I am Truly Blessed

I just came back from dance class to an empty house. It felt strange not to have to worry about my father, not to have to deal with our complicated relationship. (Though at the end, it was simple. He wanted to die, and I was there, helping him let go.)

My father died in exactly the same way Jeff (my life/mate soul mate) did — terminal restlessness and agitation treated with morphine and haloperidol for a while, and then finally nothing when they fell into a coma and slowly and peacefully faded out of this world. In both cases, I sat with the empty body until the mortuary came for the remains, though in both cases I had company, a nurse with Jeff and a brother with my father.

But then came the major differences. With Jeff, I was totally shattered, dealing with unbearable angst and agony at his separation from my very being. I did not have that sort of deeply connected relationship with my father. Besides, he was considerably older than Jeff. Where Jeff’s life had been cut short at a fairly young age, my father had used himself up. He had nothing left. Most of all, when Jeff died, I was alone. Completely. Had to deal with everything by myself. Had little support. (Which is why I swallowed my intense independence and went to a grief support group, and one of the reasons I wrote about my grief.)

But this time, I could feel the incredible outpouring of love and caring from both my online and offline friends. Many comments were left on my blog and Facebook — not the typical stranger-to-stranger condolences you get on such sites, but heartfelt expressions of concern from people who have gotten to know me from my chronicling the traumas of my life.

I went walking with my walking group last night and cried on a friend’s shoulder and got hugs from everyone else. And then I experienced the same thing at dance class today, hugs and tears. After class, I went to lunch with friends, got calls this afternoon making this empty house seem not so bleak, and I will be going to dinner with another friend tonight.

I am truly blessed. Thank you for your kindness, your caring, your love. You mean more to me than you will ever know.

Me, Jeff, Mom and Dad on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Strange to think I am the only one left alive.

***

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.

Counting Down to the Second Anniversary of Grief

I’ve been on a grief hiatus for a few months — no major upsurges of grief — but yesterday, for no apparent reason, I started crying, and I’ve been crying on and off ever since. I’ve been trying not to think of the upcoming two-year anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death, trying to look ahead to the future, trying to find something to be passionate about (or at least something to hang my life on). Despite the exhaustion of attempting to put a good face on the seemingly bleak future, I thought I’d been doing well.

And then came the tears.

It still surprises me that the body remembers even when the conscious mind doesn’t. I’d forgotten that yesterday was the two-year anniversary of the last time we talked, the last time we were together in our home, the last time we touched. But something deep inside, something beneath thought, remembered. And grieved.

Two years ago yesterday, the hospice nurse expressed concern for us. I hadn’t slept in I don’t how many days, and neither had he. Some people, as they near death, suffer from what is called terminal restlessness. In his case, the rapidly growing tumors, his impossibly fast heart rate, the morphine, and various other factors made it impossible for him to be still. He wanted/needed to be on his feet, moving, always moving. And since he was too weak to be left alone, I would pace with him.

That last morning at home, the nurse suggested that he go to the hospice care center for a five-day respite, and he and I agreed. He knew I needed sleep (though ironically, I got very little sleep those days) and I thought they would adjust his dosages to give him the most alertness and the least pain. But they never tried. They dosed him with tranquilizers to keep him in bed, and he never had another moment of consciousness.

Those days were exactly two years ago. And I remember them as clearly as if they were happening now. I watched him die. I was there at the end. As agonizing as that was, I know there are worse things. I might not have been there when he took his last breath. I might not have witnessed the very moment he left my life. I might not have been able to say good-bye. Unlike many bereft, I don’t have to deal with those regrets.

For a long time I regretted taking him to the hospice care center — I felt as if I’d deprived him of one more day at home, one more day of lucidity, but in the end, I suppose there was no other choice. He’d stopped being able to swallow, the morphine made him disoriented, and the tranquilizers they prescribed to stop the terminal restlessness made him delusional. I’m glad he doesn’t have to deal with his body any more, but oh, I so wish I could see him once more, or talk to him on the phone, or go back to his store where we spent so much time when we were young and new.

I hope death feels better from the other side than it does from this side, because the only thing that brings me peace is the belief that he is no longer suffering. It’s strange to think that the very moment his suffering ended, mine began. I never expected to grieve. He’d been sick for so very long that his death came as a relief, but when the truth hit me, it hit with the force of a cyclone. And two years later, I am still whirling from the pain.

Twelve Lonely Weeks

It’s been twelve weeks since my life mate died — twelve lonely weeks that I’ve spent wishing he were here, wishing that we had our life back, wishing that he hadn’t been sick so much.

I’m beginning to understand, though, that to wish things were different is to negate the wisdom, courage, and determination with which he faced his life and death. Until the very end when he was imprisoned in bed by drugs (they did not know how else to handle his terminal restlessness — the restlessness that some people experience near the end — so they tranquilized him into a coma) he was determined to live his life to the fullest he could. He was so weak, so befuddled by the drugs and the metastases in his brain that he could not do much, yet his courage and determination were as strong as ever. Sick of being in bed, sick of being sick, he set up an office in the living room and set to work planning his schedule. That was the last night he was awake. He lived through five more nights and days, but he was not conscious. Or at least I hope he wasn’t. He would have hated being a helpless invalid, so it’s a good thing he only had to endure five such days.

I really was glad — or perhaps relieved is a better word — when he died. He’d suffered so much and that determination of his not to waste a single moment of his life, not to give in to the disease, kept him going long after he was ready to die. Later, as the reality of the situation hit me, as grief devasted me, I began to wish things had been different.

He’d been told he had three to six months to live, but he only had three weeks. I’ve been wishing we had those months — but even if I had a choice, there is no way I could justify putting him through that extra pain so I could have him in my life a little longer.

And yet . . . and yet. I still wish things had been different. I wish he’d had a long, healthy, happy life. I wish we still had “our” life.

I wish I could hug him one more time.

I wish . . .