500 Days of Grief

It’s been 500 days since the death of my life mate, my soul mate. It’s sounds pathetic, doesn’t it, to still be counting the days as if I’ve been crying endlessly for more than a year? But grief isn’t always about mourning. A great part of grief is trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to comprehend something the human mind is not geared to understand. Trying to find a way to continue despite the noncomprehension.

The agony and angst of the first months have passed, and I do still cry at times, but the tears come and go quite quickly. (The sadness, however, always remains.) I’m going through a waiting stage right now, letting everything I have experienced settle into my being. Other stages of grief are waiting for me, such as finding a new focus or finding the bedrock on which to rebuild my life. Even if those don’t seem like stages of grief, even if they aren’t accompanied by tears and tantrums, they are still part of the grieving process, still part of learning how to be whole again.

Most of us have grieved the death of a loved one, some of us have grieved many losses, but the loss of someone with whom you have spent every day for decades is especially hard to deal with. Every minute of every day after such a death, that person is absent from your life, and somewhere inside, you continue to search for him or her. I think of him way too much, trying to hold on to him, though I know I can’t do anything to keep him with me. He’s already gone. I yearn to talk with him once more, hear his voice, see his smile, and part of me cannot understand why he isn’t here, cannot make sense of his absence. Cannot understand forever.

People assure me I will see him again in an afterlife, but that is scant comfort. This is the life I have now. This is all I know. And this is the life I have to deal with. If it were just about my missing him, I could deal with that, but I feel sad that his life was cut short. That his dreams never came true and now they never will. Perhaps he is happily ensconced in a new life of radiance, but his death dimmed the light in this world. And this is what I cannot understand. He is gone. And I am still here.

I am filling my days, trying to make each one matter. I’ve been taking trips and making excursions, most recently to a fair (where I did not eat deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried butter, or chocolate covered bacon, though such delicacies were offered). When my mate and I were together, whatever we did was part of our life, and each day, each event flowed into the seamless whole. Now that I am alone, events such as the fair seem like punctuation marks in my ongoing life rather than part of the text. Perhaps one day, when I’ve lived long enough, done enough, my life will feel like a seamless whole again.

Until then, I’ll continue to count the days of grief.

Grief: Blindsided by Lilacs

Who knew I would find lilacs in this desert community?

My life mate — my soul mate — loved lilacs. We once saw a house with lilacs lining the long driveway, and he wanted to live there, but we couldn’t afford such luxury. Shortly after we moved to the house where we were to spend the rest of his life, we dug up the lilacs that blocked a gate and replanted them around the perimeter of the yard. When we moved to that house, it was like living in an aquarium — there was absolutely no privacy. By the time he died, it was such a lush environment, it was like living in a terrarium — and there was total privacy. And the gate was once again blocked with lilacs. Apparently, we’d left just enough rootstock that the bushes grew back.

We planted all sorts of bushes and trees in addition to those lilacs, and the thrill of watching our seedlings grow to adulthood was another thing we shared in a twinned life that was all about sharing. It should have been hard leaving the place, but I was in such grief over his death that one more loss didn’t really make much difference to my sorrow.

I still don’t miss the place, or not that much. A place is just a place. I am homesick, but homesick for him. He was home. I miss him. I miss our life together. If he were to call and tell me he was waiting for me, I’d go to him wherever he was — mountains or desert, city or country, there I would be. But he’s never going to call. For months after I came here to the desert to try to figure out what comes next, I’d listen for the phone, hoping he would call and tell me that he was well and I could come home. That feeling is finally fading, but the loss of that feeling just makes me sadder — he is gone and I have to deal with the vicissitudes of life by myself.

I have minor upsurges of grief a couple of times a day, but I try to be upbeat. I have a new book published. I am getting new clothes, trying to reinvent myself from the outside in. I have made new friends (mostly people who have lost their mates. It’s amazing how quickly you can get to know someone when you cry together). I’ve been handling myself well.

And then . . .

