For All of You Who Are Experiencing Grief

I always know when someone who is grieving has discovered my blog — the number of views increases dramatically while the number of visitors stays the same. Only an intense loss (or upcoming loss) keeps someone here long enough to read a sampling of my grief posts.

Although I am on the downward slide of grief, every day someone else encounters the shock of grief that bewilders, steals their breath, shatters their lives, and makes them question their very being.

A long time ago, long before the internet and blogs, I used to write soul-searching letters, similar to my blog posts. I never expected my friends to save the letters. I was young, changing rapidly, and the letters reflected my thoughts about life at any given moment. Once, years after such a spate of letters, my then best friend called me, told me she’d found a stack of letters. She read portions of them aloud to me, and laughed. She couldn’t understand my hurt — she’d seen how far I’d come, and she thought I’d be as amused as she was by my younger self. I tried to be a good sport, but her laughter seemed such a betrayal, I never felt the same about her again. Nor did I ever feel the same about writing letters. In fact, I never wrote another personal letter again lest my feelings linger far beyond their meaning.

Then came blogging and the loss of my life mate/soul mate. I wondered if I would ever regret pouring out my soul on this blog as I did in those letters, but I understood how important it was for both me and my fellow bereft to try to find words for what we were feeling, so writing such personal posts never bothered me. I also knew that if anyone laughed, they were more to be pitied than castigated — only profound and complicated love leads to such all-encompassing grief, and if they’d never felt such grief, well, there was nothing I could do about it. Writing about my grief was simply a risk I took.

But no one laughed.

At the beginning, my grief posts reflected the feelings of me and others in my grief age group (those who lost their mates a few months before or a few months after I did). But grief is eternal. We may not still be lost in the anguish of new grief, lost in the confusion of grief that lingers beyond what family and friends think acceptable, or lost in the maze of trying to create a new life for ourselves, but someone is.

For all of you who are experiencing grief, know that I’ve been there. I understand at least a little of what you are going through, and my heart cries out to you. People who dealt with profound grief before I did told me that someday I will find renewed interest in life, generally (though not always) within four to five years. It was true for them. It was true for me. And it will be true for you.

Until then, wishing you peace.

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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.

Dear Diary

I always loved diaries when I was a kid. Blank diaries, that is. The lovely cover. The tiny key that could lock the book so no one could see the secrets confided within. Every time I got a present of a diary, I would think about all the wonderful thoughts that would eventually be written, but invariably, after an initial entry professing my intentions to write every day, the diary would lay fallow. Blank. Not surprising. Not much happened seemed to happen to me. School. Home. Library. Church. That was the extent of my life.

I’m not sure my life is more exciting than those long ago non-diary years, but I am more aware of my emotions and thoughts, so now this blog often resembles a diary, one I have been writing in daily for a few years now. Three years, I think. Maybe four.

I never intended this to be a diary. Years ago, I’d read that a blog was necessary to help build an online platform for authors and so, even though I hadn’t a clue what blogging was, I started this blog. At first it was impersonal — posts about writing, books I’d read, my efforts to get published, but after my life mate/soul mate died, I couldn’t stop bleeding my grief onto this blog. Now, anything goes. So . . .

Dear Diary,

I had another good day today. Took a couple of dance classes, started learning a new dance in jazz class and another new dance in Hawaiian class using an ipu (a Hawaiian gourd drum). When I got back to the house, my sister had prepared a feast for us, a bit of celebration. (Because we needed something exciting in this house where we are looking after my 97-year-old father, who actually is strong and well enough to do more for himself than he does. Because she is leaving next week since she isn’t really needed here. But mostly just because . . .)

I wasn’t going to walk tonight (I’m still recovering from allergy-induced chest congestion), but after such a feast, I’d better make the effort. I’ll write more tomorrow. I promise.

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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.

A Key to Copyediting and Proofreading

Someone asked me today how long it takes me to write a blog, and I’m sort of embarrassed to admit it takes me about three hours from start to finish. I read once that a blog should take no more than twenty minutes to write, but that doesn’t make sense to me. How can anyone write anything of worth in so short a time, especially if a bit of research is involved? Still, three hours seems excessive, though to be honest, at least half of that time is taken up with editing and proofreading.

