Grief: The Great Learning, Day 423

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 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 sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). Although I have largely moved beyond my grief, I still wish I could talk to him, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. I don’t think I will ever lose that desire, ever stop yearning for what I cannot have. His goneness shapes my days somewhat the same way his presence used to. Everything I do is because he is no longer here.

I am more used to the idea of living alone than I was when I wrote this letter, though sometimes it still scares me. But one of the lessons grief taught me is that I can get used to anything, even loneliness and aloneness.

###

Day 423, Hi, Jeff.

I went to St. Simons Island where I gave a speech on creating characters. My talk went well — I dazzled. I could see it in their eyes. I met soLighthouseme authors, toured the town, climbed the lighthouse, steeped myself in island culture, even ate fried green tomatoes, though I didn’t like them — too much rosemary. Then, on the last day, I got sick. Might be a cold, might be an allergy flare-up, might be psychological (I couldn’t bear the idea of coming back here rather than to you, and it was a way of keeping me isolated.)

I refused to think about you this past week — didn’t want to suffocate. The stuffiness of tears on top of the stuffiness from being sick would have made it impossible to breathe, but Saturday, my sadder day, I did cry. Just kept crying, crying, crying.

I’m doing okay mostly, but I miss you. I hate that you’re gone, both on your behalf (though I doubt you care) and on my behalf. I still panic at the thought of dealing with life alone. Growing old alone. Dying alone. Living alone. I never expected to be so lonely, but I am. I’m lonely for someone generically and for you specifically. You’re so far out of reach! It seems pathetic that I need you — needed you — to give my life shape, form, focus, but it seems even more pathetic to be alone.

What’s to become of me? How can I go on alone? I know I’m strong enough, but shouldn’t there be more to life than simply endurance?

I miss you. I yearn for you. Just one more word. One more smile. Doesn’t seem too much to ask, but it kills me they are things I can never have again. How can it be over? And how can it still be painful after all these months?

I love you. Take care of yourself.

***

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.

Grieving in the Desert

It’s been a while since I went walking in the desert. A couple of months ago, I started taking extra dance classes, so I felt as if I needed to rest in the evenings and on the weekends to make sure I had the strength to dance, but lately it’s more because of . . . well, because of laziness, I guess.

After last night’s upsurge of grief for all my losses, I wanted to talk to Jeff (my deceased life mate/soul mate). During the past four-and-a-half years since his death, I’ve felt the closest to him out in the desert away from the traffic and commotion of the city. But he wasn’t there today. Of course, he’s never been there except for the part of him that used to be a part of me, but today even that tenuous connection was missing.

Bell MountainI used to worry that my grief kept him tied to me so he couldn’t go wherever he needed to go, though I’ve believed from the beginning that when he died, he went far beyond my influences, back to the higher reaches of radiance he came from. (At the same time, oddly, I believe he is gone, obliterated, oblivious. This second belief seems to be the result of my logical mind, while the first is more intrinsic.) I have no true belief as to what happened to him — either way, he is gone from my life with only his very pronounced absence still making him present to me.

At the moment, I have his photograph standing on a table where I can see it frequently, though sometimes I put it away or lay it face down depending on my current state of dependency. During the time of my dysfunctional brother’s nearness and my father’s decline, I needed to keep the photo handy to remind me that my life wasn’t always such a horror. Eventually, I’ll pack the photo away and not look at it much if at all — I’m not sure it’s a good thing to keep reminding myself of our past. The past is past, and only shows itself in what I have become because of it, anything else seems to be . . . I don’t know. Wallowing maybe. Irrelevant perhaps.

It does seem strange to think he isn’t relevant to my life anymore. For thirty-four he was relevant to everything I did, said, thought. Now my life is mine alone. I still wish I could go home to him, but though I seldom admit it even to myself, I know I would chafe under the life his illness forced us to live. I remember how numb I was that long year of his dying, and I don’t have that sort of defense any more. His death and my ensuing grief killed that particular mechanism in me — now I feel everything, as if my emotional tuning fork is poised to thrum at the slightest disturbance.

