The Messy Spiral of Grief

patToday’s guest post about grief and coping with the death of a spouse or a life mate, is by author Pat Bertram (“Light Bringer,” “Daughter Am I,” “More Deaths Than One” “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”)  who, I’m happy to say, has stopped by Malcolm’s Round Table several times before for some great discussions.

Pat’s most recent book is “Grief: The Great Yearning.”

The Messy Spiral of Grief

I am no stranger to grief. In December, 2006, I lost my younger brother, and exactly a year later, I lost my mother. I thought I knew what grief was all about, but the grief over those deaths in no way prepared me for the depth and breadth of the grief I experienced after the loss of my life mate/soul mate.

I’d known he was dying, and I’d prepared myself for the inevitable — in fact, at the moment of his death, I felt only relief that his suffering was over. When I returned home without him, I realized he was truly gone, and grief slammed into me with such ferocity it stunned me. It wasn’t just mental agony, but also physical pain. My chest ached so much I felt sure my heart had shattered. My stomach hurt. My arms ached. I felt dizzy and nauseous. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow, couldn’t even think. The only way I could relieve the incredible stress was to scream. And so I did.

One of the worst aspects of grief was the feeling of his goneness. I could feel the void in my life and my soul where he’d been ripped from me, but I couldn’t sense him at all. Toward the end, as we struggled to go our separate ways — he to death, me to continued life — we spent much of our time in separate rooms, and somehow I figured that’s what it would feel like after he died, but it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I still have no words to describe the finality, the undoableness, the vacuum of death. He was part of my life for thirty-four years. We breathed the same air. We were connected by our thoughts, our shared experiences, the zillion words we’d spoken to each other. And then he was gone from this earth. Erased. Deleted. Almost three years later, I still can’t wrap my mind around that.

griefOne of the ways I handled my grief from the beginning was to write letters to him. For all those years, I’d talked over everything with him, and I desperately needed to talk to him about this horror that had befallen us. So I wrote him. Sometimes it even made me feel connected to him for a few brief moments, as if perhaps we were still in this situation together. I also did some stream of consciousness writing to help me try to figure out what was going on.

My grief, and the grief of most people I have met since, does not follow the neat timeline of Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief. Grief is such a messy spiral of hundreds of different physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual permutations that it’s almost impossible to know what is going on, and writing helped me make sense of it.

I never intended to make my grief public, but shortly after he died, I read a novel about a woman who lost her husband, and the only acknowledgment of her grief was a single sentence: She went through all five of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. That so appalled me that I decided to tell the truth about grief after the loss of a spouse, if for nothing else, to keep novelists from such superficial descriptions.

Selections from my letters, journal entries, and blogs have been combined into a book, Grief: The Great Yearning, which chronicles my struggle to survive the first year after his death. Grief: The Great Yearning was published by Second Wind Publishing, and is available from Amazon, B&N, and other online stores.

Pat’s Website:

Pat’s Blog:


11 thoughts on “The Messy Spiral of Grief

  1. Thank you for sharing that with us, Malcolm. I’m bracing myself for my mother’s departure. She related to me Saturday that she had a torn retina and the doctor was concerned about her blood pressure affecting her kidneys, also. These sound like an imminent stroke. You would think that I’d be more prepared and accepting, since she’s now 92 years of age. But I think most people forget that each loss brings up former losses, It doesn’t comfort me much to think that now she’ll be with my dad. I still miss my dad. d

    1. Sorry to hear the news about your Mother, Marilyn. I guess we’re never prepared, so then it comes down to coping, something one figures out while they’re doing it. Thanks for the visit.


  2. Thank you, Malcolm. I’m always glad of the opportunity to spread my message that it’s okay to grieve. In fact, it’s necessary to grieve in order to process the totally mindless and mind-numbing thing we call death.

  3. dellanioakes

    Pat, I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through these last few years. People expect their grief to be time limited and society expects a person to move on quickly. The heart can’t always do that. I’ve been dealing with my own grief the last 10 days or so. Though not of my spouse, my very dear cousin died. He’s been sick and in pain for years, we’d lost touch, but a part of me still aches like part of my soul died with him.

      1. dellanioakes

        Thank you, Pat. I’m glad he’s free from pain. He was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam & had many associated health problems. I suppose that should make it easier, but it doesn’t.

  4. Rhett DeVane

    Great article, Malcolm. Do you think Pat would want to be one of my Writers4Higher featured authors? If you feel comfortable with it, share her email address, or have her email me. I like to support folks, you know…


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