Dad Update

My father, for most of his 97 years, has seemed invincible, as if even death couldn’t defeat him. In fact, I’ve been worried that because of his continued improvement after a recent hospitalization, hospice would evict him. But no one is truly everlasting, and for the first time, I see distinct signs that his long life will someday be ending.

He seems to have reached a new low. He has more troubles breathing, more panic attacks, more nightmares, and more loss of strength — all in the past week. I’ve put off giving him morphine for as long as I could — I’m in and out four days of the week, and I didn’t want him to be alone when he started using the liquid morphine for breathing in case there were side effects. (Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, was on morphine at the end, and he wasn’t himself at all, though it could also have been due to the cancer that had spread to his brain. Oddly, my mother, who died of lung cancer while on hospice, never had to resort to morphine for breathing or for pain.)

I’ll be with my father almost continuously for the next three days, but that’s not enough for him. He wants me here all the time, and I simply cannot do it. It might seem terrible of me to want to continue dancing, but dancing brings me joy, releases whatever stress I might have from being my father’s sole caregiver, gets me out of the house, and keeps me from resenting the situation. (I don’t resent taking care of him, but I would if I had to give up my dance classes.) I’m only gone for a total of about twenty-five hours a week, either taking classes or running errands, and the rest of the time I am here alone with him.

He could be to the point where he can’t be left alone at all. Luckily, I have a sister waiting to be summoned back to help. It’s hard sharing such close quarters with a strong-willed woman, so I’ve been dragging my feet on making that decision. But I gave in to the morphine, and I will give in to this, too. I need to keep my mind on the goals — my dancing (first!) and my father’s care. Even if I didn’t have dancing, I couldn’t be at his beck and call for twenty-four hours a day. It is simply too stressful. I know people do it because they have no other choice, but I’ve already put in my time when Jeff was dying, and anyway, he was easy to deal with because he knew what was happening to him, and he accepted it. My father, on the other hand, fights the inevitable every step of the way, hurrying through what he calls his “chores” (taking his pills, doing his breathing treatment, urinating) so he can sleep, then hurrying through his naps so he can do his chores, as if he were trying to stay one step ahead of death.

I try to be conciliatory toward his drama attacks (everything he experiences is the worst thing he ever felt in his life, even if it is a short-lived pain or bloody nose or bad dream). But the truth is, it’s hard to find the tragedy in the dying of a 97-year-old man who lived a charmed and healthy life well into his nineties. (I know comparisons are not fair, but I keep thinking of Jeff who led a painful life and died when he was only 63.) But so many years of good health and good living have left my control-freak father ill-prepared for losing control of any part of his life, and because of it, he can’t handle even the small things that go wrong.

Do I sound unsympathetic? I’m not. It’s just that it doesn’t help the situation if I get as panicked as he does. Of course, when he’s gone and my life is turned upside down yet again, I might give in to panic. Or not. All of my life’s uncertainty might (at least I hope it might) help me deal with my own end, particularly since I don’t have a devoted daughter to ease my final years.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 378

Double RainbowI’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling disheartened now. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief. I still don’t know if things will work out for me, but (at the moment, anyway) I no longer dread facing the future alone as I did on the 378th day after his death.

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Day 378, Dear Jeff,

I don’t want to dump my problems on you, but I have no one else to talk to, at least not about what’s really bothering me. I am so disheartened that I need someone to tell me it will all work out. You told me things would come together for me, but so far they haven’t.

I try to hold on to positive things, such as being glad you don’t have to deal with life’s problems, yet I can’t help thinking that if you were here, these problems wouldn’t matter — we’d be together. But that is foolish thinking. You’re not here.

One of my brothers has a golf analogy about hitting a ball into a sand trap, and how you need to figure out where to go from there rather than obsessing on how you got there. I can see that at the time of making the shot you need to concentrate on getting out of the trap, but still, at some point you need to figure out how you got in that position so it doesn’t happen again. But thinking how I got in this state of disheartenment gains me nothing. It was no mistake, not something I could fix, not something that will ever happen again so I don’t need to figure out how to prevent it since you will never die again. If I knew you were okay, I could handle this. (This meaning being alone.)

I am not totally selfish. I want you to be happy. After all those miserable years, you deserve that. I find I’m most content when I don’t think of you being dead, when somewhere in the back of my mind I have the feeling you’re back home doing well.

I hate knowing you’re gone. I hate feeling so disconnected from you. How am I going to get through the coming years, Jeff? I dread living in an apartment, dread growing feeble alone. I don’t want to live with anyone else — just you. But that’s not going to happen. I also dread taking all our stuff out of storage and using it. It will be so very painful, having the constant reminder that you no longer need the household items we bought together.

