If You Are Sick Of Hearing About My Loss . . .

Someone left a comment a couple of days ago saying she is tired of hearing about my loss and so is cancelling her subscription to this blog. To be honest, I don’t really blame her. I never expected the death of one man (my life mate/soul mate) to have such an impact on my life that I could feel the ripples of his absence three and a half years later. I certainly never expected to still be mentioning my loss after all this time (it seems a bit pathetic), but I can’t ignore the single most significant event of the past few years of my life. Everything I am, everything I will be stems from that loss.

Death is such an inhuman and inexplicable event that our brains scurry around trying to solve the enigma of a presence that has become an absence. Some people are lucky enough to believe in a benevolent God and a beatific afterlife. Others of us strive to find meaning, and if we don’t succeed in finding it, we have to create meaning.

For now, this bSierra Club conditioning walklog is my meaning. Or rather, the means to my meaning. I was so stunned at all I felt after his death, so shocked at how little I understood such profound grief despite having lost a brother and my mother that I used this blog as a way of helping other bereft find their way through the labyrinth of pain. I wanted to let them know they are not crazy if they continue to feel grief long after their family and friends (and blog readers) have become tired of their sorrow. The truth is, we too get tired of our loss, but we have no choice but to continue our struggle to live.

And it is a struggle. I realized long ago that the only way I could make sense of his death is to do things that we wouldn’t have done together, or to do things that I wouldn’t/couldn’t have done while he lived. Even though I am no longer actively grieving and in fact am quite happy at times (I seldom cry any more, and if I do, it’s only for a moment or two), I still honor my loss with all that I am doing. I continue to blog about grief, take night walks with the local Sierra Club, travel a bit, write, amble in the snake-infested desert, and do things I am not necessarily comfortable doing.

Although it might seem as if I am still bemoaning my loss by continuing to mention his death, the truth is, I am not embracing loss. I am embracing life — my life. I’m still not convinced life is a gift — there is way too much pain in the world — but my loss is the means of my future gain. I will not waste the freedom his death brought to me. I will not waste the courage he bequeathed me. I will not waste what is left of my life, even though I have to continue alone.

It seems to me that my struggle to create a meaningful life is worth writing about. So, if you are sick of hearing about my loss, feel free to unfollow me, but I am going to continue to blog about my life, and my life includes his death.

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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+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief is Exhausting

Yesterday’s grief update — I Am a Three-and-a-Half-Year Grief Survivor — was very sedate, no great emotion. And that’s how the day went — sedate, no great emotion. I kept myself busy and endorphinized with walks, exercise, and errands. I actually felt happy for a while. (It’s easy to be happy when you are zipping along at three miles an hour beside a dry riverbed at night with new friends, and only flashlights and stars to illuminate the walkway.)

Today, however, I am tearful. I woke with a great yearning to see my deceased life mate/soul mate. I wish I could talk to him, find out how he is (or if he is). I wish I could feel as if once again, I were home. (He was my home. Everything else is opening rosejust a place to live, though I am gradually learning to find “home” in myself, because of course, wherever I go, there I will be.)

Grief is exhausting, even after forty-two months, and maybe that’s what hit me today — exhaustion. I get tired of trying to find reasons to live and ways to be happy. I get tired of trying to focus on the positive elements of my life and to find ways around that vast emptiness where he once was. The more I do these things, the more of a habit they will become, but his absence is still such a significant factor in my life that the creation of happiness and meaning is a conscious effort. I am always aware that that whatever I am doing is not an augmentation of an already full life, but instead is a way of spending the hours and maybe building a new life for myself.

I feel silly at times even mentioning my sadness because so many people have experienced horrific tragedies that make the death of one middle-aged man seem insignificant, but his death is exceedingly significant to me. And it’s significant to the world (even if no one else is aware of it) because the death of a good man (or woman) somehow diminishes us all.

So today, I will allow myself to be sad that he is gone from my mortal life and from this earth, and wait until tomorrow to once again pick up the pieces of my life and continue on without 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+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Life is a Matter of Habit

Life is often a matter of habit. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Actually, the whole quote is “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” But this is an article about habits, not excellence.

Most of our lives are repetitive. We do the same things in the same way, eat the same foods, go to the same restaurants, see the same people, watch the same shows. It’s easy to create a habit. If we do the same thing — good or bad — often enough, the synaptic pathways in our brains get rutted, and it’s almost impossible to completely eradicate the ruts if we want to change our habits.

Recently It was easy for me to fall into the habit of playing computer solitaire for hours on end, but now it’s almost impossible to break the habit, though I did it once, so I can do it again. (After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I mindlessly played game after game just to get through another minute, another hour of grief. A couple of years ago I broke the habit of playing games, but in a fit of restlessness a few months ago, I started in again, and now I have to rebreak myself of the habit.) The secret is to do what I need to do on the computer and then get off. Oddly, some habits are easy to break. I’m in the habit of writing a blog every day, and I keep doing it because I know if I skip a day, I’ll skip another and another, until I lose the habit of writing habitually and will only post sporadically.

Sometimes a change of circumstances, such as a move,  forces us to change our habits. When people tell me they have a hard time getting used to a new town, I suggest they go to the same place or do the same thing everyday to help themselves get acclimated. One woman who took this advice went to the same coffee shop every day, another took a walk ever day. And gradually, new comfortable ruts were built into their brains.

One of the collateral problems with grief is the instant loss of habits. In my case, we (my life mate/soul mate and I) had done most things together for decades — watched the same movies, ate the same foods, ran errands, watered the hundred or so trees we planted. As he got sicker, we put one foot in front of the other and kept on going the best we could out of habit. His death catapulted me out of the habits of my life. I still had the ruts of togetherness in my brain without someone to be together with. I also had to move from our home where we’d lived for decades to come look after my now 96-year-old father, so I didn’t even have the habits of living in the same house.

I felt as if the ground had been yanked from beneath me. When I tried to put one foot in front of the other, I became disoriented, as if I were falling into nothingness. I felt like such a baby, since all I could do was crawl in my alien world of no mate, no habits, nothing to connect me to the past but painful memories.

During the ensuing years of grief (in approximately two weeks, it will be three and a half years since he died) people who have been through the same sorrow have told me that grief makes a change around the four-year anniversary. That’s when many people find some sort of renewal, such as a new commitment to life.

I call this four-year mark the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then by four years, less than half our cells will bear the imprint of our mates. And so our physical grief fades. (By physical grief, I mean the physical pain and symptoms of grief as opposed to the emotional pain.) At the same time, the ruts from the habits of our old life have evened out, and we have developed new patterns of living, new habits, new ruts. And as we repeatedly do new things alone, we become persons who can survive — and even thrive — without our mates because in the end, despite love and grief, learning and yearning, life is a matter of habit.

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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+. Like Pat on Facebook.