Grief: The Great Learning, Day 432

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.

Although this letter was written three and a half years ago, it reflects so much of what I am feeling now. My father recently died, and I am packing in preparation for . . . I know not what.  I wish I could talk to Jeff, 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. I’m now going to lunch with women I like, so that helps.

Coincidentally, just a couple of days ago, I tossed that route beer bottle into the recycle bin, but as you can see, I still have the photo. Unfortunately, dealing with his ashes isn’t quite so easy. I still don’t know what to do with them. I’m thinking of waiting for a windstorm, opening the box, and letting Jeff take care of them himself.

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Day 432, Hi, Jeff.

Just in case you really are somewhere, I wanted you to know I haven’t forgotten you, still miss you, still wish there could have been a better resolution to your health problems than death. But what do I know? Maybe death was the best resolution. I’m not sure I see much hope of things working out for me, but I am trying. I’m getting out and doing things. It still seems as if the only way I can make sense of your death (from my perspective) is to do things I wouldn’t have done if you were alive.

I took a trip along Route 66 with some friends, which was fun. I kept a soda bottle for a souvenir. “Route Beer.” Tasted like plain old root beer, but I thought the name was cute. I’ve been going to lunch about once a week, sometimes after the grief group, sometimes with a couple of women I met there. I’m not sure I like the women, but for now, it’s enough that they like me. Yep. I’m that starved for affection.

In a couple of days, I’ll have been here a year looking after my dad. Who knows how much longer it will be. Maybe years. And then after? I truly don’t know.

I feel so hypocritical with all this grief — I wanted the horror of our life to be over, but I didn’t want you dead. Ironically, if you hadn’t been dying, I wouldn’t have wanted our life to be over, but the truth is, I wanted your dying done with. The stress was incredible for me, so I can only imagine how much worse it was for you.

My dying is still to come. It scares me to think of having to deal with infirmities alone, though I think it will be easier knowing that my death will not grieve anyone the way yours did me.

Did I tell you? I finally and forever understand what you mean by the pilot light of anger. I don’t want to be consumed by anger, but a quiet pilot light to keep me going, that is important. I can’t simply accept what life did to us — it’s not right. Maybe the universe is unfolding as it should, as people tell me, but from my standpoint, here and now, I need that pilot light. Maybe it will be a “pilot” taking me where I need to go, though I don’t know where that would be.

Part of me wants to find someone so I don’t feel so alone, but I’m not ready for that. It’s a matter of learning to deal with the loneliness. I lived with it before I met you, and I imagine I’ll learn to live with it now that you’re gone. I hope wherever you are that you aren’t lonely. I hope you’re not in pain. I hope you’re delighting in being free of that diseased body. I still have your ashes. I wish we could talk about what I should do with them. I wish we could talk about what I should do with my life. I wish . . . oh, so many impossible things.

I love you. Take care of yourself. I’ll try to take better care of 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.

Bowls of Light

When I was sorting through some of my things in preparation to packing them and putting them in storage, I found a whole slew of Christmas lights. It seems ridiculous to store the lights considering how cheap they are, wasteful to throw them away, and silly to drag them to a thrift shop, so I decided to use them up. I put bowls full of lights all over the house, and oh! What a festive air!

bowl of lights

bowl of lights

bowl of lights

cookie jar of lights

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,andDaughter Am IBertram 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.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Who knew that snow is a tourist treat? I sure didn’t! I have mostly lived in a cold climate where snow happens wherever you are, but in the desert, where I have temporarily found myself, snow is so rare that people will drive many miles to see it.

And that is exactly what a friend and I did yesterday — drove almost a hundred miles round trip just to see the whiteness and throw a snowball or two. A lovely sight!

Snow

Below is a photo of the Pacific Crest Trail. Now you can see why people are concerned about beating winter when they through hike — it’s too easy to lose the trail under all that snow, and besides, it’s cold!

PCT

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,andDaughter Am IBertram 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.

Searching for the Wild Snow

I’m getting ready to head out and go searching for the wild snow.

Once upon a time, perhaps thirty years ago, more than two feet of snow fell in the desert, but I’ve only seen flurries a couple of times since I’ve been here, and whatever stuck to the ground disappeared as soon as the sun came out. So, when a friend invited me to go snow hunting, I gladly accepted. Snow!! Out here, where it seldom even rains, snow seems a mythical phenomenon. Dare I believe?

Desert Snow

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter 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.

Drifting . . .

I’m sitting here mindlessly playing computer solitaire, not thinking much of anything, just letting old sorrows, lost hopes, and unborn possibilities drift around in my mind like flakes in an old fashioned snow globe.