I’m tired of being sad. Tired of having things to be sad about. But I guess I better get used to it. Even if by chance things do work out for me, you’ll still be gone.

Ah, well. Apparently I’m feeling sorry for myself today. I’m going to go for a walk. Change my circumstances for a bit to see if I can change my attitude.

I miss you dreadfully. You were my one. Take care of yourself and I’ll take care of me.

Adios, compadre.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 376

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning and tell how I and others I knew got through the second and third year after the death of our soul mates and include all the things we learned along the way, but I don’t want to keep revisiting my grief, so there will be no sequel.

writingSomeday I will probably toss the letters in the trash, not wanting the weight of all that sorrow sitting in a box somewhere. On the off chance that the letters will help people (and on the off chance that I will regret throwing them away), I’ll be publishing them here on this blog.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling bleak now. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief.

If you are newly bereft, be assured that you, too, will someday find a life beyond grief, the great learning.

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Day 376, Dear Jeff,

I was going to give up this crutch of writing to you, but here I am. I miss you terribly. I’d forgotten how I used to wake each morning with such expectation, thrilled to see you, thrilled to be with you. Your years of illness took their toll. I don’t know when that expectation turned to dread, and I woke never quite knowing what horrors the day would bring. Now there is neither expectation nor dread, just a heavy emptiness.

Light Bringer was published on the one-year anniversary of your death. I wanted so much for the book to burst on the scene to great acclaim, but sales have been disappointing. I don’t know whether I hoped success would offset the bleakness of losing you, or if disappointments are greater because I have to bear them alone. I’m glad I don’t have to tell you in person. I wouldn’t have liked burdening you with such bad news. There would have been more silence between us, and toward the end, there were already too many things we didn’t talk about, not wanting to bring more sorrow to each other.

I hope my writing you doesn’t keep you from going on to wherever you need to go, but I still need this connection to you. I still cry way too much, though the tears come in short bursts now rather than unending storms. I’m trying to keep hope alive, trying to believe that somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, things will work out for me, but how can they work out when you’re dead? The good things that happened were so much better when shared with you.

It’s so hard to believe that it’s over. I so yearn to talk to you once more, to see your smile, to fix one more meal together.

I’m glad you were able to do things your way at the end. I’ve heard such terrible tales of people regretting what they put their loved ones through in the hopes that the doctors could make them better. At least I don’t have that guilt.

I miss you. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 366

heavenI’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning and tell how I and others I knew got through the second and third year after the death of our soul mates and include all the things we learned along the way, but I don’t want to keep revisiting my grief, so there will be no sequel.

Someday I will probably toss the letters in the trash, not wanting the weight of all that sorrow sitting in a box somewhere. On the off-chance that the letters will help people (and on the off-chance that I will regret throwing them away), I’ll be publishing them here on this blog. Although this particular letter was written three and a half years ago, it could easily have been written today.

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Day 366, Dear Jeff,

Well, here I am. Survived a whole year without you. It’s puzzling — it feels like weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year go by so fast, at least in retrospect. The individual days were exceedingly long and agonizing.

I still don’t know where to put you in my mind. I can deal with your absence — as if perhaps I’ve come here to take care of my father and afterward I’ll be going home to you — but I can’t deal with your goneness. That goneness still makes me sick to my stomach at times, gives me the stepping-onto-air-instead-of-solid-ground sensation.

Today I remembered that when we met, I had the feeling you came into my life to be my guru, a companion on my journey. You know that saying, “when a student is ready, the teacher will appear”? Back then, I thought you were the one who appeared when I was ready.

I wondered if you too had that feeling about coming here as my guru, and I realized that you did, at least toward the end, and you felt burdened by it. That last year, you kept telling me you wouldn’t always be around to teach me, so I had to grow up and learn to do things on my own. You also said once that it wasn’t your job to teach me. I used to bristle when you talked that way because I didn’t know where you got the idea I thought it was your job (having completely forgotten the guru aspect of our meeting — that particular idea got lost many years ago in our struggle to survive). And yet, you did stay for as long as I needed you. You took me as far as you could on my journey.

I could accept that you left to rejoin the pantheon of radiance because your job was done, but when I factor in your illness and all your suffering, it doesn’t compute; it seems too selfish, as if our relationship were all about me, but if this “teacher” aspect of our relationship isn’t true, why did two such truth-seekers meet? And if it is true, why would such an exalted being as I once thought you were come here to help me search for truth? If ours wasn’t a cosmic connection, was it some sort of primal recognition?

