The Yin-Yang of Friendship

I feel sad today, though I shouldn’t. The weather is lovely — cool with wonderfully clear azure skies. I had a delicious lunch with a friend and afterward we sat beneath a tree by the shores of a lake (human-made, but still a lake) and enjoyed a quiet interlude.

If the sadness isn’t a belated response to my four-and-a-half-year anniversary of grief, and if it isn’t simply a general malaise stemming from the change of seasons, then it could be due to an ongoing disagreement I am having with another friend. This other friend periodically accuses me of being contrary or negative when I resist being taken for granted, and I never know how to yinyanghandle the accusations, so I often make the situation worse by trying to explain my position. This time, I’m not explaining, and perhaps that’s what’s making me sad — I value my friends and I don’t like passing up an opportunity to put things right.

Last year, another friend accused me of being negative. (When most people look at me, they don’t see someone negative but a smiling woman who is doing the best she can with what life throws at her.) I told her I was sorry she felt that way, and that’s pretty much how we left it. We reconnected recently, and she apologized for her behavior, saying I wasn’t negative and she had no idea why she accused me of being so.

I don’t know why she said it, either. To be honest, I don’t know why anyone would accuse a person of being negative. I can’t think of a single instance where I accused someone of being negative, perhaps because I don’t put much faith in being positive. I’m one of those people who don’t care whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. I simply drink what’s there and refill the glass if possible, which could be why I have no idea how to deal with the infrequent person who calls me negative.

The truth is, negativity isn’t necessarily negative. Negativity is simply yin to positivity’s yang. Everything is a duality — complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic whole. Light and dark. Male and female. Hot and cold. Fire and water. Good and bad. Positive and negative. In Taoism, there is no real distinction between these forces that we in the west see as opposites. Since negativity is a matter of perception, the problem lies with the person who perceives me in such a light. And so it goes, the yin-yang of friendship.

Now if the friend had accused me of over thinking everything, I’d have to agree with that. If nothing else, this post is an exercise in over thinking. But I had fun writing this bloggerie and now don’t feel quite so sad — I even have a small smile on my face.

I hope you do too.

***

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.

Being in Two Places at Once

Grief:  The Great YearningThe other day, a friend came early to her dance class and sat reading Grief: The Great Yearning while I danced with my class. I thought I would feel uncomfortable seeing such a new friend read the truth of me, but that didn’t affect me, perhaps because I am used to throwing my emotions out there for anyone to catch and make of them what they wish. Still, it did feel odd, as if I were in two places at once — both in the book where I was so abandoned to grief I could only scream my pain to the wind and in the studio where I was so abandoned to dancing I could only smile.

The emotion in Grief: The Great Yearning is so raw, it is as if I myself reside between the pages of the book, and in fact, the friend also remarked on the strangeness of living my story and feeling my grief and then looking up to see me dancing.

For a long time, I thought I would always be that woman lost in grief, but grief itself changed me. From the first moment grief stole my breath from me, I knew it was important to follow where it led, that it would take me where I needed to be, that it would help me become the woman who could survive the loss of her soul mate.

And so it came to be.

Other people read of my grief now, and the description of my journey helps them to follow their own path of grief, which is one great benefit of having written so passionately about my feelings, but another great benefit is that I don’t have to waste time remembering my grief, don’t have to wallow in it. It exists outside of me now. If I ever want to relive those days, I can simply pick up the book, and there I will be.

As strange as it might seem, years from now I probably will want to read the book. I am losing the memory of him and our shared life, losing the feeling of ever having been profoundly connected to another human being, and I might need to remember that once I loved, once I was so connected to another human being that his death shattered me. Even more than that, I still have a void inside of me where he once was, and someday I might need to remember why it is there.

(PS: If you know of anyone who is experiencing profound grief, please consider gifting them with a copy of Grief: The Great Yearning. It might help them to know that others have been where they are, and survived.)

***

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.

Finding the Wildness

Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
she takes up a tambourine, made of taut skin
and rimmed with castanets of brass,
and she begins to dance. The sound of flutes
blares out wildly, reaching even to the depths
of the underworld, so loud, so clamorous is it.
Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
she finds the wildness in herself, and as she does
she finds that there is joy there too.
~ Greek dramatist Euripides

A reader left this lovely poem as a response to my post In the Presence of Death…, and Euripides’s words are so very apropos. Although I am far from being a goddess, I am hoping to find the wildness within. And I am dancing.

