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.

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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.” 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.

Grief Update — Thirty Months of Survival

My life mate/soul mate/best friend died two and a half years ago today. Thirty months. Written out like that, thirty months seems like a very long time, but looking back, it’s no time at all. It takes three to five years to find renewed life after such a grievous loss, or so I’ve been told, and I am only halfway there. It might seem to you as if this talk of grief means I do nothing but cry for him, but the truth is, I do quite well, with only a few unshed tears stinging my eyes now and again.

Feelings other than sadness are beginning to arise, though.

Throughout all these months, I’ve tried not to use the word “loss” when referring to my deceased mate because he isn’t misplaced, he is dead. But now, sometimes out of the blue, I’ll get that dropping elevator feeling of having misplaced something — something of untold value or something I desperately need — and I don’t know where or how I lost it. This sensation is not connected to any memory of him, and is not the same as the feeling of bereftness or yearning I so often had during the first couple of years, but still it makes the world seem precarious and alien at times.

Most things are getting better — I do not have the unimaginable pain I experienced in the beginning. Nor does the yearning for him claw at me, though I still miss him, still long for one more smile, still wish for one more word. But something is getting worse, something akin to a soul thirst or a soul hunger. For many years, being with him satisfied a need in me that I wasn’t aware of. Perhaps a recharging of my energy after a long day or maybe a regeneration of spirit. (For someone who writes and thinks as much as I do, I should be able to come up with a word to describe this need, but I only know it as a void, as something I once had but am no longer getting.) When I am hungry and do not eat, I get hungrier. When I am thirsty and do not drink, I get thirstier. And when this particular soul need is not slaked, I get needier.

I am finding other ways of fulfilling the roles he played in my life. Wherever he was, there was my home, and now I’m learning to find home wherever I might be. He was my playmate for many years before he got too ill, and now I have friends to do things with — have lunch, go to festivals and fairs, take yoga classes (and maybe Tai Chi — something I’ve always wanted to do). There is no one with whom I can talk to about all the things he and I used to discuss, but I can spread those topics around, discussing each with a different friend.

But so far I have not found a way around the role he filled for electrifying my spirit, (for lack of a better word). Walking in the desert helps, being with friends helps, but neither of those things sustains me once they are over. Perhaps a new love — another person or a passion — would help, but I am too new for another relationship (I’m still learning how to be me), and so far something to care passionately about remains beyond my reach.

I hope you understand that I am merely chronicling yet another step on my journey and not feeling sorry for myself or asking for pity. I once had something that few people get to experience — a soul connection with another human being. It was not always a happy or comfortable connection — at various times we both railed against it — but through it all, the good times and the bad, we were together.

I saw a plaque today: We can do anything as long as we’re together. I really believed that when he and I were together, we could do anything, though it turned out not to be true. We couldn’t make him well. We couldn’t keep him from dying. And now, we are not together, have not been together for thirty months, and will not be together for the rest of my life.

A person can get used to anything, so eventually I will get used to plodding along without that galvanizing connection with him, but for now, I’m still trying to find my way.

Grief: Finally Grateful

Two years and three months after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I am finally beginning to understand that this is my life and my life alone.

Sharing a life with someone might shroud the basic aloneness for a while, but after the person dies, it eventually becomes apparent that your destiny belongs only to you. (Because, obviously, if it belonged to both of you, he would still be here.)

Surviving a mate is hard on many counts. The sheer agony of his being ripped from your life leaving you feeling amputated. The bewilderment and angst that come with confronting death. The collateral losses that go along with losing a mate, such as the loss of one’s connection to the world, the loss of one’s best friend, the loss of someone to share the burden of decisions and chores. But beyond the obvious hardships are the more subtle problems of loving someone who is no longer alive, of continuing to worry about their wellbeing, of feeling bad for them that their life was cut short. (Much of my grief was for him, a posthumous empathy for his suffering and for his dreams that never came to fruition.)

I do not know the truth of his death — perhaps he is sunning himself on some cosmic beach or playing with a couple of galactic cats. Perhaps he is glad to be dead, assuming he even knows that he is. The corollary to this being my life and my life alone is that his life is his alone. Despite all that we did together, all that we shared, all that we were together, I am no longer part of his life.

In some ways, his death set me free. Our lives had become so constrained because of his illness and our financial concerns, that it trapped both of us in a world that was barely tolerable. (I was going to say that it was unbearable, but we did bear it.) His death brought an end to that world for both of us, though losing him catapulted me into the world of grief.

I am not over my grief — I never will be — but my sorrow is being assimilated into my life, and I am coming closer to an acceptance of the gift of freedom he gave me. I am still prone to tears and fears, but finally, after all these months, I am able to think of him and smile, and be grateful that he shared his life with me.