I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings, but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs.
To be honest, I never had any intention of getting personal in my
online writing, but after my life mate/soul mate died, everything
changed. I’d intended to keep my grief to myself and continue writing
innocuous little posts, but I kept stumbling over people’s ignorance of
grief. I found this ignorance in people I knew. (I will never forget
those blank looks of incomprehension in people’s eyes when, sobbing, I
told them about my loss. Sometimes they looked at me as if I were an
alien species, or some kind of strange bug.)
And I found this ignorance in books I read.
One novelist dismissed her character’s grief at the death of his wife
with a single sentence, “He went through all the five stages of grief.”
Anyone who has gone through the multi-faceted grief of losing a soul
mate knows that there are dozens of stages of grief (or none at all).
You spiral round and round, in a dizzying whirl of emotions, not just
shock and anger and sadness, but frustration, bitterness, yearning,
hope, helplessness, confusion, loneliness, despair, guilt, questioning,
angst over loss of faith, and you keep revisiting each of these
emotions, hanging on the best you can, until ideally, you reach a place
of peace and life opens up again.
Another novelist had her widow cry for a night then put aside her
grief and get on with her life. Believe me, you can’t put aside such
grief. It’s not just emotional but also physical, a ripping away of his
presence from your soul, a deep-seated panic when your lizard brain
realizes that half of your survival unit is gone, a body/mind
bewilderment so great you can barely breathe. You don’t control raw
grief. Grief controls you.
Not only did I discover that few people had any idea of the scope of
such grief, most people selfishly urged the bereft to get on with their
lives because they couldn’t bear to see their mother/sister/friend’s
There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the
bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it
makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing
grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and
they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft, who already feel
isolated, totally alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the facade of
our relentlessly glass-half-full society.
Although I am a private person, not given to airing my problems in
public, I thought it wrong to continue the charade that life goes on as
normal after losing the person who made life worth living. So, over the
past two-and-a-half years, I have made it my mission to tell the truth
about grief. Even though I have mostly reached the stage of peace, and
life is opening up again, at least a little bit, grief is still a part
of my life. There is a void in my world — an absence — where he once
was, and that void shadows me and probably always will. Although his
death changed the circumstances of my life, thrusting me into an alien
world, grief — living with it, dealing with it, accepting it — changed me
. . . forever. It has made me who I am today and who I will become
tomorrow — strong, confident, and able to handle anything that comes my
Would I prefer to have him in my life? Absolutely. But that is not an
option. All I can do, all any of us can do, is deal with what lies
before us, regardless of a society that frowns on mourning. It takes
three to five years to find a renewed interest in life after such a
grievous loss, so the next time you see your mother, father, sister,
daughter crying for her/his spouse, deal with it. Just because you’re no
longer tearful, be aware that even though you have lost the same
person, you have not lost the same connection. If it makes you sad to
see her mourning, think how much sadder it is for her to experience that
sorrow. Hug her, be there for her. Don’t hurry her through grief.
She’ll find her way back to happiness in her own time.
Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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.”