I don’t dance wildly — the classes I take are all classical dances with practiced steps and choreographed movements, but dance does speak to something wild deep inside of me. For someone who’s life has always been about words — both reading and writing — dance is a way of reaching the wordless depths, of finding the woman beneath the trappings of civilization and expectations and other people’s stories. I sense it’s also a way of awakening more of the wildness within, bringing with it the strength and courage to live fully and gracefully.

I once read an article that talked about stream-of-consciousness being the brain’s default mode. The journalist reported that in depression, the default mode network appears to be overactive, that a depressive brain shows a pattern of balky transitions from introspective thought to work that requires conscious effort, and it frequently slips into the default mode during cognitive tasks. A depressive brain also shows especially weak links between the default mode network and a region of the brain involved in motivation and reward-seeking behavior.

This could be the reason why blogging is so easy for me and writing fiction so hard. Blogging for me is stream-of-consciousness writing and brings immediate rewards, while writing fiction is more cognitive and takes more conscious effort than I am sometimes willing to spent. (A fellow writer once described writing as a mental prison, and while most authors seem to find freedom in fiction, I find it restrictive, especially since the rewards of a finished project are delayed for sometimes years.)

But dance . . . ah, that transcends both stream-of-consciousness and cognitive thinking. It’s a matter of concentration and memory, of training the body to do your will (or rather, your teacher’s will). And where there is neither stream-of-consciousness nor cognition, there is no depression, no sadness. Or so it seems.

Although I still have upsurges of sadness when I am alone, I am seldom sad in class and never depressed. I don’t always find dancing joyful. It’s often hard for me and frustrating at times when my body simply will not do what I will it to do, or when I cannot get what seems to be a simple step. But dancing is always compelling, even when it is difficult — especially when it is difficult. The discipline of stretching just a bit further or reaching a new understanding of a movement, helps dig beneath what I know of myself, helps find the wildness in me. There is joy in that, and joy is its own reward.

There is also joy, of course, in dancing in unison with other not-so-young women who are also dedicated to the art, and there is vast joy in having learned a new dance, particularly for someone such as I who never in her life conceived of such a possibility.

During class, after we warm up, before we work on the current dance, we practice the dances we already know. And each time we dance one of those numbers, there comes a point in the dance where I can feel a huge smile on my face as I realize that oh! I am dancing! And for that moment, I feel like a goddess.

***

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.

Is It Fun Being You?

I watched a tape of an old “Boston Legal” show the other night. Although I don’t particularly like the series — it was mostly smugly rich lawyers in a large firm behaving badly — the byplay between William Shatner (Denny Crane) and James Spader (Alan Shore) was riveting. You don’t see many instances of male friendship in movies or on TV, which is compelling enough, but the two characters often talk about matters that are beyond the general fare of television. (Not that I would know — I seldom watch television, though I have a couple of series and a couple of partial series on tape for no other reason than that I have them.)

One such conversation occurred during the show I viewed. Denny, despite his growing Alzheimer’s, had just experienced a triumph over his ilness by having a significant impact on a trial, and afterward while decompressing with Shore on the balcony of Denny’s office, Denny says, “It’s fun being me.” Then he turns to Shore and asks, “Is it fun being you?”

Such a simple question, one I had never considered. Is it fun being me? Although I can’t get the question out of my mind, I truly have no answer to it. I have fun, of course, and while fun is not my raison d’etre, perhaps it should be. Life dumps plenty of sorrow and responsibility on me — I certainly don’t need to heap more problems on myself, and besides, having fun would help balance my life.

But that was not the question. Denny did not ask, “Are you having fun?” He asked, “Is it fun being you?” — which is something completely different.

I’m the one in glasses.

I’ve always taken life and myself too seriously to have fun being me. Oddly, Alan Shore once described me when I was young without knowing he was doing so. As he says to one of his female associates, “When I look at you, I see one of those little schoolgirls, running around in her plaid skirt, always to class on time, the first to raise her hand, the neatest of . . . penmanship.” Yup. That was me.

