Many Years Later, Still Not Over It
When a bereavement counselor or group facilitator meets us for the first time to support us in our grief, the first question they usually ask is, What happened?
I’ve been telling the story of my first wife, Susan, who died over 30 years ago. I survived the raging storm. I found my footing on an unknown shore. But I’m still not “over it”.
I eventually found new love and married Yvonne, a woman who respected and honored the tears I was still shedding. By almost any measure, I’ve had a great life. Until today, I would have told you that I’ve been “over it” for a very long time, that I had “healed.”
Reading, Writing Poetry Helped Me
Yet I’m still moved to tears when I read a poem by someone who is grieving a loved one. I don’t mean the platitudes we often find in greeting cards. The poems that move me might be about unbearable anguish, or about how the writer has changed since their loved one died.
I find beauty in these authentic emotional expressions, no matter how brutal or painful. I’ve been wondering lately: Why do I cry when I read these poems? Why do they still resonate with me so deeply? Maybe it’s because I’m still not “over it.”
A few months after Susan died, I wrote a poem called Sunday which appears in my book, Voices of the Grieving Heart. It was about our overnight in the hospital and her death the next morning.
My Poems Show I’m Not Over It
But I had never written about the evening before, the frightening events that led us there, the trauma I experienced when her congenitally-deformed heart suddenly began to give up. That memory had just faded into history—never really talked about, never fully acknowledged.
This morning, I awakened with a clear memory of that Saturday night and with it, the same emotions rose up out of the past. As I lay in bed with Yvonne stirring beside me, I knew I needed to write a poem about it, to finally put the memory to paper. The words tumbled out. It was the first poem I’d written about Susan’s death since 1993.
Did writing it make me “feel better?” Yes, and no. It didn’t make the feelings of shock and fear go away. In fact, it brought them out more. But it also gave me the opportunity to talk about it with my Yvonne, to read her my poem as we sat with our coffee.
Continuing to Tell My Story
Once again, I needed to tell my story; a part of the story I hadn’t shared with anyone until today. Once again, I had to honor myself and the pain that I didn’t know was still there, hiding, after so many years. I wasn’t “over it”.
In my book, one chapter shares the stories of 16 people whose loved ones died decades ago. They talked about how they mourn even if, most of the time, thoughts about their loved ones stay in the background. A grandmother still misses her stillborn daughter, gone over 50 years, even though she fiercely loves the sons who came after. A wife and mother still lights a yahrzeit candle for her brother who died in 1989.
Until today, I didn’t think I was a member of that particular club.
This morning, I learned that I’m not “over it” even though it’s been 30 years, even though I am happy and fulfilled in my life. Just as our love for the person we lost never dies, neither does the grief. To someone who hasn’t grieved the death of someone they loved, that might sound horrifying.
But for many of us, it’s the idea of forgetting that’s frightening. Today I was reminded that the expression, “we don’t move on from our loved one, we move forward with them” applies to me too.
I know now why grief poetry moves me so much. But as I write this, I’m no longer feeling the pain and shock I felt earlier this morning. What I feel right now is gratitude.
Read more on Open to Hope by Mike Bernhardt: https://www.opentohope.com/writing-poems-can-heal/
Check out Mike Bernhardt’s book, Voices of the Grieving Heart: https://mikebernhardt.net/order