Sometimes, when I am at my most mystical, I feel as if my life’s journey is just beginning. That everything up to now has been prologue. (That sounds familiar. Didn’t Shakespeare write, “What’s past is prologue”?) So I won’t say prologue. Maybe school. My life does have a bit of that “almost graduation” feel to it, along with the panic/excitement of what is coming — whatever that might be. I’m trying to follow the advice of a very sage woman and not give too much thought to the future, but my mind does seem to wander/wonder at times.

I will make one plan for the near future, though. I’m planning to walk in the desert again tomorrow. Even though Jeff might be absent, I was very much present, and that’s what mattered.

***

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.

Too Many Losses

I’m sitting here with tears running down my face, and I don’t really know why. Just too many recent losses, perhaps. Two losses — the death of my father two and a half weeks ago and before that the loss of a dear friend to what seem to be irreconcilable differences — aren’t many, it just seems like a lot because any loss renews my grief for my life mate/soul mate, who died four and a half years ago.

windI tried to wait until the tears passed before writing tonight because I’ve wept way too often on this blog, and I just didn’t want to have to admit to more sorrow. But here I am . . .

I was fine all day until after dance class this afternoon when everyone went home to someone and I returned to a borrowed house. I don’t mind being alone — it’s rather peaceful not having to worry about other people’s ills and crotchets, not having to figure out what someone else wants or needs. But perhaps that’s my problem. After a lifetime of being needed — from a childhood spent taking care of younger brothers and sisters to a recent adulthood spent taking care of the sick and dying — all of a sudden, no one needs me.

It’s not that I want to be needed — I don’t. (It’s long past time for me to figure out what I need rather than what other people need.) It’s more that I’m not used to the emptiness not being needed has left behind, an emptiness I have yet to fill. Dancing helps, of course, but there are only so many classes I can take. I’m filling many of my weekend hours sorting through and packing my stuff for storage, but I can only do that for so long, too, because it’s sad dismantling what’s left of my shared life with my mate. Not only is each item I get rid of one more thing gone from that life, it’s a reminder that I won’t be going home to him. Not now, not ever. The odd thing is, I really had let him go several months ago with the realization that he is a person in and of himself and on his own journey that has nothing to do with me. But preparing for the coming upheaval in my life brings it all back.

Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself tonight. Instead of sitting here whining or trying to figure out why the tears, I think I’ll go for a walk. If nothing else, it will be good for me.

***

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 409

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 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 sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). Although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief, which is a mixed blessing because I no longer feel connected to him in any way except for the place inside of me that echoes with his absence. And oh, how I wish I could go home to him! Or at least go talk to him, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. Luckily, because of my dance classes, I don’t have to spend so much energy trying to be upbeat. Dancing makes me smile, brings me joy and friendship, puts life into my life. I wonder what he would think of my dancing. Probably would be glad to know I found happiness.

###

Day 409, Hi, Jeff.

It’s been a while since I wrote or talked to you. I’ve been trying to let you go, trying to get on with my life, but I’m tired of being upbeat. I just want to be me, however I feel at the moment. I’m tired of trying not to think of you just so I won’t be sad. I’m tired of not having anyone to talk to, which is strange because I now have more people to talk to than I have had in years, but we don’t say much of anything, just talk St. Simons Islandabout the minutiae of our lives. I’m tired of not having anyone who understands. For example, if I tell anyone of my small infirmities, they just tell me to go to doctors, and we know that’s not much of an answer. You often had an answer, and if you didn’t, you simply listened to my worries, which made me feel better.

I miss you, not just because I’m tired you’re gone, but because of you. I’m going to St. Simons Island to give a speech at a writers’ conference, and you’re not here to send me off, to see my new clothes, to wish me well. Odd to think I’m taking only a couple of garments you have ever seen. Most of my clothes are new since you’ve been gone.

