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.

Tempest Tossed

I’m going to be without the internet for a couple of weeks, so don’t worry if I don’t post for a while.

I’d always planned to follow the conventional wisdom and not move for at least a year after my life mate died, but here I am, two months into my grief, and I am moving — not by choice, but circumstance. Right now I’m rattling around in an empty house, filling it with tears. Though I’m mostly moved and packed and the house cleaned, I am not ready to go — it is way too soon. But even if I could stay, it wouldn’t change anything. My mate would still be dead. And I’d still be homeless — he was my home, not this house.

Despite my declaration (after having to throw away so much stuff these past weeks) that I would never buy anything again (except electrontics) I did buy a new camera (a cheap little thing, but it works, and besides, a digital camera is electronic, right?). I took pictures of this place today: our cars parked next to each other, the bushes we planted that enclose the house and give it privacy, the hybrid bush/tree I borrowed for my soon to be published novel Light Bringer (which will is tinged with sadness for me since he never got to read it). I don’t know if I will ever be able to look at the photos without weeping, but at least I have them if I want to take a peek.

From what I’ve heard about the loss of a mate, as hard as the first months are, the second year of grieving sometimes is even worse. I cannot imagine that. But then, I never could have imagined the pain I am feeling now. I don’t know why, but occasionally the loss hits me anew, as if it just happened. Which is what I am feeling today. And, apparently, that too is normal. It still happens to some people even a decade later.

Our life together — his and mine — is receding, even in memory, as if it’s a fantasy, a dream, a mirage. When he was alive, the past always seemed present. Now it seems so very past (passed?). That’s one more loss to add to so many.

I feel tempest-tossed. As if I am unmoored. Swept away on an emotional storm. Besides all the other emotions that beset me, I find I panic easily. I took up the mat on the floor of the driver’s side of my car where my feet rest (I was cleaning the car, getting it ready for the trip), and I discovered . . . rusted-out holes. Yikes. I’m about to go on a long trip with holes in my car? Panic! There is no such thing as ER for car bodies as I discovered after a spate of phone calls, so when I calmed down, I patched the floorboard using aluminum foil, metal tape (way cool stuff!), oven liners, and cardboard. Should last as long as my car.

I’m sure I will be okay, eventually. Just not yet.