Three Years of Grief

Today is, unexpectedly, a day like any other. So far, on this, the third anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate, I’ve experienced no great upsurges of grief, just that perpetual thread of sadness that bastes my life together.

During those first months of grief, my focus was completely on him, on his absence, on the horrendous feeling of goneness that his death left me with. It was as if by thinking of him, by holding him close in my thoughts, by reliving the horror of his final weeks, that somehow I could undo what had happened to him. But the years have taught me what logic didn’t — that he is gone and nothing I do or think or say or hope or pray will bring him back.

During his last days, he became childlike in his needs and actions (as if the combination of the cancer that spread to his brain and the drugs that kept the pain at bay killed the man, leaving only the inner child behind), which confused the issue in my mind. For a long time after his death, I panicked, wondering how he could take care of himself, wishing I could be there to calm his fears and his restless spirit, longing to hold him in my arms and keep him safe.

It’s only recently that the truth hit me. He was an adult, not a child, and except at the end, was more than capable of taking care of himself. Besides, if he does still exist somewhere, he is ageless, timeless, beyond any need of me and my feeble ministrations. (Feeble because nothing I could do erased a single moment of his pain or kept him alive one more day.)

There is an element of blank to my grief — an incomprehension of what it’s all about. I remember how grief feels, though I’m far enough along in the grief process that I have a hard time believing I was that shattered woman so lost in pain. But I don’t know the truth of life and death, and I’m not sure we humans are capable of understanding. And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It keeps us focused on our lives and not on . . . well, whatever else is out there.

Although time has insulated me from the rawness of my grief, and although my grief work has brought me to the point where I can once again see possibilities and feel hope, there is one thing I will never lose — that great yearning to see him one more time. To hear his voice. See his smile. To hold him tightly as if I would never let him go. But I have let him go. I let him go three years ago, not allowing my needs to bind him to his life of pain.

And I need to let him go now.

Well, here it is — the upsurge in grief I didn’t feel when I started writing this post. Tears are running down my face. I know I need to let him go, to let go of the grief that binds us together still, but not today. Today I will remember. And grieve.

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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+

The Eve of My Third Anniversary of Grief

In just a few hours, it will be three years since the death of my life mate/soul mate. It seems impossible I’ve survived so long. It seems impossible he’s been gone so long. Sometimes I feel as if we just said good-bye, as if I could call him up and see how he is doing, as if when I am finished caring for my father, I could go home again. But of course, those are just tricks of the ever-changing grief process.

I’ve been doing well recently, keeping busy, not letting myself get too caught up in the past. The present is complicated enough with my father’s growing dependency (though he has been doing well the past week or so, taking more of an interest in his own care). And the future is becoming more real, not quite as bleak as it has seemed during the past few years.

020smallFor all these months of grief, I’ve been worried about what will happen to me when my present responsibilities end. Oddly, during my mate’s long dying, I never really thought of the future. I just presumed I’d be okay. He told me things would come together for me, and I believed him. But now that I know how life feels with him gone, I’ve been afraid of stagnating, drowning in loneliness, living as quietly and unobtrusively as I’ve always done. The realization that I don’t have to find a place and settle down but can live on the go if I wish destroyed those fears with one clean stroke, and I’ve spent the past week figuring out the logistics of such an adventurous life. It won’t be easy since I have few financial resources and strong hermit tendencies, but the alternative — stagnation — makes such a future seem possible.

Because of all that is occupying my mind, I thought I’d sail right through this anniversary without an upsurge of grief, (though I always miss him; that’s a given) but grief will not be denied. If I don’t acknowledge my loss and sorrow, grief will acknowledge me. A couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was grieving for him. Dreamed I wanted to go home to him. Dreamed I cried for him. And when I woke, I was crying still.

I guess it’s just as well that the next stage of my life’s journey could be a long way off. Apparently I have grieving left to do. Chances are, I always will grieve to a certain extent, but now I’m more concerned about what to do with my life despite the grief. I’d hate to meet him again some day and have to admit that I spent my life awash in tears. He would be disappointed in me, and to be honest, so would I.

But three years. Has it really been so long since I last saw his smile? Last heard his voice? Last felt his arms around me? It’s hard for me to believe, but the calendar doesn’t lie.

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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+

When Grief Comes Calling

desert roadGrief has been leaving me alone lately, probably because I’ve been keeping myself busy with other matters, but Friday night grief came calling. Sorrow has been with me on and off now for two days, perhaps in recognition of my upcoming three-year anniversary. I didn’t think there would be a problem with this anniversary (which is a bit naïve of me considering that I didn’t think there would be a problem with any of the agonizing stops along this grief journey). I’ve been feeling as if the death of my life mate/soul mate happened long ago, so long that he’s been fading in memory. Yet on Friday night, the memory of his last days was so fresh and new, it was as if we’d only recently parted. I could almost feel his arms around me as we said our final good-byes. Could almost see his smile, could almost hear his voice.

And suddenly, just like that, the yearning to be with him one more time overwhelmed me, and the reality lay heavy on my soul. He’s dead? Really? How is that possible?

