Trauma and Conflict vs. Happiness And Harmony

Trauma and conflict are much more compelling than happiness and harmony, which is why fiction is filled with terrible events such as murder, wars, killer weather, and other horrors. It’s the same in every day life, or at least the life we write about. Grief, pain, illness, conflict make for great news stories and blog posts. But happiness and harmony? Not so much.

danceToday was a great day for me. I took two dance classes: ballet and jazz. The combination of steps we practiced in ballet was especially hard for me. I knew the steps, but there was a glitch somewhere between my brain and my feet that kept me from getting the proper sequence and rhythm. And we’ve been learning a new dance in jazz, which is always tough for me — it takes all my concentration to keep up with the rest of the class, most of whom have a background in dance. But still, despite those problems, there’s not much to write about. It’s the difficulties I encountered today that made them good classes — learning is what galvanizes me. (And oh! The joy when I finally get the steps right!)

When I got back from class, my sister (who is here helping take care of my father) and I went shopping. She wanted art supplies and I wanted paper raffia to make i’is (Tahitian hand tassels) for Tahitian class. We got neither, though I ended up with a multi-colored feather boa to decorate a hat. (A wild purchase for me!) Later we fixed a meal together. I’ve heard it said that two women can’t share a kitchen, but the few meals we’ve cooked together have been harmonious events. She does what she wants, I do what I want, and we end up with something special. In this case, tuna melts with sunflower bread and gouda cheese, and fabulous double-cocoa brownies studded with chunks of 70% Belgian chocolate for dessert.

In fact, after a rocky beginning (although we had talked frequently on the phone over the past year, we hadn’t seen each other for many years and didn’t know each other’s habits or the meaning of each other’s gestures, and we had the added problem that we disagreed on how to deal with my problematic brother), we’ve consistently been dealing harmoniously with each other. She’s leaving next week, unless, of course, I can talk her into staying. My father doesn’t really need care. He’s ambulatory, still fairly strong, stays up most of the day, but he refuses to get himself food — he doesn’t want to be bothered, though he has no objection to bothering us when he’s hungry — so it’s been nice having someone else help wait on him. (Such duties irritate me. I will gladly do anything he needs done, but I have no interest in simply indulging him, though he finds that surprising. He keeps saying he thought I liked doing for him. I wonder if he’s confusing me with my mother?)

So, no wild emotions today. No grief. No trauma. No conflict. Just happiness and harmony.

I hope you had a harmonious day 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.

Shredding the Past

Four years and three months ago (a mere fifty-five days after his death), I cleaned out my life mate/soul mate’s “effects.” It was truly the worst day of my life.

You would think the worst day would have been the day Jeff died, but that was a sadly inevitable day, one I actually had looked forward to. He’d been sick for so long and in such pain, I was glad he finally let go and drifted away. But the Thursday I spent cleaning out his stuff broke my heart. I cried the entire day, twenty-four sleepless hours. I have never felt such soul-wrenching agony. I didn’t want to block out the pain — didn’t want to risk becoming hardened and unable to feel — but I sure as hell don’t want to ever go through anything like that again. (The only good thing about living the worst day of your life is that every day afterward, no matter how bad, will be better than that day.)

I couldn’t bring myself to dispose of all of his things on that fateful day, so I’ve kept several cartons in storage. I knew I’d have to sort through those boxes someday, but I hoped it would come at a time when it wouldn’t hurt.

Well, today was one of those somedays. And it didn’t hurt.

A couple of weeks ago, when I had to make a copy of his death certificate so I could finally get his name removed from our joint account, it struck me that I shouldn’t even have the certificate. It belongs to him, and he no longer belongs to me. (Not that he ever did belong to me, but we were connected in a very profound way that neither of us ever understood.) All these years of grief and all the effort to regain a new interest in living and trying create a new life for myself has severed the feeling of connection.

It seems strange now to remember that I was once so connected to another human being that his death shattered me. It seems strange to think of how I screamed my agony to the uncaring winds, how I spent hours every day in the desert walking off my sorrow. How I wept so uncontrollably for hours, days, weeks.

Now, whoever he his, whatever he is, wherever he is, he is his own being. He lent himself to me for more than three decades, for whictrashh I am eternally grateful, but life and time have separated us. (Odd that I wrote that “life and time have separated us” rather than that “death and time have separated us.” Just another example of how much I’ve changed during the past four years and five months.)

