Sisyphean Tasks

Sisyphus, a king from Greek mythology, was condemned to an eternity of rolling a great boulder to the top of a hill. Every time Sisyphus fulfilled his sentence, the darn boulder rolled back down, and he had to push it up again, hence the term “Sisyphean task.”

I know exactly how Sisyphus feels. Every day I work my fingers trying to form a fist, and though I manage to get them folded a bit, the next morning they are stiff again, and I have to start all over. It’s not just the fingers I have to work on, but also the elbow, though now the elbow does move a little more smoothly than it has been, and the shoulder, which is out of whack from the sling and the weight of the splint and fixator.

The odd thing about not being able to make a fist is that the doctor said it would probably be two years before I could comfortably create a real fist, and every time I manage to fold my fingers into a semblance of a fist, I wonder how could this possibly take more than a year and think I should be fine in a week, maybe or two. And every day I start from the same place, work myself up to bending the fingers at the joints, and it never gets any better than that. So despite my determination, it could take two years. And I haven’t even started working on the wrist yet.

The external fixator is still screwed into my bones, and will be attached to my arm for another month. The fixator prohibits all wrist movement and most finger movements, and since it’s been on for three months with an additional month to come, there will be a lot of stiffness to work out over the next couple of years. Stiffness isn’t the only problem, though. With this many bones that were broken and pulverized, with this many tendons and ligaments that were damaged, it’s amazing that I will have any use of the arm and fingers. Knowing that, and being grateful for what I do still have, does not really make it any easier.

Making things even more difficult, I’m counting down to the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death. I didn’t think I would still be feeling such strong grief after so long, but such is the nature of the beast. Grief does what it wants, and apparently, this year, once again, it wants to be felt. Last year I was on the road, mystified by the sadness I felt that this time of year. But then I was thinking of other things besides why I was free and unencumbered and able to take that trip.

The anniversary, the arm, the fixator, the isolation, the loneliness, the loss of my occupational therapist, are all combining to make this a rather sorrowful time. I do manage to pacify myself with games, with reading, with walking on the few nice days that we’ve had, and with hug therapy. (Lacking a living being to hug, I’ve been hugging a large Teddy bear I found on my trip, which is a trifle more satisfying than hugging a pillow. And it works to a certain extent — something about the pressure, I think.) And occasionally I play with watercolors. But all those activities put together don’t make much of a life. Still, my main focus has to be on healing, on keeping the  skin around the fixator pins from getting infected (another almost impossible task), and on keeping the rest of me from atrophying while the healing is taking place.

I wish I could be one of those writers who could put everything out of her head and just write, and perhaps I could if I were writing anything but a book about a grieving woman. I’m afraid if I continued writing right now, I’d get so deeply into the story, I’d never pull myself out of grief. (I’m not sure that’s even true, but it sounds good.)

Besides, I have the Sisyphean task of opening and closing my fingers.

This post sounds almost emotionless, and in no way shows the spurts of tears that come out of nowhere, the moments of a great yearning for . . . I don’t even know what. Jeff? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t want to disturb his rest with my prickly problems. (I said piddly problems, but my speech recognition software wrote prickly, and I like that word choice better.) Someone to care? There are a lot of people in my life who care, but not in the personal way than a mate does, or in the personal/professional way the occupational therapist did. Maybe it’s just a feeling I miss and need, but I don’t know what that feeling is or how to get it back.

And so life goes on, one Sisyphean task after another.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

“I Can’t Do This!”

So often during the early years of my grief, my blog writing would be precipitated by a bout of crying. In subsequent years, I’ve tried to be more upbeat in my posts, but always a bout of crying would inspire another blog post and yep, you guessed it — today is one of the crying times.

In my previous post, “A Halcyon Time,” I told you about the occupational therapist who’s been visiting me for an hour a couple of times a week. She’s been helping me take a shower, massaging my incisions, teaching me a few therapeutic exercises I can do to keep my fingers and elbow working as much as possible. She’s helped subdue my fears, hugged me when I needed it, and brought a note of sanity into this whole insane experience. She’s treated me as more than just a client — she really seemed to care — and oh, how I needed that! It’s been years since someone cared for me in such a personal, hands-on way, and it’s made this time of home-bound healing palatable.

