Dancing My Way Out of Grief

Today was a particularly intense day for me at the dance studio. I took three classes. Ballet, which wants to twist my body in ways it wasn’t meant to go. Advanced tap, where I am totally out of my depth. And advanced jazz, which wasn’t hard, just exhausting.

The difficulty of the day, particularly tap, which is hard enough for me at a beginner’s level but confusingly difficult in a more advanced class, reminded me of my first days at the studio. I started out with jazz, not knowing what to expect, not knowing I would fall in love with dance and end up taking all possible classes. Since I had no background in dance, and since the group had been together for quite a while before I joined, I was more or less just dumped in the middle of a dance and told to follow along as best as I could until the teacher could find time to work with me. I tried to emulate the others, but even the simplest steps were beyond me. But I practiced. And I learned. Even more importanjazz shoest, I learned how to learn to dance, which is vastly different from learning how to learn academic subjects. (Knowing how to learn is the key to learning, as I’m sure you know.) With more cerebral pursuits, you only have to put your mind in gear. With physical lessons, you have to put your body, mind, and soul into the experience, and once I’d learned to walk, I never had to put that much effort into learning physical things for the simple reason that I had no interest in such matters.

Last summer, before I started taking dance classes, I’d gone on excursions, traveled, visited museums, and did whatever I could to get myself to look more to the present and future rather than back at the past, but I was still subject to upsurges in grief. I was happy enough while doing such things, but as soon as they were over, the sadness descended once again. Dance was the first thing I did that rippled into subsequent days, probably because it was so difficult, all-consuming, and exciting, and it brought me to life.

Learning is my talent, my joy, the thing that makes life worth living, and dance plays into that aptitude for learning since as soon as I learn one step or one dance, there is another one to learn. Even more than that, dance helped push aside the physical memories of my shared life with my soul mate.

When someone close to you dies, especially someone whose life is connected to yours on a profound level, you remember him not just with your mind but with your body. So often, when anniversaries came around, such as the anniversary of his cancer diagnosis or the anniversary of our last kiss, I didn’t remember the day, but my body did. Visiting art museums, reading, writing, walking, helped push the mental memories of him into the far reaches of my mind, but until I began to learn how to dance, there was nothing to distance the body memories.

To a great extent, dance is about body memory. If you have to pay attention to every move you’ve learned instead of letting your body remember, you lose the rhythm of the dance as well as any nuance, and chances are, you’d lose the sense of the movement itself. (For example, in ballet class a couple of days ago, we were trying to figure out why my body wouldn’t do what the steps required it to do, and at one point, the teacher stood behind me, put her hands on my shoulders to feel my movements, and told me to walk. I couldn’t move — for that moment, I forgot how to walk. I was trying to remember in my mind how to walk rather than remembering with my body.)

It’s no surprise that some of my classmates have also suffered a severe loss, whether the death of a husband or a horrendous divorce. For us, dance is not just something fun to do, but a pilgrimage to the far reaches of our new lives.

I’ve come a long way in the year since I showed up for my first dance class. I know more than a dozen dances, know all sorts of different steps and combinations, know that no matter how hard a dance is, I will learn it.

And most of all, I know I am alive.


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.

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.


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.

Shredding the Past

Four years and three months ago (a mere fifty-five days after his death), I cleaned out my life mate/soul mate’s “effects.” It was truly the worst day of my life.

You would think the worst day would have been the day Jeff died, but that was a sadly inevitable day, one I actually had looked forward to. He’d been sick for so long and in such pain, I was glad he finally let go and drifted away. But the Thursday I spent cleaning out his stuff broke my heart. I cried the entire day, twenty-four sleepless hours. I have never felt such soul-wrenching agony. I didn’t want to block out the pain — didn’t want to risk becoming hardened and unable to feel — but I sure as hell don’t want to ever go through anything like that again. (The only good thing about living the worst day of your life is that every day afterward, no matter how bad, will be better than that day.)