I wish I knew why things worked out the way they did. Or maybe I don’t. I just wish . . . I wish . . . that you were here, happy, rich, and loving me. I guess that’s what I wish. But perhaps you’re better of where you are. If so, where does that leave me?

I know it doesn’t sound that way, but I really do try to be upbeat and not to be sad all the time, but it’s wearying. It’s going to be worse when I get back from St. Simons. I won’t be coming home to you and a hug and a smile. I’ll be coming back here to my father’s house.

Funny, I wasn’t going to write to you again, but it does make me feel close to you, if only for a minute.

I miss you, Jeff. I love you. I want to go home. Please?

Damn it! I hate this. Are you okay? Are you taking care of yourself? Do you miss me? I guess I’m glad for the upsurges of grief. At least I know I still 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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 386

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 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 rainsequel, 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 sorry for myself now — at least, not much. 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’m at the point, however, where I will have to make a decision about where to go when I leave this house, and I still don’t have a clue. I’ll probably stay in the vicinity for a while longer so I can continue taking dance classes, but afterward, oh, how I wish he and I would be starting over together.

###

Day 386, Hi, Jeff.

I’m lying here in bed thinking of you. I’m tired and don’t want to get up so I thought I’d write you. I’m trying to focus on the good things, but it’s hard. My books aren’t selling. I’m living somewhere I don’t want to be, being someone I don’t want to be. I have a pilot light of anger to keep me going, otherwise I probably never would get out of bed.

And yet, looked at from a different direction — forgetting the past, forgetting what I want — my life isn’t so bad. I don’t have to worry about paying bills. I’m warm, comfortable, fed. And I have new clothes. A couple of women from my grief group took me shopping (a belated birthday present). They bought me pants and tops. I detected a hint of something not totally altruistic, as if they thought I was clueless when it came to clothes. One woman said she was sick of the blouse I was wearing. Who says something like that? What difference does it make to her how I dress? Still, it was nice. And I don’t look like me, which is even nicer. I go to lunch with those women a couple of times a month and a couple of times a month I go to lunch with a few others from my grief group. So see? Things aren’t totally terrible, but no matter how I look at it, it’s a lonely life.

I miss you. I want to come home. Or start over with you somewhere else. It’s a good thing I don’t have to make a decision where to go because I haven’t a clue. Maybe I’ll know when the time comes to leave here. I just wish, with all my heart, you were well and I was going to go home 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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 383

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 detail the lessons blocksgleaned 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 sorry for myself now — at least, not much. 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. At the moment, the future doesn’t seem bleak the way it did on the 383rd day after his death, though I still don’t know what to build my life on, and I’m still waiting for something to happen.

###

Day 383, Dear Jeff,

I’m having a hard time coping, but maybe it isn’t necessary to be stoic in order to cope. Maybe tears and tantrums are my way of coping for now. If nothing else, those tears and tantrums help get rid of the terrible stress of grief.

I feel as if I’ve been abandoned by you. You were the only one who ever truly cared for me, and I don’t know how to be alone. I don’t mean physically alone — that I can do. I mean that mental, spiritual, emotional aloneness when there is no one in the world who cares on a daily basis. I know there are some people who care sporadically when they get a few minutes, but it sure isn’t something for me to build a life on.

I’m feeling sorry for myself. I keep hoping something good will happen. I need something to offset this pervasive sadness. The years stretch bleakly before me. It’s just too sad.

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.

The Day My Father Died

Something profound happened the day my father died, something I’m not sure I understand. I was holding him because he was too weak to sit by himself, and he couldn’t breathe when he was lying back against the pillows. I told him it was okay to die, that his wife and son and God were waiting for him. He said he knew that, but he didn’t know how, then he added, “Help me die.” “Okay,” I said. I told him I would be fine, not to worry about me, and I could feel him relaxing into what seemed to be acceptance. I laid him back on the bed, gave him his full morphine and haloperidol doses, which I had been hesitant to give him, knowing the sort of disorientation they could cause. The doses were fairly minor, not at all the massive doses that would be prescribed later, but they calmed him. Shortly afterward, his blood pressure began falling, and he never moved again. Just slowly slipped away during the next twenty hours. (I never had to give him the high doses of morphine and haloperidol — he was too far gone by then and besides, he couldn’t swallow.)

