Our bodies remember trauma even if we don’t consciously remember, and for those of us grieving the loss of an intrinsic person in our lives, body memory accentuates the strong emotional impact of anniversaries.

Body memory is often associated with extreme stress. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. 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.

People often tell us to try to put our deceased loved ones out of our minds. They have the erroneous idea that if we don’t think of our mates, then we won’t grieve.

At first, it’s impossible not to think of our loved ones all the time. Perhaps we feel as if by holding them in our minds, we can stave off their death, even though it’s already happened. Or maybe we want to continue to feel connected. Or it could be that the enormity of death is so overwhelming, we can’t think of anything else.

But eventually, we do learn not to hold as tightly to these thoughts, and sometimes we even forget to think of our loved ones. But our bodies still keep the faith.

I’ve been feeling downhearted lately, more than simply the dreary skies would account for. There is an echo of tears to the melancholy, which made me stop and wonder why now. The tenth anniversary of Jeff’s death isn’t for another few weeks. But ah, I remembered — this is the month where the end started. He bent down to pick something up, felt a terrible pain, and never had a pain-free moment again.

He resisted going to the doctor for as long as he could because he knew it would be the end of him as he knew himself to be. But finally, in the last week of February when he simply could not stand the excruciating pain any longer, he went to the doctor.

And he was right. He never was the same after that. Luckily, we only had six weeks to deal with the horror. (Even though the doctor had said he had six months.) I say “we” because those weeks were hell for both of us, but for different reasons.

Except for this melancholy (and my missing him, of course), there is no real angst, at least not today. He has, after all, been gone long enough for me to get used to the void he left behind. Instead, it seems as if I am keeping vigil as I did that February so many years ago.

The truth is, though, I wouldn’t mind an upsurge of grief. It’s good at times to feel the loss, to know in my bones we had shared our lives, to know that I once loved and once was loved. To remember that I was so connected to another human being, that when he died, it felt as if part of me was amputated.

I’ve been sitting here for the past few minutes trying to find an end to this article, but there is no end. He might be gone from this earth, but he will always be a part of me, a part of my life, if only in memory.


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.

A Perfect Day

This is one of those perfect days, a gift from the universe. The weather isn’t particularly nice, none of my problems have been resolved, I’m still facing life alone and yet . . . and yet . . .

I’m walking around with a smile on my face. (I’m cracking up here. I accidentally wrote “with a simile on my face”, and I suppose that could be true, too.)

It’s possible my recent bout of tears/sorrow/grief shook something loose in me and when things settled back into place, they settled into a more harmonious whole. It’s possible I’ve reached a new level of acceptance of my life, because as I have discovered, every step forward is accompanied by an upsurge of grief for what I am leaving behind. It could be that the grief I’ve felt over the loss of a friendship has smoothed over with the realization it’s how I feel about the friend that counts, not what the friend feels about me.

Or it could be the alchemist affect.

wizardPeople frequently remind me that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result each time, and if we lived in a closed system where everything remained the same, repeating the same ineffective actions would be insane. But every day things are different. And it’s that difference the alchemists banked on. We picture the alchemists doing the same procedure repeatedly in a crazed attempt to perfect their experiment, but the truth is, they did the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way in the hope of getting different results. Sometimes everything came together as they hoped, and they transformed lead into gold or themselves into a higher form of life or atoms into energy.

The alchemists knew the truth — that we do not live in a closed system.. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so from one second to the next we are in a completely different place with a possibility of different factors. Add in more localized variables, such as humidity, temperature, sun spot activity and solar winds, and it would seem insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect the same results.

Does it really matter why I feel good today? Not particularly. It’s enough to know that it is possible for me to have a day that makes me feel good even though such days are as incomprehensible to me as those where I can’t stop crying.

For all I know, it’s not even me who cried the other day. Maybe it’s not even me who feels good today. Maybe I’m just a conduit for unrecognized cosmic energies.

Which would make today exactly as I said, a gift from the universe.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

No More Saturday my Sadder Day

During the past three and a third years, ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate, the date and the day he died have brought an upsurge of grief. Every 27th of the month and every Saturday I felt an increased sadness even when I wasn’t aware of the date and day. And when the 27th fell on a Saturday, I got a double dose of grief.

Last Saturday was the 27th, but there was no sadness. I simply noted the date and day, and went on with my life. Not that there was much to go on with — a walk in the desert, a movie (one of the movies he taped for us), some online activity.

Part of me wanted to feel sadness just out of habit — habits are comfortable even when they aren’t particularly productive. Part of me wanted to feel sadness because it was a link to him and to a life that is rapidly receding from me. Mostly it didn’t matter. I’d come to see that being sad or unsad didn’t make much of a difference — it was just a part of my life in the same way the sun rises and sets or the moon grows full and wanes.