Today I sorted through some of the stored boxes, and disposed of much of the contents. Files of our old bills (well, they weren’t old at the time I saved them, though they are old today). Our joint bank statements. Notes he’d made. Magazines he’d started to read. Lists of books he’d read or wanted to read.

Our life. His life.

The past. Ripped to shreds.

I threw away a lot of other things such as boxes of music he’d taped from the radio and our old rotary phone.

I have many more boxes to go through — his, mine, and ours — but I stopped when both the trash bin and the recycle bin were full. And not a teardrop in sight.

It’s still possible the sorrow will hit me a bit later, but if so, it will only be for a minute or two. My current life with my aged father and my recent dealings with my dysfunctional brother have been so traumatic that I can barely remember the life I shared with Jeff. (I keep his picture to prove to myself that I once loved, once was loved.)

None of us know where the future will take us, but in my case, I won’t be dragging the past along. Or at least not as much of it.

***

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’s Little Lessons

If one is aware of one’s surroundings, life lessons abound.

A long time ago, I used to be sort of a Kelly girl. (I was actually a Welley girl — the independent temp agency was run by the Welley’s, a husband and wife team.) In those days, the economy was such that I could work one or two weeks a month at a few cents above minimum wage, pay all my bills for my own apartment and car and have money left over for fun. (Or for saving.) Those days, of course, are long gone — you can’t have much of a life if you make only slightly above minimum wage — but the lessons I learned are still with me.

jugglingFor example, one time I started a temporary job the same time a newly hired employee began a permanent job. She was nice, attractive, competent, but people didn’t particular cotton to her because she tried to fit in. Makes sense — that was going to be her life, and she wanted to make friends, and they weren’t ready for changes to the status quo. On the other hand, I had no stake in the job. I put in my time, was pleasant to everyone, but didn’t try to be friends with anyone. After a month or so, she was not accepted (wouldn’t be accepted for another few weeks), but amoeba-like, the group had absorbed me, the non-threatening one. Ever since, when joining a new group, I don’t try to insinuate myself into the group, but simply be there, be pleasant, and enjoy whatever fellowship comes my way.

I’ve been taking dance classes occasionally with a more advanced group at the studio, one that has been together a long time. I expected a bit of resistance when I was first invited to practice the dances I knew with them, but it didn’t happen. I never tried to be more than I was — a neophyte delighted to be dancing with more advanced students — and they seemed to accept me as such without even a hint of unwelcome. I’m sure if I had tried to push my weight around, things would have been different, but since all I want to do is dance, we’re doing fine.

The same thing happened with group I go walking with. I walked with different people at different times, sometimes talked, sometimes asked questions, listened, and somehow I ended up making a lot of friends.

Other lessons are harder to learn. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. This tendency might be a genetic pre-disposition since my parents were both worriers and fidgeters, it might be learned behavior, or it might simply be . . . whatever. I’m trying to overcome that tendency to worry, though I will always be aware of potential snags in order to avoid them if possible, but I no longer wish to waste time fretting.

People worry about me and my future, which I appreciate, but I’m not too concerned. I’ll find a way to make money, or maybe money will find a way to me. More importantly, I’m preparing the best I can by learning not to worry. I see how my 97-year-old father frets about the most trivial things, and I don’t want to be like that when I get old. Don’t want to be like that now!

For example, last night he rang his emergency bell, and both my sister and I went running to see what the problem was. The emergency? He had two bottles of Ensure by his bed, one for 1:00 am and one for 7:00 am, but he didn’t have the one he would need sixteen hours later at l:00 pm. Apparently, he’d been lying awake stewing about it, and so in his mind, it became an emergency.

The whole Ensure thing is ridiculous anyway. There is no reason for him to be drinking so much Ensure at night, though he refuses to listen to my sister and me when we tell him that those extra hundreds of sugar calories are what’s keeping him awake. Still, since he is insistent on following his self-imposed schedule, I solved the problem. I now store all his Ensure in his room instead of in the pantry. (He can walk to the pantry, just refuses to do so.) He can set as many bottles as he wants by the side of his bed, and if by chance a bottle is not by his bed when he wants it, he only needs to walk across the room to get it. But it will be by the side of his bed. He will “ensure” that.

When I find myself fretting, I stop and take a deep breath. My worries are for the future, not this minute. And this very minute, I have nothing to fret about.

Lesson learned, perhaps.

