All I Have Lost

Grief seldom visits me anymore, but last night, I couldn’t keep the tears from falling. I thought I’d gone through all the firsts — first Christmas after Jeff died, first birthday, first everything. But there was one first I hadn’t expected.

I’d gone to a women’s club Christmas dinner, and it turns out that husbands were invited. In all the years since Jeff died, although I’ve often been in the company of married women, this was the first time I’ve been in a group with mostly couples. I had no idea that such a first would be a problem. But it was. Since the couples wanted to sit together, I got shunted toward the end of the table, between two husbands, both of whom were faced away from me.

I didn’t know any of the men at the dinner, barely knew the women, didn’t know any of the people they talked about, didn’t understand any of the local issues they discussed, so there I sat . . . alone. Toward the end of the evening, a couple of women made the effort to talk to me, so I was able to keep my tears in check, but as soon as I got home, I started crying.

I thought I was over this part, this feeling out of place in a coupled world. I’ve been spoiled in that most of my new friends are widows (or once were widows). There is no feeling of being a third wheel or fifth wheel or any sort of wheel when I’m with them, so the feeling of being superfluous hit me hard. I’m still feeling sad and unsettled. In a little over three months, it will be ten years that Jeff has been gone. It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve lasted this long. It doesn’t seem possible that I can still feel so bad and for such a silly reason.

I’ve been doing a good job of looking forward instead of back, of not lamenting all I’ve lost, but last night, it was simply too much. I wanted go out into the dark and scream about the unfairness of it all, wanted to wail, “But I didn’t do anything wrong.”

But death doesn’t care about fairness. Death doesn’t care about rightness or wrongness. Death came ten years ago, and sometimes, like last night, I can still feel the cold winds of grief it left behind.

Part of me feels as if I’ve been playing a game, playing house, playing at being sociable, and I was suddenly brought back to the reality of my aloneness. Luckily, there’s nothing I have to do today, so I can find my center again before I once more put on my smile and act as if this life is what I wanted all along.

Don’t get me wrong — it is a good life. But sometimes, oh sometimes, I can’t help but think of all I have lost.

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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.

In the Company of Married Women

I had lunch with some friends today, which would have been nice though not particularly significant if it weren’t that all the women were married. Since the death of my life mate/soul mate, most of my friends have been my fellow bereft — my sisters in sorrow — but gradually I’ve been meeting women who are still coupled. Today was the first time I found myself in the company of only married women.

I was actually okay — no tears — but it did make me sad to listen to these women talk about their husbands’ irritating qualities. Although I sympathized, I wanted to cry out to them to treasure every momenluncht, even the most exasperating incidences, because in the end, every moment spent with the person you love (or once loved) is a golden moment.

But I kept my mouth shut. Anything I said — even a gentle request to give their husbands an extra hug that night — would have seemed as if I were chastising them, and if my words didn’t strike such a note, I would still have turned the focus of the conversation from them and their comfortable confidences to me and my uncomfortable realities. Besides, until you have lost your mate, you simply cannot understand how precious every moment is. You’re caught up in the daily struggle to maintain your autonomy in the face of someone else’s wishes, the struggle to get all of the day’s chores finished, the struggle to find a harmonious balance between aging bodies and youthful spirits. You don’t have the energy to focus on distant tragedy.

So, I’m telling you what I would have liked to say to them. Smile at your mate instead of ignoring or arguing with him. Give him an extra hug and maybe a kiss. Thank whatever powers you believe in that no matter how irritating he might be, you have him for one more day. This is an incredible gift I am giving you — a memory to treasure if ever you should become one of us bereft.

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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.