Today, strolling around the neighborhood (it was too windy to walk in the desert), I happened to smell lilacs, and instantly, I was back in full-fledged grief mode. People keep telling me one never gets over grief, you just learn to live with it, and that appears to be true. Grief seems to lurk in dark places, ready to gush forth when one is least expecting it. And I was not expecting it today. How could I have known I would encounter lilacs growing in this desert community?

Grief Update: A Yearning as Deep as the Black Canyon

I haven’t been writing much about grief lately. Partly I’ve been trying to keep an upbeat attitude so I can focus on promoting my new book, Light Bringer, which was published on the anniversary of my soul mate’s death, and partly I haven’t wanted to admit how much his being gone still hurts. It seems a bit pathetic since there are so many earthshaking and earthquaking events happening in the world today, and it has been more than a year since he died (a year and fifteen days to be exact). I am doing okay, but I still feel his absence from the earth, still miss him, still yearn for one more word or one more smile.

Fridays and Saturdays are particularly hard. He died at 1:40 am on a Friday night (which made the actually date a Saturday) and my body can’t decide which day is the right time to mourn, so my upsurge of grief spans both days. I say my body can’t decide, because there is an element of physicality to grief, especially when it comes to the death of someone who shared more than three decades of your life. You feel his absence in your cells, in your marrow, in your blood. I can sometimes feel (or imagine I feel) his vibes still surrounding the things he used, the things we shared. I find myself stupidly hugging a dish before I use it, remembering him eating off that plate.

Most of our stuff is packed away because of my temporary living arrangements. Yesterday, I felt a moment of panic when I realized that eventually I would unpack and begin using our household goods, and I would feel his energy permeating them. Usage will dissipate that energy, but for now, it’s still there. Perhaps when I need those items, the psychic remnants of him will bring me comfort, the way using a few of our things bring me comfort now, but it could just as easily set off a whole new strata of pain.

But I won’t — can’t — think of that. It still takes almost everything I have just to get through the days, to concentrate on this day. I can live today. What is one day without him when we had so many? I am most at peace when I forget that he is dead, when somewhere in the far reaches of my mind I feel that he is back in the house we shared, waiting for me. It’s not that I can’t live without him. I can. It’s that the world is such an alien place now that he is gone. I still remember how right the world felt when I met him. I had no expectations of having any more of him than that first relationship of customer (me) and storeowner (him), but back then, just knowing a person such as he existed made the world a more radiant place. When he died, he took the radiance with him.

It’s sort of odd, but I can’t identify that specific quality of radiance he brought to my life. He was sick for so very long, we gradually untwinned our lives, he to dying, me to aloneness. And yet, that connection, that depth, that radiance remained until the end. In his last weeks we even found a renewed closeness, a renewed commitment, but before that, we endured months, maybe years of unhappiness.

And, childishly, I am still unhappy. I want what I cannot have. I try to find in myself the radiance (the center? the heart? the home? — whatever it was that he gave me). I will need that to keep me going through the coming decades, and I fear I am not enough. At times, I think I have depths enough to plumb, other times those depths seem an illusion, an opaqueness that masks my shallows.

But what isn’t shallow is how much I miss him. That yearning is as deep as the Black Canyon.

I Am a Twelve-Month Grief Survivor

Twelve months.

One full year.

It seems impossible that my life mate — my soul mate — has been gone for so long. It seems even more impossible that I’ve survived.

His death came as no surprise. I’d seen all the end signs: his unending restlessness, his inability to swallow, his disorientation, his wasting away to nothing, the change in his breathing. Nor did my reaction come as a surprise. I was relieved he’d finally been able to let go and that his suffering (and the indignities of dying) had stopped. I was relieved his worst fear (lingering or a long time as a helpless invalid) had not had a chance to materialize. What did come as a surprise was my grief. I’d had years to come to terms with his dying. I’d gone through all the stages of grief, so I thought the only thing left was to get on with my life. And yet . . . there it was. His death seemed to have created a rupture in the very fabric of my being — a soulquake. The world felt skewed with him gone, and I had a hard time gaining my balance. Even now, I sometimes experience a moment of panic, as if I am setting a foot onto empty space when I expected solid ground.