When me met, “I” didn’t recognize you, but something deep inside of me did. “I” am not aware of who or what that something is. Is it the eternal me and the “I” simply the physical me? If so, that means something in us will recognize each other again if you still are, if you still have being.

This is the sort of jibber jabber you had no use for, but you’re not here to keep me grounded in reality. Hmmm . . . When I was young and would go off on such flights of fancy, I thought I’d get lost in the insanity. (For much of my youth, I did think I was crazy.) Perhaps you were here to help keep me grounded until I matured enough to handle where such thoughts would take me.

Because now, today, I do know I am sane. Totally. This grief experience has taught me the truth of that — even the natural insanities of grief didn’t rock my sanity.

Thank you for journeying with me. Thank you for being my guru. I hope my life will be an honor to you.

Adios, compadre. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Phobophobia, or the Fear of Fear

Through stories, we learn how to deal with our fears, especially if we are the ones writing the story. If you novelize your fear of being eaten alive by monsters from outer space, then the terrestrial ones eating you alive don’t seem so monstrous. If you watch a movie about aliens taking over your body, then the terrestrial one that’s taking over your mind might not seem quite so alien. You don’t think you are being eaten alive or that your mind is being taken over? Well, you are and it is — it’s called aging. Little by little, the you that you know is being supplanted by a creature you could never fathom being. Some people turn into querulous beings totally unrecognizable from the daring-dos of their youthful selves. Some turn into their mothers. Some . . . Well, I’ve scared myself enough.

fearAccording to author Lee Child, we don’t write what we know — we write what we fear. Perhaps this is true. My books are filled with fears — fear of being at the mercy of mindless governments and corrupt corporations, fear of deadly and unstoppable diseases, fear of the loss of self, fear that our memories lie. Since all of these fears can be lumped into one group — fear of powerlessness — I wonder if all fears came down to that same thing. Mine do, anyway.

I checked out a list of phobias to see what sort of things people are afraid of, and now I’m in danger of becoming a phobiaphobe. Or a phobiaphile. Although I am sympathetic to anyone caught in the horror of a phobia, I do enjoy the names. Names such as levophobia, kainophobia, lachanophobia, mageirocophobia, melophobia, nomatophobia, nyctohylophobia, paraskavedekatriaphobia. Great names for dreadful conditions.

Okay, I’ll let you off the hook so you don’t turn into a Sesquipedalophobe (someone who fears long words). Here’s what the above-mentioned words mean:

  • Levophobia — Fear of things to the left side of the body
  • Kainophobia — Fear of anything new
  • Lachanophobia — Fear of vegetables
  • Mageirocophobia — Fear of cooking
  • Melophobia — Fear of music
  • Nomatophobia — Fear of names
  • Nyctohylophobia — Fear of dark wooded areas
  • Paraskavedekatriaphobia — Fear of Friday the 13th

The one fear I hope no one ever gets is patbertramophobia. So not good for me as a writer!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Letter to the Dead

I was searmailboxching through my stack of notebooks today, looking for some information I needed, when I came across the last letter I wrote to Jeff, my deceased life mate/soul mate. I used to write him as a way of feeling connected to him, but I haven’t done so in a over a year. The letter, dated October 13, 2013, was written three years and seven months after his death. I don’t remember the dream, don’t even remember writing the letter, but here it is:

-

Dear Jeff,

I dreamt about you last night. You came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. You were in your underwear, and in the dream, I knew you’d come from where you were sleeping, though I had the impression you’d been with someone, as if you had another life. You said, “I miss you.”

I woke and teared up a bit, but no emotional storm, just an acknowledgment that I missed you too.

Was that really you? Some people would say so, but I still don’t know the truth of (or have any belief in) what comes after. I’ll know soon enough, I suppose. As long as my remaining years seem, I know the truth — they are but a wisp of time. For a long time, I was afraid of growing old alone and dying alone. I know we all die alone; I guess the fear was of being feeble alone, but I’ve chosen to believe that if my end years were going to be difficult, you wouldn’t have left me.

I’m trying to embrace life in a way I never did before — to see it as the gift everyone says it is. I was angry at you recently for leaving me here stuck between my father and my brother as I’d always been when I was young, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve found a new love (dancing) and I’m walking with a group when I can, which is helping me stay centered. I could leave here, of course, and run away from the men who are bedeviling me, but I’d also be leaving these activities and my new friends, which adds an element of irony to the situation.

What about you? What are you doing? How are you doing? I wish we could talk, catch up, tell our current truths, but maybe someday . . .

Will you still like me? Will you be waiting for me?

