Twelfth Year

I got through the eleventh anniversary of Jeff’s death without a major upsurge of grief, just a feeling of nostalgia and a bit of sadness. For a moment, before I retired for the night, I wanted to cry if for no other reason than a recognition that he is gone, but no tears came. I think I’m cried out, which in itself is ironic because for so many years, it felt as if the tears would never stop.

I once heard a saying that I didn’t understand until after Jeff died: Nothing changes and then everything changes. For years, nothing changed in our lives. It seemed as if we would always be like that — him struggling with dying, me struggling with living. Then he stopped breathing, and in that moment, everything changed.

Well, not everything. One thing has never changed. After all these years, he’s still the person I most want to talk to. We shared so much over the years, it is bewildering to me that we can’t sit down and get caught up. Or stand up and get caught up — looking back, it seems as if we were always standing when we talked. Who better to help me make sense of our lives both before and after his death? I do talk to him, or rather to his picture, though my comments are nothing more than asides, mentioning my day, maybe listing something for which I am grateful, or asking him how he’s doing. It’s hard to have a deep meaningful conversation when it is all one-sided.

I discovered a strange thing this morning. Although I have picked a tarot card to read the first thing every morning, I noticed a blank spot on my tarot journal where yesterday’s card was supposed to be. My morning routine is quite rigid. I do some stretching exercises, make the bed, fold three origami cranes, then shuffle whatever tarot deck I am using, and pick a card. Somehow, after I folded the cranes, I must have become distracted, and spaced out the whole tarot thing.

It’s nothing major, just a weird lapse, but it makes me wonder if subconsciously I blocked it out. After all, the tarot readings are a sort of memorial to my brother, and he loathed Jeff. Or maybe I simply didn’t want to know what the card would say. Either way, it’s unsettling to me — I don’t like forgetting to do things that I thought had become habit. Though, to tell the truth, this sort of forgetting does happen with me.

When I was in my late twenties, I ran a mile every day for years, and then days would go by, and suddenly I’d remember that I’d forgotten to run. One day I stopped running altogether. I simply forgot. It’s the same reason I am adamant about blogging every day — if I don’t blog every day, the days might pass without my ever writing a word. I have forgotten to blog a couple of days, but remembered sometime the late in the evening, so I was able to do my daily stint. Would it matter if I forgot? Probably not, but I do like the discipline of writing something every day, and if I let a day lapse, and then another and another, chances are I won’t be as willing to get back to blogging. (If I do forget to remember to blog one day, don’t worry. It has happened in the past, and will probably happen again, though I do try to remember not to forget.)

But that’s not important. What is important is that today starts my twelfth year of living without the person I thought I’d grow old with. Well, I am growing old; it’s just that I’m growing old alone. I’m mostly okay with that, at least, today I am. Tomorrow might be different.

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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

Grief Eve

Today is the eve of the eleventh anniversary of Jeff’s death. For several years after the first year, the day before the anniversary was painful, but the anniversary itself was not as much of a problem. I don’t know why that was except that perhaps I’d been focused on the anniversary itself and so was prepared for that, but I wasn’t prepared for what I felt in the days leading up to the anniversary.

So far, today isn’t any different from any other day, which kind of surprises me. The calendar this year is exactly the same as the year he died, so I expected to feel something . . . extra. Apparently, he’s been gone so long that I no longer feel the “calendar” of his absence. During the first years, even when I didn’t actually check to see what day it was, I could feel the various anniversaries (his diagnosis, signing up for hospice, his dying) in the marrow of bones, in the depths of my soul.

Body memory such as I experienced is often associated with extreme stress, and the death of a spouse/life mate/soul mate is about as stressful as everyday life gets. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again, though that re-experience did happen often during the early years. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.

I’ve always felt that my internal clock was reset on the day he died, so that ever after I talk about that day as “the beginning.” Back then, I meant it as the beginning of my grief, but learned to see it as the beginning of a new stage in my life, one that was dictated by his absence, my grief, my struggles to find a new way of living. Now that clock, or at least the internal memory of him and his dying days, has wound down. As you can see, I still count my years from that day, but it is a conscious count, not a body memory.

Many memories of my life before that delineation, that beginning, have faded with the years. It annoys my sister when she asks me about things that happened in our childhood and I don’t remember. (And it annoys me that she still asks, knowing that I don’t remember.) It’s as if those years belonged to someone else’s life in the same way the characters I have read or written weren’t actually my life. Truthfully, I don’t want to remember my younger years. Nor do I have any particular desire to try to remember my years with Jeff — I feel those memories in the void of his absence even if I don’t recall a specific incident.

For many years, every Saturday, the day of the week he died, was a sadder day for me. I could always tell when it was Saturday even when I didn’t know. (I’m one of those people who, if they were in an accident and a medical professional would test my cognizance by asking me the date or the day of the week, I’d fail.) But back then, I did know Saturdays. It’s been a long time since I “felt” a Saturday. All my days, at least as they pertain to Jeff and his absence and my grief, are pretty much the same now. There is a deep running current of sadness that will never leave me, but it doesn’t affect me the way it once did. I can still be happy, can still find joy in the little things of my life, such as the flowers poking their pretty little heads above ground.

But this is how I feel today. Tomorrow is the first time since he died that the anniversary falls on Saturday, so who knows what I will feel, what my body will feel, what I will remember.

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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