My Heavenly and Hellish Life

My life continues to be one extreme or the other, either heavenly or hellish without any in between.

For example, today a friend and I took a road trip to the beach for frozen bananas, which I’d never eaten. They were superb, a thousand times better than the deep-fried cheesecake we’d sampled on our last excursion. The day was a perfect blend of warm sun and cool sea breezes, and the ocean itself looked like photos I’ve seen of tropical waters — white surf and turquoise water. I was so mesmerized, it never occurred to me to take photos.

The day ended, as heavenly days always do, and I came back here to the house of hell. My brother immediately began harassing me, and although my father was asleep, I found that he’d checked my bookkeeping, misplaced household bills I need to pay, and left me indecipherable notes meaningless messages. He has every right, of course, and I understand his need to be in control of everything in his life, but after a month of his leaving me to pay the bills, I felt as if he were treating me like a child who couldn’t be trusted to do her prescribed chores.

I escaped online as is my habit to find that my publisher has a new website, and all the thousands of buy links I have posted over the past few years for my books and for the other authors are now defunct. I am disheartened to say the least. Maybe my disheartenment is premature and during the next few days the links will be properly redirected. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Meantime, I’m thankful that I have dance classes tomorrow. No matter how bad things are, I can look forward to the joy of learning new dance steps. And so I will get through another day.

***

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.

Dealing With Elderly Parents

A friend spoke to me today about our different reactions to the care of our aging parents. She seems to think I’m more accepting of my elderly father’s insistence on having his way than she is of her mother’s foibles. Maybe it’s true, but no matter how we deal with the problems that arise with elderly parents, it will always be difficult. To our parents, we are eternal children who lack the necessary skills to navigate through life. More than that, it’s difficult for them to see what is so obvious to us — that they are no longer the strong-bodied and strong-minded people they once were. All that is left is the strong will they are determined to exert even if they no longer have the means of assessing the situation.

icecreamAlthough my run-ins with my father do bother me at the time they happen, I quickly let the frustration go. For the most part, I don’t see that it makes any difference what he does, and besides, I’ve used up my cajolability. If he wants to eat ice cream for every meal, that’s his prerogative. I’m not going to cajole him into eating healthily. If he doesn’t want to do his breathing treatments, well, that’s his choice too. He’s 97 years old. His various medications can only help him be more comfortable. They can’t cure his congestive heart failure, his COPD, his prostate problems. Nor can they give him what he most needs — a modicum of youth.

I suppose it’s possible my blasé attitude comes more from exhaustion than acceptance. I’ve been here for four years watching him deteriorate at an increasingly rapid rate, and there’s not much I can do except watch.

This particular wage of daughterhood is so hard that some days I want to run away, but running away won’t change the situation, just remove me from the equation. I suppose if I had somewhere to go, I would go, but as of right now, only emptiness awaits me when I leave here. I’ll have to start rebuilding my life, and I don’t really have any strong inclinations to do one thing or another. I’d like to keep taking dance lessons, of course, but other than that . . . nothing.

And so I stay, answering my father’s summons when he wants something, checking on him when he doesn’t, and dealing with the other strange elements of my life the rest of the time. (My dysfunctional brother and the sister who has come to help with our father.)

Some day there will only be me to consider.

People tease me and tell me I will miss all this. I doubt that I will miss any of it, and yet there has been so much insane drama during the past fifteen months that the emptiness of my life afterward will seem even emptier by comparison.

I’m trying not to look to the future, though. For a while, dreaming impossible dreams helped me feel alive and made me believe that one day things will be different, but for now all I can do is hunker down and survive each day the best I can.

***

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 Gathering Forces

My sister is here helping take care of my 97-year-old father who seems to be declining. (I say “seems to be” because so far, every time I thought the end was nearing, he managed to find his way back to life.) A bit of a mystic, she claims benevolent spirits are gathering, though they aren’t telling her what they are doing or hope to accomplish.

