Why I Write About Grief by Pat Bertram

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 sadness.

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 way.

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.”


Filed under books, life, Pat Bertram, writing

10 responses to “Why I Write About Grief by Pat Bertram

  1. Well said as always, Pat. I hope I wrote about Hope’s grief appropriately in Love Notes. I have yet to go through anything like this, but watched my sister-in-law go through losing her spouse at age 51 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It made a big impact on me and helped shape Love Notes in some very profound ways.

  2. There are all kinds of grief, too. You can grieve for someone you’ve lived with for years who put you through hell. You can grieve over moving away from a loved home/yard into which you poured work and thought, you can grieve — even — and I don’t mean to belittle your grief, Pat — for an animal companion, whose love filled your heart when no one else cared about you. Grief is just too messy for our plastic world, I’m afraid. It spills over the banks, eats away the “structure” we’ve built up, imagining we are “in control” of life. I’m glad you’ve written as you’ve done and shone your light on what is to so many a dark-and-to-be-avoided-at-all-costs subject.

  3. Wise advice Pat. It’s almost as if grief is another of those taboo subjects, not to be discussed or acknowledged because we’d rather it didn’t exist.

  4. Ginger

    Pat, I am so glad that you have written about grief, and especially with the understanding that each person experiences it differently, just like we each experience love differently. Also every type of death has it’s own particular sting. My sister lost her husband suddenly a few years ago, and it rocked our whole family. Not just because he was such a huge part of all of our lives, and we all loved him so. It was also because we love my sister so as well. Seeing her grief and the ways she tried to hurry herself through it were painful for us to witness. For me having always been so close to my sister, I can honestly now say that somehow his death and her mourning have enriched my life as much as their living and being together did. When it happens to you, the point is…it’s happening to you. No one can live that grief but you. Those standing by must be there, but not impose our own understanding of grief on the bereft.

    You are a very wise woman, and have said the things that many grieving people feel and live with daily. Thanks for that!

    • I can only imagine how hard it was to witness your sister’s grief especially since there’s nothing you could do. The only thing that could have helped is bringing her husband back, and that is beyond anyone’s control. I’m glad you were there for her.

  5. Pat, I loved reading this. So often we think about how uncomfortable we are with another’s grief yet we forget that their discomfort is so much more painful. I agree with you, we need to think how the person who is grieving feels and put aside our own feelings of discomfort. We need to let them heal in their own time – not ours.

  6. Grief takes over people’s lives in different ways. I’ve walked with so many friends and family who have experienced heart-wrenching loss. There are a number of similarities to their grieving process, but each death is personal to each one suffering from it. Perhaps that’s the reason couples often split after the death of their child–they don’t think the other one could feel as badly as they do, or their grief multiplied by two is too much to bear. I still grieve for the loss of my infant son, 37 years later. Grief is personal, often pervasive, for a very long time. Some people never fully recover from it, others use tools that would look to an outsider like they have “moved on”, but really they are just trying to cope.

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