***

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 Joy of Dancing

While doing our routines in jazz class today, I could feel a huge smile stretching my face, and I thought, “I’m dancing!” Of course, since the realization that I was actually dancing made me lose my focus, I immediately missed a step. Still, it didn’t stop the enjoyment because after all, I’ve only been taking classes for a year, and that makes me very much a neophyte when it comes to dancing.

Dancing.

Even now, simply typing the word, I can feel glee welling up inside me.

Of all the strangenesses in my life during the past few years, falling in love with dance has to be the strangest, though in the nicest possible way.

The poster that hangs above the door of the dance studio

Dancing isn’t something I have ever had much interest in, especially classical dance, partly because I don’t have a good sense of rhythm and am not exactly graceful, so I never thought I could do any sort of choreographed dance. It seemed too complicated, not just learning the steps, but remembering the sequence of those steps and performing them with style. And yet, now I am dancing. Fortunately, a lot of dancing is about counting out the beat, generally counts of eight. . . . five, six, seven, eight. And I can count.

(I was one of those strange children who didn’t daydream, but who counted in her head whenever nothing else was going on up there. Don’t ask me why I counted. I’ve never figured it out, except perhaps there was something comforting about streams of numbers.)

But now I have many reasons to count. Ballet. Jazz. Egyptian Classical Belly Dance. Hawaiian. Tahitian. Tap. And soon, maybe even lyrical jazz. Such magical words!

During all the years of grief, when I had nothing to live for, nothing to bring me ripples of happiness no matter where I traveled or what I tried, I somehow knew only falling in love again could bring me back to life. For some bereft, falling in love with a person is the key. For others, falling in love with life is what brings them a sense of renewal.

I fell in love with dance.

I tell my teacher I owe her more than I can ever repay, and it’s true. She is teaching me not only the steps, but is imparting her own love of dancing, and dancing has brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined. (Even during the horrific months of dealing with my father’s decline and my brother’s mental problems, dance brought me a safe haven of happiness.)

Today I took a jazz class. Tomorrow, I have Hawaiian, Tahitian, and tap classes. Oh, lucky 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.

The Challenges of Looking After an Aged Parent

Taking care of an aged parent is a challenge, with new tests — and testiness — arising every day. The biggest problem, of course, is that the parents want to be babied while giving up none of their parental authority. (They seem to forget that such authority had expired decades previously when we grew up, left home, and developed our own life with our own unique responsibilities.)

rainA friend cautioned me against coming to take care of my father — she knew first hand the challenges I would face. But for the most part, he and I have managed to deal together okay, mostly because I adopted a policy of doing whatever he needed but nothing that he could do for himself. (He wanted me to wait on him like some unpaid servant, or like my mother did for the sixty years they were married.) After his recent hospitalization and an ensuing bout with pneumonia (he refused to sit in a chair or take walks while hospitalized, saying he had patients’ rights, and he had the right to refuse any treatment, so the pneumonia came as no surprise), I’m having a hard time resetting those parameters. He simply won’t do anything for himself, even though he is still strong and reasonably healthy for his age. (He says it tires him. I want to say “get over it,” though I don’t.)

And then there is the problem of the household finances. When he lost his ability to think clearly and keep enough numbers in his head to reconcile his accounts, he turned the household finances over to me.

Sort of.

When he is unwell, everything goes smoothly. He says he trusts me, and that I have permission to arrange matters (and papers) most convenient for me. When he is well, he forgets that trust, rummages around in his desk, puts everything back the way he had it, disarranges my work and makes my to-do list disappear.

Yikes. What a balancing act — letting him think he is still in control while making sure the bills get paid and balky appliances get fixed.

I figure if he’s well enough to mess around with such matters, he’s well enough to get his own meager meals, but he doesn’t see it that way. I try to be patient, realizing it must be hard to be ninety-seven years old and dependent on a daughter, but I also can’t forget that I am that daughter, with a life of my own. I never took a vow of obedience to him. Never signed on to be a servant. I’m just the designated daughter, the unattached one who got stuck with the awkward situation.

I’m hoping in the next week or so things smooth out and I can stop being at his beck and call. Well, I will stop — that’s a given. I just don’t know how that will sit with him.

And so it continues, my paying the wages of daughterhood.

***

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.

Invoking the Spirits

There is a restless spirit in my father’s house, where my sister and I are staying to care for him.

We think this spirit is my father’s. He doesn’t seem to have any interest in living, doesn’t particularly want to die. He is very agitated, doesn’t much want to do anything except sleep and drink Ensure, though he does get out of bed occasionally when a good golf game is on television.