It’s futile to try to sort out the thoughts. There’s no need to dwell on what is gone and what can never be — those are part of my very being, so that even when the thoughts are not recognized, I feel their importance.

snow globeNor is there any need to dwell on what has not yet happened — although those possibilities are still unformed, I feel their portent.

I’m trying not to rush through this strange hiatus between all the endings and a new beginning. So many people are gone from my life, through death, mental illness, and misunderstanding that sometimes I am overwhelmed by the complexity of starting over alone and wish to make immediate decisions and plans to give me a start on the future. But other times, like now, I am content to let the future take care of itself. There may never again be a time where so much is open to me. When I have to start making decisions, the world will narrow with each choice.

If I continue to do my mostly volunteer work for an online company, I will be tied to the computer for longer than I wish, doing work that has long since lost its appeal. If I were to walk away, I will have to embrace one further loss since this “job” has been part of my life for many years. If I were to get a real job to make my financial situation stronger, I won’t be able to take dance classes. Nor will I have time to write (or rather, not write, which is what I so often do). If I continue to take dance classes, I won’t be able to travel, or at least not much.

I am not yet ready for such a narrowing of possiblitilities even if it means embracing my sorrows and lost hopes a bit longer.

And so I drift.

***

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.

Life Happens

I’m beginning to get a bit nervous about discussing my impending future because the uncertainty of my life bothers people — bothers them a lot — and I don’t like putting them in such a position. Oddly, the uncertainty doesn’t really bother me all that much. In fact, I am more fearful of settling into my solitariness and stagnating than I am of uncertainty, which keeps me dreaming of impossible adventures.

(In case you’re new here, after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I came to my nonagenarian father’s house to look after him in his declining years, and now that he’s gone, this house will soon be sold, and I will have to start my life from scratch.)

I have suffered so many losses in the past few years that I feel lost myself, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to remain the same forever, nor do I want to do the same things I’ve always done. It’s time for me to try on different lives to see what (if anything) will fit. It does feel strange, though, that my options are both limitless and limited (limitless because a world of possibilities awaits me, limited because of a lack of resources). Such extremes add to the uncertainty. How do you choose a path when thousands are open? How do you deal with the requirements of modern life when resources are few? And most especially, how do you sort through all the things you don’t want to do to find the things you do want to do?

I have no idea how to begin a life from scratch, but as one lovely woman told me today, “You do it one step at a time.” And she should know — although she’s still fairly young, she had a stroke one night and woke up blind. Talk about having to start from scratch! I’m lucky. I don’t have to start from so far down. I can start from where I am right now, with all my baggage, both welcome and unwelcome.

But even she has cautioned me to make immediate plans. To make a decision — today.

The truth is, life happens. It’s as simple as that. You take one step, then another, and all of a sudden you are somewhere you never imagined. I had no intention of ever looking after my father, no thought of taking dance classes, no dreams of dancing on stage, and yet, those things have all happened, one unwitting step at a time.

The first step toward my new life is now in progress. I’m sorting through all my possessions, weeding out the superfluous and packing the rest. I’m also sorting through my immaterial possessions, such as responsibilities I have undertaken and friendships that no longer bring joy, to see what if anything is worth taking with me into my new life and what needs to be discarded. My next step will be to wait to see what happens with my father’s house. It might take a while to sell, and if so, maybe the executors will allow me to stay here until it does. Either way — staying here a or leaving shortly — my third step would be to find a storage place and move all my stuff there. And then . . .

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Seems a good enough plan for now. So don’t worry. I won’t starve. Won’t be on the streets. I’ll just be . . . wherever life has taken 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.

An Epic Adventure

During the past couple of years, I’ve been blogging about my yearning for an epic adventure. I’ve talked about walking up the Pacific coast, thru walking the Pacific Crest Trail, getting a small camper to roam the country and visit all my online friends. The last I might still do, but the first two are supreme athletic feats for which I simply do not have the feet. (Or the body, either!)

To me, an epic adventure is more than an athletic feat. It is a transcendental experience, one that allows us to transcend our daily experience, going beyond what we know, and somehow being transformed in the process. Such an endurance test would include physical challenges and encompass the whole range of human emotions.

And such an epic adventure came looking for me.

My Hawaiian dance class was invited to participate in a dance concert put on by the local college. Our teacher picked out two numbers — “Green Rose,” a Kahiko chant, and “Nani Wali Nahala,” a dance using bamboo sticks. (Have you ever seen Donovan’s Reef where the dancers danced with sticks? Our dance was faster and more complicated, but you get the idea.) Then we practiced. And practiced. And practiced.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that I’m musically challenged. My ears hear all the various strains, themes, and tracks of a song as a single entity. It’s very difficult for me to pick out a beat or single note from the mélange. And yet, I was chosen to lead the class out on stage. (It had nothing to do with expertise. It was more of a height thing — the woman at the other end of the stage was the same height as I was, and I happened to be there for all the practices.)