Proofreading is a problem for all of us, whatever we write — novels, newsletters, blogs. Our brains are structured to see what isn’t there, to fill in the blanks, to rearrange letters and words to make sense. I’m ssre you hvae seen a demontrasion lkie tihs keybefroe, a clveer gcimmik ot sohw you waht I am takling aoubt — that the brain can read jumbled words as long as the first and last letters are in the right place. (At least to a certain extent — sometimes it takes a while for us to make sense of what we are seeing.) Our brains are trained to see whole words. If we have to read each letter, laboriously spelling out the word, by the time we have finished reading two or three words, we would long since have forgotten what we’d already read.

This ability to read works against us when we write, or rather when we edit or copyedit because it’s so hard to pick out misspelled words even with a spell checker, especially if the misspelling is a real word in itself. Tow and toe, for example. Or point and paint. Even worse, we see the center of things. Our brains fill out the edges, and so often, that’s where we find errors — on the top two lines of a page, the bottom two lines, the first and last word on a line.

I know a few keys to improve your copyediting. The best way, of course, is to get someone else to do it. We know what we want to say, so our text makes sense to us no matter how convoluted it is, but so often fresh eyes find mistakes we missed every time we read it. If you have to do your own copyediting, you can work from the end of the piece to the beginning — that way you don’t get caught up in the brilliance of your own rhetoric. You can pay particular attention to the edges of your text, doing the edges as a separate edit, or you can temporarily make the text a different size. If you normally use 12pt Times New Roman, switch to 14 or 16 point. That way the words that were at the edges of the page have been moved to a different place, which makes it easier to see mistakes. (You have to change the size of the font, not merely zoom to a larger view because zooming doesn’t change the placement of words.)

Using these copyediting suggestions, I can improve my text and make sure there are few errors, but doing the whole thing still takes me three hours. No wonder I don’t have time for working on my novels!

[Click here to find out Why Mistakes Happen]

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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.

Planning Epic Transcendental and Mystical Journeys

I am so beyond stressed out from taking care of my father’s latest medical crisis, my brother’s continued mental problems, and my own lack of sleep because of caring for them that I can no longer find comfort in planning epic transcendental and mystical journeys. But here is an update for those of you who have expressed concern about my idea of walking up the Pacific Coast to Seattle.

Although I would take precautions, there is no doubt such a walk could be dangerous, but for now, that is not something I want to consider. In the past eight years, I’ve watched three people die slowly and painfully from cancer, and now I am watching my 97-year-old father die even more slowly from old age. Not taking the trip because of possible dangers would be merely saving myself for even more probable trauma in the future. Life itself is a danger. It does terrible things to people, taking everything they have until there is nothing left but a husk of skin and bones.

Despite all my thinking and blogging about an epic adventure, there is a chance this walk is merely a fantasy. I am not sure I have the physical capabilities of walking so far or spending so much time outside. I am not sure I can carry enough water and emergency supplies. And to be honest, I’m not sure I really want to do it — the thought could simply be a means of mentally escaping an untenable living situation. Still, if I take the trip, or try to take it, I will be as prepared as possible without carrying the whole world on my back. I’m looking into such things as mylar emergency blankets, down vests, bear spray (I figure if it can ward off a bear, the spray could ward off any human predator, too). I am also researching the best way of carrying things, and no, it isn’t on the back, it’s on the head, but that I won’t even consider. I want to look as if I am on a walk, not backpacking through the wilderness or trekking around East Africa.

The walk is only one possible adventure I am considering. I started out planning an extended cross-country road trip, perhaps visiting the national parks, sometimes camping out with full camping gear and sometimes staying in motels to catch up on civilization’s offerings, and this is still a possibility, especially if my car is running. (If I were to walk up the coast, I’m not sure what I would do with the vehicle during the year I would be gone.) Another possibility is to somehow use my ancient VW as a means of promoting my books, maybe painting it by hand to attract attention or letting people who buy a book sign my car while I am signing their boobedk. (Although I like that idea, I’m not sure how to market it. Marketing, unfortunately, is not my forte.)

And it’s possible I wouldn’t want to stop taking dance lessons, in which case I would take shorter long walks to prepare for the epic walk or go on weekend camping trips to gain experience in the outdoors. (Besides, my dance teacher says she doesn’t want me to stop, and it’s been a long time since someone wanted me around just for me, not for what I could do for them.)

In other words, despite all my blogging, thinking, talking, I have no idea what I will do when my responsibilities end.

Well, I do know one thing. I will sleep, or at least try to. Being responsible for others’ care is exhausting.

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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.

Finding Something to Blog About Every Single Day

Today I celebrate my 1010th consecutive blog post. (I’ve published a total 1,629 posts, but the first 519 were before I started daily blogging.)