I know how it’s possible. He got sick, was sick for years, and finally, the inoperable kidney cancer spread, hijacking his body for its own use. But dead? Part of me doesn’t get it. Part of me (just a vestigial part now) thinks I’ll be going home to him when I am free of my current responsibilities, and the truth — that he is gone forever — is again too much to bear.

I do know enough about grief to understand that this upsurge in sorrow will pass, but there will be other days — at ever-increasing intervals — when grief will again come calling. We get so in the habit of life, of dealing with our small everyday concerns, that our grief gets pushed out of sight, but we never completely get over our sadness. How can we? The person who meant more to us than any other is gone, taking part of us with him.

If that weren’t hard enough to deal with, we can never completely forget that we were helpless to keep him here even one more day, which makes life and death seem an arbitrary business. Perhaps if we knew life’s algorithms, we could see how everything fits together, but without such omniscience, we are left with only questions. Where is he? Is he happy? Is he?

Sometimes what keeps me focused on living is the thought of what he would say if we were to meet again. He’d be disappointed in me if I told him that all I did was mourn for him. I can see almost hear him say, “I died to set you free and you did nothing but cry?” Yeah, well, he no longer has a say in what I do. It’s my life and I’ll cry if I want to.

It’s not so much that I want to cry, but sometimes tears are the only way to relieve the incredible stress of grief. I had no idea stress would still come into play at almost three years, but grief, even aging grief, takes a lot out of us. Despite the upsurge in grief and the accompanying feelings of futility, I am making plans, looking forward, trying to find something to live for.

But dammit! I miss him.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+

The Waning of Grief

020bGrief has taken a back seat in my life for now — so much else is going on, including getting used to my father’s increased dependency and having moments of panic about where I’m going to go when he’s gone. I’d just about decided to move to a lovely small town in Colorado, having developed a craving for familiar cool mountain climes (and cool mountain climbs) until I discovered that the town has a very cold humid climate. Eek. I don’t tolerate humidity well. And 87 inches of snow a year? Double eek. So I’m back to zero. I don’t really want to stay here in the desert because my life would be much the same as it is today, sort of like a real life treadmill. Staying is an option, though, and treadmill aside, I do know people here. But it doesn’t feel like home. And right now, I’d like to go home.

The trouble, of course, is that no place would feel like home. Home was with my life mate/soul mate, wherever we happened to be. Like so many women in my stage of grief’s journey — past the tsunami of raw grief and not yet arrived at a new life — I have an itch to be on the move. Being settled — settled alone, that is — seems so much like stagnation.

I crave challenges. Adventure. Travel. The irony is that I don’t particularly like to travel, I hate hotels and motels, and I don’t like being unsettled. But what else am I going to do? Sit alone in an apartment for the rest of my life? If I’m on the move, anything could happen, maybe even something that will revitalize my life.

Four years seems to be a magic number when it comes to grief. Often that fourth anniversary is the turning point where we feel some sort of disconnect to the past, when everything suddenly feels new again, and we feel free to leap toward whatever future awaits us. I am letting go of the past and I do want to experience life to the fullest, but I’ve not yet arrived at the turning point — the future still seems bleak to me. Still, I’m just counting down to the third anniversary of his death, so I have a long way to go before I’ll feel up to taking any sort of leap, but I am holding on to the belief that such a time will come.

And maybe then the problem of where to go and what to do will take care of itself.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Grief: New Year’s Day and Beyond

eternityThis past New Year’s Day was the third one I have lived through since the death of my life mate/soul mate. That first New Year’s Day was one of relief. I’d managed to live through the worst year of my life, and I greeted the day with acceptance and looking toward the future, building hopes and creating dreams.

The second New Year’s Day was a day of dread. The last week of that year was one of waiting. No grief, no strong emotion. Just . . . waiting. But with the dawning of the new calendar year came the dread. I still don’t know why (to be honest, I’ve never totally understood the whys and ways of grief), though perhaps the dread came from an awareness of moving further away from our shared life. I could no longer say, “Last year, we . . .” “Last year, he . . .” There was just me, balanced precariously on the precipice of a life alone.

This third New Year’s Day inexplicably began with tears. Grief had been leaving me alone, and I hadn’t had a strong upsurge for a long time — I thought I was through with grief, to be honest — but when the calendar rolled over from 2012 to 2013, grief came calling once again. And once again, I do not know why.

A new calendar year has never meant much to me — it’s such an arbitrary date, beginning at staggered times around the world, and even celebrated on different dates in various countries and religions. Now that I am alone, however, I try to make a ritual of such things, to note the passing of the days. I need to know that I am still here and I am still alive. And despite the arbitrariness of the date, apparently something in me senses a change from one year to the next and reacts to it.

People tell me that it takes three to five years to find joy in life again, or at least to find a new beginning, and three months into this year will be my third anniversary of grief. It feels like a milestone, though I can’t even begin to guess what it will mean to me besides one more year further away from “us” and one more year closer to . . . I don’t know what.

But I can’t think of that now. If I’ve learned anything during these past two years and nine months, it’s the importance of taking life one step at a time. I’ve already taken three steps into this new calendar year. Tomorrow will be another step. Beyond that, the future will just have to take care of itself.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+