This Thing Called Communication

Whenever I start patting myself on the back for my ability to write, something happens to make me realize how very difficult is this thing called communication.

Today I texted someone to give my opinion about a course of action he was planning to take that would affect me. I immediately received a call from him chastising me for my anger. I was taken aback because I wasn’t angry. I was being direct, or at least thought I was.

phoneI got upset with the situation, and remarked this was always happening to me — I say something that seems unadorned and direct, and the recipient reads it as anger. My communicant today responded, “If it always happens, maybe the problem is with you.”

Perhaps it is. If so, how would I know? I only know what it is I think I am saying, not what it is people hear when they read my words. But come to think of it, even if I were angry, what difference does it make? I’m allowed my own reaction, especially when it comes to things that affect me.

Today, because of his call, we were able to smooth things over. Both of us apologized for the misunderstanding, but that ease of voice-to-voice communication is not always possible. And when that happens, things drag on, with the situation getting ever more complicated. I try to explain myself in subsequent emails but end up only deepening the misunderstanding, because each explanation seems as if I’m refueling the anger.

When we write fiction, we write to evoke emotions — anger, nostalgia, humor — but people don’t always respond the way we want them to. Sometimes the humor falls flat, the romance seems uninspired, the pathos insipid, but we as writers don’t end up in imbroglios because of the miscommunication. In fact, we seldom even know where it is we lost those particular readers, or if they even care. Maybe they felt something completely different and just as meaningful as what we intended.

But real life isn’t as easy. We leave people with impressions we don’t want to make, and no matter how precise we think we’re being, we end up causing confusion. Case in point: I sent this text to the executor of my father’s estate: “I’ve got a note on the cable box that it has to be returned to the company.” And I do have a note taped to the box. I put it there as a reminder to return the box when the house is sold. I just wanted to make sure it didn’t get forgotten or thrown out in the flurry of post-sale activity. But the executor thought I meant that I received a note from the cable company about the box. Eek.

Considering all the misinterpretations that are possible as words slip from one mind to another, it’s amazing that we can communicate at all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter 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.

You Matter

I received this letter yesterday:

Dear Pat,

Give more than presents this holiday season, share the gift of caring with those who matter to you most!

With the holidays around the corner, the USC School of Social Work believes that there is no better time to encourage random acts of kindness. The simple act of telling someone why they matter could have a bigger impact than you know. For that reason, you’re invited to participate in You Matter, a grassroots campaign designed to foster well-being and bring back some much-needed human connection. We are on a mission to spread as much positivity as possible, and we hope that you’ll join us!

There are four easy steps to participate in #YouMatter:

1) Download a Care Card from the MSW@USC blog.

2) Write a message with someone in mind.

3) Snap a picture of your card and share on social media using the hashtag #youmatter and tag us @youmatterbc to inspire others.

4) Give the Care Card to someone and make that person’s day!

There’s never a better time than now to show others that that they matter in this world. If you love this campaign as much as we do, we ask that you please pay it forward by featuring #YouMatter on your blog.

Wishing you a wonderful and safe holiday season,

Gaby Acosta

####

Sounds like an interesting campaign, even if she did neglect to tell me I matter!

If you’re interested in participating in this project, here is a “you matter” template to use. (Just right click and “save image as…) I was going to fill in the template, but in the end decided there was no “because.” You matter. It’s as simple as that.

you matter

***

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.

Thank You, My Friend

Of all the things I am grateful for today and every day, my friends (both online and off), rank the highest. You, my friend, have made these years of transition a special time for me, showing me that grief isn’t just about sadness and broken connections, but about growth, wonder, and new links to life.

Table settingIt’s odd to think about, but if my currently deceased life mate/soul mate were somehow to return whole and healthy, I’m not sure I’d go back to him — I’d be leaving too much behind. Oh, heck, who am I kidding? I’d go back to him in a minute! But the truth is, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision. I still have dances to learn, friends to enjoy, places to go, adventures to undertake.

I panic at times about the uncertainty of my future, but even that uncertainty is something to be grateful for — uncertainty hides a plethora of undiscovered joys, friends as yet unmet, and untold possibilities. More than that, by your friendship, you have taught me that the future is not an unfriendly place. Once upon a time, you were part of an unknown future of mine, and now you are a significant presence in my life.

Thank you, my friend, for the blessings you have bestowed on me.

Wishing you a very happy day of thanksgiving, even if you don’t celebrate the American tradition of Thanksgiving 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.

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.

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.

