loved, and I realized grief didn’t make me special. It just made me . . . bereft.

After three years, I am still sad. I tend to think I’m not making any progress, but then I hear from women who just lost their husbands, and I am drenched in tears, remembering what it was like when grief was new. And I can see how very far I have come. Sail AwayBut I also know what these women are feeling and how much they will have to deal with in the coming months and years, and my heart breaks for them.

How is it possible that so many of us have lost our mates and soul mates? It’s like a bizarre dance of butterflies, where those we love flit into our lives, bringing wonder and color and joy, and then they flit away, leaving us devastated. How can the world survive when it is so awash in grief? (Perhaps that’s where the oceans came from — the tears of the bereft. After all, throughout the ages, billions of people have mourned for their dead.)

Sometimes I see a photo of or an article about a couple who has been married for forty or fifty years. They always have helpful advice about how they stayed together for so long, but the truth is, despite all their ways of keeping love alive, the reason they were together so long is that one of them didn’t die. Not every loving couple gets that opportunity.

And my heart breaks for the ones left behind.

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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.

It Takes Courage to Grieve

People have often mentioned how courageous I’ve been by writing about my grief, but the truth is, for the most part, it didn’t take any courage. At the beginning, I was in such incredible pain and bewildered by all I was feeling, that I tried to make sense of all the emotions and physical symptoms the only way I knew how — by writing.

There were two times, though, where it did take courage. The first time was when my grief continued far beyond what I had expected, and I was afraid people would think I was weak or self-pitying or self-indulgent, unable to move beyond the tragedy. I am moving, but at my own pace.

The truth is, when you lose your mate, you lose not only the person who meant more to you than any other, the person who connected you to the world, you also lose your best friend, your confidante, your support, your sense of self, your hopes and dreams, your shared world, your faith in a universe that makes sense. The changes are so vast and so sudden, it can take years to process them all.

I’d been honest about everything I’d been feeling, so I continued telling the truth about my grief even when I thought it made me seem pathetic. No one wants to show a weak side to the world, but someone has to explain how grief works, to show the ramifications of a certain type of loss. We are steeped in a culture of couplehood. Many songs and movies extol the joys of meeting the one person who makes life worth living, yet when you lose that person, you are expected to continue as if it didn’t matter. Well, it does matter. And it matters more when you lose that person to death. It’s almost impossible to fathom the absence of a person who once breathed the same air you did, who was there through every crisis and triumph, and who now is simply . . . gone. (Well, if I’m going to tell the truth, then I should tell the truth. It’s not almost impossible. It’s totally impossible.)

I’m past worrying about how people see me and my grief, so I’m back to not needing courage to write about how I am doing. I’m just continuing to chronicle the journey of a woman who is trying to rebuild her life after an immeasurable loss, both the steps forward into hope and the steps backward into sorrow and tears.

The second time I needed courage was when I published Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. It’s one thing to write about grief in the backwaters of the blogosphere, and a completely different thing to put my grief out there for the whole world to read. Well, the whole world isn’t reading the book, so that’s not an issue, but more importantly, those who do read my story find they are reading their own story. Although grief is unique to each person, the pain and angst and bitter losses are the same. And so is the way we make this unwanted and terrible journey . . . one step at a time.

And that takes courage.

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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+

Grief Update — Thirty Months of Survival

My life mate/soul mate/best friend died two and a half years ago today. Thirty months. Written out like that, thirty months seems like a very long time, but looking back, it’s no time at all. It takes three to five years to find renewed life after such a grievous loss, or so I’ve been told, and I am only halfway there. It might seem to you as if this talk of grief means I do nothing but cry for him, but the truth is, I do quite well, with only a few unshed tears stinging my eyes now and again.

Feelings other than sadness are beginning to arise, though.

Throughout all these months, I’ve tried not to use the word “loss” when referring to my deceased mate because he isn’t misplaced, he is dead. But now, sometimes out of the blue, I’ll get that dropping elevator feeling of having misplaced something — something of untold value or something I desperately need — and I don’t know where or how I lost it. This sensation is not connected to any memory of him, and is not the same as the feeling of bereftness or yearning I so often had during the first couple of years, but still it makes the world seem precarious and alien at times.

