Ch.218 What Happened to “Us” When Pat Died?
The day Pat died, I felt as if I was being split in two. Why was that?
Last week I wrote how our brains keep searching for our missing partner long after that individual has died. In fact, that search process seems to be the essence of grief, its reason for being. However, I need to ask one more question before I can better understand why my grieving has been such an intense experience. That question is this: What happened to our “us” when my partner died?
I think American society is not very good at discussing the word “us.” For one thing, my generation grew up idealizing the word “me,” as in “I can do it myself.” I doubt Frank Sinatra would have had a huge hit if he had sung “We did it our way” instead of “I did it my way.” Men, especially, were given kudos for not needing anybody and even more so for not having messy feelings.
However, the word “me” seems irrelevant when it comes to grief. It wasn’t “me” that ruptured when Pat died, it was “us.” Over 57 years Pat and I gradually merged, certainly not 100%, but enough that it would have been hard for me to say who I was as a separate entity. Over time, as we comforted each other, made love, put on a workshop, even had an argument, we created a mutuality, an “us.” A beautiful “us.” A sacred bond.
Pat’s death shattered that union. It wasn’t her fault. Her smile warmed my entire being until the day before she passed away. But then she died, and no matter how often I try to tell myself we are still together or that I hold her in my heart, the truth is I have only “me” now – and that feels like a consolation prize.
I do feel traces of our “us,” though, thankfully. I glance up and see Pat laughing with me on a picture someone took of us together. Sometimes I remember and even feel in my body the comfort of holding her. Our “us” is like a phantom, a ghost faintly illuminated by my memories.
I’m doing decently now, 15 months after Pat died. My “me” is functioning adequately, sometimes better than adequately. I walk my dog, warm my cat. I have kept previous “couples” friends and made new single friends. I have three loving and supportive children and their families. I can honestly say that life is good. I am accepting my new reality. Still, my honest answer to the question I asked earlier, what happened to our “us” when my partner died? is that our “us” died when Pat died. As much as I loved Pat, and still love her, I feel that I must accept that reality so I can continue my own life’s journey.