It’s entirely possible that benevolent energy is in the air. Normally I spend quiet weekends running errands, walking, doing housework, but this weekend, I’ve been invited to four different social events. I feel like the belle of the ball, especially since my sister agreed — Cinderella-like — to look after our father while I am out gallivanting.

windThe forces of entropy also seem to be gathering. A window broke. That my brother has been banging on it for most of a year seems to escape him, and he can’t understand why it disintegrated. “I don’t know how that happened,” he told me. “I’ve been banging on it for a year, and it never broke before.” Decorative masonry is falling off the entryway supports. The two air conditioners broke down, each with a different problem. And now the hot water is gone.

I’m doing what I can to make the benevolent spirits feel welcome and at the same time staving off the destructive powers that are swirling around, though to be honest, I don’t really believe anything out of the ordinary is happening. I’ve made good friends, and the outings we have planned simply landed on the same weekend, and things do break down. (So do people break down, though I am holding up well considering how little sleep I got last night.)

I am worried about the immediate future, though. My father asked the urologist to take out the catheter, and now he gets up frequently to go to the bathroom. He is very frail, and we are afraid of his falling, but we can’t be with him every minute. Besides, if we were to get up every time he did, we would be worn out after just a couple of nights and would be no good to anyone. (Dealing with an aging parent, especially the authoritarian sort, is always difficult because to them, we are eternally the minions, and not very bright ones at that.)

Perhaps those benevolent spirits are here to give us all strength. Perhaps the forces of entropy will win in the end as they always do, and we will wind down like those old-fashioned mechanical toys. Or maybe I’m simply feeling the effects of sleeplessness.

Only the coming days will tell.

***

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.

Handmaiden of Death

In June, I finished my started projects, cleaned house, and did everything I could think of to enable me to dedicate July to writing my new novel. I wrote for five days, then life, with a mocking laugh, stole my free time.

My elderly father developed prostate complications, and while he was in the hospital, his general practitioner decided to use the opportunity to do other tests. And since my father decided he had the right to refuse any treatment, he declined to sit in a chair or walk down the hall. And so he developed pneumonia, which extended his hospitalization.

He is home now, but mostly bedridden by choice. He can still walk, but both my sister, who came to help out, and I insist that one of us be there because he refuses to use the walker. Not a problem, really. He prefers to stay in bed except when he feels the need to empty his bowels, and so often, that feeling comes from his body sending him the wrong signal or perhaps he is simply misinterpreting what he feels.

During the past few years, I’ve seen way too many people in the final stages of life — a brother, my mother, my life mate/soul mate, and now my father. The first three died of cancer, and my father is simply wasting away from old age, his once strong body slowly shutting down.

To be honest, I find the end of life horrific, both for the dying and the tortures they endure(d), and for me as a bystander and future victim. I know this is the cycle of life — conception, birth, growth, decline, death — but something in me cannot grasp (or accept) the idea of decline.

heavenOne of my favorite end-of-life scenes is from the movie Soylent Green where the sick and dying are taken to beautiful rooms and treated to a visual and musical montage of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life, scenes that had long disappeared from earth because of human overpopulation. And then the sick folks were gone, peacefully and instantly. That seems a much better and more humane way to die than waiting for the body to eat itself with cancer or to begin decaying while the body is still alive. (In Biblical times, executioners would strap a dead man — the “body of death” — on to the one convicted, and as it began to decay it would begin killing the living man . . . by decomposition. So vastly different from a Soylent Green death!)

In our culture, we basically have no recourse but to let the body do what it will. And rightly so, I suppose. Who among us is wise enough to say who is to live and who is to die? I remember another story I once read where the aged mother had told her daughter she didn’t want to live as a vegetable, and if that ever happened, then she wanted her daughter to end her life. One day the mother did end up paralyzed with no means of communication, but she found a quiet joy in her greatly condensed world. And then her daughter killed her. Ouch.

My sister had a rough time with our father last night, and tonight is my turn to be on call. We got a long-range wireless doorbell and gave him the button to push when he wants us. We women move the doorbell from room to room depending on who is to answer his call. It seems strange to be handmaidens of death, but that is the role we have accepted for now.

Despite all this, I’m still hoping to work on my book a little more this month, though exhaustion — for me, anyway — is not exactly conducive to literary endeavors.

***

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.

