Review: ‘Unfinished’ by Pat Bertram

The Sun Singer's Travels

Author Pat Bertram, who previously explored her own encounter with the loss of a loved one in Grief: The Great Yearning (2016), has brought her wisdom into the world of fiction in Unfinished (Stairway Press, June 27, 2017). The story will capture your heart and soul, while shining a spotlight on the fact that most people want those who grieve to get over it quickly because they make us uncomfortable.

Like many spouses, Amanda Ray defined herself as one half of a married team, leaving her without a sense of self when her husband David dies at 59 after a long illness. Her husband was a minister. Amanda’s role as the traditional minister’s wife  (hostess, assistant, secretary, and help meet) didn’t lend itself to separate goals or careers.  While she doesn’t know if she would cope with her loss differently if she’d had her own career to fall back on…

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Excerpt From UNFINISHED

Amanda put a hand over the hole in her chest and was surprised to discover that under her white cotton blouse, her body remained intact. “I miss you, David,” she murmured. “Dammit, I miss you.”

A sudden fury swept over her. “Why did you leave me?” she screamed. She ran back to his closet, grabbed a handful of clothes, and dumped them on the floor. A muffled thud caught her attention, but it took a moment for the truth to soak into her grief-fuddled mind. Something weighty had been stashed among the clothes. She scrabbled about in the pile of garments and pulled out a threadbare terrycloth robe that seemed inordinately heavy.

For a second, Amanda considered reburying the robe in the heap of clothing. David had always been a private person, but during his last year, he had become furtive, and he would not appreciate her ferreting out his secrets. “Well, David,” she said aloud. “If you didn’t want me rummaging around in your life, you shouldn’t have died.”

Still, a feeling of dread made her hesitate. Summoning the strength of her anger, she thrust a hand into the robe’s pocket. Her heart thudded when she felt the shape of the cold metal object. Gingerly, she pulled the piece out of the pocket and stared at it. It couldn’t be real, could it? But the weight told her the small revolver with the two-inch barrel was genuine.

Click here to buy Unfinishedhttps://www.amazon.com/Unfinished-Pat-Bertram/dp/1941071651/

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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.

UNFINISHED is Now Finished and Available on Amazon

Amanda Ray thought she’d grow old with her pastor husband David, but death had other plans. During David’s long illness and his withdrawal from her, Amanda found solace in the virtual arms of Sam Priestly, a college professor she met at an online support group for cancer patient caregivers. Amanda thought that when their spouses were gone, she and Sam would find comfort in each other’s arms for real, but though David succumbed to the cancer that riddled his body, Sam’s wife, Vivian, survives. Vivian had been in the process of divorcing Sam when she fell ill, and after the diagnosis, Sam agreed to stay with her until the end. Since Sam plans to continue honoring his vow, Amanda feels doubly bereft, as if she is mourning two men.

Rocked by grief she could never have imagined, confused by her love for Sam and his desire for her to move near him, at odds with her only daughter, Amanda struggles to find a new focus for her suddenly unfinished life. As if that weren’t enough to contend with, while clearing out the parsonage for the next residents, Amanda discovers a gun among her devout husband’s belongings. Later, while following his wishes to burn his effects, she finds a photo of an unknown girl that resembles their daughter.

Having dedicated her life to David and his vocation, this evidence that her husband kept secrets from her devastates Amanda. If she doesn’t know who he was, how can she know who she is? Accompanied by grief and endless tears, Amanda sets out to discover answers to the many mysteries of her life: the truth of her husband, the enigmatic powers of love and loss, and the necessity of living in the face of death.

Does this story sound interesting to you? If so, you can now purchase the print version of UNFINISHED (published by Stairway Press) on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1941071651/

Although the feelings of grief Amanda experiences are based on my emotional journey during my first two months of profound grief, the story itself is fiction. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to deal with not only the loss of one’s mate, but the loss of the idea of one’s mate. Well . . . yes, I guess I can imagine how it would feel, because I wrote the novel! I hope you will read UNFINISHED. It’s an important book because too few fiction writers portray the truth of new grief, and that lack leaves the newly bereft feeling isolated and as if they are the only ones dealing with grief’s craziness.