This spirit could be our own spent spirits — taking care of someone who neither wants to live or die is exhausting, especially since he won’t do anything for himself, even though he is stronger than he thinks.

This spirit could even be my mother’s. My sister sometimes senses mother’s spirit here along with another ghost, though she doesn’t know who that other spirit is, perhaps someone from my father’s past. She wonders if the spirits are gathering in anticipation of my father’s end. Since I am not convinced anything conscious remains after we die, I don’t know what to think.

Still, tonight my sister and I did an invocation of the spirits — ours and our mother’s. Since she loved Bailey’s Irish Cream, we got a bottle in her honor, raised our glasses to her and asked her help in settling my father’s spirit.

(We only poured a little for her, but we told her if she drank it, we’d give her more.)

And if  this invocation doesn’t work, well, we have the rest of the bottle of Irish spirits to imbibe to bring peace of a sort to ourselves. I’m not much of a drinker, have had perhaps one drink in the past four or five years, but since this is a spiritual quest, I will do my part in finishing the bottle.

So, if you have any Bailey’s Irish Cream on hand (or if you need an excuse to buy a small bottle), please raise a glass in my parents’ honor.

***

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.

We Can Never Know What Life Will Bring Us

My life is slowly winding down . . . Hmmm. That sounds ominous. Let me rephrase the sentence. The dramas and traumas of my life are slowly winding down — my life itself is going strong.

My brother is gone from the area, my father is sleeping most of the time, my sinus infection is mostly healed, my sister is trying to decide if she wants to continue catering to my father’s whims and needs or if she wants to head out. And I’m left wondering what the heck happened during the past fifteen months.

Fifteen months ago, I was mostly housebound. My father set the burglar alarm when he went to bed somewhere been 7 and 9 pm, and he wouldn’t give me the alarm code. (His compromised health made him even more paranoid than normal. I have no idea what he thought I’d do while he was asleep. Debauched parties, maybe.) Such imprisonment seems barbaric to me now, but at the time, I was still struggling to find a way out of grief for my life mate/soul mate, and nothing really mattered. Even worse, my then ninety-six-year-old father was ill, had just been released from the hospital, and I wasn’t sure he’d make it. I was waiting on him, doing whatever he wanted because he claimed he was too ill even to walk to the kitchen to get food for himself (afterward he said he thought I liked doing it, as if by letting me wait on him, he was granting me a favor). Hanging around all yinyangday and nursing him was making me feel even more imprisoned.

And then my homeless brother, who had long been estranged from my father, showed up to try to make amends. Within the month, my father came alive, shouting at my brother for innocuous little offenses that my brother couldn’t even understand. (Like being too quiet. Like eating food that had been purchased for my father. Like interrupting the old man while he was praying.) Things got worse, and finally, against my wishes, my father kicked my brother out of the house, just as he had done when my brother was sixteen.

This isn’t meant to be about my father and brother, though my father’s actions toward my brother precipitated the hell my life became. It’s about me. How my father’s resurrection angered me and allowed me to take my life back. If he had energy enough for tantrums and fights, why the heck was I catering to his every need as if he were an invalid? And so, when I found a nearby dance studio, I signed up for lessons, more for something to do than anything else, and I fell in love with dance. The very same day I took my first dance class, I also discovered the Sierra Club walk, and so my life opened up even more. I came alive.

We are gradually ending back where we started, with just me and my father. But those fifteen months are still to be reckoned with. They were some of the most horrific months of my life, dealing with both my father and dysfunctional brother. But they were also some of the most wonderful months of my life, learning to dance and making new friends.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make sense of it all, but what I am left with is the feeling that no matter how we plan, no matter how much we think we are in control, we can never know what life will bring us. Fifteen months ago, I could never have conceived of the abuse from my schizoaffective brother, never have conceived of the heartbreak of saying goodbye, maybe forever. (The brother I knew is gone. I don’t know who that tormented and tormenting stranger is.) Fifteen months ago, my grief group friends were scattering to new lives and new loves, and I was mostly alone. I couldn’t have conceived of making so many delightful new friends. Fifteen months ago, I had absolutely no interest in dance, couldn’t even have conceived of the importance it could have in my life. And all those things happened without my making a single plan.

Of course, I will continue to plan — that is my nature. But I will also be aware that plans are simply that: plans. They aren’t life. They don’t have reality. Reality shows up all on its own.

