The Sorrow, Stress, and Solitariness of Grief

A friend asked me how long it took me not to cry every day after Jeff died. My first response was “months” because I didn’t want to freak her out with how long grief lasts, but when I realized that it was better to be forewarned, I told her the truth.

I don’t remember when I stopped crying every day, but I know it went on for years. In a way, it’s not as bad as it sounds. At the beginning I cried almost all the time, but as the months passed, even though I still cried every day, it was not as long or as often. Even years after Jeff died, I was still tearing up almost every day — not really crying, but not not-crying, either. Sometimes the tears came from missing him or loneliness or exhaustion or being around those who were still happily married. Other times, something happened to cause the upsurge of grief: a smell, a memory, something I read or saw.

Now, months go by without a tear, but then, I am not a new widow. I am used to his being gone, used to being alone, used to the void that remains somewhere deep inside.

Not everyone has that deep well of tears, but enough of us do that I know tears are a normal part of dealing with such a devastating loss. Losing a life mate ranks at the very top of stressful situations. On a scale of 1 to 100, the loss of a life mate or child tops all at 100. Divorce, the second worse stressor is 73.

Sorrow. Stress. Solitariness. Any one of those makes for a very rough time, but when they all come at once, as they do when one has suffered a profound loss, they create a near-impossible situation. No wonder tears are such a common occurrence after the loss of a spouse or soul mate or life mate.

Although none of us like to cry, and although we perceive tears to be a sign of weakness, tears are necessary to help us relieve the incredible stress of grief. What adds to an already stressful situation (not the least being that the one person we need to help us through our loss is the very person we are mourning) is the sporadic and chaotic nature of grief. We can be doing fine — fine meaning not tearful — when suddenly, we are overtaken by grief. When that bout of sorrow is over, we think we have a grip, and then we’re hit again with the realization of our loss, and there we are, back at the beginning.

Unsettled times such as this current world-wide crisis, as well as the enforced isolation, can make grief even worse since there is nothing to do to take one’s mind off the pain, nowhere to run to for a moment of solace.

But there are always tears. At the beginning, crying seemed to make me feel worse, but as time went by and I realized that there were worst things than crying — such as suffering the physical and mental effects of stress — I came to appreciate the relief. Later, I came to welcome any tears because they seemed to bridge the gap and make me feel closer to him, and if not to him, then to my grief.

And if there are no tears to relieve the sorrow, stress, and solitariness of grief? Then you can try screaming. That works, too.

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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.

Glad about Grief

Almost five years ago, my life mate/soul mate died, leaving me in a world of pain.

I hesitated about using such a cliché, but the truth is, the world for me was pain. My heart hurt, my lungs hurt, my mind hurt, my soul hurt. I was surrounded by hurt. Everything I saw, smelled, touched brought pain. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened. How could he be dead? How could I not be?

Ferris wheelMost of the pain has been now absorbed, amoeba-like, by the days of my life. During the past five years, I have traveled, taken dance classes, learned new things, made new friends, lost friends, had new experiences, attended festivals and fairs, ridden Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds, suffered various ailments, written more than a thousand blogs, walked thousands miles, dreamed impossible dreams as well as merely improbable ones, been hurt, inadvertently hurt others, made plans and abandoned plans, panicked, found peace at times, even found pieces of time.

All of that living has bounded the pain, creating a buffer between me and the rawness of the universe, making it easier to embrace the future, wherever it might take me. (Easier, not easy. There is a contract on my father’s house, which, if accepted, will mean the beginning of the next phase of my life. And since I have no clue where I will go, I have moments of panic because I just am not ready. And yet . . . I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.)

Despite the buffer, the pain does seep into my consciousness at times, stealing my breath, and filling me with sorrow. The difference between now and the beginning (odd that I always call his death “the beginning”) is that where once I railed against the pain, now I welcome it because I am reminded of him, of his life, of our shared life, and that is good. He is no longer the focus of my life, and that also is good since such a one-sided relationship can bring no joy or growth, but he is and will always be a part of my life. He is and always will be a person unto himself, and it’s that person I celebrate with my brief and occasional bouts of tears.

The world is poorer for his absence. And someone, if only me, should acknowledge that. I used to wish grief weren’t so hard. Now I’m glad that it is.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

I Am an Eight-Month Grief Survivor

When you love someone deeply, their well-being is as important to you as your own, but what do you do with that feeling when your someone is gone? Eight months ago, my life mate died, and now he has no need for stories to amuse or outrage him, no need for tasty meals to tempt his appetite, no need for comfort or caring or kindness, and yet my habit of thinking of him remains. Eventually, I imagine, the habit will wear itself out, but for now I still find myself thinking of ways to make his life a bit easier or a bit more enjoyable.

After eight months, I am still in . . . not shock, exactly, but a state of non-comprehension. I can’t comprehend his death, his sheer goneness. I can’t comprehend his life, though perhaps that is not for me to bother about. Most of all, I can’t comprehend my sorrow. I never saw much reason for grief. Someone died, you moved on. Period. I thought I was too stoic, too practical to mourn, and yet, here I am, still grieving for someone who has no need for my sorrow.

Despite my continued grief, I am moving on. My sporadic tears do not stop me from accomplishing the goals I set myself, such as NaNoWriMo and daily walks. My sorrow doesn’t keep me from taking care of myself — or mostly taking care of myself. (I don’t always eat right, and I don’t always sleep well.) Moving on, as I have learned, is not about abandoning one’s grief, but moving on despite the grief.

Grief is much gentler on me now, and I can sidestep it by turning my mind to other things, but I don’t always want to. I have not yet reached the point where thoughts of him bring me only happiness, and I need to remember him. If tears and pain are still part of that remembrance, so be it.

We shared our lives, our thoughts, our words — we talked about everything, often from morning to night — yet even before he died, we started going separate ways, he toward his death, me toward continued life. I often wonder what he would think of my grief, but just as his life is not for me to try to comprehend, my grief does not belong to him. It is mine alone.

And so the months pass, eight now. Soon it will be a year. Sometimes it feels as if he died only days ago, and I expect him to call and tell me I can come home — I’ve proven that I can live without him, so I don’t have to continue to do so. Sometimes it feels as if he’s been gone forever, that our life together wasn’t real, perhaps something I conjured up out of the depths of my loneliness. Sometimes my grief doesn’t even feel real, and I worry that I’ve created it out of a misguided need for self-importance. Such are the ways of grief, this strange and magical thinking. This could be magical thinking, too, but it seems to me that having survived eight months of grief, I can survive anything.

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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.