I couldn’t bring myself to dispose of all of his things on that fateful day, so I’ve kept several cartons in storage. I knew I’d have to sort through those boxes someday, but I hoped it would come at a time when it wouldn’t hurt.

Well, today was one of those somedays. And it didn’t hurt.

A couple of weeks ago, when I had to make a copy of his death certificate so I could finally get his name removed from our joint account, it struck me that I shouldn’t even have the certificate. It belongs to him, and he no longer belongs to me. (Not that he ever did belong to me, but we were connected in a very profound way that neither of us ever understood.) All these years of grief and all the effort to regain a new interest in living and trying create a new life for myself has severed the feeling of connection.

It seems strange now to remember that I was once so connected to another human being that his death shattered me. It seems strange to think of how I screamed my agony to the uncaring winds, how I spent hours every day in the desert walking off my sorrow. How I wept so uncontrollably for hours, days, weeks.

Now, whoever he his, whatever he is, wherever he is, he is his own being. He lent himself to me for more than three decades, for whictrashh I am eternally grateful, but life and time have separated us. (Odd that I wrote that “life and time have separated us” rather than that “death and time have separated us.” Just another example of how much I’ve changed during the past four years and five months.)

Today I sorted through some of the stored boxes, and disposed of much of the contents. Files of our old bills (well, they weren’t old at the time I saved them, though they are old today). Our joint bank statements. Notes he’d made. Magazines he’d started to read. Lists of books he’d read or wanted to read.

Our life. His life.

The past. Ripped to shreds.

I threw away a lot of other things such as boxes of music he’d taped from the radio and our old rotary phone.

I have many more boxes to go through — his, mine, and ours — but I stopped when both the trash bin and the recycle bin were full. And not a teardrop in sight.

It’s still possible the sorrow will hit me a bit later, but if so, it will only be for a minute or two. My current life with my aged father and my recent dealings with my dysfunctional brother have been so traumatic that I can barely remember the life I shared with Jeff. (I keep his picture to prove to myself that I once loved, once was loved.)

None of us know where the future will take us, but in my case, I won’t be dragging the past along. Or at least not as much of it.


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 to Believe in My Mythical and Mystical Future

I just finished watching Joe vs. the Volcano for about the sixth time. The first time I watched it, I didn’t particularly care for the film but I watched it again and again because I could not get one image out of my mind — the scene where Tom Hanks is in the middle of the ocean, floating on his makeshift raft, and dancing.

A similar scene in Talent for the Game has Lorraine Bracco and Edward James Olmos running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, turning on the radio, and dancing.

I always wished I were like that — able to live to the fullest even when things were at their worst, but I usually cry. Crying is how I relieve stress, though dancing would probably be a better choice. At least in these two movies, after dancing, the characters find what they want even if it’s not exactly what they are looking for.

Joe vs. the Volcano has since become my favorite movie. It’s beautifully written, stylish, philosophical, and fun (though I still find the island folk a bit over the top and ridiculous). The story’s basic premise seems to be: live, take a chance, see what happens. (Come to think of it, that’s more or less the same theme of Talent for the Game.)

I’ve been having a crisis of faith lately. During all these years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, I’ve clung to the idea that great wonders are in store for me if I can just embrace life, but now that my transitional life is winding down midst conflicts and drama, I’m beginning to feel the first stirrings of worry.

When I have to leave here, I don’t want to settle down in any sort of rental somewhere, don’t want to live on the road, just don’t want to deal with any of it. I’ve known from the beginning of my stay here that the second half of my grief’s journey is still to come. The first half is away from pain and sorrow, the second half is toward . . . joy, perhaps. I am very aware that I will not be going home to Jeff. Very aware I will not even have a home base as I did here. Aware that the emptiness I have held at bay may once again take hold of me. Aware of my limited financial resources.

When I expressed such a sentiment to a friend who lost her soul mate around the same time I did, she reminded me that life works itself out in unforeseen ways — when things seem most dire, opportunity can fall out of the sky and land in our lap.