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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 Fresh Chance to Take the World by Storm

While going through the first throes of grief, I was astonished by how little authors knew about the enormity of grief and its impact. In one book, the new widow cried the first night, then woke up the next morning determined to put her grief behind her, and she never shed another tear. In a second book, the only concession to grief was a single sentence, “She went through all five stages of grief.” Yikes. How ignorant (or lazy) is that? Grief is not merely a brief spate of sorrow that is easily suppressed. It is a complicated process that involves — and completely disrupts — every part of you: your mind, body, soul, spirit, ego in an ever expanding spiral of “stages”.

Because of such authors, I decided to tell the truth of grief, and so I started blogging about what I was going through. I also considered writing a novel about a woman dealing the agony of grief, but I thought it would be too hard to portray in a positive light a woman who cried all the time. It is a caveat in the writing community that if your characters cry, your readers don’t, which could be why most books featuring a widow or widower take place three to five years after the loss.

Still, I wrote a novel about a new widow and her first two horrendous months, which will soon be published:

While sorting through her deceased husband’s effects, Amanda is shocked to discover a gun and the photo of an unknown girl who resembles their daughter. After dedicating her life to David and his vocation as a pastor, the evidence that her devout husband kept secrets devastates Amanda.

But Amanda has secrets of her own.

During David’s long illness and withdrawal from life, Amanda found solace in the virtual arms of Sam Priestly, a college professor she met in an online support group for cancer caregivers. Amanda believed she and Sam would find comfort in each other’s arms for real after their spouse’s deaths, but miraculously, Sam’s wife survives the cancer that killed David. Rocked by unimaginable grief for her husband, confused by her love for Sam and his desire to continue their affair, and at odds with her only daughter, Amanda struggles to solve the many mysteries of her unfinished life: the truth of her husband’s secrets, the enigmatic power of love and loss, and the necessity of living despite the nearness of death.

The publisher (Stairway Press) says Unfinished is a fresh start for me to take the world by storm. Even better, my first readers think it’s a powerful story!

“Unfinished” is a novel of loss, love, and personal discovery. Told with realistic intensity, this story about surviving life while in the throes of soul-changing sorrow shows that grief never dies, but those left behind can learn to live again. —J.J. Dare, author of False Positive and False World

While finding your high school best friend has become a talented writer may not be a surprise, I can honestly say it has become a delight. I have now read all of Pat’s work to date and marvel at the honesty of emotion with which she writes. As a reader, I delight in Pat’s ability to develop characters, to portray our complexity as human beings. Pat’s characters in “Unfinished” challenge our beliefs with their ability to hold a dialectic, and just when you feel you know how this is going to lay down, more is revealed! And, as a therapist, I value this as I offer “Unfinished” to my grieving clients. Pat’s experience makes the reader uncomfortable at times giving us permission to embrace our grief “and let it take you where you need to go” eschewing the judgment of others about “not grieving right,” as we work our way forward [coming to see grief as a gift]. As well, it allows those not yet touched by grief to understand and support, not exhort closure, widening the book’s audience. Unfinished is an authentic gift. —Mary Strasser, MC, LPC, LISAC

So, look for Unfinished. Coming soon!!!

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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.

 

 

End of the Great Yearning?

My last upsurge of grief came exactly one month before the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death. That upsurge was so severe, my grief felt raw, as if he’d recently died. I feared a terrible month leading to the anniversary, but there were only a few moments of sadness after that horrendous day. In the two and a half months since the anniversary, I haven’t experienced much emotion, either sad or glad. (Hence the sporadic blog posts.)

It’s as if the great yearning that gripped me for the past seven years took a sabbatical. There’s been no particular yearning to go home, no unbearable yearning to see Jeff once more, no yearning to know where he is or if he is. There’s been no yearning for adventure, no yearning for experiences to prove that I still exist, no yearning for meaning or knowledge or wisdom, no yearning for an end to the loneliness. There hasn’t even been any yearning to express myself. Just a barely swinging emotional pendulum and a quasi-quiet mind.

