Thirty-Four Months of Grief

desert roadThirty-four months ago today, my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. For thirty-four months now, I have been posting updates on my progress through grief, and that astounds me. Thirty-four months? How is that possible? Written out, it seems such a short time for him to have been gone, and yet it feels immeasurably vast — so many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and now years, spent trying to come to grips with what happened to us. For most of our lives we were connected by some mystical bond, a cosmic twinning, that kept us together even when times were rough. And then suddenly, in a single breath, that connection was broken. I am here, alone, and he is . . . well, I don’t know where he is or even if he is.

I never had survivor’s guilt for the simple reason that I wasn’t sure which of us got the worst end of the deal, but I have felt uncomfortable going on without him, as if somehow I were being disloyal. We helped fight each other’s battles, sticking up for each other, caring for each other, waiting for whichever of us happened to be lagging behind, always taking the other into consideration, and it feels as if I should still be doing so. But he is beyond my reach, beyond my care, beyond my consideration.

I have come to see that continuing the disconnect that began with his descent into death is one of the tasks of my grief. (Grief seems to be not so much about passing through stages, but more about completing tasks, such as processing the loss and learning to live again.) Until I understand within my depths that for all practical (earthly) purposes we are not one, I will never be able to embrace fully what life has in store for me. We are separate persons, each with our own experiences, our own journey, and our own destination. For a while, our paths crossed, but now, I have to continue as me, alone. No matter what I do, or think or feel, it cannot change the past. No matter how much I hate that he is dead, no matter how much I rail against the unfairness, no matter how much I miss him or wish desperately for one more word or smile, he is no longer in my life.

For most of those thirty-four months, this disconnect has seemed an impossible task, but there is a bit of light illuminating my path. Last week, when I went to my Yoga class, they asked how I was, and I said, without thinking, “I’m doing great.” It stunned me to hear those words come out of my mouth, because for more than five years, during the last of his dying and these many months of grief, I have had times of feeling okay, and I thought that was the best I could do. But at that moment, I did feel great. It didn’t last long, only about an hour before I began sliding into sadness again, but that hour stands as a beacon for what might be.

Up until that class, this year has been one of increased sorrow and tears, and such grief upsurges often precede or follow a deeper level of acceptance. It’s not so much that I am learning to accept his death — I accepted the truth of it from the beginning, though I hate it and will never be able to comprehend it — but I am learning to accept that I am alive, and that is a much harder thing to accept.

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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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

Wondering About Life And Death And The Meaning Of It All

I don’t think I had survivor’s guilt after the death of my life mate/soul mate, but I do feel bad that I’m leaving him behind. I get a second chance at life, new friends, new vistas, new experiences, but he has been denied that. And in fact, he was denied all those things long before his death since his protracted dying kept him from doing much except struggling to get through one more pain-filled day.

He often told me that when he got incapacitated, I had to put him in a home and walk away. Just forget him. I know he’d want me to do the same thing now that he is dead, but I didn’t walk away when I had to put him in the hospice care center, and I can’t walk away now, and for certain I can’t just forget him.

But perhaps I am looking at the situation backward. His being dead is still the thing that drives my sadness — sadness not just for me but for him. And yet . . . what if it is he who left me behind? Perhaps he has gone on to a wondrous new life, in which case my sadness on his behalf is misplaced. And maybe none of this has anything to do with me. Maybe it’s not up to me to worry if he was cheated or not, or even to wonder if he’s in a better place. Despite our deep connection, he was still his own person. Maybe I’m poking into something that is his alone.

Just as I have to accept that my life is mine alone now.

About a year before he died, I hugged him and accidentally touched his left ear. I know now cancer had metastasized all the way up his left side and into his brain, but at the time, all I knew was that he pushed me away, wincing in agony. Something shut off right then, and a voice deep inside me said, “He might dying but I have to live.” For all that year, we went our separate ways, he to dying, me to living. Then, six weeks before he died, he made the connection with me again. He needed to talk about what was happening to him so he could gather courage to face what was coming, and during that daylong conversation, I remembered why I fell in love with him all those years ago.

Because of that disconnected year, a year where I felt dissociated from him and our life, I didn’t expect to grieve, but here I am, two years and seven weeks later, still struggling to deal with the wreckage of our shared life, still sad, still wondering about life and death and the meaning of it all. When life makes sense, death doesn’t. When death makes sense, life doesn’t. It would be nice to talk to him and compare notes about what we’re both doing, but so far he’s remaining silent.

One thing has changed recently. In between the moments of angst and wanting it all to be over with, in between the pinchings of grief and not caring what happens to me, that determination of several years ago is making itself felt.

He might be dead, but I have to live.

I just wish I knew how.