Despite my momentary lack of courage, I am trying not to worry, trying to take each conflict/trauma/drama as it comes, trying to do the best I can for everyone involved even though my best so often falls short of wisdom.

Most of all, I am trying to believe in my mythical and mystical future. If dancing can make it so, as in the movies, well . . . I am dancing.


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 Update: Four Years and Four Months

It’s been four years and four months since Jeff — my life mate/soul mate — died. These have been rough years, first dealing with the heartbreak of his death, then dealing with the agony and the void of his being gone, now dealing with the trauma and drama of my father’s dying, my brother’s dysfunction, my sister’s presence.

I’ve shed a few tears today, but I don’t think they are for my lost love. They seem more self-pitying than that, perhaps tears of exhaustion from trying to rectify a situation I cannot settle — everyone is pushing/pulling me, and it’s impossible to resolve the matter in any way that will satisfy or even half-satisfy everyone. Despite my efforts to help, I know that there is no resolution. Even if it’s not this week, my father’s end is nigh. Even if it’s not this week, my homeless brother will be forced back onto the streets. Even if it’s not this week, my sister will still have to deal with whatever comes, as will I.

The truth is, I can barely remember my life with Jeff. It’s so far away in time, place, emotion, that his being gone seems to have no impact any more, and yet his death defines my life. If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here in this house of horrors, wouldn’t have gone through unimaginable grief, wouldn’t be drifting in this transitional state, waiting for my “real” life to begin. (Silly to think that — as John Lennon supposedly said, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” On the other hand, it’s horrific to think that this is my life. Ouch.)

If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have wondered for thousands of hours in the desert. (I meant wandered, of course, but I’m leaving the typo because it is actually truer than what I’d intended to write. I did wonder as I wandered. Wondered about life, death, his current whereabouts, my future, the meaning of it all.) If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have made so many wonderful friends. Wouldn’t have found dance (my redemption, my joy, my life).

I miss Jeff, but it’s with the dull ache of a half-remembered dream. I know he was real — he was the most real person I ever met — and yet, though he used to be “my North, my South, my East and West, / My working week and my Sunday rest, / My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,” he no longer has any substantial reality in my life. I talked to him when I was out walking in the desert today, but I had no feeling of connection. It was just me, the heat, the restless air, the sandy soil, the oppressive low-lying clouds, and perhaps a lizard or two.

I keep a photo of Jeff — the one photo I have — where I can see it to remind me that this was not always my life. Once I loved deeply, so deeply that I still felt shattered years after his death, so deeply that I could only scream the pain of my loss to the uncaring winds.

I still have his ashes, but one day soon I will have to figure out what to do with them. When my father is gone, I’m going to have to put my stuff in storage, and though there is nothing left of Jeff in his “cremains,” I cannot see storing them as if they were just more detritus of my life. And I still have many of Jeff’s things to dispose of, things that once I couldn’t bear to part with because he might need them. Now I know the truth — feel the truth — he will never need them. I will never be taking them home to him. I will never be going home to him. Will never talk with him again.

It’s been four years and four months and six days since Jeff and I talked. Tomorrow it will be four years and four months and seven days.

And so the days pass.


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.

Casting Off Old Family Patterns

I’ve been crying on and off for the past few days, mourning the loss of my brother. He’s still alive, at least physically, but he is so very lost to schizophrenia, alternate personalities, alcoholism or some combination of all three, that it seems as if he is gone forever.

I remember him as a bright twelve-year-old — bright as in joyous, bright as in super intelligent, bright as in the favored child, bright as in open-faced, eagerly awaiting all life had in store for him. Family stories indicate I idolized him, but that was so long ago, I can barely remember anything but being wary of the angry, frightened, intolerant, relentless, bellowing man he has become. To most of my siblings, the neighbors, even the cops who have come to the house, he is, at best, a nuisance and at worst, an animal.

And yet, whatever he has become, he is still a human being.