I thought this hiatus from yearning was due to my arm — not just the shock of the fall, the months of pain, and the horror of having a deformed arm (if you could see my arm, you probably wouldn’t notice the deformity, but what I see and feel is far from normal), but also the torpid backlash from the highly traumatic experience. For more than four months, I’d been mostly housebound and isolated, and I thought the restricted life helped me welcome aloneness. Recently, though, I read that in year eight of grief, people begin to feel a little tired of working so hard that they let go of the busyness, pull back, and go in their alone zone. Apparently what I thought was a stage of my physical healing was actually a stage in my grief healing, though I suppose it could be both — coming to terms with the physical trauma could have helped me come to terms with the residual loneliness of grief. (If this woman’s timeline holds true, next year I will be ready to question my old dreams and start new ones. These dreams are supposed to be magical because they will be from the new me.)

Whatever the reason for this equability, this lazy pendulum swing, this hiatus from yearning — whether it’s due to the destroyed arm or the grief timeline — it’s been . . . different. I’ve been indulging my indolence because . . . well, because . . . why not? Nothing pulls at me. Nothing pushes me. I’m sure some day adventure, responsibility, or need will call to me once more but for now, simply living is enough. After my long months of isolation, I’m gradually picking up my life where I left it when I fell — taking an occasional walk, going to dance classes now and then. Next week I will probably be back at all my dance classes (with a third ballet class thrown in for good measure) as well as continuing my own version of physical therapy.

(The doctor hasn’t yet prescribed therapy sessions for my destroyed arm/wrist/elbow/fingers because he said all the therapist would do is sit me in a corner and have me work my immobile wrist and fingers, and that I can do on my own. Next month, though, I will probably start more advanced therapy. I’m doing well on my own — I can now drive, type, open bottles and doors, make a fist, do curls and overhead presses with a five-pound dumbbell, hold on to a ballet barre, do the requisite hand movements for Hawaiian dances — but I still have a long way to go.)

Oddly, this “active passivity” (for lack of a better term to describe my current state of mind), hasn’t dimmed my appreciation for the small miracles of living. Yesterday I went to lunch with three other women, and in the middle of the meal, it awed me to think of all the life choices and coincidences that led us — a woman born in Taiwan, one born in Singapore, one in Los Angeles, and one in Denver — to that very place.

Soon there will be a couple of more miracles in my life (and yours!) — the publication of two new novels, the first new Pat Bertram books in five years. Next month look for Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, a mystery involving my dance class, and Unfinished, a novel about a grieving woman. (I’ve read too many books where someone dies and no one goes through grief except for a brief bout of tears, or the author tosses in a single sentence about the character going through the five stages of grief, or the author completely skips the first horror of grief and picks up the story years later. I wanted to do tell the truth and show the strength that comes along with the constant tears of breath-stealing grief.)

For the moment, though, I have no real plans and no plans to get plans. I’ll just accept this (possibly temporary) lack of yearning the same way I accepted the great yearning that propelled me for so many years.

Wishing you blue skies and clear days until next time.

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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.

Blue on Blue

Blue on blue actually refers to the photo below, a toy VW bug on top of my VW regulation-size VW (you might have to click on the image to see the tiny car), but it can also refer to my current life. Though I don’t particularly like admitting it, I have been a bit blue lately. Healing is frustrating because it takes so darn long, but not healing is even more frustrating because . . . well because it’s frustrating. It’s hard not being able to do simple things that I used to be able to do with my hand/wrist/arm, and when I can do things, it’s not without pain. Some wrist mobility I can never get back because of the plate holding everything in place. At best, using the hand feels awkward, though I can drive and type, so that’s good

Then there is the whole financial thing, which I try not to think about because at the moment, I can do nothing about the situation. I have a new book coming out soon (Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare) and that should fix all my financial woes, right? Yeah, right. But, in a perfect world, it could happen.

And this thirty-day diet I am on that is supposed to give me energy and get rid of any inflammation seems to sap whatever energy I have. But there is just a week left, and although I hadn’t planned on deviating greatly from the diet (I do think staying away from wheat and sweeteners is a good idea, for example) I can’t help thinking of all the things I could make next week if I had the energy — made-from-scratch brownies, pierogies, bread, hamburger rolls (aka Bierocks or Runzas).

But there are other shades of blue besides the gloomy blues in my life such as the bright blue sky and the risible blue of smiles. Not much makes me smile right now, but there are some things. My current work in progress has some amusing moments that made me smile when I read it. Recently when I was out walking, I got caught in a hail storm (yep, hail in the desert!) and for some peculiar reason, despite the discomfort of being very cold and very wet, being out in that storm made me smile. A new dance I am learning makes me smile. (Actually, two new dances make me smile — an Arabian ballet from the Nutcracker and a Samoan dance to the tune of “We Know the Way” from Moana.)