I did learn to pick the right note, count the requisite number of beats before heading into the limelight, and keep time while leading the way, yet it was always an adrenaline-filled, nerve-jangling moment when I made my entrance, whether in class or in dress rehearsal.

This epic adventure spanned five days. Our class’s dress rehearsal on Wednesday. The dress rehearsal for the entire cast on Thursday (a nine-hour endurance test, mostly boredom interspersed with moments of heart-pounding and palm-sweating nervousness when we lined up for our turns). Two performances on Friday. One performance on Saturday evening. A Sunday matinee.

By the end of the day on Thursday, and even after the first show on Friday morning, some of us were wondering if the whole thing was worth it, but by Friday night we got into stride (it helped that as soon as I stepped on stage, we got a big round of applause. Sure made smiling easier!). Saturday slipped by as if this were our new life, and Sunday, though fun, was simply another day. The stage had become our life. Then it was over and somehow we had to come back to our normal lives.

Or maybe not.

Such an epic adventure, encompassing as it did the endurance test of waiting for our turns, the physical feat of dancing, the emotional highs and lows — fun and boring, exhausting and exhilarating, challenging and nerve wracking — had to have changed us somehow. Well, changed me anyway. The others have done such marathon concerts before, but it was a first for me. (Me? Dancing on stage? Seems unreal, to be honest.) Change ripples into our lives, creating a new reality. The odd thing is, I might never notice it. Change might rock our world, but since we rock with it, we are always on sure footing.

Oddly, the thing that made it all seem worthwhile for me during that second interminable day of dress rehearsal, is that whenever any of us questioned why were we doing such a thing, I’d look at us and say with a smile, “but we look so adorable.” And maybe something as simple as that is what keeps one moving ahead on an epic adventure. Because, of course, we did look adorable. It might even have been part of the adventure. We are all long past the “adorable” stage of our lives, and yet, here we are (I’m the second face from the right):

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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.

You Matter Because

you matter copy

Click here to find out more about the YouMatter campaign

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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 Welcome Rejection

Usually rejections are accompanied by regret or demorialization, but I can honestly say this rejection comes as a welcome relief.

I had applied for a Pacific Crest Trail sponsorship, and today I got this message:

Thanks for applying to our mYAMAdventure program.  This is the part of the program that I hate: I’m afraid we’re not able to extend an invitation to you this year.  We received over 100 applications, and narrowing them down to just five was a true challenge.  It’s a shame we can’t work with all of you.

I wish you all the best in your pursuits on the PCT!  If you haven’t already, check out the following resources for a start with your planning:

Yogi’s PCT Handbook: http://www.yogisbooks.com/pacific-crest-trail/pct-yogis-pacific-crest-trail-handbook
pct-l mailing list: http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/pct-l
Postholer forums: http://postholer.com/

Yay! Making the starting date for the hike would have put too much pressure in my already stressed-to-the-limit life. And it would not have brought me the simplicity I crave. As I have learned, thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is an athletic event where participants challenge themselves to complete the hike within the allotted weather window, more of an obstacle race than the transcendental walk I had envisioned!

So, where does this leave me? When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.

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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.

 

Using Dance

When I told an acquaintance I was taking classical dance lessons — ballet, jazz, tap — she gave me a blank-eyed stare and said, “How do you use it?” From her point of view, the question apparently seemed logical. She had once taken ballroom dancing, and she could use her skill if/when she went to a ballroom or nightclub or wherever such dancing takes place. I have no corresponding “use” for classical dancing, though I have been invited to participate in a few performances so I have used some of the dances I know.

danceStill, in the year and a third that I’ve been going to class, I never once considered whether there was a use for dancing. If anything, it’s more that dance has a use for me. It takes me beyond myself and at the same time, takes me into myself, making me more comfortable with who I am than I’ve ever been in my entire life. (I think it has something to do with living in front of a mirror for all those hours each week.) It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that demands all of me — mind, body, spirit, strength, dedication, loyalty. (I listed “mind” first without even thinking about it, and I was going to change the order to put body first, but this is the right order. Without the mind — learning, memory, imagining — there is no dance.)

Dance is a generous taskmaster and gives back more than it demands. Although I am nowhere near as graceful, balanced, and strong as I would like to be, I have come a long way since I began taking lessons. I can feel muscles now where there used to be . . . whatever there used to be. And I am a bit more balanced and graceful than I was before. Best of all, these benefits will remain with me even when I can no longer take dance classes.

There’s no need to “use” dance. Dance is its own reason for being.

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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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