In June, Robert Wilkinson wrote about the retrograde Mercury: Some will see what contributes to hesitation or insecurity about a life corner that’s already been turned, preparing to reshape their expression before moving forward boldly in July. Others will take a look back, say goodbye, and cast off the old family patterns forever. This can give us a new look at fluid ways of moving with life energies.

The major unresolved family pattern in my life is that of my father, older brother, and me. Those two shaped my adolescence and early adulthood with their fighting and the inability of both to ever see any side but their own. Both used my love as a rope in their tug of war, and it was only when I met Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, that the pattern changed. But not forever. When he died, I went to look after my then 93-year-old father in an effort to restore the Karma of my early life, and fourteen months ago, my brother showed up. And the pattern repeated itself, with each using me as the rope in their tug of war.

Perhaps neither of them could help what they became, but I hoped I could change the pattern of our relationship. My father kicked my brother out of the house when he was a teenager, and when he again wanted to kick him out last year because of some innocuous offense, I counseled against it. And yet, as soon as I left the house that day to run errands, our father tricked his son into leaving and locked him out.

Such patterns seem impossible to change, but a week ago, my sister came to help take care of our father and perhaps to do what she can to help relocate my brother. This constitutes a major shift in our dysfunctional threesome.

I seem to feel the change more than anyone, weeping at what might have been, never was, and never will be. I know now that whatever I hoped out of this insane living situation will never come to pass. My brother will never again be as bright as the youngster I once knew, nor will he ever be the adventurer he was as a young man, where the whole world was his backyard. And my father will never be anything but what he is.

It is I who will have to change, and weeping, apparently, is how I process change. I always hoped that when my responsibilities here were finished, that those patterns of the past would no longer haunt me, but I expected it to be a joyful change. I suppose at some point, when I am truly free, the joy will irrupt, but for now, all I can do is cry for the loss of that bright, sane older brother, and a wise father who could fix anything, even himself.


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.

Nomadic Women

There are so many women in my grief age group — those who lost their mates around the same time mine did — who are starting nomadic adventures, or who dream of starting them, that it makes me wonder how many of us rootless women there are roaming the world.

Richard Grant, author of American Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers and Bullriders, estimates that 500,000 people travel the US without a permanent home. (Others estimate there are over a million nomadic Americans.) To be honest, I wouldn’t include people who travel around in $300,000 motors homes as “nomads.” They might not have a fixed address, but they do have a home, and a luxurious one at that. They just take it with them. Still, the nomadic life appeals to people at both ends of the financial spectrum, some because they have the means to live on permanent vacation, and others because they can’t afford any other lifestyle, so I shouldn’t judge on the basis of income.

A good percentage of modern American nomads are women. Some women simply want to see the world, so become rootless by choice. Other women started out looking for a different life after a divorce, a death, or other loss uprooted them, and so ended up traveling the world. (Being nomadic must be a popular obsession — not only is it a designer brand, there is even a perfume named “Urban Nomads.”)

It seems to me women are the ones who become nomadic after the death of a partner. Men generally stay put, and often remarry quite quickly. (This is entirely anecdotal, of course, gleaned from my interactions with other bereft, but the Census Bureau does estimate that 10 times as many widowers as widows over 65 remarry, though there are fewer older men than older women. And there are fewer widowers than widows. I couldn’t find remarriage statistics for younger people, or those in their late fifties and early sixties.)clean

Oddly, it seems that traditionally men were the cave dwellers while women roamed about, making me wonder if this male “cave” instinct, more than a need to be taken care of, is the impetus for widowers to remarry. By the same token, a nomadic instinct could be what takes grieving women out of the nest, leads us to adventure, and maybe helps us find a new life.

I have no interest in being a nomadic RV dweller. The upkeep alone seems more trouble than it’s worth, though I can understand the pull — wherever you are, you are home. To be honest, I don’t really have an interest in being any kind of nomad, but I have no inclination to settle down, either. For one thing, I wouldn’t know where to settle or why to settle there — without my life mate/soul mate, one place is the same as another. For another thing, settling seems too much like stagnation. It’s entirely possible that by the time I’m free of responsibilities, I will also be free of my disinterest in settling down, but I doubt it. It will be so much easier to put my stuff in storage and hop in the car or start walking, than to find an acceptable apartment somewhere in the country, move all my stuff into it, set up the utilities, get my computer connected, change addresses, and all the other necessities of moving. Nope. Too much trouble.