I’m trying not to take things so seriously, though it’s hard when I seem to be always in the middle of other people’s life and death situations. Still, I need a more lighthearted approach than simply not taking life so seriously. Since I will need to find a new focus for the next twenty or thirty years (assuming I live as long as my mother did) perhaps that focus should be not just being me as I’ve been trying to do, but having fun being me.

And I’ve already taken the first step. Dance class is teaching me many things besides dancing: to be accepting of (and maybe even celebrating) imperfections in me and everyone else; to be committed to something life changing outside my normal purview; to find joy in movement, especially synced movement; to be happy in the moment; and most of all, to enjoy being someone who enjoys 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.

Held Hostage by Life

My father calls hospice “hostage” and it certainly felt that way to me today. For an organization that purports to be there for the dying and the families of the dying, they are giving me a hard time. Remember, this is the same organization that kicked me out of their grief group for not grieving enough, so for me to expect consideration is a bit foolish. Still, after numerous phone calls to changecoordinate calendars, we had set up a visitation schedule for the nurse’s aid to come bathe and shave my father that will suit all of us (Wednesday and Saturday mornings), and today, just as I was walking out the door to go to my dance class, the woman called and said she was on her way. Huh? The last I looked, Tuesday came after Monday. Wednesday is still scheduled for tomorrow.

I told the woman about the situation here, about all the calls we made to set up a schedule, and that I wanted her to come on Wednesday as planned. She said it was not possible, then added, “You’ll have to wait until someone dies before you can get the schedule you want.” That comment sure took me aback. Aren’t hospice workers supposed to be tactful with the people they deal with? And aren’t they supposed to make an effort to help us in a way we need to be helped? Apparently not. (When I expressed my feeling about her tactless remark, she put the onus on me, saying she understood that caregivers were under stress. I didn’t appreciate her patronizing attitude, either, especially since my only stress came from her tactlessness and her refusal to follow the schedule we’d set up.)

The person who came to sign us up told us that Medicare gives them $5,000 a month to spend on each hospice patient. Even assuming astronomical costs for administration and a fifteen-minute visit from a nurse once a week and a half-hour visit twice a week from an aid, and adding in the cost of my father’s minimal drugs, there is still most of the money available to hire people to come when we need them. But no, they can’t do that. And so I am being held hostage by their inflexibility and tactlessness.

Then there is the matter of my car. Three months ago, I spent a small fortune to get the thing fixed, and apparently I got sandwiched between a crook and an absentee owner — the felonious employee pocketed the money while the owner was off taking care of family business. The crook did minimal work, just enough to get the vehicle moving, so now my car is again out of service, and the owner of the business is scurrying around trying to fix his business and my car at the same time.

Yep, felt like a hostage today, trapped by life in situations I neither created nor abetted.

The best things about today were my dance classes, of course. They are the best thing about every day. It’s possible that I am taking all this hostageness too seriously, so I’m going to forget it now that it’s out of my system. Instead I will bask in the over-heated glow of a body that did what it was supposed to do — stretch and bend and move and dance.

***

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.

Get Better Acquainted with Your Devil

I don’t follow astrology, but occasionally a friend sends me a link to particularly interesting horoscope of mine, such as this one:

“My definition of a devil is a god who has not been recognized,” said mythologist Joseph Campbell. “It is a power in you to which you have not given expression, and you push it back. And then, like all repressed energy, it builds up and becomes dangerous to the position you’re trying to hold.” Do you agree? I hope so, because you will soon be entering the Get Better Acquainted with Your Devil Phase of your astrological cycle, to be immediately followed by the Transform Your Devil into a God Phase. To get the party started, ask yourself this question: What is the power in you to which you have not given expression?

Even if this particular prognostication isn’t true (and I seldom find horoscopes to mirror anything in my daily life), it is germane to all of our lives. For example: grief. If we repress grief, it assumes an enormous power over us for the rest of our lives, but if we make friends with grief, or at least acknowledge it and let it run its course. Grief isn’t either a god or a devil of course, but it does seem to be a great evil. It can also be a force for good if you let it, helping turn you into the person who can survive an inimaginable loss.

gift2I’m not sure what devil phase I’m in now, what power in me I haven’t yet expressed. Nor do I know what position I’m trying to hold. If this horoscope is true, I will find out soon enough. And if it isn’t true, well, it poses an interesting question. I don’t like repressing any sort of energy, because it takes so much extra energy to keep anything repressed, but if I am repressing something, chances are I wouldn’t know what it is that I am repressing.