When a friend expressed amazement that I’m able to blog so much, I explained that it’s easier to blog if you write every day or at least on a regularly scheduled basis rather than doing it whenever you find something to say. If you blog sporadically, you feel as if your articles need to be important, so you don’t write. If you blog regularly, you relate a significant detail of your day, make your articles important by relating them to you, or find the youseetimmy in your topic.

(In the movie Speechless, Michael Keeton tells rival speechwriter Geena Davis that her speeches lack a youseetimmy. He explained that at the end of every episode of Lassie, Timmy’s father sat him down and explained the lesson of the tale, “You see, Timmy . . .)

Somedays, onumbersf course, it’s hard for me to find a topic — no event of the day and no thought frittering around in my head seems worth focusing on, so I just write something, anything in the hopes of stumbling upon an interesting idea. I fail often, of course, in the interest department, but sometimes what I think is uninteresting captures the attention of the Google gods and I get a lot of views. Since apparently I have no idea what others will find appealing, by blogging every day, I increase my chances of saying something profound or maybe even popular.

Although blog experts stress the necessity for sticking to a single focus for a blog, I’ve not been able to do that since my foci have changed over the years. At first I wrote about finding a publisher, then I wrote about finding readers. For a while I wrote about writing but I quickly gave that up when I realized how pathetic it was for a neophyte author to be giving tips on how to write. Too many writers who haven’t a clue what they are doing tend to parcel out advice as if they were dealing out doughnuts. For example, one self-published author explained how to write a grieving character, and proceeded to show the character going through all the so-called stages of grief in one brief bit of dialogue. Not only was this person dispensing erroneous information about writing, the person was also dispensing erroneous information about grief. Eek. I’m not a neophyte author any more, but still, the idea of publishing writing tips seems pathetic. The only people who would be interested in such posts are other writers, and they are busy publishing their own writing tips.

Finally, I started writing about me — my grief, my life, my dreams, my plans, my activities — so now the focus of this blog is me. You don’t get a narrower focus than that! I mean, out of the 7,237,175,306 people in the world as of today, there is only one of me.

On the days when I have nothing to say or no inclination to say what I do have to say, discipline keeps me going. I’ve been blogging every day without fail for almost three years — 1010 days to be exact. Not to blog would be a significant disruption of the pattern of my days, and hence would give me something to blog about. Ironic, that.

Still, there will come a time when I forget to blog because my mind is elsewhere or a time when I cannot blog because my body is elsewhere.

Until then, here I am — finding something to blog about every single day.

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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.

Easy Does It, and Other Notable Blog Posts From Second Wind Publishing

The Second Wind Publishing blog always seems to have interesting posts. For example, Harry Margulies, author of The Knowledge Holder, wrote Easy Does It, a wonderful blog about character names that really hit home. One of the many reasons I can’t read fantasy is the fantastic names the authors come up with. Harry’s plea for simple names is humorous and fits my philosophy. My characters are named Bob and Mary and Kate and Phillip. Nice simple names for not so simple characters.

Jay Duret, author of the soon-to-be published novel Nine Digits, wrote Nom de Plume, a funny look at how his pseudonym evolved as his he evolved. For me, it was the other way. I chose as a nom de plume a variation of my name that I wasn’t using at the time simply because it sounded authorly, and somehow I have evolved into that name. Now it’s the one I use both online and in the real world.

Harry Margulies’s most recent post is The Enchanted Food Network, a humorous look at cooking, food networks, and the fantasy of never having to use a Brillo pad.

A year ago, Coco Ihle, author of She Had to Know, wrote Belly Dancing…Dangerous?, which planted the seeds of dancing in my head. I didn’t actually start taking lessons until six months later when I happened upon a nearby studio, but if it weren’t for those seeds, I might not have gone inside and talked to the studio owner. And it changed my life.

Other articles to check out on the Second Wind Publishing blog: A Love Letter to My Magnolia, by Carole Howard, If You Got Transcended Would You Know It? by Lazarus Barnhill, and What is Your Character’s Favorite Color? — by Pat Bertram

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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.