Death Rattle

I am sitting here listening to my father’s death rattle. First, there is the puff of the oxygen concentrator machine accompanied by the gurgling of the attached humidifier, then, like an echo, the rattle of his breath.

Things are progressing, or rather degressing, very rapidly. He started having breathing/panic attacks on Thursday, and by Saturday, he was experiencing them every couple of hours. I thought everything was more or less under control, but Saturday evening, he fell. He wasn’t hurt. Just scared. He kept demanding a doctor. I sat with him and tried to soothe him until hospice came. The nurse and I got him on the bed, but he was agitated, sweating, twitching, having pbedroblems breathing, and experiencing what seemed to be hallucinations, so she suggested he take morphine to open the bronchial tubes and haloperidol for the agitation.

Although she wouldn’t say how long he had left, I recognized the “end signs.” I stayed up with him most of the night, and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully, but this morning, he got agitated again. Tried to get out of bed, couldn’t cough up the secretions (as they so delicately call his prodigious amounts of mucus. I’ll spare you the details of my holding him while he drooled those “secretions” all over me). I finally got him partly settled, half on and half off the bed — he’s too heavy for me to lift by myself. Luckily, right about that time, the hospice nurse came to check on him, and she agreed that he is displaying the end signs, especially terminal restlessness.

I won’t bore you with the story of my (his) day, but the upshot is he is now in a hospital bed with rails (so I don’t have to worry about his falling). He’s mostly comatose, and although he doesn’t have mottling of the skin to show that his organs are shutting down, it does seem he has little time left. The nurse says her best guess is 48 hours. He can barely swallow, so I give him his few drugs with an oral syringe. He stopped eating and drinking yesterday. (When Jeff was at this point, he still had five days left, but dad changes by the minute, so I sincerely doubt he will take that long. Since he’s made up his mind to die — in fact, he asked me to help him die, which of course I cannot do — he will proceed posthaste as he always does when his course is set.)

I am with him almost constantly, monitoring his distress, and keeping him as comfortable as possible. I am hoping he doesn’t wake up — the realization that he is in a hospital bed will be too demoralizing for him.

Still, at ninety-seven, he’s led a very long and charmed life, a lot longer, happier, and healthier than most people. And his end won’t be prolonged. Something to be grateful for on this eve of my orphanhood.

***

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.

 

 

Dad Update Too

I’m taking a short break from my offline life to catch my breath here online where it is calm and quiet. Oh, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday my ninety-seven-year-old father seemed fairly normal, just starting to have more difficulties, possibly because his body is shutting down, but today, he experienced bad episodes almost hourly, and I’ve spent the entire day with him, in addition to visiting briefly with siblings, and coping with one minor emergency after the other.

And then tonight, after all that, my father fell. Oh, my. I got him untangled from his walker, and kept him lying quietly on the floor, soothing him, while I called hospice and waited for the nurse to come. He seems to be declining rapidly now — every hour is different from anything that has come before.

Luckily, I am only on my own with him until Monday night — my brother-in-law offered to come stay until my other sister could get here. It will be so good not to have to worry about my falling asleep at just the wrong time or having to leave my father to suffer his panic attacks alone. Selfishly, I am glad I will not have give up my dance classes — they keep me strong and sane. But even if it weren’t for the classes, I would need to have someone else here. He is fighting the inevitable with every cantankerous bone in his body, though perhaps the morphine and haloperidol will help him move past the restlessness and let him sleep.

I probably won’t sleep much — I’ll have to stay in the bedroom next to him so I can hear him if he needs help. And, of course, feed him his drugs at the prescribed times.

All this seems bizarrely normal, though occasionally it strikes me as strange that death has been my life for so many years now. First helping with my mother, then taking care of my life mate/soul mate, and now my father.

And afterward? My father will be at peace, and I . . . well, who knows what I will be doing. Other than dancing, that is.

***

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.

Dad Update

My father, for most of his 97 years, has seemed invincible, as if even death couldn’t defeat him. In fact, I’ve been worried that because of his continued improvement after a recent hospitalization, hospice would evict him. But no one is truly everlasting, and for the first time, I see distinct signs that his long life will someday be ending.

He seems to have reached a new low. He has more troubles breathing, more panic attacks, more nightmares, and more loss of strength — all in the past week. I’ve put off giving him morphine for as long as I could — I’m in and out four days of the week, and I didn’t want him to be alone when he started using the liquid morphine for breathing in case there were side effects. (Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, was on morphine at the end, and he wasn’t himself at all, though it could also have been due to the cancer that had spread to his brain. Oddly, my mother, who died of lung cancer while on hospice, never had to resort to morphine for breathing or for pain.)