***

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.

Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu

Well, no, I don’t have pneumonia or the flu. Nor do I feel much feel much like rockin’ since I have a sinus infection that has laid me low. (I always get sick when I travel, which makes my idea of going on the road after my father is gone a bit foolish.)

This infection has made me concentrate on myself and is helping me forget my brother. I tend to worry about him, though there’s nothing I can do for him. I tried to get him help while he was here, which came to nothing. I tried to protect him as much as I could, but only put myself in danger. Now that he’s back in his home state and on his own, he will have to take care of naphimself as best as he can.

When he was younger, the whole world was his backyard. He seemed to be able to live anywhere until he got the hoarder’s disease and became tied to “stuff.” (A lesson to me to get rid of even more of my stuff, though I doubt I will ever be able to do what my sister did — get rid of everything that didn’t fit in her car.) But now that he is older and developing physical problems as well as mental issues, the world seems alien to him. He says it’s changed, and that it scares him.

Still, he did want to go back to Colorado. If he can hold himself together long enough to make the rounds of social services, he will be okay. Could even end up with a small pension. He admitted he didn’t want to be here, that he got stuck, and perhaps in the end, I did for him what he couldn’t do for himself — get him out of here. (At least that’s what I tell myself, and for all I know, it might even be true.)

One of the reasons we needed him to go was that my father was rapidly declining. We didn’t think the old man had long to live, and the house couldn’t be put on the market with my brother living in the garage. But my father is doing better, so much so that he can be left alone some of the time. My sister, who came to help and who precipitated the exit of my brother, is thinking of leaving, and so once again it will be just me and my father in this house of ghosts.

Since my father needs to use a walker (though most of the time he carries it), he won’t be able to fix his meager meal (and if he could fix them, he wouldn’t be able to carry them), so I can fix his food before I leave for dance classes. (I’ve missed too many classes as it is, and will be missing more because of my sinus infection, and dancing holds me together.)

Mostly I’m just listening to old movies (watching them with my eyes closed, and dozing off periodically), drinking tea, and trying not to think of the next step, either the continued care of father, or what is in store for me when he is gone.

Thank you again for all your prayers, support, well wishes, thoughts, and comments during this trying time. You helped me in more ways than even I know.

***

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.

Wishing I Weren’t Sensitive

I wish I knew how to be insensitive, knew how to put matters out of my head and go on with my life as if nothing happened, but I don’t seem to be able to do that. Even after enduring months of being relentlessly hounded by my dysfunctional brother, even after I took him back to Colorado, I worry about him, worry about his well-being, wonder who he is aggravating, wonder what trouble his mouth is getting him into. There’s nothing I can do though, so worrying is foolish. I can’t control his behavior for him — no one can control another person’s behavior. I remember as a child wondering why he argued with my father since he knew it always got him a beating. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t keep his mouth shut as I did. It wasn’t until my mother was dying that I ever stood up to my father or broke one of his unwritten rules. (I did for her what she could never do for me — stood up to him — which seemed to connect some sort of karmic circle and brought me peace when she died.)

My family was a pool of unwritten rules. Somehow I could understand those rules while other of my siblings couldn’t. Even now, when we are all getting old, those rules still dominate. I guess those rules are why I was “allowed” to stay here to look after my father. I knew never to disturb him when he was praying or reading or doing anything, actually. I knew not to open the windows when the air conditioning was on. I knew not to eat his food, read his newspaper before he did, disturb his paperwork. Most of my siblings knew I was here to shield my father from the world (though we didn’t use those words), but my dysfunctional brother couldn’t understand. I didn’t even know there were all these unwritten rules until he started screaming about my changing “the rules.”

[Oddly, my sister who is here helping has broken many of the same “rules” that got my brother kicked out of the house, which is one of the things that sent him into emotional overdrive. He said it was unfair, and he was right.]

I came here to look after my father partly because I had nowhere else to go after the death of my life mate/soul mate (and when my father is gone, I will again have nowhere to go). But mostly I came to see if I could unwind my ties to the past so that after my father is gone, I wouldn’t still be whining over my unhappy childhood. It’s working, I suppose. I just never expected to be buffeted by such emotional storms, never expected my brother to come and shake things up even more, never expected a lot of what has happened, such as finding a nearby dance studio and taking dance classes.