So why the tears? I just found out that Monday will be her final visit. My insurance won’t pay for any more days, and though she has fought for me a couple of times already and got the visitations extended, she has reached the end of what she is allowed to do, so I’ve been cut loose. I feel so terrible, so tearful. I haven’t even started the hard part of this whole healing journey. The fixator is still on, and once it comes off, it’s going to take a long time — maybe years, painful years — before I am back to a semblance of normal, and even then I will only regain about 50% mobility.

I’m screaming to myself, “I can’t do this!” (this being the next stages of recovery by myself), though I know I can. I’ve done so much I didn’t think I could do during the past seven years.

I still remember those first two months after Jeff died. I was all alone, in the worst agony I’d ever experienced, barely able to breathe, totally lost, and feeling as if half my soul had been amputated. I kept screaming “I can’t do this!” But of course, I did whatever needed to be done. I dealt with the mortuary, the bank, the government. I disposed of his clothes and other “effects.” Packed my stuff. Had a yard sale. Got rid of most of the things I didn’t think I would need. Traveled 1000 miles to go take care of my father. All within two months of Jeff’s death. All while screaming “I can’t do this!”

So yes, I know I can do this. Whatever happens in the next couple of months will in no way match the agony of those long ago months, and even if it did, there is something unbreakable in me that will allow me to do whatever needs to be done. But truly, it would’ve been so much easier with the counsel and support of that occupational therapist.

I hate to admit it, but I’m scared. I’m afraid of the next stage of healing and then going into old age alone with a disability (even a minor one), and more immediately, I’m afraid of falling back into the despair of loneliness and isolation.

There are people in my life who care, but it’s not like having a partner, either in life or in healing. I always knew, of course, the occupational therapist was only a temporary angel, yet I’d hoped to have her support until I felt well enough to continue on my own. Still, as with all partings, I am grateful for the time we had together. (Oddly, I don’t even know how I got involved with the home health service. I think one of the doctors at the hospital prescribed the service so a nurse would check on me since I was going home alone, and the therapist came along as part of the service.) It felt great being in someone’s concern, even if only two hours a week. I know I was darn lucky to have had her in my life the last three months, but now I am bereft.

A friend asked, “Do you think the loss of your OT is triggering the start of your annual grieving? Or it could be you are grieving only her, a caregiver who is gone. I know you feel the loneliness more acutely right around this time of the year, especially as it gets closer to your anniversary. If one could only push a button to fast-forward through these wretched months.”

She’s right — I do feel the loneliness more acutely at this time of year, and it’s possible that the nearness of that terrible anniversary, the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death, is exacerbating my grief for the loss of therapist’s support, but even without that anniversary I would still feel the loss and the coming isolation. (Without her, I go weeks without seeing anyone.)

But there is no doubt the echo of that one devastating loss magnifies any current losses.

The death of a lifemate/soul mate creates a soul quake that leaves behind a huge void. When I went to stay with my father and discovered that he was living a scant 15 miles from the San Andreas Fault, at first I panicked, and then out of curiosity I went in search of the fault line. Unlike the image I had in my mind of a big crack in the earth, signs of the fault were much more subtle, such as red soil miles from where it originated, but in one place where the earth split, I found a leftover cavity filled with water. (It’s called a lake, though truly, it seems more like an elongated pond than a lake.)

Now that my soul quake has mostly healed, it has left behind a similar cavity inside me, and that cavity seems filled with tears, creating an underground lake or well that seeps to the surface of my life too frequently for comfort. And yet without the comfort of those tears what do I have? Only my ability to plod ahead, I suppose.

And plod ahead, I will.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Halcyon Time

I’m sitting here trying to think of an exciting opening sentence for this blog, but I can’t think of one, probably because my life itself is not exciting. I still have the external fixator attached to my arm, still can’t do much, am mostly homebound. I do get out to walk on nice days, though I find I’m still unsteady enough to need a trekking pole for balance.

