Telling New Grievers the Truth About Grief

When new widows or widowers ask me about grief, such as how long it took me or when I stopped crying, I never know how much of the truth to tell them. For some people, the idea that grief will be the primary factor in their lives for three to five years before they find some sort of renewal, is a comfort because they know they won’t feel bad forever. For other people, three to five years is an astonishingly long time (which it is, when it comes to grief) and the thought adds to their despair. After the first year, it’s not such a dilemma for me — people have settled into their grief and knowing it will last years more, isn’t such a torment.

Because of my hesitation to tell the whole truth, I’ve gotten into the habit of telling new widows that grief “lasts a long time.” Oddly, when one is on the grief side of those years, it is an immensely long and dreary road, but on this side, the years of grief seem to have been over in an instant, probably because when things don’t seem to change much, when every day seems like every other day, all the emotional memories pile one on top the other like a deck of cards, rather than being laid out on the table so all of it can be seen at once. That sameness is also what gives grief, when one is going through it, a feeling of timelessness, as if we were always grieving and forever after, always would.

But no matter what things feel like, internal changes are being made, and those changes are generally manifested sometime in the fourth year when suddenly, it seems, life seems lighter, more hopeful. (Or it could be we are simply more used to their being gone, because the truth is, one can get used to almost anything, even death and loss and grief.)

Another example of not knowing what to tell is when a friend recently asked me if her going to visit a relative would help. I told her yes, because that is the truth. It’s good to get a respite from the emptiness, even if the effects of that respite don’t linger beyond the visit. What I didn’t tell her, because I didn’t want to ruin her vacation from herself, is the horror of walking into one’s home afterward to find the emptiness waiting to grab hold once more. But she learned the truth when she got home, and oh, my heart goes out to her. It really is a hard thing to deal with — that emptiness, that void, the knowing that for the rest of our lives, we have to live without that one person who gave us a deeper meaning, emotional support, love and companionship.

This same friend asked if the urge to flee would dissipate after she got back from her visit. I said, no. And when she asked how long it would take before that urge disappeared, I told her that everything takes years. It just won’t always be bad. That urge to flee turns into some sort of craving for adventure. And then, even that urge fades away with time.

I never thought “time” was an antidote for grief, since it’s what we do with that time that affects us more than time itself, but time does pass. The void shrinks but never goes away, so that even when we start to lose the memories of living a shared life because of the passing years, we always feel the absence. Do people need to know they will always feel the absence? At the beginning, it’s a burden, but as the years pass, that same void becomes a comfort, a way of keeping the memory even when the memory is gone.

Another lesser reason I hesitate is that the pattern of grief that so many of us deal with isn’t universal. In rare instances widows don’t fall into the black hole of grief but are able to go on, after a few months, as if nothing had happened.

But most of us have to wait until grief is finished with us.

And that takes longer than anyone wants to contemplate. Even ten, fifteen, twenty years later, something will happen (a daughter’s wedding, a grandchild’s birth, a debilitating illness) and grief, as fresh and as agonizing as the day our loved one died, will return.

What I try to emphasize more than anything is that no matter what people feel, no matter how long it takes, it’s normal. In the end, that’s more important that the specifics, because one thing that most new widows and widowers have in common is the feeling they are crazy when their bodies and minds go into overdrive as they try to process the death of the loved one and loss from their life. Death is the great unknowable, and having to confront that unknown as well as dealing with grief puts an unbelievable stress on the body.

People do need to know about that stress so they can do whatever is necessary to combat the stress. In my case, it was long rambling walks. In other cases, it’s sleeping for long hours or reading or keeping a grief journal or even talking to the deceased. It’s all about getting through the days, the weeks, the months, the years until a renewed interest in life asserts itself.

And it will. That I can tell you for sure.


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

If You Didn’t Get a Chance to Listen to My Radio Interview . . .

Several people have mentioned that they didn’t get a chance to listen to my radio interview on Sunday — it really is hard for anyone (even me!!) to compete with the Academy Awards. If you are one of these people who didn’t get to listen, perhaps didn’t want to listen and are simply using the Oscars as an excuse so you wouldn’t have to hear to me yammer on and on, you’re not off the hook. The interview is posted online for all of eternity (or as eternal as the internet).

I hope you listen to the interview, “The Authentic Woman – with Host Shannon Fisher and Special Guest Pat Bertram.” I am at my charming best, scintillating, even, with flashes of wisdom. (Just don’t count how many times I say “actually.” Eek.) In fact, I’m listening to the podcast now — I wanted to make sure it isn’t an embarrassment. And it isn’t. Actually (there’s that word!) it’s quite compelling.