Current and Recurrent Trends

My life is so chaotic right now, I have a hard time figuring out where I am and what I’m doing. Cultural reference points aren’t helping, either. Yesterday I saw someone in a huge Afro. Something in my mind slid sideways, and for a second, I felt as if I were back in the 1970s. I didn’t find out until today that Afros are back in style. (As you can see, I don’t exactly keep up with current and recurrent trends.)

massesAt the grocery store today, the guy standing in front of me was wearing his pants down below his buttocks. So not an attractive look! I never expected the droopy drawers trend to last so many decades, but there he was. Even worse, he was very tall, his waist about my eye level. He alternated hitching his pants up and pulling them down so that they were always binding his legs together. He was wearing a heavy coat that ended at his thighs (despite it being 100 degrees today) and I thanked my lucky stars that he never raised his arms.

The guy behind me had Ubangi ears. (I’m sorry if this is a racial slur. I don’t intend it as such, but my only experience with earlobes that hang down to one’s shoulders is from National Geographic magazines that were already old when I was young.) I can’t even begin to connect such a trend to a decade, though I have periodically seen such “decorations” during the past ten years.

I drove back to the house with my car full of groceries for other people (somehow I forget to buy stuff for me. It’s a wonder I’m not wasting away, but I am far from being Twiggy-esque). I could see that the couple in the decades-old car in front of me was smoking, their arms snaking out of the windows at frequent intervals, their fingers flicking like forked tongues.

It would be interesting to think that all these people have slipped into our current time, visiting, perhaps, or simply taking in the sights. But more probably the problem is me. I’m out of step and getting very crotchety.

***

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 Wages of Daughterhood

I am so exhausted I can hardly think straight. I keep hoping my life will get easier, but so far that hasn’t happened, not even after my sister came to help with our father. I thought my sister would be a great help when he got out of the hospital after a recent bout of pneumonia and prostate infection, and she is. I also thought her being here would make it easier to meet my own needs, but what I didn’t take into consideration is that there would be another person’s needs to juggle, and this juggling act is already too complicated.

Thjugglingere is a chance my brother will accept my offer to drive him back to Colorado and thereby lessen the stress. There is a chance my father will get better temporarily and won’t need so much looking after. There is a chance I will get all the sleep I need and so be able to handle the immensity of my task with a bit more grace. There is a chance . . . oh, heck. There is a chance of a lot of things, I’m just too tired to list any more of them.

Dance classes remain my savior, both the dancing and the friendship, but despite my trying to keep those lessons sacrosanct, I can see (and foresee) the gradual encroachment into my private time.

Still, no matter what happens on a daily basis, the truth is that my father is 97 years old, very frail (more so because of his recent hospitalization), and does not have many years left. Probably not even a year. His doctor is going to monitor the situation for another month, and then maybe advise hospice, something that up until now he has refused to even discuss.

If my father does go on hospice, the wages of daughterhood would be almost over. (Paraphrasing a quote from The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl.)

It seems as if most of my life has been spent paying those wages, from taking care of younger siblings when I was young enough to need care myself, to helping when my mother was dying, to looking after my aged father.

On this blog, I spin dreams of epic walks, of living on the road, of being nomadic, but the truth is, I have no idea who I will be when I am no longer “daughter.” Maybe I will crave a place of my own. Maybe I will embrace spontaneity and uncertainty. Maybe I will arrange my life so I can take dance classes three or four days a week and be mobile the rest of the time.

Maybe I will just be.

Meantime, I’m still juggling as best as I can.

***

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.

Questioning the Cops

Strange morning. But then, that’s redundant since my entire life has taken a turn into strangeness.

The cops were here about my brother. They suspected him of turning off a neighbor’s gas as retaliation for her ignoring him after he called her a lewd name. (When my father took a turn for the worse and my sister came to help out, it seems as if my brother had what appears to be a psychotic break from reality. He does things that he completely believes he never did, such as slashing my sister’s tires or calling people awful names.) His turning off their gas created problems with the water heater — which doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what they said — and the heater had to sheriffbe replaced. He’s also made forays into other neighbors’ back yards. All that in addition to his “poltergeist” activity around the house, such as banging on windows, incessantly ringing the doorbell, calling through the locks.

