All Right With Death?

Mystical desertA friend who lost her husband sent me an email today, relating something a woman told her. The woman said, “I’m not trying to put anything bad on my husband, but I think that if he died I would be all right with that.”

The statement shocked my friend, not just because of the tactlessness, but because of the lack of feeling.

People have said the same thing to me, and to be honest, it’s the way I felt when my life mate/soul mate was dying. I truly thought I would be okay. He’d been sick for so long and in such pain, I thought I’d be relieved when he died. And I was. For about an hour. Those last years of his life, I did many things to prepare myself for going on alone, and I thought I was prepared. That’s why my grief shocked me so much — it came from somewhere so deep inside, I had no idea such a place existed. My grief was beyond rationality, beyond emotion. It was visceral, as if part of my body and half my soul had died.

Some women truly don’t feel much after their husbands die. Sometimes the husband had been sick for so long they did their grieving before he died. Sometimes their relationship was so bad they were glad when it was over. And sometimes people are unable to feel anything. After all, about 5% of all humans are sociopaths — not killers, simply people without human emotions.

But the woman who made the remark could also be in denial, or not know the power of grief. If you know how you would feel if your spouse died, it would put an unbearable burden on you, especially if you think you are an independent woman. I mean, grief to such an extent as I felt seems anachronistic in this liberated day when we are all supposed to be strong and self-reliant. When people found out about my loss, they often gave me strange looks, as if I were an alien species they could not understand. Sometimes after such a look, people would said they could not imagine how they would feel if they lost their spouse. I always told them not to imagine it. They couldn’t. Until you have been there, you do not know the depths of such grief. You cannot know.

To be honest, I wish I didn’t know. Such grief changes your whole perception of yourself and your relationship to life. It makes you rethink who you are, where you came from, and where you are going, and there are no easy answers. The truth is, I was strong and self-reliant. Sure, my mate and I did everything together, but I was perfectly capable of doing things on my own. Still, 2 and 2/3 years after his death, I am struggling with feelings of pointlessness and meaninglessness, as if our shared life was the only thing that mattered. And maybe it was — then. For thirty-four years he was the focus of my life, and to a certain extent he still is. I feel his absence the way I once felt his presence.

For me, the strangest part of the woman’s sentence is her implication that not only would she be all right after he died, but she’d be okay with his death. In my case, I am mostly doing okay dealing with my mate’s absence. I can even accept the idea that he is dead — I have to so I can go on with my life. But as long as I am alive, I will never be all right with his death.

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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+

The Surprising Power of Grief

The power of grief still manages to surprise me. I thought I was moving beyond its reach, but apparently, no matter how well I do, it still has the power to bring me low.

I haven’t had a major upsurge of grief for quite a while now. (I can’t remember the last time, to be honest.) Partly, I’ve been aware of my triggers, such as Saturday (the day he died), and being hungry, angry, lonely, tired (H.A.L.T.) and I am especially careful at those times. I’ve put away his photo so I don’t catch sight of it unawares, and I try to look forward, not backward. Still, despite all that, yesterday grief came sweeping into my life, and I had to let it run its course.

Why yesterday? Perhaps because I’m keeping busy as the week heads into Saturday and I maintain that busyness as the new week leaves Saturday behind, so that now I am most vulnerable in the middle of the week when my guard is down.

Perhaps because it was Halloween, and traditionally, Halloween is the night when the dead are closest to us here on Earth.

Perhaps because on Tuesday, for the first time, I felt as if I were awakening to life again. Every step forward seems to be celebrated with an upsurge of grief at what is being left behind, and this was an immense step that could only be celebrated with an immense upsurge of grief.

Or perhaps there was no reason at all.

My life mate/soul mate died two and a half years ago, and despite all those months of grieving, despite all the thousands of words I have written to make sense of what I experienced, I still do not completely understand the forces at work when it comes to grief. All I can do when grief hits is what anyone does in a storm — ride it out the best I can and wait for the calm.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+

The Power of Grief

Even though grief has been with me on and off for twenty-one months, I still don’t understand where it comes from or where it gets its power.

Like most people, I used to assume that grief was merely the deep sadness we feel after the death of someone we loved, and that any feelings beyond that came from an innate weakness, an inability to cope, self-pity, or a desire to create drama and importance in one’s life. When my brother died, and then a year later when my mother died, I felt what I expected to — deep sadness but nothing more, which enforced my idea of what grief is.

But all deaths do not affect us the same. During my life mate/soul mate’s long illness, I thought I’d become inured to the idea of his death. I’d even looked forward to the end of his suffering. I knew I’d feel sad and lonely, but I had no concerns about being able to continue my life. I’m strong and independent, and have never minded being alone.

And then he died.

At first, I was glad his suffering was over. I just sat there numb, waiting for the funeral director to come and collect his body. But then, like an ever-growing tsunami, grief washed over me — grief such as I never knew existed. The continuous onslaught of intense emotions, physical reactions, and psychological torments, along with the inability to understand how totally gone he was made it impossible to sort out any one feeling from the global trauma.

I started blogging about grief when I realized most novelists got it wrong. (I can’t tell you how many times writers have dismissed the grief of their characters with a simple: He went through the five stages of grief. Sheesh. For most of us, the Kübler-Ross grief model doesn’t even begin to explain what we are going through.) I continued blogging about grief when I realized how important it was for me and my fellow bereft to try to understand what we are experiencing and why.

None of us are weak. None of us lack the ability to cope. None of us are self-pitying. None of us are self-indulgent, wallowing in grief for the sake of making ourselves feel important. None of us are drama queens, wanting to draw attention to ourselves or make people feel sorry for us. (We don’t feel sorry for ourselves, at least not often, so why should anyone feel sorry for us?) Nor have any of us chosen our grief. It was thrust on us with such power that we still reel from it months and perhaps even years later. We aren’t dwelling on our grief. It’s dwelling on us. Or in us.

Although everyone’s grief is different, grief does follow patterns of ebb and flow. For many of us in our second year, the eighteen month mark came with a huge upsurge in grief. And now the end of this year — the end of the first full year without our loved ones — is causing another upsurge. I do not know why this is so, I just know that it’s the latest manifestation of the process.

I’ve passed many (maybe most) of grief’s milestones, though I’m sure future milestones will surprise me as I continue this journey through grief. I can deal with these milestones. They come. They go. But no matter how I feel — sad or unsad — he is still and will always be dead. I can understand that he is out of my life, but I cannot understand his total goneness from this earth. Perhaps that unknowableness is where grief comes from. Perhaps that unknowableness is where grief gets its power.

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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.