It’s been several days since Saturday the 27th, and I still don’t know what to think about the lack of sadness. Three and a third years ago, I was in such pain, I couldn’t have believed this time would ever come. Some people who have lost their spouses still feel connected, but I don’t. I talk to him, of course, but never feel as if he’s listening, let alone responding. Whatever we once meant to each other, whatever we shared, I now know he’s on his own journey, just as I am.

The main problem continues to be emptiness. I don’t feel anything as dramatic as the bleakness I once felt, don’t feel much at all, to tell the truth. I do feel lonely, of course, but I’m getting used to that. I even think it might be my destiny—to be alone so I can . . . and that’s where the thought always ends. So I can do or become . . . what?

I don’t much believe in destiny, and yet it’s hard to completely disbelieve when two such inexplicable and awe-full events helped define my world: the day he came into my life and the day he left.

From somewhere deep inside, “want” is starting to seep up into my consciousness. It’s an indefinable want, perhaps a desire for life, whatever that might be. I’ve been steeped in death and aging for too long (still am — I’m currently looking out for my mostly independent 96-year-old father), and something in me is crying out for more.

Despite a growing restlessness, I need to be patient since my life is not yet entirely my own. But someday, when I am free, I hope I have the courage to run to meet my destiny, whatever that might be. I hope I have the courage for “more.”


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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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.


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+

Grief Update: Going on Alone

A week ago I mentioned that all of a sudden my grief seemed to have changed, and that change appears to be holding true.

After the second anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate I didn’t feel any different than I’d felt the previous year. I was still sad and weepy at times, and more recently I had a week-long grief upsurge starting on the fourth of July, but lately, as I’m nearing the two-and-a-third-year mark, I seem to have made some sort of accommodation with his death and my grief.

For most of the past twenty-eight months, I’ve felt bad for him, for the horror of his last years, and for all that he is missing out on, but I don’t feel bad for him any more. I’m glad he’s out of this life, glad he doesn’t have to deal with any of the political, financial, and medical changes that are coming our way, glad he no longer has to contend with growing old or to be fearful of ending up as a helpless invalid.

I’m sorry his life was cut short, but his death doesn’t shatter me any more. I take comfort in knowing that for the most part, he did it his way. He endured incredible pain, but he knew any drugs strong enough to end his suffering would also end him, and that proved to be true. When he finally had to start taking morphine, he became someone else, and I’m glad he didn’t have to endure living as that stranger for very long. I still miss him, will always miss him, but someday I will be dead, too. He just went first. It would have been nice if we’d had more good years together, but because of his illness, the good years were behind us. It would have been nice to have had more of our dreams come true and more of our hopes work out, but they no longer matter since our shared hopes and dreams died when he did.

I still have times of doubt and fears, sorrow and tears, still question the meaning of it all, but I’m getting used to the idea of going on alone, getting used to the idea of being alone.

Tomorrow, of course, I could be back in the depths of grief, feeling shattered beyond repair, but I don’t think so. The tears that come now are more nostalgic than agonizing. When I think about it, I still hate that he’s dead, but I don’t think about it much. I try to focus more on being me, on being here in this day. I still feel a disconnect, as if some of the tendons connecting me to life that ripped when he died have never healed, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The disconnect reminds me that everything comes to an end sooner or later, even me.

Getting over the worst of the pain of grief is only the first step. Next comes rebuilding. Although I don’t believe in destiny and signs and things that are meant-to-be, part of me clings to the idea that he wouldn’t have left me if he hadn’t known I’ll be okay. I hold on to that thought because otherwise the idea of growing old alone scares me, as does the idea of creating a whole new life for myself.

I won’t say reconstructing my life will be easy in comparison to the agony and angst of losing the one person who connects me to the world since I don’t know what challenges lie before me. But I will say that after surviving such devastating grief, I have become stronger than I ever thought possible, and I will be able to handle whatever comes my way.

Trying to Fill The Void Of His Absence With Remembered Joy

All of a sudden, it seems, there have been changes in my life pertaining to my grief for my life mate/soul mate. For about a week after the Fourth of July, I endured a heavy upsurge in sorrow, but in its wake, I have found a semblance of peace midst the sadness.

Saturday was his birthday, and I started out the day feeling almost upbeat, gladder that he’d spent so many years with me than sadder that he is gone from my life. I’d never sung Happy Birthday to him when he was alive, so I sang to him out in the desert, where no one could hear. (Believe me, you do not want to hear me sing!) I planned to get a cake, too, but sometime that afternoon, the sadness returned. Next year, perhaps, I’ll bake a cake to celebrate his life.