The cops wanted to talk to my brother, but I didn’t feel up to dealing with his reprisals, so I said he wasn’t here. The truth is, I knew he wasn’t here — at the first sight of a cop car, he runs and hides, usually some place where he can hear what is going on. They asked if they could come in, and I said no. They seemed surprised at that. There isn’t anything to hide here in the house, but wasn’t a social call, and they hadn’t been invited. So I went outside.

They explained the problem and asked for his last name. I didn’t tell them — it’s not my name to give. Then they asked for my name. I said “Pat.” They wrote that down, then asked for my last name. I didn’t want to give it to them. I explained I was in no way responsible for my brother’s acts, was in no way responsible for him, that he was 64 and a grown man. They said they understood, and asked again for my last name. Again I hesitated, and they said they only needed it for their records to show who they talked to. I told them that in all my dealings with the local cops up to that point, my first name had been satisfactory, and they retaliated by telling me those were not criminal investigations, and this one was. If I didn’t give them my name, I could be arrested for impeding a criminal investigation. So I gave it to them.

Then they asked for my birth date. This really sent alarms through me. My stress level, for reasons I cannot fathom, reached critical levels, and I could feel the tears gathering behind my eyes. (Tears seem to be how I process changes and stress.) I said, “So, are you going to be investigating me now?” They said no, and again told me that I could be arrested if I didn’t give them the date. I said it wasn’t fair. Suspects could lie. Cops could lie. But as a bystander I couldn’t. They said that it wasn’t a criminal offense if I lied about checking to see if my brother were in the garage, but that it could be a criminal offense to lie about my birth date.

In all such discussions about my brother with the local cops during the past year, and especially during the past weeks after I began writing my book about a murder at a dance studio, I’d never paid attention to their uniforms, and that would be an important detail for the book. So I studied them. Dark green slacks. Light olive drab shirts. Yellowish-gold “Sheriff’s Department” insignias on their right upper sleeves. Gold deputy stars above their left pockets. Black rectangular nametags above the pocket on the right side. Heavy black equipment belts.

Then I started asking them questions. I figured it was only fair. I told them I was writing a book about a murder that will take place at a local exercise studio and asked what would happen after we called 911. They said officers would show up fairly soon, and the number of officers would depend on how busy they were. They said they’d remove us from the scene, take personal information and fill out a detailed report about our relationship with the deceased, what we’d been doing just previously, if we knew what any of the others witnesses had been doing. Then they’d probably take us to the police station to be questioned by detectives. I asked if we’d each be in a separate car, but they thought we’d probably be taken in pairs with warnings not to talk to each other. I asked if the radio would be on, that in movies, the police radio is always squawking. They said it would be silent so that we wouldn’t be able to get any information. At the police station, we’d probably have to wait for an hour for the detectives to arrive.

I asked for a description of the interrogation room and about the color of the walls. (Cream.) I said one of my detectives would have a lovely first name that I wanted to use for the story, but I noticed they only used the first initial on their nametags and business care. They said it was up to the detective whether she’d give her name or not.

I guess about the only other thing I needed for a sensory description was how the cop car smelled, but I wasn’t about to ask them to let me sit in it to find out. For all I know, they could have used that as an excuse to take me to the station.

One cop told me that as much as he would love to talk about police procedure, he had to get back to business. He said at some point I’d have to have my brother evicted, but as we talked, I learned what I already knew — that in the end, they couldn’t do anything. They would remove him from the premises after the eviction went into effect, and when he came back, they would arrest him, let him go, and when he came back, they’d arrest him, let him go ad infinitum. They told a story about a guy with mental problems who sounded much like my brother. The panhandler had been arrested and let go on a regular basis. This went on for many years without his ever having served jail time. Eventually, the family begged for the cops to arrest him and take him to a penal mental institution.

Luckily, long before we would reach such a point, my father will be dead, and I will be out of here.

But for now, I’m very proud of myself for turning things around and questioning them.

***

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.