He died when I went to take a nap, but it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t there. It seems that he had died when he was in my arms, and all that was left was a body running down like an old wind-up clock that had reached the end of its coil.

I’ve made no secret of the rocky relationship I’ve had with him. (For most of my life, I did keep that secret within the family. It seemed to be one of those unwritten rules we lived by, though none of us knew where those rules came from, what they were, or why they existed.) I came here to my father’s house after the death of my life mate/soul mate partly because my mate wanted me to — he needed to know I would be safe before he could leave his diseased body — and partly because I wanted to resolve the complications with my father. I knew I’d be starting over when my grief waned, and I didn’t want to be dragging old pain, bitterness, and conflict with me into a new life. My time with my father seemed to add to those conflicts, though for the most part we got along okay. (Largely because I left him alone so he could pray in peace.)

But now, there are no conflicts. It’s as if by helping him die (though I didn’t really do anything specific), by releasing him from his fatherhood, leaving only our two souls locked in some sort of compact with death, that I also released myself from my past.

The focus, control, and insistence on having his way that made being his daughter difficult also made him a man whole unto himself. And in the end, that is what he is/was. Not father, son, husband, grandfather but a man unencumbered, rushing to meet . . . whatever was waiting for him.

It seems almost mythic, his passing. Mythic for him, perhaps, but certainly for me, as if I’d been on some sort of hero’s journey, and in the end I’d accomplished my quest. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand all the permutations of what has happened during the past four and a half years here — my grief, my father’s aging, my dysfunctional brother’s presence, the terrible journey to take him back to Colorado, my father’s dying, and my being set free — but I don’t think it matters if I understand. I just need to process it during the next couple of months of peace, and then go on from here as a woman unencumbered, whole unto herself, rushing to meet whatever is waiting for her.

***

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 Between

I’m sitting here at the computer, playing endless games of solitaire, and dozing off. I didn’t even know it was possible to fall asleep at the computer, but I have a hunch I could fall asleep anywhere right now. The long days of caring for my father must have been more stressful and exhausting than I thought. Or maybe it’s that for the first time in more than a decade I don’t have to listen for calls of distress from the old and/or dying. There is only me in this borrowed house (borrowed from my father’s napestate pending probate and sale). There are no life or death matters to take care of, nothing major for me to accomplish (though I have a few minor obligations and things I promised to do).

During these years of caring for my father, I often blogged about my plans and possibilities for after he was gone, but at the moment, I have no desire to do anything but just float through my days, dealing with whatever comes my way. And to dance, of course.

Someday soon I’ll have to pack and put my stuff in storage in preparation for . . . I don’t know what. But now, there is no reason to do anything unless I feel like it.

I’ve always loved these in-between times. I remember as a child only being happy walking to or from school. It was a joy to leave the house in the morning, and a joy to leave school in the afternoon. But being either place didn’t particularly thrill me.

Some of the best times Jeff (my now deceased life mate/soul mate) and I had were when we packed up all our stuff, moved out of whatever house or apartment we were living, and headed across country to find a new place to live with no clear idea of where we were going. Leaving gave us such a wonderful sense of freedom that was all too soon offset by the need to find a place to live. I remember a truck stop in Utah, a motel in Iowa next to a rain puddle as big as a pond, a traveler’s oasis in Nebraska. All prosaic places that brought us a night of happiness.

And now here I am, in transition once more.

I understand now why I don’t want to settle down anywhere, why no place (except the dance studio) brings any thought of joy — being settled seems to be a sort of entrapment for me, and I am through being trapped. I suppose it’s silly to think this way — we are trapped in so many different ways — trapped in our minds, our ever-aging bodies, our society, our laws — that the secret must be to find freedom and wonderful possibilities within the entrapment.