Either way, whether I take to the road or settle down, I’ll still be rootless. My life mate/soul mate was my home, and with him gone, the only home I have is whatever home I can find within.


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.

Four Years and Two Months of Grief

In two days it will be four years and two months since Jeff — my life mate/soul mate — died, and even now I can feel the effects of his goneness. I still have occasional grief surges that bring a quiet bout of tears and a great yearning to see him once more. Chances are, I will have will have such upsurges for the rest of my life, though perhaps at a continually diminishing rate.

I keep busy, so I’m not subjected as often to the desperate loneliness and aloneness that plagued me for the first three and a half years of my grief, but holiday weekends, when everyone else is involved with family, brings the loneliness home to me. (I’m not strictly alone, but my 97-year-old father is involved with his personal end-of-life rituals, and my dysfunctional brother is . . . well, let’s just say I am much better off when he leaves me alone. Neither man sees me as real, so although I am not strictly alone, I am actually more alone than if I were truly alone.) Sometimes I wish I had someone for my own, but I’m desert knollsnot interested in getting involved. Not only is it too soon for another connection, but a connection would pull at me, keeping me from doing what I want/need to do — whatever that might be. So I deal with the loneliness as best as I can.

For thirty-four years, I was connected to another human being on such a profound level that when he died, it felt as if half of me went with him, as if I were straddling the line between here and eternity. I don’t feel the nearness of eternity any more, don’t feel the awesome gap between life and death — in that respect, my life has gone back to “normal.” But even after all this time, something in me yawns wide and cries out to be filled. Sometimes I try to fill the emptiness with physical activity. Sometimes I try to fill it with chocolate and other treats. Sometimes I try to fill it with reaching out to others. But it is always there, an itch beneath the surface of my consciousness.

Despite Jeff’s absence, despite my brother’s presence, I am happier than I ever thought possible, and yet . . . Jeff is still gone. Still dead. Still, strangely, a part of my life.

I went walking in the desert today. I haven’t been out there for a while, keeping my ambulation more as a means of transportation than recreation, but it felt right. I used to talk to him in the desert, used to feel close to him in the vastness the open land, used to show him the steps and positions I learned in my various exercise classes, but today I just walked. Felt the ground beneath my shoes, felt the heat on my shoulders. Just . . . felt.

(I did ask Jeff if he’d watch over me when I took my epic walk, but he didn’t respond.)

I know he couldn’t have stayed. I know I couldn’t have gone with him (except for the part of me that died when he did). I know I’ve had and will continue to have many adventures I never could have had if we were still together. I know, though I seldom admit it, that when I am finished with my responsibilities here and head out on my own, my life will be better without him and the demands of his illness.

And yet. And yet . . .


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’s Strange Blessing

We think we know who/what we are, but that image of ourselves is often at odds with what other people think. For example, if I disagree with some people, they call me negative. If I say no when someone asks me to do something, I risk being called contrary. If I want to do things my own way, I’m accused of being manipulative. If I try to set boundaries, I am called a vindictive, vengeful bitch.

Actually, only one person in my life ever dared called me a bitch. If anyone else did, he would not be in my life. It’s not that I want such a person in my life, of course, but my father allows my homeless brother to camp out in the garage, and it is my father’s house. (I don’t want to get into the morality of the situation, or how I am “enabling” my brother by not calling the cops, or how I should leave and let my 97-year-old father fend for himself. I’ve heard it all before, and anyway, that’s not what this post is about.)

When you live with someone with mental problems who insists that it is you who are out of touch with reality, it’s even harder at times to know the truth. Perhaps I am vindictive and vengeful as he says. Perhaps I’m negative, manipulative, and contrary as others say. I don’t think I am, but if I were, would I know?