I hoped that by doing for my father what he could never do for me (I pay attention to his needs though he had always been unable to pay attention to my mine) that a karmic circle would be closed when he was gone and I could finish out my life strong and wise and bold and ready for whatever happens.

But all I seem to do is cry, which is so not my idea of a strong woman, or a wise one, or a bold and independent one.

I thought my brother’s coming here fifteen months ago was a portent of my father’s passing, but although at the time father seemed near to death, my brother’s presence, however unwelcome, stimulated him and brought him to life. (Which is one reason I endured his presence all these months — there was something powerful going on beneath the surface I could feel but couldn’t understand.)

My father seems to be recovering from his most recent hospital stay. With my future on hold once again, there is a chance I can still accomplish whatever it is I need to accomplish by being here. I just wish I knew what it was. Perhaps it’s one of those unwritten rules even I am not sensitive enough to read.

***

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.

No Hero’s Journey

I cannot even begin to make sense of the events of the last week, let alone the last year. It will take me a long time, if ever, to process the horror, heartbreak, grief of dealing with my dysfunctional brother’s presence, the trip to take him back to Colorado, and now his absence.

I do not miss him, of course, he was too abusive (when I heard a noise outside my window last night, I got scared thinking he’d returned), but he was such a major part of my life for the past fifteen months that his absence looms large. I don’t understand how I reconnected with him, don’t understand why he treated me so badly, don’t understand why I thought it important for him and his father to forgive each other. (Except that for my entire life, the two of them have used me as the rope in their tug of war, and I needed to be done with both of them.)

I don’t even understand how I became the one to take him back to Colorado. I don’t remember the sequence of events leading up to the trip, though I do know I refused to let my siblings just toss him on the streets of this dusty, windy, and hellishly hot town. (Partly because I knew he wouldn’t stay away.) I also refused to let them get him thrown in jail where he certainly wouldn’t get help for his many mental disorders.

And so, somewhere along the line, I agreed to take him and the stuff he’d collected back to Colorado. It’s odd that I did so. The very thought of the trip terrified me. I didn’t know if I could put up with his relentlessness and nonstop abuse for all those miles and hours. Knowing how violent my reaction to his verbal abuse was, I feared me as much as I feared him, and I didn’t think we’d survive it. The trip was almost as bad as I thought it would be, and though we came close to an accident several times, we both did survive, probably because of all the prayers and well wishes people sent our way.

He kept opening the door to the car while I was driving (I think he thought he was opening the window, though I don’t really know). One time he climbed into the back seat to sleep on top of all of his stuff, and when he climbed back into the front, he climbed over me, making it impossible for me to see. I pulled over, and helped him get untangled. Because I had to push his foot, it seemed as if I pushed him out the door, and so he refused to get back in the car. He stared at me for a few minutes, then went into a field and fell asleep. I finally got him back in the car, but when he left the moving car a little later, I took off without waiting for him, thinking maybe it would scare him enough to behave.

When I went back, I found him with rescue workers from the fire department, screaming for water. Apparently, he’d fallen asleep by the side of the road while he waited for me. They wanted to arrest him, said a police car was on its way, but I begged and pleaded for them to let me take him to Fort Collins. (A repeat of the night before when I had to beg the cops to let me take him away rather than arrest him. I’d said the car was all packed; just let us go. And finally they did.) The fire folk expressed concern for me, and I told them I’d be fine, that I’d been dealing with him for the past fifteen months. And they too let me go.

My brother demanded that we stop so he could get cold water, and when I did so and gave him the bottle, he clubbed me with it. (I don’t know why, and later, when I told him what he had done, he didn’t know either. He didn’t believe he’d done it, not even when I showed him the huge bruises on my upper arm.) I wanted so much to leave him there, and even planned to call the police to come get him, but I reminded myself to keep focused on my goal. And so, we continued the terrible trip.

The only way I can make sense of any of this trauma is to think in terms of “The Hero’s Journey” with him playing all the roles except hero. His moods change so rapidly, it would have to be a fantasy story, where sometimes the hero is driving a dragon, sometimes a little boy, sometimes a lost soul.

But I am no hero. Heroes don’t cry all the way home.

People think it strange that I cried. Well, so do I — I figured I’d be relieved to be done with him, but he was once my brother. I know some of the tears were simply a way of washing away all the emotions I’d felt, both his and mine. Some of the tears were pure grief since my brother is lost to me — I don’t know who that stranger is. And some of the tears were just plain sorrow for our unsolvable problems, both his and mine.

***

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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