Something Fun

Yesterday a fellow author said her muse had deserted her, and she asked for suggestions as to what she could post for her blog. I sent her this list of possible topics:

  1. Something fun — a favorite photo, a special recipe, a secret (and impossible) dream.
  2. Something that makes you smile, that comforts you, that makes you want to dance.
  3. How writing changed your life or how it made no difference at all.
  4. Your muse. Who or what is it normally? Maybe post a photo of your muse. Or write a letter to your muse begging him/her to come back.
  5. The one letter you wish you’d never written, the one letter you didn’t write but wish you had.
  6. Something you should have thrown away a long time ago, but can’t part with.
  7. Your wildest non-erotic fantasy.

She didn’t use any of my suggestions, but ironically, my own muse has deserted my today. Well, not really — I don’t have a muse, but I am sitting here with such a blank mind that a ready list of blog topics is nice to have.

So, something fun . . .

One day when I was out walking in the desert, I saw this television sitting right there on the path as if posed for a photograph, so I took the picture, then I pasted the photo itself onto the television screen because the idea amused me. Hope it amuses you, too.

036 copyb

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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.

In a Cavern, in a Canyon, Excavating for . . .

Unlike Clementine’s father, I haven’t been excavating for a mine, but I have been excavating in the caverns and canyons of my workspace.

I turned on the computer a couple of hours ago to write my daily blog. Although I began this blog in 2007, I’ve only been daily blogging for the past 966 days. The miracle is that I’ve found something important to say each of those days (important to me, anyway), but today I’m dragging my feet. I don’t want to talk about what is most on my mind — the insanity of my life. My 97-year-old father is continuing to decline, and my crazy brother is getting increasingly crazy, blaming me for everything wrong in his life. He claims I am the one who’s crazy, tells me I am a jealous, revengeful bitch, but the truth is, I am too tired to be anything but what I am — a person who is doing the best she can under burdensome conditions.

Not wanting to go into the particulars of today’s insanity, I’ve been procrastinating writing this blog, cleaning around my computer and sorting through all the notes that accumulate.

I found a ndeskote indicating that, as of right now, Jeff — my life mate/soul mate — has been dead for 1513 days. Although I am not actively grieving for him, I still feel a blankness inside that his presence once filled.

I found an information sheet from my poppy trip that I hadn’t yet read. Apparently, the local Indians believed the Great Spirit sent this Fire Flower to drive away the evils of frost and famine, and to fill the land with warmth and plenty.

I found a phone number, and when I googled the number, discovered it was for a dollar store, though why I have the number, I can’t say. I also found an address for the county jail, and I do know why I have that. I had to go pick up my brother one day after he’d been arrested for public intoxication.

Barely discernible on a paper with many strange hieroglyphics — long forgotten calculations and cryptic notations — I found a great quote: Screw Romeo and Juliet. I want a love like Gomez and Morticia. Oh, my, yes! Now that was a great love affair, albeit unsung. It’s only those who die for love who become fodder for the bards. To be honest, though, I don’t want any love affair. One excavated note reminded me that my subscription to the dating site OurTime expires at the end of the month, and I don’t intend to renew it. I considered asking the one guy who didn’t pose with a motorcycle if he’d like to go to lunch just so I could say the subscription wasn’t a total waste of money, but I only sent him a brief lob to see if he’ll return my serve. (What I know about tennis is almost nothing, so I have no idea why I used a tennis metaphor, especially since I don’t know if I used it correctly.)

The most interesting thing I found in my excavations were notes about Blackwell’s Island. Apparently my family comes by its insanity naturally — we inherited it. Our great-grandfather, who once worked with Edison, and who invented the postmarking machine that continued to be used until the digital age made it obsolete, had been married twice. One wife he threw down the stairs. The other he consigned to the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (renamed Roosevelt Island in 1973). The asylum was supposed to be a state of the art facility, with patients classified as to their illness, rather than all thrown in together, the violent and harmless alike. The Asylum was also supposed to be moral, treating the patients like humans rather than like depraved animals. This humane mental institution never materialized. Instead, the asylum was a dreadful place that journalist Nellie Bly described as a “human rat trap.” Even worse, since convicts from the nearby penitentiary were used as guards and attendants, the patients were “abandoned to the tender mercies of thieves and prostitutes.”

No one knows which of my great-grandfather’s wives is my great-grandmother, but even if she weren’t the one committed (especially since there’s a chance he had her committed for his own reasons rather than her mental state), the insanity could come from good old great-grandfather himself.

The best part about this excavating through the caverns and canyons of my workspace is that now the space is neat and clean. And I did write a blog after all.

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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.