A friend’s mother is going blind. One day this friend wore a pair of mismatched socks (they were part of a fun set of puposely mismatched socks, not mismatched by accident). The mother looked at the one purple sock and the one pink sock and said, “I love your red sSayingocks.” No amount of talking could convince the woman the socks were anything but a matched pair of red socks. It’s what she saw, and since she believed her eyes, what she saw must be the truth. And in a way, it was the truth — her truth. She did see red socks even though everyone else saw pink and purple.

Besides all the other nastiness my brother spews, he claims I have a dissociative personality disorder. If I did, would I know? I think I would — there should be gaps in memory, strange looks from friends, questions about things I have said — but my brother is the only one who insists I said things I don’t remember saying, who says I did things I don’t remember doing.

There was a time in my younger years where I would have worried about the truth of his allegations because I did feel unbalanced, as if one mental step to either side would send me over a cliff to insanity, but now I know the truth. I am sane. (It’s possible, of course, we are all insane, that life is a form of insanity, but that’s a path I don’t want to explore.)

So, what gives me the confidence to believe I am sane when others allege the opposite? The profound grief I experienced after the death of my life mate/soul mate.

Grief is a totally insane situation, with hormones of all kinds on overdrive, brain chemistry out of whack, emotions out of control, pain so deep it makes it impossible to breathe, tears that flow like open faucets without your volition, dizziness and nausea and a loss of equilibrium that make the world seem totally alien. And yet, somehow, through it all, I could feel the truth of grief, that whatever I experienced was normal. It’s this belief in the normality of grief’s insanity that gave me the courage to write about grief and connect with others going through the same thing. It’s what gave me the ability to explain grief to my fellow bereft, and to assure them that despite what they were feeling, they were not crazy.

And neither was I.

Grief brings strange blessings, and this was my blessing, the thing that is now helping me through a bizarre situation — the utter belief in my sanity.


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.

Lilacs For Remembrance

Long before Ophelia begged Laertes, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember,” mourners would throw rosemary into graves as a symbol of remembrance.

Rosemary doesn’t mean much to me. It’s not an herb I like, nor is it a plant that has any association for me, though there is a humongous rosemary bush outside my father’s house that was once a potted rosemary Christmas tree. (Until I saw the bush and heard the story of its origin, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a rosemary Christmas tree.)

LilacsTo me, lilacs are for remembrance. I grew up in a large family with a scraggly yard. Except for occasionally mowing the lawn, no one bothered much with keeping the yard nice, though when I was in second grade, I was allowed to grow a small garden. (“Grow” is a misnomer. I planted sweet Williams, and one or two flowers even came up despite my massive neglect.) Surprisingly, a lilac bush thrived in a corner of that unkempt yard. Though no one ever took care of it, never even watered it, it managed to bring forth gorgeous and gorgeous-smelling blossoms every spring. Truly a miraculous plant.

Many years later, my now deceased life mate and I transplanted an unruly lilac bush that blocked a gate. We ended up with dozens of plants, enough to surround the whole property. Apparently there were plenty of live roots left because eventually the original bush grew to be as large as it was before we’d massacred it. Western Colorado is often visited by late frosts, so we didn’t always have lilac blossoms, but the spring before he died, the entire place was wreathed by luscious blooms, a luxury he once could only dream of.

A year after he died, I was Blindsided by Lilacs. I’d come to a desert community to look after my aged father. The vegetation was completely different from anything I was familiar with, so there were no scent memories. Then one April day, when I was walking down the street, the smell of lilacs wafted toward me from an empty lot. Instantly, I was back in full grief mode, unable to stop crying for days. Today, I felt sad and needed to feel close to him, so when I passed that still empty lot, I went to inhale the blossoms and think of him.

I’d never put flowers by his photo, not wanting it to seem like a shrine, but today I picked a sprig of lilac and brought it back for him.

Sitting here now, I can smell that lovely fragrance, and I remember.


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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