Adios, compadre. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Taking Care of an Aged Parent

Taking care of an aged parent is difficult in the best of times — to him (or her) you are the perennial child and they feel it is their privilege to boss you around. They resent your taking charge when necessary. And yet they demand that you baby them, not just physically but emotionally.

My father isn’t much into emotions (unlike me — I deal with a whole spectrum of emotions every day) but lately he is given to panic attacks when things go wrong, such as when the oxygen tank stopped working. (He does fine without oxygen for hours at a time, so his belief that he was going to die was simply the result of his panicking.)

Today, he had a nosebleed, and he demanded that I get a doctor here to cauterize the wound. He was sure the blood was coming from his lungs and he feared he was going to bleed to death. I explained that the continued use of oxygen through a nasal cannula could cause nosebleeds and told him what to do, but of course, I was “just” his daughter who couldn’t possibly understand. Since he wasn’t used to nosebleeds, the continued bleeding scared him. Even after I called hospice and got the same assurance, that such bleeding was normal with constant oxygen use, he continued to believe that the nosebleed was a cause for major alarm. He said he seldom had nosebleeds, and that he had always clotted well. I explained that whatever had been the case in the past was no longer the case, especially since he’s taking baby aspirin to thin his blood.

I kept wanting to say, “What part of ninety-seven don’t you understand?” But I’m kinder than that, and simply did what I could for him until the arrival of the nurse I had requested.

Although I was hesitant about this particular hospice service (I’d had bad experiences with them, and the first month was rocky until people and supplies became part of the routine), they’ve been very understanding, even allow me to vent my frustration without looking askance at me for being a bad daughter.

I wonder sometimes if this would be easier if he weren’t so terrified of death. He believes in God and prays interminably, but I guess even though he fully believes his wife is waiting for him in heaven, it doesn’t mitigate the fear. In fact, he doesn’t seem to believe that he too will die. He hates being on hospice because he says it makes him feel as if we think he is dying, even though dying is a prerequisite of hospice care. He doesn’t seem to understand the palliative nature of hospice, nor does he seem to understand that they don’t provide round the clock nurses. (All this inability to understand makes him sound unsound, but the truth is, he still is sharp.)

He does fine when he can manage every aspect of his life, going about his rigidly controlled routine, letting nothing unpleasant or disruptive into his daily sphere, but when there is an emergency, his fear bursts out of him like some grotesque alien.

I am trying to learn from this. I am trying to let things happen, to let go of my control of things, to be resilient, to acknowledge the emotions that flit through my days. To not be so consumed by fear that I let life pass me by.

Of course, at the end of my life, I could be just like him — fiercely hanging on to every breath I take — so I try to understand. And after all, it is still his life to do with as he can.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Going Ad Free on WordPress?

When I first started my blog with WordPress, their policy was that they would try to be as ad-free as possible, but that to keep the site a free service for bloggers, they would occasionally and unobtrusively add ads. At the beginning, I never noticed the ads, but as the number of blogs and the cost of doing business has increased, so has the number of ads. (At least it seems that way.)

I can go ad-frimagesee for $30 a year, but I don’t know if this is a necessary expense. The ads, including videos, generally appear at the bottom of individual blog posts. Sometimes the ads seem disruptive and not at all in keeping with my posts, but I don’t know if this makes a difference to readers. Many readers are also WordPress users, so they understand about the ads, and I’m not sure it matters about people who stop by accidentally, hoping for . . . whatever it is they were hoping for.

So, is it important to go ad-free, or do people simply take the ads as a matter of course?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

ASHFborderWith all the talk of Ebola, with all the scares and scaremongering, it’s hard for me not to shudder. I’d spent years researching viruses, bioengineering, bioweapons, and human experimentation (experiments humans did on each other) for my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and though I knew what could happen, I always thought that somehow we’d be able to bypass a real epidemic. It’s still possible, though it’s also possible that by the new year, there will be 1,000,000 victims of the Ebola virus.

Here is an excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire detailing some of the things I discovered in my research. Oh, my. What wondrous creatures we humans are! The red death was my own creation, based on viruses that various scientists had played around with.

Excerpt:

Greg was sitting at his computer, trying unsuccessfully to access the Internet, when he heard someone plop down in the chair behind him. Assuming Olaf had stopped by for his morning chat, Greg smiled as he swiveled his chair around.

The smile faded when he saw Clara D’Onofrio regarding him with red-rimmed, feverish eyes that glowed against her abnormally pale skin.

“Are you okay?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t take offense.

She made a small gesture with her hand as if to brush away his concern, opened her briefcase, and removed a sheaf of papers.