But tonight is not a time to think of such things. It’s a time to bask in the quiet freedom, to know that these walls don’t bind my life, to feel the flutter of possibilities. And, apparently, a time to fall asleep at the computer.

***

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.

 

I am Truly Blessed

I just came back from dance class to an empty house. It felt strange not to have to worry about my father, not to have to deal with our complicated relationship. (Though at the end, it was simple. He wanted to die, and I was there, helping him let go.)

My father died in exactly the same way Jeff (my life/mate soul mate) did — terminal restlessness and agitation treated with morphine and haloperidol for a while, and then finally nothing when they fell into a coma and slowly and peacefully faded out of this world. In both cases, I sat with the empty body until the mortuary came for the remains, though in both cases I had company, a nurse with Jeff and a brother with my father.

But then came the major differences. With Jeff, I was totally shattered, dealing with unbearable angst and agony at his separation from my very being. I did not have that sort of deeply connected relationship with my father. Besides, he was considerably older than Jeff. Where Jeff’s life had been cut short at a fairly young age, my father had used himself up. He had nothing left. Most of all, when Jeff died, I was alone. Completely. Had to deal with everything by myself. Had little support. (Which is why I swallowed my intense independence and went to a grief support group, and one of the reasons I wrote about my grief.)

But this time, I could feel the incredible outpouring of love and caring from both my online and offline friends. Many comments were left on my blog and Facebook — not the typical stranger-to-stranger condolences you get on such sites, but heartfelt expressions of concern from people who have gotten to know me from my chronicling the traumas of my life.

I went walking with my walking group last night and cried on a friend’s shoulder and got hugs from everyone else. And then I experienced the same thing at dance class today, hugs and tears. After class, I went to lunch with friends, got calls this afternoon making this empty house seem not so bleak, and I will be going to dinner with another friend tonight.

I am truly blessed. Thank you for your kindness, your caring, your love. You mean more to me than you will ever know.

Me, Jeff, Mom and Dad on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Strange to think I am the only one left 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.

Daughter No More

My father died this morning a little before four. One of my brothers was here, and he kept vigil while I took a nap, and that is when father chose to die. Oddly, it didn’t bother me not being there at the moment of his death. I was holding him during his last bit of consciousness, felt his acceptance. After all his time of not wanting to die, suddenly, he was ready. And so he did what he always did when his course was set — just forged ahead. Things happened so fast (things like arranging for a hospital bed), and he changed so rapidly, it felt like weeks passed but was less than seventy-two hours from the beginning of his steep decline to the end.

It took even less time to remove all signs of death — his body, his pills, his equipment. My brother and other siblings are notifying relatives and working to arrange the funeral, so after all these years, I’m left with nothing to do for my father. My mother died almost seven years ago, so now I am a daughter no more. The price of daughterhood has been paid in full, and I am free. But free to do what? I still don’t know.

The house won’t be sold immediately, of course, and my siblings have agreed to let me stay here at least another month or two, which is only fair considering how much worry I saved them. But after that? I’ll just wait, see what happens. I still have to go through my stuff and get rid of what I can since it will all be going into storage until I decide to settle down somewhere.

But all that is in the near future. I’m still just trying to get through this day, and then each of the coming days. For all of you who have followed my grief journey and so might be expecting me to descend into sorrowful depths again, don’t worry. That sort of shattering turned-inside-out grief only happened to me when I lost my soul mate, and I don’t have that sort of all-consuming pain today, only a strange emptiness. My father lived a long, happy, healthy, charmed life, so there is not a lot of tragedy attached to his passing. Once again, though, my life will be changing drastically due to a death, and that brings its own sort of grief, though this time it might also bring an exhilarating sense of possibility.

Thank you for all your concern and support. As always, you have helped me through a trying time.

Here’s wishing for better days for all of us.

***

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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