The main difference is that my brain is clearing up. I hadn’t realized how fogged I’ve been, not just because of the trauma of the fall, or even the heavy pain medications I’ve been on, but also residuals from the anesthetics I was given during my operations. I’m not in as much pain now, so I’ve been cutting back on the pain pills, which is a very good thing. I don’t seem to be in any danger of becoming addicted — the drugs barely dull the pain, and whatever the pills do for other people to make them such a valued street drug, they don’t do for me. What I mostly get is a huge drain on my pocketbook. More than two dollars a pill! Still, I’m grateful for the relief they give me, even if they only take the edge off the pain.

I still spend most of my time by myself, though an occupational therapist comes a couple of times a week. She helps wash my hair; cuts up my apples and opens bottles; massages my fingers, elbow and shoulder; keeps the fixator sites clean; gives me exercises to strengthen wasting muscles. Mostly, though, she makes me feel cared for, which is something I have desperately needed (but didn’t know I needed) after all these years of taking care of others.

The therapist is taking care of her aged mother, so we have discussed the problems of grown women living with their parents (in her case, though, the parent is living with her). When I mentioned some of the things that have happened during the past 10 years — my mother’s death; Jeff’s illness, his death, and my long years of grief; taking care of my father until his death, and dealing with my mentally ill brother — she said, “So you’re used to dealing with trauma.” I laughed and said, “Compared to what I’ve gone through, this is nothing.” This, of course, meaning my arm. And it’s true — compared to all the traumas of the past decade, this is a mere blip in the road. Although there is a good chance I will have a deformity and will lose mobility in my wrist, fingers, and elbow, these are rather minor disabilities, all things considered.

When I was waiting for my prescription to be filled yesterday, the woman sitting next to me smiled and said, “At least you still have your thumb.” She showed me her right hand, which had been mangled in a car accident. Her fingers were badly deformed, and she was missing the thumb. We got to talking about how grateful we were because no matter how much we have lost, it could have been worse. She was grateful she still had one thumb, and she mentioned a man she met who had lost both thumbs to a freak accident. (The top section of the extension ladder he had been using disengaged and crashed down on his thumbs, smashing them beyond repair.)

Yep, my injury is a mere blip in the road.

I even have a hunch that in the coming years, once the memory of the pain and trauma has faded and the lesser mobility has become normal, I will look back on these few months as a halcyon time. No one to take care of but myself. No plans to make because I have no idea what’s going to happen or what I will still be able to do. Nowhere to go and no way to get there even if I did have a place to go. And mostly, someone to care.

Until then, of course, I have to deal with the reality, which is neither peaceful nor happy. Just life.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

My Humpty-Dumpty Arm

I went to the doctor on Wednesday to get an update on my arm. The news was sort of disappointing. I’m not healing very fast at all, so the external fixator has to stay on another four weeks if I can keep the insertion points from getting infected. Apparently, I did so much damage that the arm/wrist/elbow can never be completely repaired. At the moment, the best we can be glad about is that the wrist and hand bones aren’t migrating. The real problem bone for me at the moment is the unbroken bone, the ulna, because basically it’s not attached to anything near the wrist, and it hurts even worse than the broken bone. Not only did I shatter my elbow, pulverized my wrist, break the radius in a dozen different places, I tore or destroyed multiple ligaments and even a tendon or two, including the ligaments that hold the ulna in place.

The surgeon still claims that my wrist will have only about a 50% mobility, but for the first time he admitted that most people generally don’t use more than 50% except for turning a doorknob or accepting change, so that part of my prognosis doesn’t sound as dire as I thought, though a two-year window for healing is daunting. He says it could also be two years before I have full use of my hand and fingers, and even then I will lose 10 to 20%, but how often do you need to make a tight fist or bend your fingers backwards? I guess boxing lessons won’t be in my future! (That was a joke — I never wanted to learn to box.)

He seems to be mystified by the scope of the injury. Apparently, it’s a bit of a physics miracle in that a single fall cannot create this much havoc. Generally the energy from a fall is dissipated by one or two breaks, so this sort of damage normally comes from something like a car accident. The only thing he can figure out is that I must have bounced, which I think is possible, though I don’t know for sure. All I really remember is complete disorientation and confusion as I was falling, then lying on the ground screaming in pain.

I continue to be left to my own devices most of the time. I still can’t drive, still can’t walk far, can’t concentrate well because of the pain medications, so all that’s left for me to do is piddle around on the Internet, read, do puzzles, and think. People keep accusing me of thinking too much, and yet why not? At best, I might come up with some interesting ideas. At worst, it’s cheap entertainment.