Part of the reason for it being such a compelling interview is the host. Shannon Fisher was easy to talk to, asked the perfect questions to get me to open up. We started with a discussion about my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, segued into a discussion of writing, which of course, turned into a mention of Grief: The Great Yearning, and a brief discourse of the grieving process. And continued to talk about life, vulnerability, possibilities.

And part of the reason for the compelling interview is that I didn’t treat it as an interview. We were simply two friends talking. The only glitch showed up at the very, very end. Apparently, the show didn’t click off when it was supposed to, but other than that, we did great for a premiere.

Feel free to listen in to this intimate conversation.

You can find me here:–with-host-shannon-fisher-and-special-guest-pat-bertram (Or click on the photo below.)



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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Talking to a Facebook Friend in Real Time

I’ve met a lot of wonderful people because of opening up and blogging about the loss of my life mate/soul mate. One woman, Shannon Fisher, has become a good friend of the Facebook variety, and tonight I will have a chance to talk to her in real time. I am going to be the premier guest on her new radio show, “The Authentic Woman”. I hope you can turn in at 8:00 pm ET.

Although we won’t we talking about grief (or not much, anyway) that is something we have in common, losing our soul mates. Shannon’s wisdom helped me get through many lonely nights. One night when we were messaging each other about the realization that although we felt connected to our soul mates, an important step in grief (sometime during the third year) is the realization that we are not our mates, Shannon wrote:

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.

When I felt that disconnect, I was suddenly okay. He was gone. I was here. And it was okay. The fear of letting go is what keeps us in the mire. We let go when we are ready to do so, and not a moment sooner.  Our partners are gone.  We can either live in this world without them, experiencing a full, active life…or half-live a life while we are still connected to our dead great loves through the ether, which we can’t navigate or understand this side of death.

It isn’t a choice; you can’t “just get there.” But you will get there. And everything will suddenly feel new again. You will see possibilities as something toward which you want to leap, and you will suddenly feel untethered and able to make that leap.

Well, I’ve made many leaps during these years of grief, and this radio show interview is just one more leap into the untethered future.

The live show begins at 8:00pm EST here at this link: If you miss it live, then use the same link for the podcast, available immediately after the live interview.

Call ins are welcome. 347-884-8266



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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Putting Grief into Perspective

In light of all the horrors going on the world today — massive fires, floods, ghastly diseases — talking about my grief seems a bit self-indulgent. In my favor, my intent was never to get people to feel sorry for me, but merely to chronicle one woman’s journey through grief. I wanted to tell what it felt like to lose a life mate/soul mate since I’d never experienced such a massive onslaught of pain, both physical and psychical. In fact, I never even knew such hurt was possible.

Now that my pain has subsided to irritation and sensitivity, mood swings and easily hurt feelings, continuing to blog about my grief does seem a bit over the top as if I’m trying to dramatize myself. But again, that is not my intention. Grief lasts a long time and can cause much damage to the souls of the bereft if not allowed to follow a natural healing cycle, and these more petty side effects of grief are still part of the grieving process. Even when I’m mostly healed and grief assimilated into my life, there will still be the second half of the process to deal with — finding new meaning, new joy, perhaps even a new identity. And all those steps are worth chronicling.

I write this blog mostly for me (and also to show writers the truth about grief since many get it wrong), so any help other grievers glean from my writing is an added blessing. In other words, what I’m writing here in this post today is a reminder for myself of what I am trying to accomplish with these posts as well as trying to put my grieving into perspective.

Sometimes now, I am far removed from the initial pain, and I look back and wonder what the big deal was. So I lost my life mate/soul mate — others have endured such losses and not screamed their pain to the blogosphere. Was it really so hard? Um . . . yeah. It was excruciatingly difficult.

At the same time I marvel that I made such a big deal of my grief, I marvel that within two months of his death I managed to get his funerary arrangements made, his finances tied up, his “effects” and belonging disposed of, the house cleaned, our remaining possessions packed and stored, a new bank account set up, my driver’s license renewed, and make my way 1000 miles from home to look after my 95-year-old father. That’s a lot of work even for a person who isn’t grieving to do by herself. I have no idea how I managed to get all that done within such a short time, especially since I was reeling from a tsunami of agony and anger and angst.

In the two years and three months since his death, others have lost their spouses, their children, their parents, their health, their houses and all they hold dear, and my grief seems pale in comparison, but the truth is, all we can do is travel our own path. What might seem rosier in another’s life or what might seem more horrific, doesn’t change the truth of our own journey. And this is my path — following grief wherever it might lead me.

Why “Grief: The Great Yearning” is Important

Yesterday I was on Blog Talk Radio discussing my new non-fiction book Grief: The Great Yearning and explaining why it is important.