Why We Read Blogs

At lunch with friends today, one woman said she was computer literate, but admitted she didn’t understand why anyone would read my blog, or any blog, actually. Another friend said she read my blog because it was interesting. I was glad she supplied a response because my mind had gone blank — why would anyone read my blog?

People unfamiliar with blogging often equate these web logs — these online journals — with the diaries many of us kept as children. “I had oatmeal for breakfast. I went to school. Bobby pulled my hair. I did my homework then Mom let me watch television.” Deadly dull lists of activities no one, including us, ever cared about. Admittedly, many bloggers do relate the minutiae of their day, but mostly people talk about what is important to them.

One online friend, a woman who lost her soul mate a month before I lost mine, started a blog to chronicle her new life. She’s about to become a nomad, living and traveling in a small motor home. Among other things, she will be searching for a new life, a new place, maybe even happiness. Her blog tells of her preparations, and once she’s on the road, that blog will tell of her adventures.

Many online author friends blog about their available books, their publishing experiences, the books they read and review, the stories they are writing.

People with expertise in various fields give advice. Literary agents tell authors how to get published, hikers tell about their experiences in the wilderness, mothers give advice or seek support with raising children, businesses blog about their products, crafty folk share patterns and photos of finished projects, techno-types discuss the newest technology.

And me . . . I write about myself — my ideas, my hopes, my experiences, what I’ve learned from those experiences — and anything that captures the attention of my magpie mind. I write this blog because . . . well, because I am a writer. Nothing seems real to me until I’ve put it into words, though I am learning to be in the moment, to be alive without needing to explain to myself what I am feeling.

Until the past few months, most people who read this blog have been online friends or strangers, which was — is — wonderful, but now people I know in real life are also reading this blog. There is a quiet joy in being told, “I read your blog last night.”

Of course, that’s more about why I write this blog than why people read it. I’d planned to talk about how important stories are, how stories connect us, how the life stories people choose to share with us show us our similarities. I’d planned to say we read blogs for the same reason we read fiction — to live and learn and grow vicariously. Not all of us might be able to live on the road, for example, yet we can all share in the struggles and triumphs of those who do. In the end, I decided not to focus on the storytelling aspect of blogging. The truth is much simpler than that. As my friend said, we read a particular blog because it’s interesting.

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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.

A Resume Worth Writing

For years, I’ve been doing social networking for a company on a largely volunteer basis. Recently they asked for my resume and were quite miffed when I didn’t send it. The truth is, there is nothing in that potential resume that would help them in any way — it would not affect the work I do, would not change my results, would not even give them any bragging rights if they were trying to get funding since I’m basically self-educated and self-employed.

I’m not sure what they expected to find on that resume. I’ve never set myself up as an expert in online work and promotion. Although I know how to navigate the internet, how to create blogs and profiles on networking ripplessites, even how to develop an online presence, I’m self-taught in this as with everything else in my life, and none of these skills show up anywhere in my work history.

Actually, I’ve never set myself up as an expert in anything. I am what you see. This, to me, is the beauty of the internet, especially blogging. If you are an expert in some facet of life or business, then it makes sense to splash your credentials across cyberspace, but if all you are trying to do — as I am — is to make sense of life, love, relationships, death, purpose, aging, then the only credentials you need are to live, think, write. Online, you are what you do. Your words are who you are. Whatever you are in offline life is immaterial. Failures don’t count. Clothes don’t make the man or woman. Possessions have no substance. Physical limitations disappear. A wall full of degrees doesn’t automatically make you better than the person with a high school education. If you act like an illiterate slob, then that’s who you are. If you act like a grande dame, then that, too, is who you are.

Nowhere else in the world does this sort of egalitarianism exist. I do understand that offline we need those various ways of categorizing people, though now that I think about it, they are just as unimportant offline as online. If you have a car that gets you where you need to go, does it matter what the car is or how much it costs? Outside of your job, does it matter to anyone but you what degrees you have? If your clothes keep you warm, if you enjoy wearing them, does it matter if they are brand names, off-rack, handmade, or thrift store castoffs? If other things in life are more important to you than your bank account, does it matter if you have much money or none at all?

I suppose the problem with the request for my resume is it reminded me that on paper I seem like a failure since so many of my business ventures didn’t work out, but I don’t believe in failure as something separate. It’s all part of life — the good and the bad, the financial successes and fiascos. And more to the point, where on a resume is there a place for life? I loved totally, grieved profoundly, affected many lives, laughed and cried, learned, and even in my deepest sorrow found that life was worth living. Now that’s a resume worth writing!

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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.

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