Ever since seeing the doctor, I’ve been pondering on miracles and other life-changing events. For the most part, it seems that life-changing events are of the “negative” variety — the death of a significant person in your life, severe injury, loss of a job, or loss of savings due to medical bills. I know there are “positive” miracles, the most common ones being falling in love or having a baby, but still I wonder why the negative life changers seem to outnumber the positive ones. I realize that positive and negative are judgments we put on events that happen to us, that inherently things are not necessarily good or bad, but you have to admit, falling in love is a heck of a lot more fun than destroying an arm, and the results are much more pleasant. (Falling in love isn’t always a good thing, especially if the object of that love turns out to be abusive, but it still feels good until it goes bad.)

We humans are myth-making creatures. We tell stories about our lives, the things that happen to us, and the things we want to happen to us. (If you doubt our myth-making capabilities, all you have to do is look at the current political milieu and the accusations of evil being bandied about on both sides — good and evil are mythic elements, and are not necessarily representative of a cosmic truth.)

When people say things happen for the best or that things happen for a reason, that is the beginning of their myth. I don’t think my fall was anything but a fall, no inherent meaning, no “best”. I have not yet created my “fall” myth, haven’t figured out yet how to turn this devastating injury into something positive. I suppose I could look at it as a way of facing my worst fear — stagnation. My problem is not that I hate being alone, especially with nothing to do, it’s that such a lifestyle suits me too well, and I do not want to spend the rest of my life in a cocoon of entropy. When you are with someone, they bring energy to your life, but when you are alone you have to work at garnering energy otherwise you succumb to entropy. But still, facing this fear in no way is worth the pain, panic, and poor prognosis of this injury, especially since I would eventually have to face such a life anyway.

I suppose it’s too early to create a myth surrounding this injury. That will come with time. Meanwhile, I try to remain as stress-free as possible, to eat as well as possible, to do what I can to foster healing. I’d keep my fingers crossed in the hopes that I don’t need the full two years of healing, but it’s going to be a long time before I can cross my left fingers. Ah, well, something to look forward to.

I hope the myth you’re creating for yourself today is a happy one.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief Is a Process that Keeps on Taking

In a blog a couple of days ago, I mentioned that while our current culture emphasizes inclusivity, it manages to exclude a forgotten segment of our society — widows and widowers, especially older ones. I suppose this makes sense because so many people who embrace inclusivity are young folk, and they cannot even imagine the problems of losing the one person who matters more to you than anyone else and then being left to grow old alone.

The primary sociological problem of being widowed (as opposed to the emotional, spiritual, psychological problems of losing your life mate) is being forcedly single in a coupled world. The “triggers” reminding us of our lonely state are ubiquitous. Ads almost always show couples; even ads geared toward older people show couples. Ads about supporting one another in illness show couples. Books and movies often focus on couples. Songs constantly remind us of the importance of love, that loving someone can give our life meaning, that you’re nobody unless someone loves you.

We are showered with studies proving that sleeping (both literally and euphemistically) with someone enhances your health, that daily hugs make you healthy and strong, that merely being in the room with another person has health benefits. That’s all fine and dandy, but what does that have to do with the bereft? Once you’re alone, you can go weeks, sometimes months, without touching another person. (Did you ever wonder why the elderly like hospitals? People touch them. It’s not as simple as that, of course. Or perhaps it is.)

Many people find that the loss of their spouse creates a ripple of other losses, such as loss of their friends, especially if their friends were other couples. If they were a two-income family, suddenly the income is significantly reduced, and yet they end up paying double for many things such as hotel rooms. The bereft are often left on their own, without the resources they need, but even if that is not the case, they now have all the problems not just of widowhood, but of singlehood.

I recently came across an article that explains why being single is not so great. The article mentions five specific points.

