Wise Women of Cyberspace

I’ve met many wise and wonderful women online while struggling to find my way through grief, women who gave me the courage to do what was necessary — accept the pain, feel each emotion as it arose, and somehow find a way to live with it. One such woman and I would talk on Facebook about grief now and again — she was three years ahead of me in the process, and had found a new direction in her life, which gave me hope that someday, I too, would manage to find peace and even renewed life.

She posted one of her comments from our conversation on her blog today, Patience, Wallowing and Defragmentation, and explained how the lessons she learned while dealing with grief have helped her in dealing with health issues.

The conversation she referred to in her blog took place two years ago, but that wasn’t the end of our discussions. Just a couple of months ago I wrote: “It is sinking in that I couldn’t make him well when he was alive, and I can’t keep him with me now that he’s dead. As much as I hate his being dead, in a way, it has nothing to do with me.”

She responded:”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.”

It’s this knowledge that his death belongs to him and my life belongs to me that has helped me move beyond my mourning. My grief for him cannot make him alive once more, cannot change one facet of his life or his death. Of course, I had little choice in my grief — it came from somewhere so deep inside that I’d never know such a place existed. Grief still wells up on its own now and again, but I don’t try to hold on to it, don’t try to hold on to the past, don’t try to hold on to him. And perhaps, that takes the most courage of all — letting him go.

Lucky for me, I had such a wise woman giving me counsel.


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.

A Child of Grief

My life mate/soul mate died thirty-three months ago today, and I found myself hesitating before writing this post. I worried it might seem as if I am trying to keep myself in the center of a drama, a drama that has long since lost its power and poignancy. But the truth is, even though I am not actively mourning — at least not often, and not much — grief still shades every moment of my life.

untitledvWhen people fall in love, when they are giddy with hormones, when they get caught up in the emotion of their love and the dream of a wonderful new life together, their friends and family never tell them,  “Okay. Enough. It’s time to get over your love and move on.” The whole world celebrates their love (or so it seems to the new couple), and everything they say and do for the rest of their lives is shaded by this focus on each other.

Grief reflects this process, though through a dark mirror. The newly bereft are buffeted by hormones, caught up in the emotion and pain of their loss, tormented by a future that no longer has any meaning, focused on someone who is no longer there. The loved one might be dead, but the love doesn’t die. (What do you do with love when it is no longer needed? I never have figured that one out.) And the bereft are told, “Okay. Enough. It’s time to get over your grief and move on.”

Other people get tired of our drama, but for us, it is always there — a blankness in our lives. An absence.

I am doing well, trying new things, preparing myself for a future alone. I have hermit tendencies, so to make sure that I don’t stagnate, I am planning adventures — simple excursions and experiences for today and complicated journeys for another time. From the beginning, I embraced my grief, wanting to process the guilts and regrets, the anger and fears as quickly as possible so I could charge into whatever the future held for me. I am now more determined than ever to celebrate life, and yet . . .and yet . . .

I am aware that if it weren’t for his death, I wouldn’t need to worry about my hermit tendencies. We were hermits together, friends in our solitude. Until those last years when he could barely drag himself out of bed, we did everything together, so there was no reason to plan solitary experiences or excursions. Every day with him brought the possibility of something exciting, even if only a long rambling conversation through history, science, philosophy and back to history, so there was no need to find a way to keep from stagnating. But now there is.

Grief has shaped my life in other ways. I am here in the desert because he is dead. I am taking care of my father because I am not needed elsewhere now that my life mate/soul mate is gone. I made new friends through my attendance at a grief support group, and those friendships have long outlasted the group. I am taking yoga classes, learning to find a new way to open to the universe because he is no longer here keeping me connected to the world.

His absence is still a very real presence in my life. I don’t feel his total goneness as much as I did at the beginning, but I am aware of his absence. My yearning to see him once more doesn’t claw at me the way it once did, but I am aware that I will never again hear his voice or be warmed by his smile. I am far beyond the days where I curled up, cradling my new pain and sorrow as if it were some sort of new born creature, but what those days did to me — stealing away the last of my naiveté, lightheartedness, and innocence — will remain with me forever.