I’ve written four novels, all published by Second Wind Publishing, and although I thought the subject matter of each book important enough to spend a year of my life writing and another year editing (to say nothing of the years on the arduous road to publication), I have a hard time telling people the novels are important.

The basic theme of all my novels is conspiracy, focusing on the horrors ordinary citizens have been subjected to by those in power. Most people who have read the books seem to like them (though a few who didn’t like them seemed befuddled by what I was trying to accomplish). Light Bringer in particular seems to arouse a difference of opinion. Written to be the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories, Light Bringer traces the push toward a one-world government back 12,000 years. Based on myths, both modern conspiracy myths and ancient cosmology myths, Light Bringer is a thriller, or mythic fiction perhaps (if there is such a thing). I never intended it to be science fiction since the science is gleaned from ancient records rather than futuristic imaginings, but that is how it is perceived. Still, despite the scope of the book, despite it being my magnum opus and the result of twenty years of research, I can’t in all honesty say it is important to anyone except me. It probably won’t change anyone’s life or anyone’s thinking. For the most part, we bring to books what we believe, and so those who believe in conspiracies see the importance of my novels, while those who don’t have even a smattering of belief that there are machinations we are not privy to might even think them far-fetched.

On the other hand, Grief: The Great Yearning is an important book. It is composed of journal entries, blog posts, and letters to my dead life mate/soul mate, all pieces written while I was trying to deal with the unbearable tsunami of emotions, hormones, physical symptoms, psychological and spiritual torments, identity crisis and the thousand other occurrences we lump under the heading “grief.” Because of this, the emotion in Grief: The Great Yearing is immediate, the experience palpable. This is a comfort to those having to deal with a grievous loss because they can see they are not alone. (One of the side effects of grief is a horrendous feeling of isolation.) They can see that whatever they feel, others have felt, and that whatever seemingly crazy thing they do to bring themselves comfort, others have done.

This book is also important for the families of someone who has suffered a grievous loss. Too often the bereft are told to move on, get over it, perhaps because their families don’t understand what it is the survivor has to deal with. Well, now they can get a glimpse into grief and ideally, be more patient and considerate of their bereft loved ones.

This book is especially important for writers. I’ve mostly given up reading for now because of the unrealness I keep coming across in fiction. So many novels are steeped in death, with bodies piling up like cordwood, yet no one grieves. The surviving spouses think as clearly as they did before the death. They have no magical thinking, holding two disparate thoughts in their minds at once. (For example: I know he will never need his eyeglasses, but I can’t throw them away because how will he see without them?) The characters have no physical symptoms or bouts of tears that are beyond their control. There is no great yearning to see the dead once more (and this yearning is what drives our grief, not the so-called stages). In other words, we are continually conditioned to downplay the very real presence of grief in our lives. If we don’t see people grieve in real life, in movies, in books, where are we to get a blueprint for grief?

As Leesa Healy, Consultant in Emotional-Mental Health wrote, “If people were to ask me for an example of how grief can be faced in order for the healthiest outcome, I would refer them to Grief: The Great Yearning, which should be the grief process bible. Pat Bertram’s willingness to confront grief head on combined with her openness to change is the epitome of good mental health.”

So, yes, Grief the Great Yearning is important, and it was good to have a chance to talk about the book and to spread my message: It is okay to grieve. It is important to grieve. And as impossible as it is to imagine now, you will survive.

If you’d like to listen to me talk (and laugh) and discover that I really am okay despite my continued sadness and occasional upsurges of grief, you can find the show here: Talk Radio Network with Friend and Author Pat Bertram

Click here to find out more about Grief: The Great Yearning

I am going to be on blog talk radio today!

I am going to be on blog talk radio today speaking to Jo-Anne Vandermeulen. Or should I say, she will be speaking to me? Either way, we will be discussing my new book, Grief: The Great Yearning, why I wrote it, and why the book is important. If time allows, we’ll also talk about how I help other writers and perhaps we might touch on more general topics, such as the future of books. (Jo-Anne wanted a list of ten topics for us to discuss. I guess she didn’t realize I could talk for hours about grief and its unwelcome role in our lives.)

The show is a half an hour, from 6:30pm ET to 7:00pm ET (3:30pm PT to 4:00pm PT). I hope you will tune in to listen, but if you can’t, well . . . blogs are forever, and blog talk is no different. The show will be available whenever you get a chance to check it out. It should be a good show. Not only is 30 minutes a manageable block of time, there will only be one guest (me!) and one host, so it should be a dynamic show. And anyway, you’ve been wanting to hear what I sound like, so here is your chance!

Link to show: Talk Radio Network with Friend and Author Pat Bertram

Guest call-in number: (347) 857-3752