  1. Single people make less than married people for doing the exact same job. Sometimes single people are seen as slackers, even if they’re not and sometimes the boss thinks that the person with a spouse and kids needs more money. The discrepancy can be as much as 27%.
  2. Single people work more. They are not allowed time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, they don’t have as many excuses to take off from work, and of course they are often expected to work holidays and weekends because they don’t have family obligations.
  3. Single people pay more taxes. Married people can file as individuals to get the best tax rate, and more than half of married people get a bonus of up to $1300 a year.
  4. There is a social stigma to being single according to a recent study by Rutgers University. People wonder what’s wrong with you. Single men are considered stupid and dishonest. Single women are more likely to be harassed and treated badly at restaurants.
  5. Worst of all, single people don’t live as long as married folk are more likely to get sick. Married people have better immune systems, they generally have the choice of two insurance plans which gives them the best care, they have a support system (emotional as well as practical), and they have someone to help care for them when they are ill.

So, for all you folks who are lucky to still be married, who have not been forcibly removed from your spouse by death, don’t tell your widowed friends to get over it or to move on. Unlike a gift that keeps on giving, grief is a process that keeps on taking.

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On a brighter note, here is my latest watercolor.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Trying Not to be Trampled by Other People’s Anger

There are a few things that scare the heck out of me. Angry people. People with an agenda. Vast crowds. Is it any wonder that yesterday, the day of the women’s march, I stayed as far away from Washington DC as possible?

The only time I was ever in a huge crowd, I was smashed against a chain-link fence waiting to see the Beatles pass by. At the time, I didn’t know who the Beatles were, didn’t care, but a neighbor girl who did know the Beatles and loved them, desperately wanted to go to the airport to greet the icons. Her mother said she couldn’t go unless I went with her (I’ve always been nauseatingly responsible) so the girl badgered me and badgered me to go with her despite my repeated no’s. I finally agreed to ask my mother, secure in the belief that my mother would say no since “no” seemed to be her default response. To my utter horror, she said yes. So the girl and I took a taxi out to the airport and waited for hours for the famed quartet to appear. When they finally drove by, smiling and waving, the crowd (mostly girls) erupted into a frenzy of excitement and charged after the car moving slowly along the other side of the fence. I was crushed against the fence, and probably would have been stomped underfoot except for the panicked grip I kept on the links. Finally, the crowd pushed past me, and I was alone. The neighbor girl had disappeared, and I had no way to get back home.

Obviously, I did get back home, but the memories of my return are not as sharp as the memory of the crowd and my panic. I vaguely remember talking to someone in a phone booth, but I don’t know who I was talking to or how I got there, and I vaguely remember a taxi dropping me off at the house.

I’ve never allowed myself to be fenced in by crowds again.

Strangely, my fear of crowds predated that episode, though I don’t know where the fear came from. Perhaps books? I’ve always read everything I could get my hands on, even when it wasn’t age-appropriate, so I subjected myself literarily to many traumas that I would not willingly undergo in real life.

Two things missing from that experience with the Beatles mob were anger and people with agendas. An experience that would incorporate all three of my fears would have scarred me for life. Of course, those fears and the possibility of being scarred are not the only things that kept me away from the woman’s march — I had absolutely no interest in such a thing. I want my days to be filled with accomplishment, even if all I accomplish is sitting around waiting for my arm/wrist/elbow to heal.

What did the woman’s march accomplish?

Is there one person in the entire world who woke up this morning and said, “Wow, I never knew women could be so powerful powerful”? Everybody already knows that. For example, the fact that Hillary lost the election does not make her power any less impressive.

Is there one person who woke up this morning and said, “Let’s make women equal”? Women are ready equal. In fact they are more than equal. If hundreds of thousands of men — not just men of color, but a vast presence of white men — had participated in a men’s march, there would have been a violent and angry backlash. Women are especially more equal when it comes to unborn babies. If the father wants the baby and the mother wants an abortion, the father is out of luck. Conversely if the mother wants the baby and the father doesn’t, he is stuck paying child support for the next 18 years. (Seems to me that being taught those facts in a sex education class would be a stronger deterrent to unwanted pregnancy than passing out condoms.)

As far as I can see, the only thing this march accomplished was to prove that hundreds of thousands of women were rich enough to make a weekend jaunt to the nation’s capital. Oh, and that women are just as guilty of practicing non-inclusivity as those they accuse of that very “crime.” All women were welcome . . . Except those who did not agree with the agenda of the organizers.