“I spent most of the night researching biological weapons,” she said. “You would not believe the stuff I found. Did you know that the entire genetic code for the Black Death has been mapped, and the genetic sequences have been posted on the web?”

Greg blinked, then shook his head no.

“Also cholera and smallpox. Smallpox! Who in their right mind would mess around with smallpox? It has killed more people over the ages than any other disease, claiming at least three hundred million victims in the twentieth century alone. Why did the World Health Organization spend ten years eradicating smallpox from the face of the earth when scientists all over the world now mass produce it?”

“If they eradicated it, where did the smallpox come from?” Greg asked.

“They eradicated it in the wild, but a lot of research facilities retained samples, including Ft. Detrick in Maryland.”

Clara riffled through her sheaf of papers and plucked one from the bunch. “It says here the Russians built an underground facility capable of growing eighty to one hundred tons—tons!—of the smallpox virus every year. Get this — they modified it genetically, combining the smallpox with Ebola and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a brain virus.”

“Jeez,” Greg said, feeling sick to his stomach. “As if smallpox by itself weren’t lethal enough.”

“Tell me about it. What’s even worse, the collapse of the Soviet Union left hundreds of biological research scientists unemployed. Many of them took the smallpox with them when they went to work for other countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, India, and maybe even Israel and Pakistan. And of course, the United States.

“Can you imagine what would happen if any of the new strains of the disease escaped from the laboratory? They’d travel around the world so fast and kill so many people, it would make the red death appear inconsequential.”

“No, I can’t imagine it,” Greg said. “To be honest, I have a hard time imagining the red death, even though it’s happening now. It’s too big. Too many have died. I think that’s why I focus on the puzzle aspect — who created it, and why. It’s something my mind can comprehend.”

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Trying Not to Be a Miserable Person

There are a lot of miserable people in the world, and though they claim to want to be happy, some seem to cultivate misery as if it were a spectacular hot house plant and others seem to cling to it as if it were a warm cloak that protects them from the winds of change.

There is something very compelling about misery — it makes you feel as if you are more than you are, because only someone very special can suffer so deeply. I felt that peculiar pull when I was going through grief. Grief seemed to give my life meaning, made it seem as if I were experiencing something profound, made it seem as if eternity were just around the next bend. Grief wasn’t my choice of course. It found me, and I followed where led, but still, beneath all the pain, I felt . . . significant.

As much as I hated feeling so miserable, when grief began to wane, I found myself grieving the loss of angelgrief. I no longer felt connected to something outside myself, something immense and immensely important. I was just me, and it didn’t seem enough.

Grief is not my constant companion any more, and when I feel its touch, sometimes I let myself cry for a moment or two, and then I get tired of it. I don’t want to be miserable. Don’t want to find importance in despondency. Don’t want to see gloom as a goal. Even if joy isn’t as compelling as misery for me and my readers, it’s still where I want to go. (My “joy” articles get a fraction of the views my grief articles do, which makes sense. When we are grieving, we look for help; when we are happy, we don’t need help.)

I recently read an article by Cloe Madanes — “The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People,” which made me realize that one can choose to be miserable or one can choose to live a life of peace and joy. For the most part, I’m doing well at not being miserable. For example, I try not to cultivate boredom, worry about money, or give myself a negative identity. (I’m a dancer now, don’t you know!)

Occasionally I mistakenly attribute bad intentions to other people’s innocent (and not so innocent) remarks or actions, which sometimes leads to clashes. I don’t try to pick fights, though I do sometimes end up in conflicts with others when I express my disappointments or try to keep from being taken for granted. This has always been a hard line for me to walk. When does sticking up for yourself fall over the edge into negative behavior? I mean, we need to protect ourselves and keep others from demanding more than we can give, and yet those “others” often think the worst of us when we do, hence the conflicts. On the other hand, giving in to avoid conflict seems just as bad. Either way, misery results. Since the goal is to avoid such misery, I hope someday I’ll be able to figure this out.

I don’t do things simply for personal gain, though being paid for work is good. I’m certainly not glorifying or vilifying the past, since as far as I’m concerned, the past can stay in the past. And I try not to be critical of myself or others. (Apparently being critical is a great way to make yourself miserable.) I do ruminate, of course, and tend over think everything, but as a writer, I do have to think so I have things to say, don’t I? Still, I am learning just to be. (Dancing helps. It’s hard to ruminate when one is focused on the learning the steps.)

Most of all, I try to cultivate a sense of gratitude. I am very grateful for all the joys of my life, my friends, my dance classes, the days that lack any kind of misery.

It’s a start.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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