Change

My father came home yesterday, and today we met with a visiting nurse who will be helping us through the next couple of months. I’m glad to have the help, both of the nurse and my sister. My father has been flat on his back for almost three weeks, more because of his disinclination to sit in a chair or walk rather than any medical issue. (“I have patients’ rights,” he told me smugly. “I have the right to refuse any treatment.” My explanation that sitting did not constitute a “treatment” did not sway him at all.)

nurseHe has the idea that he will immediately resume his normal life, and gets furious at me for suggesting it will be otherwise. (I have a hunch his fury stems from the fear that I am right.) I’m to the point where I simply smile at him and keep my reservations to myself. Maybe this time won’t be like all the other times he’s gotten out of the hospital and found himself helpless to do what he wanted. But the truth is, even for the relatively healthy, it takes a while to recuperate from a lengthy hospital stay.

Luckily for me, I won’t be the only one around to cater to his demands.

His homecoming and the nurse aren’t the only changes. My siblings are trying to get my insane and insanely drunk brother evicted from the garage, but supposedly they aren’t going to go against my wishes. I don’t want him forced out on the dusty streets of this hellishly hot and devilishly windy desert town. He needs to be in northern Colorado where perhaps he can get signed up for various social services.

I must be as crazy as he is — I have agreed to drive him back. 1000 miles with someone constantly bellowing in my ears is not my idea of a fun trip, but it’s the only alternative I can think of to legal hassles.

My sister came up with a brilliant idea. Rent some sort of SUV with plenty of cargo area for his hoardings, but take possession of it a few days in advance. Give him the alternative of loading up his stuff and being driven to Colorado in comfort, or staying and dealing with the repercussions of my siblings’ efforts to remove him.

Either way, with him or without him, I take off. If he’s in the vehicle, I only have to deal with him for two days, then blessed silence. If he doesn’t want to go, I take off for a weekend by myself. Sounds wonderful! The days off will also break my father’s psychological dependence on me, so that when I return, I won’t feel so burdened by his neediness.

Lots of changes in the air. I’ll let you know what happens.

***

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.

Becoming Dance

Of all the strange places my recent life has taken me, this has to be the strangest. I am sitting in lobby of a convalescent home, waiting for my father to wake from a nap. He’s only here for five days to get intravenous antibiotics to help treat a bout of pneumonia, but the few hours I’ve spent visiting him have made me realize how incredibly lucky I am.

I can walk with a straight back and easy gait. I can breathe unassisted. And oh! I feel so very young. I know this is a temporary condition. If I live long enough, I’ll be as old and decrepit as these folks, but for now, I’m thankful for what youth I dancehave left, for the joy that now comes at increasingly frequent intervals, for the capacity to taste what I eat and drink, for the ability to write and laugh and dance.

Strangely, not only do I feel good, people often mention that I look good, too. Some even say that stress becomes me. The wonder is that I can deal at all with the horrendous stresses of my life — an ailing, aging father and an insane and insanely drunk brother who has spent the past several hours bellowing at me. I am blessed to have wonderful and patient friends who will listen to my horror stories, sometimes for the second and third time, and who will offer hugs when I need them. I have this blog, of course. But mostly I have dancing.

We all need vacations from ourselves and our problems, but when we go on trips, we take ourselves with us. When we dance, especially choreographed dances, we leave ourselves at home. We become the music, the motion, and something else — part of a dancing whole. As the teacher keeps reminding us, we need to do everything in unison — one body, one mind, one soul. When it works, when we know the dance and are in perfect sync, it’s magic. For just one moment, we become more than we are. We become Dance.

Of course, after dance, we become just ourselves with all our attendant problems, but we still have the memory of that moment of freedom to sustain us, and hopefully we’ll still have it even when we’re too old to dance at all.

***

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 Wish . . .

It feels as if I have lost control of my life, as if the winds of life — or change — are in the air, and bits of me are floating off into the ether.

I wish I could concoct a powerful witches brew and — poof. Everything would be fine.

Or that I knew a wizard who could cast a joyous spell.

wizard

I wish I were as strong as everyone thinks I am.

warrior

I wish I had money enough and time to give everyone what they need and make things right.

gold

I wish . . . oh, so many things. But mostly, I guess, I hope I will eventually rise

alone

out of the horror or my life into a new day.

077c

***

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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