I tend to stay away from controversial matters so I’m not sure why I am talking about this (and yes, I am actually talking using speech recognition software) except that it’s hard to avoid reminders of the march unless I avoid Facebook, and it might come to that. The anger that fills my Facebook feed hurts my soul. I feel flattened by all that emotion, as if once again I were pressed against a chain-link fence, trying not to be trampled underfoot.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Widow’s March

I have a lot of stuff in my head — no clear ideas or sharp feelings, just stuff. For example, I have conflicting feelings about the woman’s march. It seems like a good idea since solidarity is helpful, but there is a lot of contention over what the march is supposed to accomplish, which is not helpful. Some people say the march is pro-abortion, and so pro-life women are not welcome. Others say the march is for liberals, and so conservative women are not welcome. Others insist it’s about equal pay and equal opportunity, and so anyone is welcome. It seems funny that after all these months of people talking about inclusivity, separating women into various sexes such as lesbian, transgender, and whatever, all of a sudden now there’s just one . . . women. Why can’t it be that way all the time?

What I don’t understand is if this is a march about abortion, are all these women planning on having abortions? And why are there so many abortions? People used to say that there were unwanted pregnancies because of lack of education about pregnancy avoidance, but it seems as if there are more abortions than ever. To my understanding, the new regime is not so much interested in abolishing abortion as in removing federal funding. If this is what women are against — removing the funding — it’s even more mystifying to me. What they are saying is, “my body, my decision, your financial responsibility.”

More of a concern to me than abortion is the whole cultural aspect of women’s ideology. Apparently, one of the airlines used pink lights in the plane to Washington DC as a show of solidarity for the women, but really . . . pink lights? Why does pink still signify women? Pink is a color that is used to reduce aggression and anger. Could it be that’s why the airline used pink lights, not so much as solidarity but to keep the women in line?

See? Stuff.

Talking about cultural aspects of women’s ideology reminds me of the many anti-feminist themes still present in so-called women’s movies and chick lit. Too often the stories are about trying to get the guy to propose, which leaves me to wonder why the women don’t do the damn proposing if they want to get married. There are stories about successful business women who have to learn the importance of love. There are stories about women trying to teach each other how to trap a man. Sometimes, especially in historical romances, there are hints of rape as a prelude to romance. And of course, there are on-line sites that brag they are smart women who love trashy books, books that in no way reflect their own political beliefs.

I’m not really interested in people’s sexuality, so all the talk of inclusivity when it comes to gender and sexual orientation passes me by (though it is nice to know how one’s friends lean in order to understand them better). When you are alone, there is no sexual orientation because orientation connotes a leaning toward, and if there is no one to lean toward there is no orientation. What does concern me personally is the subtle (and not so subtle) exclusion of widows.

Ours is a coupled society, whether the couple is the same sex or different sexes, so a person alone is someone who barely exists. Even worse, there is a vague feeling that it’s your fault for being alone. People quickly forget that you once were coupled, that you once had someone. And now you’re . . . inconvenient. If your friends used to be other couples, you are no longer invited to events, so you try to make new friends, but if the women you like are married, you’re in the same boat as you were before. (People expect widows to become friends with other widows, but this does not solve the problem of exclusivity; it exacerbates it.) If you try to do things on your own, you pay double for a room in a hotel or on a cruise ship. Ads about products for old people show couples. Ads for assisted living places show couples. Ads about supporting one another in illness shows couples. And then there are the ubiquitous articles where a couple who is celebrating their gazillionth wedding anniversary gives advice on how to say together so many years, which always makes me want to scream “You’re still together because one of you didn’t die!”

But some of us are not so lucky. We are left to grow old alone, and a woman (or man) alone is no one’s priority.

None of this “stuff” will change anything, not even for me. Current events only serve to make me feel more alone, more outside the range of what is considered normal life in the twenty-first century. I probably would not be musing about any of these things, but the juxtaposition of the woman’s march (or rather the contentions about the march) along with a blog reader’s question as to whether I had any insight on growing old alone has put all this stuff in my head.

The growing old alone part is no one’s fault, of course. Nor do I expect society, the government,  or even individuals to do anything to solve the problems that will arise for all of us folks sitting alone in our empty rooms. We will do what we have always done since the death of our beloved, take each day as it comes, do what we can to survive, and hope that someday our lives will make sense again.