I am a child of grief. No matter how adventurous or fulfilling my life might end up being, no matter who or what I grow to be, something deep inside of me will always be aware of the death that made these changes necessary, the absence that made them possible.


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+

Why I Write About My Grief

I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings, but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs. I’d never heard of the sort of all-consuming grief that I experienced except for those who were considered unstable, but I knew I was completely well adjusted, so anything I felt had to be normal.

To be honest, I never had any intention of getting personal in this blog. I launched it to establish an online presence for when I got published. (After starting this blog, it took a year to find a publisher, although I’d already been on the quest for several years. After acceptance, it took another six months for my books to be published, but I made it!) Those first years of blogging, I wrote about my efforts to get published, what I learned about improving my writing, the novels I read and what I learned about writing from their inadequacies.

After my life mate/soul mate died, everything changed. I’d intended to keep my grief to myself and continue writing innocuous little posts, but I kept stumbling over people’s ignorance of grief. I found this ignorance in people I knew. (I will never forget those blank looks of incomprehension in people’s eyes when, sobbing, I told them about my loss. Sometimes they looked at me as if I were an alien species, or some kind of strange bug.)

And I found this ignorance in books I read.

One novelist dismissed her character’s grief at the death of his wife with a single sentence, “He went through all the five stages of grief.” Anyone who has gone through the multi-faceted grief of losing a soul mate knows that there are dozens of stages of grief (or none at all). You spiral round and round, in a dizzying whirl of emotions, not just shock and anger and sadness, but frustration, bitterness, yearning, hope, helplessness, confusion, loneliness, despair, guilt, questioning, angst over loss of faith, and you keep revisiting each of these emotions, hanging on the best you can, until ideally, you reach a place of peace and life opens up again.

Another novelist had her widow cry for a night then put aside her grief and get on with her life. Believe me, you can’t put aside such grief. It’s not just emotional but also physical, a ripping away of his presence from your soul, a deep-seated panic when your lizard brain realizes that half of your survival unit is gone, a body/mind bewilderment so great you can barely breathe. You don’t control raw grief. Grief controls you.

Not only did I discover that few people had any idea of the scope of such grief, most people selfishly urged the bereft to get on with their lives because they couldn’t bear to see their mother/sister/friend’s sadness.

There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft, who already feel isolated, totally alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the facade of our relentlessly glass-half-full society.

Although I am a private person, not given to airing my problems in public, I thought it wrong to continue the charade that life goes on as normal after losing the one person who makes life worth living. So, over the past two-and-a-half years, I have made it my mission to tell the truth about grief. Even though I have mostly reached the stage of peace, and life is opening up again, at least a little bit, grief is still a part of my life. There is a void in my world — an absence — where he once was, and that void shadows me and probably always will. Although his death changed the circumstances of my life, thrusting me into an alien world, grief — living with it, dealing with it, accepting it — changed me . . . forever. It has made me who I am today and who I will become tomorrow — strong, confident, and able to handle anything that comes my way.

Would I prefer to have him in my life? Absolutely. But that is not an option. All I can do, all any of us can do, is deal with what lies before us, regardless of a society that frowns on mourning. It takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life after such a grievous loss, so the next time you see your mother, father, sister, daughter crying for her/his spouse, deal with it. Just because you’re no longer tearful, be aware that even though you have lost the same person, you have not lost the same connection. If it makes you sad to see her mourning, think how much sadder it is for her to experience that sorrow. Hug her, be there for her. Don’t hurry her through grief. She’ll find her way back to happiness in her own time.


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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.” All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free. Print books can be ordered from your favorite bookstore.

A Day for the Broken-Hearted

February 14th. A day to celebrate love with flowers, chocolate, romance. Sounds wonderful if you have someone to love, or even the hope of finding your true love, but if you are one of the many bereft whose beloved has died, the day brings not romance but tears. You remember that once you were loved, that once you loved. Of course, you still do love — love doesn’t die — but loving the eternal essence of someone who is dead is not exactly the same thing as loving someone who is present in body and mind and heart and voice.