I’ll be with my father almost continuously for the next three days, but that’s not enough for him. He wants me here all the time, and I simply cannot do it. It might seem terrible of me to want to continue dancing, but dancing brings me joy, releases whatever stress I might have from being my father’s sole caregiver, gets me out of the house, and keeps me from resenting the situation. (I don’t resent taking care of him, but I would if I had to give up my dance classes.) I’m only gone for a total of about twenty-five hours a week, either taking classes or running errands, and the rest of the time I am here alone with him.

He could be to the point where he can’t be left alone at all. Luckily, I have a sister waiting to be summoned back to help. It’s hard sharing such close quarters with a strong-willed woman, so I’ve been dragging my feet on making that decision. But I gave in to the morphine, and I will give in to this, too. I need to keep my mind on the goals — my dancing (first!) and my father’s care. Even if I didn’t have dancing, I couldn’t be at his beck and call for twenty-four hours a day. It is simply too stressful. I know people do it because they have no other choice, but I’ve already put in my time when Jeff was dying, and anyway, he was easy to deal with because he knew what was happening to him, and he accepted it. My father, on the other hand, fights the inevitable every step of the way, hurrying through what he calls his “chores” (taking his pills, doing his breathing treatment, urinating) so he can sleep, then hurrying through his naps so he can do his chores, as if he were trying to stay one step ahead of death.

I try to be conciliatory toward his drama attacks (everything he experiences is the worst thing he ever felt in his life, even if it is a short-lived pain or bloody nose or bad dream). But the truth is, it’s hard to find the tragedy in the dying of a 97-year-old man who lived a charmed and healthy life well into his nineties. (I know comparisons are not fair, but I keep thinking of Jeff who led a painful life and died when he was only 63.) But so many years of good health and good living have left my control-freak father ill-prepared for losing control of any part of his life, and because of it, he can’t handle even the small things that go wrong.

Do I sound unsympathetic? I’m not. It’s just that it doesn’t help the situation if I get as panicked as he does. Of course, when he’s gone and my life is turned upside down yet again, I might give in to panic. Or not. All of my life’s uncertainty might (at least I hope it might) help me deal with my own end, particularly since I don’t have a devoted daughter to ease my final years.

***

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 378

Double RainbowI’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 disheartened now. 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 still don’t know if things will work out for me, but (at the moment, anyway) I no longer dread facing the future alone as I did on the 378th day after his death.

###

Day 378, Dear Jeff,

I don’t want to dump my problems on you, but I have no one else to talk to, at least not about what’s really bothering me. I am so disheartened that I need someone to tell me it will all work out. You told me things would come together for me, but so far they haven’t.

I try to hold on to positive things, such as being glad you don’t have to deal with life’s problems, yet I can’t help thinking that if you were here, these problems wouldn’t matter — we’d be together. But that is foolish thinking. You’re not here.

One of my brothers has a golf analogy about hitting a ball into a sand trap, and how you need to figure out where to go from there rather than obsessing on how you got there. I can see that at the time of making the shot you need to concentrate on getting out of the trap, but still, at some point you need to figure out how you got in that position so it doesn’t happen again. But thinking how I got in this state of disheartenment gains me nothing. It was no mistake, not something I could fix, not something that will ever happen again so I don’t need to figure out how to prevent it since you will never die again. If I knew you were okay, I could handle this. (This meaning being alone.)

I am not totally selfish. I want you to be happy. After all those miserable years, you deserve that. I find I’m most content when I don’t think of you being dead, when somewhere in the back of my mind I have the feeling you’re back home doing well.

I hate knowing you’re gone. I hate feeling so disconnected from you. How am I going to get through the coming years, Jeff? I dread living in an apartment, dread growing feeble alone. I don’t want to live with anyone else — just you. But that’s not going to happen. I also dread taking all our stuff out of storage and using it. It will be so very painful, having the constant reminder that you no longer need the household items we bought together.

I’m tired of being sad. Tired of having things to be sad about. But I guess I better get used to it. Even if by chance things do work out for me, you’ll still be gone.

Ah, well. Apparently I’m feeling sorry for myself today. I’m going to go for a walk. Change my circumstances for a bit to see if I can change my attitude.

I miss you dreadfully. You were my one. Take care of yourself and I’ll take care of me.

Adios, compadre.

***

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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