Grief Bursts

From the beginning (the beginning of my grief, that is) I’ve talked about various aspects of grief, even the parts I thought made me look weak. Today’s topic — grief bursts — is one I was going to keep to myself, but it’s an important one so I’m going to risk seeming weak once more.

I’ve often said that the trouble with grief is that it doesn’t stay gone. You think you’re doing well, settling into your new life, accepting your situation, and then zap! It hits you, generally when you’re least expecting it. One of the worst of these zaps occurred after my life mate had been dead for five months. I dreamed that he died, and in the dream I woke to discover that he was alive and getting better. I could feel the tension of grief draining out of me, and it felt good to just be . . . me. I awoke for real with a smile on my face, glad he was still alive, and then I was sucker punched by the truth. I felt the way I did the first time I realized he was dead, and it set off an upsurge of grief that lasted several months.

Then last spring, at about the fourteen month mark, I was walking, collected and serene, down a suburban street carved out of the desert,  and I was blindsided by lilacs. He loved lilacs, and we’d planted lilacs all around our property. The year before he died, the plants were tall enough to create an oasis of privacy, and when they bloomed, we’d go outside and bask in the heavenly scent. When I came to the desert, I  never expected to encounter lilacs, but there they were, growing wildly in a vacant lot. That familiar scent, coming toward me when I was unsteeled against a grief upsurge, did me in for a couple of weeks.

The last big upsurge of grief that stayed with me for more than a day or two came at the eighteen month mark. I still don’t know why — there was nothing in particular that set it off, and a year and a half doesn’t seem like a special anniversary, not like the first year anniversary or the second. Eighteen months just sort of hangs innocuously in the middle. Or it should have, but it didn’t. Well, I got through that grief upsurge like I did all the others. (How? Glad you asked that. The only way to get through a grief upsurge is to feel it, process it, and when it begins to abate, let go.)

Mostly now, I’ve settled into uncoupled life. I miss him, of course, and yearn desperately at times to talk with him, but I’ve accepted as well as is possible that I have to continue on with my life. I feel like myself again (meaning I don’t feel weighted down with grief all the time, nor do I hold myself tensed against possible upsurges of pain).

What I do experience are grief bursts — brief bursts of grief, with all the angst I felt at the beginning, that last but a minute or two. These bursts come a couple of times a day, generally after I’ve been concentrating on a project (such as writing a blog or reading a book), and in the moment when my mind is not otherwise engaged, I remember that he’s dead, and grief bursts over me. I cry for a minute or two as if my heart will break (though I know it won’t. It’s already been shattered and glued back together, stronger than before). And then I’m fine again with no lingering aftereffects.

Of all the strange stages of grief I’ve experienced, these grief bursts are the strangest. Like being skewered with a burning poker and then healed a second later. This particular stage, or so I’ve been told, can last a long time. Even decades after a significant death, you can experience bursts of grief. I’m sure, like all the other phases of grief I’ve gone through, these bursts will diminish in frequency, perhaps even diminish in intensity, but oddly, this is one stage of grief I don’t mind. It reminds me that he was worth grieving for, that his absence from this world matters, that he once was part of my life.


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.