We bereft are no longer whole-hearted. Our poor hearts still beat the same, but not with the same intensity they once did. Where once joy (or at least contentment) coursed through our veins, sorrow now flows. Sorrow doesn’t always flow, of course. We do heal . . . sort of. We piece our hearts together the best we can and go on living. But then comes Valentine’s Day, reminding us once again that we are broken-hearted.

My life mate/soul mate and I did nothing on Valentine’s Day. For us, it was just another meaningless day given significance only because we were together. Most of my fellow bereft are dreading tomorrow, knowing it will bring an upsurge in grief. They are planning lunches with friends and special outings to keep from thinking of what they have lost. I too am planning to go to lunch with friends, and this very effort underlines my problem. I can find people to do things with, but I no longer have someone to do nothing with.

My mate and I did nothing on Valentine’s Day, but we did it together. And now tomorrow I will have one more irreplaceable thing to mourn — nothing.

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 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.

The Ferris Wheel of Life

Relationships, especially between long-term couples, change continuously, but we seldom notice those changes in the whirr and whirl of everyday life. Even our images of each other change to accommodate the passing years. We are always “us.”

A day or two after my life mate died, I couldn’t visualize him, so I looked at the only photo I have of us, and I wept because I did not recognize him. Fifteen years ago, when that photo was taken, it was an exact likeness of him, but during the years of illness, he lost the fullness in his face, first becoming distinguished looking, then gaunt. I have an idea/image of him in my mind, perhaps a composite of him through the years, perhaps what he actually looked like near the end, and that single photo I have of him does not resemble the person I knew. One more thing to mourn.

That is the problem with grief, there is always one more thing to mourn.

It’s not just our internal images of a person that changes to accommodate the vagaries of age; our internal image of the relationship itself changes to accommodate the vagaries of life. Most of the transformation of a relationship from youthful and passionate to aged and (perhaps) wise and companionable goes unnoticed. We are always who we are. We are always in the present.

The big events of life — starting a business or losing one, having children or losing them — we celebrate or grieve as the case may be, but other things disappear without acknowledgement. We used to walk together, ride bikes, play tennis, kick a soccer ball, but such activities were supplanted with other, more sedentary activities as his health deteriorated. But still, there we were, on the great Ferris wheel of our relationship — always current, always us. And then he died.

When one of a couple dies, the Ferris wheel of your shared life comes to a halt. Those who have not experienced the loss of a long-time mate think that the Ferris wheel continues with the survivor, but that isn’t true. It looms there, empty. The continually evolving, revolving living relationship is dead. All you have is what has already happened, and now you can see every transformation throughout all the years. You don’t simply mourn the man he was at the end, you also mourn the man you met and the men he became during the subsequent years. And you grieve for all those little things that passed unnoticed during the course of your relationship. They didn’t matter while you were together because you were together, but now they add to the overwhelming whole of grief.

Gradually, the survivor climbs aboard another Ferris wheel of her own, but the original one still haunts. If I live long enough, my grief will fade and perhaps disappear in the whirr and whirl of everyday life, but for now, newly recalled memories keep seeping into my life, and they have to be processed, mourned, dealt with. Sometimes these are minor issues, sometimes major. And all a surprise. How could so much have happened during those quiet years?

One recurring theme in our lives was vitamins and other food supplements. We met at his health food store. The first time we connected physically was when he handed me a bottle of vitamin A and our touch lingered. The first time our gazes locked was over his checkout counter. The supplement regimen he created for me changed as new research came out, but always, there were the supplements, a symbol of how much he cared for me. Now all that loss has to be dealt with somehow.

And that is just one aspect of our shared life. There were almost 34 years worth of good things and bad. 408 months. 1756 weeks. 12,296 days. When he was alive, all those days blended together, but now each exists separately, a thing in itself. A thing to be mourned. No wonder grief is such a major undertaking.