Someone once told me I am suppressing my creative energy since I’m not writing fiction, and I suppose it’s possible, but the truth is, there are all sorts of ways to be creating, including blogging and dancing, both of which I am doing. Besides, writing isn’t a god for me — it’s always been an intellectual choice, rather than something I’m compelled to do.

It would be more interesting, of course, if the alleged energy I am repressing is something I don’t know about, because the surprise of finding it and unrepressing it would be fascinating. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m all that fascinating. Still, I’ll be open to both my Get Better Acquainted with Your Devil Phase and my Transform Your Devil into a God Phase. Could be illuminating.

***

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.

 

Happy International Day of Peace

I’ve been scrolling through my Facebook feed, checking to see what is happening in the online world. Most people seem to be experiencing momentous events, passages, tragedies and triumphs. But not me. Not today.

No one in my little household died. No one got sick. No one has a birthday or an anniversary. No one had an accident. No one was born. I didn’t adopt a dog or take a cat to the vet. I didn’t get a job or lose one. I didn’t go to the beach or cruising on a lake. I won no awards. Didn’t get a fabulous review of one of my books (not even a bad one). I didn’t travel to far away lands or even close ones, for that matter. I didn’t cook anything special.

All I did was a few minor chores around the house, looked after my father’s needs, and relaxed. It was the perfect way to spend the International Day of Peace — at peace.

Wishing you peace, not just today but every day.

peacesign

***

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.

Blogging and Disloyalty

Sometimes I feel disloyal blogging about all the problems I have with my family’s various infirmities, whether physical or mental, as if I am betraying them, my father and brother especially. And yet, these problems are the same ones other people are struggling with — aged parents and dysfunctional siblings or offspring. It’s in talking of these matters that we discover how un-unusual the problems are — we all have seem to have the care of someone thrust on us, disrupting our lives.

Some people have to deal with various other problems, of course, such as caring for a spouse’s infirmities, but I don’t have much to say about such matters since my coupled days are behind me.

While my life mate/soul mate was dying, I seldom talked privately and never publicly about his decline or the problems it caused me — that truly would have felt like a betrayal, as if I were exposing him or as if I were talking about matters that did not belong to me. To cope, I simply drew within and continued to live as best as I could. His death catapulted me out of that state, enatugofwarbling me to launch my angst-ridden cry into cyberspace. I’m not sure he would have approved of my being so open about my feelings, but by then, he no longer had a say in my life. Besides, my grief belonged to me alone.

I doubt I will ever feel that intense loyalty again, which is good. I no longer want or am able to live in the empty spaces in my soul.

Last night I blogged out my frustration with my father’s panic attack and the mindlessly mean way he acted. It enabled me to sleep peacefully (well, sort of) last night and wake up encouraged enough to go on.

The time is coming, perhaps soon, when my father can no longer be allowed to have his way about staying alone when I am out of the house, but despite the minor emergency last night, I’m inclined to let things remain as they are awhile longer. He is terrified of losing control, and he is someone who has always had to have steely control — of himself, his family, his surroundings. (You’d think I’d take delight in this gradual erosion of his control, considering how domineering he was in my youth, but I find no joy in watching his decline.)

Still, disloyal or not, I will need to continue blogging about my problems as life and death persist with their game of tug of war. It’s a matter of my survival.

***

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.

Killing My Father

Some days are just more than I can handle. Well, not the whole day. I took dance classes today, and that was as wonderful as always. Everything was even fine when I got back to the house. My father was up, seemed content, so I told him I’d be gone all day next Thursday and Friday, and into the evening on Friday. He was okay with that, but when I asked if he would be okay if I went to the Sierra group walk for a while tonight, he got upset with me for leaving him alone. Then I noticed he was gasping for breath.