I have no idea how I survived the first month, the second, the twelfth. All I know is that I did survive. I’m even healing. I used to think “healing” was an odd word to use in conjunction with grief since grief is not an illness, but I have learned that what needs to heal is that rupture — one cannot continue to live for very long with a bloody psyche. The rupture caused by his dying doesn’t yawn as wide as it once did, and the raw edges are finally scarring over. I don’t steel myself against the pain of living as I had been. I’m even looking forward, curious to what the future holds in store for me.

Strangely, I am not ashamed of all the tears I’ve shed this past year, nor am I ashamed of making it known how much I’ve mourned. The tears themselves are simply a way of easing the terrible stress of grief, a way of releasing chemicals that built because of the stress. And by making my grief public, I’ve met so many wonderful people who are also undertaking this journey.

I’ve been saying all along that I’d be okay eventually, but the truth is, despite the lingering sorrow, my yearning for him, and the upsurges in grief, I am doing okay now.

I expected this to be a day of sadness, but it is one of gladness. I am glad he shared his life (and his death) with me. Glad we had so many years together. Glad we managed to say everything that was necessary while we still had time. Tomorrow will be soon enough to try to figure out what I am going to do now that my first year of mourning is behind me. Today I am going to watch one of his favorite movies, eat a bowl of his chili (his because he created the recipe, his because he was the one who always fixed it), and celebrate his life.

I Am an Eleven-Month Grief Survivor

Eleven months ago, my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer. He took a final breath, his Adam’s apple bobbed twice, and then he was gone. It was a silent night — no storm lashing out in anger, no rain falling like tears, just the quiet passing of a quiet man. Nothing remained of him at the end but skin stretched around a skeleton without enough weight to make a dent in the bed, yet he left behind a hole in my life and my heart that will never be filled.

We’d been together thirty-four years. In comparison, eleven months seems like a mere blip in time, yet those few months contain an eon of sorrow and pain. He’d been dying for so long that I was glad when his suffering ended. Because of it, I truly did not expect to grieve, and I didn’t at first. I just sat in the room with his body and waited for the funeral director. The people at the hospice care center wanted me to finish the night there, but I couldn’t stay, so after they removed his body (not in a body bag but covered with a red plush blanket — he would have liked that), I headed back to the house. (You notice I don’t say I headed back home? He was my home. The house was just a house.)

I’m not sure when the grief hit me, but when it did, it slammed into me with such force I have not yet recovered my balance. It wasn’t a single body slam — the grief continued to grow for many weeks, until it all but consumed me. It didn’t consume me, of course. I managed to do all the terrible tasks of death: the grim paperwork, the final bills, the disposition of his effects. I’ve even managed to get on with my life. I’ve made friends. I’ve gone to museums. I take care of myself (most of the time, anyway. I still don’t always eat right, don’t always exercise, though I do walk for miles almost every day.)

On meeting me, you’d never know of my sorrow. I laugh, talk, joke, act like a normal person. And I am normal. Grief is now part of my normalcy. Every Friday night and Saturday, it descends on me. (Though upsurges of grief can occur any time without warning.) I cannot go to sleep on Friday nights until after 1:40 am, the hour of his death. Even if I don’t remember, my body does. And then, there is my time of the month — the date of his death. The 27th.

Yesterday I got an email from my sister: Can I tell you something I just love about you? I love your sense of irony, your talent for observation of seemingly insignificant details, and your almost-spiritual gift for connecting dots across time and distance. I thanked her, telling her I so needed to hear something nice, and she responded: Well, considering it’s Saturday, and considering the time of month, you just can’t hear enough nice things today, that’s what I’m thinking.

My time of the month. That used to mean something completely different, but now it means only this: I survived another twenty-eight or thirty or thirty-one days without him.