I’ve also had some stray thoughts that indicate a shift in my perspective. A couple of days before his birthday, I found myself thinking, “He beat the system. He’s out of it now.” I don’t know where that idea came from because he didn’t beat the system. He didn’t have to grow elderly, but he was sick for so long it seemed as if he’d skipped a couple of decades of middle age and went straight to old age. But still, he is out of this life. He won’t have to worry about the coming changes in medical insurance or any other such foolishness, won’t have to watch himself age further, won’t have to continue suffering. Wherever he is (if he is) he is safe. And free.

To a great extent, our life together now seems unreal. I’ve been trying to live in the moment, and in the moment, he is not here. I’m still sad, still want to go home to him, still yearn to talk to him, but wanting such things seems to speak more of longing than of recollection, as if somewhere in the back of my mind I had conjured up a mate and a life and time of togetherness. But the truth is, if I had conjured up such a fantasy out of nothing but loneliness, I would have created happier memories. Too much of our life together was steeped in sickness and failure. Still, there were joys. The astonishing beginning of our relationship when he was radiant with youth and strength and health, the electricity of our long-lasting discussions, the sweetness of our final hug, the beauty of his smile, his wonderful gift of appreciation, his vast courage, and his determination to accomplish something each day despite his waning health.

I came across these words today from “Remembered Joy,” an Irish prayer:

I could not stay another day,
To love, to laugh, to work or play;
Tasks left undone must stay that way.
And if my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.

He stayed as long as he could, and it would pain him to know that his death brought me so much sorrow. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fill the void of his absence with only remembered joy, but I’m continuing with my life, filling it with new experiences, and for now that’s the best I can do.

Celebrating My Independence

I woke in tears this morning, and I have no idea why. This was not an especially festive day for me my life mate/soul mate, and I don’t remember having an upsurge in grief on either of the previous July 4ths since his death. It’s possible the emphasis on family this holiday is making me more aware that he is no longer here with me. It’s also possible the stresses of dealing with his being gone have been building up again, and as you know, tears are my way of relieving the stress. I have been doing very well lately adapting to life without him, but still, I’m tired of having to adapt, tired of trying to put the best light on the situation.

Despite this day not having a special meaning for me and my mate, I have a hunch the holiday itself brought on the tears, but for an unexpected reason. This is the day to celebrate independence, and I am not yet ready to celebrate my independence as a single woman.

Being alone has its advantages, or so they say, but I miss him. Miss feeling that life was special because he was in it. Miss feeling as if I belonged to something bigger than me — our life together did seem greater than the sum of the two of us. Part of me thinks I should be beyond these feelings by now, but the truth is, I’m not sure I will ever be beyond missing him.

The truth is also that he is gone and I am alone. Maybe I should turn off the computer, fix a festive meal, and celebrate my two plus years of independence, as unwelcome as they might be.

Grief: Blindsided by Lilacs

Who knew I would find lilacs in this desert community?

My life mate — my soul mate — loved lilacs. We once saw a house with lilacs lining the long driveway, and he wanted to live there, but we couldn’t afford such luxury. Shortly after we moved to the house where we were to spend the rest of his life, we dug up the lilacs that blocked a gate and replanted them around the perimeter of the yard. When we moved to that house, it was like living in an aquarium — there was absolutely no privacy. By the time he died, it was such a lush environment, it was like living in a terrarium — and there was total privacy. And the gate was once again blocked with lilacs. Apparently, we’d left just enough rootstock that the bushes grew back.

We planted all sorts of bushes and trees in addition to those lilacs, and the thrill of watching our seedlings grow to adulthood was another thing we shared in a twinned life that was all about sharing. It should have been hard leaving the place, but I was in such grief over his death that one more loss didn’t really make much difference to my sorrow.

I still don’t miss the place, or not that much. A place is just a place. I am homesick, but homesick for him. He was home. I miss him. I miss our life together. If he were to call and tell me he was waiting for me, I’d go to him wherever he was — mountains or desert, city or country, there I would be. But he’s never going to call. For months after I came here to the desert to try to figure out what comes next, I’d listen for the phone, hoping he would call and tell me that he was well and I could come home. That feeling is finally fading, but the loss of that feeling just makes me sadder — he is gone and I have to deal with the vicissitudes of life by myself.

I have minor upsurges of grief a couple of times a day, but I try to be upbeat. I have a new book published. I am getting new clothes, trying to reinvent myself from the outside in. I have made new friends (mostly people who have lost their mates. It’s amazing how quickly you can get to know someone when you cry together). I’ve been handling myself well.

And then . . .

Today, strolling around the neighborhood (it was too windy to walk in the desert), I happened to smell lilacs, and instantly, I was back in full-fledged grief mode. People keep telling me one never gets over grief, you just learn to live with it, and that appears to be true. Grief seems to lurk in dark places, ready to gush forth when one is least expecting it. And I was not expecting it today. How could I have known I would encounter lilacs growing in this desert community?