I went to check his oxygen concentrator machine, and it didn’t seem to be working — the regulator ball was at zero. My father came and pushed me away from the machine (he still has a lot of strength for a 97-year-old man). He was all in a panic, pushing buttons, turning the machine off and on, twisting the regulator knob, and he refused to go sit down so I could check out the machine. Finally, I steered him away from the machine, told him he was panicking from loss of oxygen, and rather sternly told him to just lie still while I got the problem taken care of.

wind“I don’t want to die,” he kept screaming, and at one point, “you’re killing me.” (Not sure why he said that. Maybe because I wasn’t moving fast enough to suit him. The truth is, he is fine without oxygen for several hours. He simply panicked.)

Meantime, I called hospice, who called the oxygen people. When I told my father the oxygen people were going to call me back, he got mad and said I was supposed to call “hostage.” I explained I did call hospice, and they were the ones who called the oxygen supplier. I finally got him calmed down enough so I could go get the temporary tank from another room and set it up for him. Now we’re waiting for a replacement tank (or maybe just new tubing — I didn’t see any kinks, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any).

Considering his panic, I asked if he was still willing to be left alone during those two days next week. I said I could ask my sister to come back, and he refused to let me ask her, just said to leave the emergency tank set up. It’s not possible to leave the tank set up — such a tank holds only four hours of oxygen, and if it was set up, it would be out of oxygen by the time he needed it. He said he was still able to remember fundamentals such as how to work a machine once it was explained to him, and I didn’t say anything. Under normal circumstances, it could be true, but when he is panicked, thinking he is going to die from lack of oxygen, I have my doubts.

But it’s still his choice . . . for now.

(An hour later: The machine is fine — it turned out the electric socket is dead. My father is fine too. It turned out I did not kill him.)

***

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.

Back to Living a Quiet Life of . . . I Don’t Know

My sister, who has been here helping look after our 97-year-old father, left this morning, and shortly after she took off for places unkown, I went to dance class, leaving him alone. When I checked on him upon my return, he didn’t seem to have been affected by either of our absences, just went about his life as usual.

I’ve lost track of how many times he’s seemed to be at the end of his life, prompting me to plan my immediate future. The first time, I planned a cross-country trip to promote my books. I started gathering the promotional materials, even went so far as to roadwrite all the independent bookstores in the country. He returned to his normal self, scotching my plans, which was just as well — I got such an abysmal response to my USPS mail campaign, that I lost all interest in visiting the bookstores in person. (I didn’t send just a Hi-I’m-an-author-buy-my-books promo. I sent gift certificates for ebooks and offered to interview each of the storeowners for my interview blog to help promote their stores. Not one responded.)

The second time, I planned to walk to Seattle, either via the Pacific Crest Trail or the various coastal trails. (California, Oregon, and Washington all have a coastal trail in the process of completion.) I spent weeks trying to figure out the logistics of such a trip, taking into consideration my age, the state of my fitness, and the prodigious amounts of water and other supplies I would have to haul. Just about the time I realized how improbable (if not impossible) such a trip would be for me, my father got better.

There were a few other quickly aborted plans during some of his short down times, such as my getting a teardrop trailer, perhaps, or renting a room in a house to make it easier to continue taking dance classes. During this last near-death turn of events, I didn’t even bother to plan (though I did have a few nights of panic when I realized I have no idea how or why or where I will live after I leave here). I finally understood the futility of expecting or fearing anything when it comes to such a tenacious old man. And sure enough, he’s dragged himself back to life.

One of my siblings suggested putting him in a nursing home, but there is no reason for such an action. He’s on hospice, so I have help when/if I need it, though he has refused to wear a medical alert bracelet that would connect him to hospice in an emergency and he has refused to have someone come stay with him when I’m gone. Still, I’m only out of the house about twenty-four hours a week (you know where I am a lot of that time — dance class!). I keep my phone with me when I’m away, and I’m in the house all night every night. (And if he gets worse, my sister has promised to come back.)

Now that both my dysfunctional brother and helpful sister are gone, I’m back to living a quiet life of . . . I don’t know. Waiting, perhaps, though I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. Maybe my own life, whatever that might be, though for now, this is my life. Or more precisely, dancing is my life, and being here for my father allows me to continue taking dance classes.

At least he’s still alive. To be honest, the thought of perhaps having to live for a few days with a dead body in the house creeps me out.

***

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.

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