Most things are getting better — I do not have the unimaginable pain I experienced in the beginning. Nor does the yearning for him claw at me, though I still miss him, still long for one more smile, still wish for one more word. But something is getting worse, something akin to a soul thirst or a soul hunger. For many years, being with him satisfied a need in me that I wasn’t aware of. Perhaps a recharging of my energy after a long day or maybe a regeneration of spirit. (For someone who writes and thinks as much as I do, I should be able to come up with a word to describe this need, but I only know it as a void, as something I once had but am no longer getting.) When I am hungry and do not eat, I get hungrier. When I am thirsty and do not drink, I get thirstier. And when this particular soul need is not slaked, I get needier.

I am finding other ways of fulfilling the roles he played in my life. Wherever he was, there was my home, and now I’m learning to find home wherever I might be. He was my playmate for many years before he got too ill, and now I have friends to do things with — have lunch, go to festivals and fairs, take yoga classes (and maybe Tai Chi — something I’ve always wanted to do). There is no one with whom I can talk to about all the things he and I used to discuss, but I can spread those topics around, discussing each with a different friend.

But so far I have not found a way around the role he filled for electrifying my spirit, (for lack of a better word). Walking in the desert helps, being with friends helps, but neither of those things sustains me once they are over. Perhaps a new love — another person or a passion — would help, but I am too new for another relationship (I’m still learning how to be me), and so far something to care passionately about remains beyond my reach.

I hope you understand that I am merely chronicling yet another step on my journey and not feeling sorry for myself or asking for pity. I once had something that few people get to experience — a soul connection with another human being. It was not always a happy or comfortable connection — at various times we both railed against it — but through it all, the good times and the bad, we were together.

I saw a plaque today: We can do anything as long as we’re together. I really believed that when he and I were together, we could do anything, though it turned out not to be true. We couldn’t make him well. We couldn’t keep him from dying. And now, we are not together, have not been together for thirty months, and will not be together for the rest of my life.

A person can get used to anything, so eventually I will get used to plodding along without that galvanizing connection with him, but for now, I’m still trying to find my way.

A Different Level of Sadness

I reached a different level of sadness today, both better and worse. For twenty-five months now, I’ve grieved the loss of my life mate/soul mate. As much as I hate the word “loss” when it refers to death, it was an unbearable loss to me when he died. All my hopes were lost along with our shared life and too many collateral losses to enumerate here. At times I could barely breathe for the pain. But somehow, I have managed to survive.

I truly never expected to grieve — he’d been sick so long and had suffered so much, that I was relieved when he died. In fact, I wished that he would. I’ve had a hard time these past months remembering that his death was actually a good thing — all I could think was that he should never have suffered in the first place. And he shouldn’t have. No one should have to deal with such pain for so many years. He stayed away from drugs as long as he could, suffering unbearably, because he knew the truth: the same drugs that would relieve his pain would addle his mind and disorient him. He wanted to be himself as long as he could (though he already was drifting from himself — the cancer had invaded his brain, and the poor man could barely hold two thoughts in his head.)

I wrote once about grief and our lizard brain. That feral part of us eventually adapts to the different reality, and the effects of new grief pass — the nausea, dizziness, inability to sleep or the inability to stay awake, the inability to eat or the inability to stop eating, the loss of one’s grip, the loss of balance and equilibrium, the hormonal storms. And finally, even some of the emotional storms pass, and there are times when we can see a bit clearer.

As I’m learning to face my new truth — that I’m going to have to find a new way of life, a new focus and new meaning — I’m recalling how relieved I was that he died. I feel selfish and self-indulgent for wanting him back, for yearning for him, for begging one more word or smile from him. Even the thought that he might have stayed a while longer if he could to satisfy my selfish longings makes me weep for him and for me. He was terrified of lingering as a helpless invalid, and if he hadn’t died, if he had remained here with me, he would have been helpless. I’m glad he didn’t have to deal with that, glad he’s safe from further indignities, glad he’s spared pain and a reliance on drugs. (He was taking so many drugs that he feared becoming a drug addict but, knowing how little time he had left, I could tearfully promise him he would never become a drug addict.)

Can you tell that I’m crying as I write this? As I said, this is a new level of sadness — better because I am learning to be at peace with his death and the need for it, worse because I feel as if I’ve lost him yet again. Every step away from grief seems to bring with it a new and different grief. Not as breathtaking, perhaps, but still sorrowful.

I will continue to yearn for him, of course — that is the nature of grief — but perhaps (at least some of the time) I will remember that he deserves to be at peace, even if it’s the serenity that only death will bring.

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.