I’ve never been one for marching or demonstrating in a group, but today I will do a widow’s march. Sort of. I will take a solitary walk, and try to clear the stuffing out of my head.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Pain, Cosmic and Otherwise

When I was going through the first horrendous days, weeks, months of grief after the death of my life mate/soulmate, and even later as the grief extended into years, I felt comfortable (mostly) talking about my pain because it seemed noble, perhaps, or maybe even cosmic. The experience was so much bigger than I am that the only way I could deal with it was to cry out my pain to the whole world.

Now that I am dealing with a different kind of pain, physical pain, I don’t feel as comfortable writing about what I am feeling. The pain is localized — it affects only me. To talk about the harshness of losing mobility in my elbow, wrists, and fingers, possibly permanently, seems self pitying because as bad as this injury is (shattered elbow, pulverized wrist, radius broken in 12 places, displaced ulna, deformity) others have it worse.

I know I still have the right to feel bad. That others have it worse doesn’t erase my pain. It just makes it feel less — cosmic.

People seem think I should have resumed my normal life by now, whatever it might be, but it’s all I can do to get through the days. I have to be careful not just because of the external fixator that is still attached my arm, but because of the effects of the strong painkillers I am taking and the need to be careful not to risk a fall. I’m not really prone to falling. The fall that destroyed my arm was a fluke — I tripped over a parking curb I couldn’t see in the dark. But I have to be very careful not to reinjure the arm, at least until it’s healed. I take walks on nice days, so I do get some exercise, but I use a trekking pole as a cane to ensure my balance.

I’ve been trying to cut back on the pain pills because I need to get myself back, but when the cloudy and rainy times come, such as last night, I am grateful for the meager relief the drugs bring. I hope that as I heal, my reaction to inclement weather won’t be as strong because . . . oh, my. The weather -induced ache can be terrible, particularly since I have so many injuries in a single limb.

I no longer have to wear the splint, not even at night, so I am able to work my elbow and regain some mobility at least in that one joint.

Although I have not been writing, I have been keeping busy. Endless games of computer solitaire. Reading. Netflix. Watercolor painting. And doing jigsaw puzzles that came in a care package from a dear friend. (This woman has been especially concerned about me, knowing that I am having to deal with this alone, and she included several delicious treats in the package as well as soups and a throw to keep me warm.)

I’m trying not to worry, trying to take things as they come, trying to focus all my energies on healing, but I have to admit I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what is to become of me. An injury like this is like a new chapter in the story of one’s life with a plot twist that sends you ricocheting off into an unknown direction, but so far I have not had a glimpse of that direction. Even if life doesn’t make the change for me, I can use this injury as an impetus to create something new in my life, but so far I have not had a glimpse of that something new. Maybe it’s too soon. After all it could be a year or even two before I am healed, which gives me a broad scope for growth. For now, though, my life feels like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.

I hope you are all doing well and finding all the pieces of your life in this new year.

Below is my most recent painting.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Rear Window

Time for another fireside chat, euphemistically speaking. The heat I’m feeling is not the breath from my Dragon, the speech recognition software I am currently using, but from the sun burning through my window. After several days of cold, rain, and wind, the sky is temporarily clear and the sun is scorchingly hot. For the first time in my life, I feel inclement weather in my bones and muscles, in increased pain. But ah, with the sun comes a better outlook and acceptable levels of pain, if there is such a thing. (This reminds me of an incident that happened in the hospital after my first wrist surgery. The nurse asked me what my goal was for the day. I said, “You mean like running a marathon?” She said, “No. Regarding your pain.” I responded, of course, that I wanted zero pain. The nurse laughed. I still don’t understand why the laugh. Isn’t that what we all want, zero pain?)

I’ve always tried to take care of myself, augmenting fairly good genetics with supplements, healthy foods, and exercise, so I have not had to deal with a lot of excruciating pain except for occasional ailments. The thought of having to live with chronic pain is daunting, especially because the pain came in an instant. One moment I was fine — happy, healthy, and relatively carefree — and the next moment I was on the ground screaming in pain. And now nothing will ever be the same. I’m planning on doing whatever I can to gain a painless existence, but that will always laughably be a forlorn hope. I have already reached the age where small aches are a daily occurrence and healing a painstaking matter. However, after yesterday’s weather-induced agony, today’s sunny prognosis is a real blessing, and it assures me that there is hope no matter how forlorn.

One of the many benefits of modern medicine, or so I always thought, was the ability to remove physical pain from our lives, but I am learning that many of the miracle drugs merely take the edge off the pain. In itself, that’s a good thing, but it still leaves behind one heckuva lot of unpleasantness. Perhaps, in the end, I won’t have to deal with as much unpleasantness as the orthopedic surgeon claims I will. Perhaps I will find a way to turn off my reaction to the pain so that it’s just another sensation. Perhaps I will learn to heal myself. Perhaps a lot of things. All I know is that today, sitting here in the sun, staring out the rear window, I feel pretty damn good.

In the early days of my incarceration in this room, I’d look out the window and muse that this must be the absolute worst performance ever of the movie Rear Window because, unlike Jimmy Stewart, I couldn’t see much of anything. Cars in the mid-distance. Cactus close in. But no murderous folk. No folk at all for that matter. But today it makes no difference that I can’t see anything happening outside that window. All that matters is that inside, by the window, my life is happening.

It’s been nice chatting with you. I hope you are also having a relatively pain-free day.

The watercolor below is my most recent offering, an almost obscenely cheerful and optimistic image, and way out of character!

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Thinking of Many Things

I went to the doctor today to have him look at my arm. It wasn’t exactly good news but wasn’t really that bad either. He keeps saying it’ll take up to two years for me to become normal again, even though his “normal” includes some immobility. But then, who knows? No one, if the truth be known. His statements are merely guesses based on experiences with other folks, some of whom would be more dedicated than I and others who would be less dedicated.

I still have the fixator attached to my arm, which is one of those could be good could be bad things. It’s uncomfortable, but apparently the longer the fixator is on the better off I will be. The device is separating the hand bones from the wrist bones. Apparently the fall pushed the hand bones way down into the wrist, and they need to be held in their proper place as long as possible.

There is some good news, or at least news of progress. New bone is being formed where once were only sharp edges. And I have healed enough so I no longer need to wear a splint at night, and I only need to use a sling during the day if I’m around people. I can also start exercising my elbow a little bit more.

I don’t suppose it really matters whether the news is a little bit good or a little bit bad — it is still going to take a very long time before I am healed.

On a more positive note, I have enough toys to keep me busy for now so that I’m not falling back into grief mode. The Dragon speech recognition software, of course, is wonderful, and I have been enjoying splashing watercolors onto paper. Oddly, if two paintings could be considered a representative sample, I paint hope, which gives me hope for the future. (Is that redundant? Isn’t hope always for the future? As far as I know, there can be no hope for the past or even the present because the present is a done deal.) The picture that accompanies this post is my latest creative play endeavor.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you to know that I think of many things while I sit here in my solitary room staring out the window.

One thing that mystifies me is how few people checked up on me off-line. Maybe they didn’t realize how needy I’ve been, or maybe we weren’t as good friends as I thought we were. I suppose I could’ve called them, but since I had nothing good to say, I didn’t want to run anybody’s holiday. But it is night now, and such thoughts are better left for the bright of day.

One thing that amuses me about this experience is how blasé I have been about letting a stranger help bathe me. I stand in the shower naked while she washes my hair, and we chat of normal things as if we’re sitting down to tea. It is kind of surprising, since she is a healthcare worker, but she said she could not be as comfortable if our positions were reversed.

And one thing that frustrates the heck out of me is how difficult it is to get drugs from a drugstore even with a prescription. The pharmacists don’t seem to understand how hard it is for some people to get to the store, and yet they will not release painkillers a day before the prescription was supposed to have been used up. Nor do they want to release the painkillers even after the prescription has been used up. My last prescription was for 15 days. I eked almost 30 days out of it, and they still did not want to fill the new prescription. I will be glad when I can get off pain medications, but to stay off I will have to find new ways of dealing with pain. Apparently the chronic pain is going to come from the side of the arm that was not broken — the ulna was displaced and that is what will be causing most of the problem. But I will figure out something because I cannot deal with pharmacists the rest of my life.

Once again it’s been great talking to you. I hope the things you think about are more thrilling than those I think about.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.