And the blue toy VW made me smile. It’s one of those pull-back cars that speed along by itself, and that, too makes me smile.

So, blue on blue. Nowhere near as bad as it sounds.

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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.

What the Screams Are All About

The worst thing about opening a decade-old work in progress (though can it be called a work in progress if no progress has been made on it for years?) is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written. I usually try to end a writing session in the middle of a scene to give me a hint of the next day’s writing session, and I ended that long-ago final writing session with a scream: A shriek like that of a jungle beast in pain woke him. He rolled over onto his back, too tired to wonder who or what could be making such a racket. More shrieks and shouts. This time the screeches sounded decidedly human.

But who screamed? And why? I haven’t a clue.

The best thing about opening a decade-old work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written, so I come to it as a stranger. I found myself shuddering and chuckling by turns, and in one place I actually laughed aloud. Not bad for a work that has been stagnant for so many years. (I did find a few stray, out-of-place chapters that I vaguely remember writing seven years ago when I was trying to meet a word count for the one National Novel Writing Month I signed up for, but they don’t help much because they take place long after the shrieks.)

The oddest thing about opening a decade-old work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written . . . and haven’t written. A few of the scenes I thought I wrote somehow got stuck in my mind and never made it into the manuscript. I do remember now that I didn’t feel like writing those scenes. Coming up with and writing the plethora of details needed to describe a fellow trying to scrounge for food in an inhospitable environment seemed dreary. Which means that as I continue with this book, my task will be to see that the scenes aren’t dreary, either for me or the reader.

The most disheartening thing about opening a decade-old-work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written, and I’d forgotten that the story does not fit at all with anything else I have ever written. I have learned in the intervening years that to be successful, a writer, like an artist, must develop a recognizable style. If you pick up a Rosamund Pilcher book, you know you’re not getting horror. If you pick up a Clive Barker book, you know you’re not getting a pastoral romance. And my stories are all over the place. Three of my published novels have a similar thread, a touch of otherworldliness along with a large dash of conspiracy; my fourth published novel is a gold-hunt mystery/adventure; my soon to be published novel Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare can maybe be classified as a self-aware cozy mystery, and my soon-after-that-to be published novel is the story of a woman dealing with grief. There is a gun and a bit of a mystery in the grief story, but mostly the mystery is that of the human heart.

And then there is this decade-old WIP. No mystery. Just . . . I don’t know. Maybe an apocalyptic horror story.

Eventually, I will have to settle into a style (or develop enough readers who are intrigued by a wide-ranging author), but for now, I will enjoy the discovery of what the screams are all 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.

Toddling Along

I am toddling along, trying to get back into my life now that the external fixator is off my arm. I’m taking a couple of dance classes, walking a bit, reading, writing occasionally. Mostly I’ve been trying not to be too introspective, hence the lack of recent blog posts. Besides, pain has a way of focusing attention onto itself and away from the bigger picture.

I’m not in a lot of pain, but there is always some. Either I am trying to work the hand to its new level of normality, or I momentarily have no pain and inadvertently use the hand in a way it has not been accustomed to during the last five months, and so my friend pain arrives once more.

When I returned from my cross-country trip, I had three goals: try to build up my strength, go on an anti- inflammation diet for 30 days, and finish my three works in progress. The strength-building goal was laid low after I destroyed my arm, and now that goal is mostly focused on the arm itself rather than all of me. I do such fun things as squeeze a sponge in a bucket of warm water, grasp a hammer by the end of the handle and flip it gently from side to side to help with elbow and wrist pronation, lay my left hand on flat on the table and try to raise the elbow to bend the wrist. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Twelve days ago I started the anti-inflammation diet — no milk products, no grains, no legumes, no sweeteners of any kind — and so far I’m doing fine, though I do not notice any difference. (Supposedly, I am supposed to feel vibrant and healthy with more energy than I’ve had for years, but that simply is not happening.) When the 30 days are up, I will probably continue with a variation of the diet, though I will add some corn and cheese so I can eat with friends at a favorite Mexican restaurant.

Most importantly, I have finished two of my three or four works in progress. (Three if I include only started works, and four if I include the first book I ever wrote, which needs a complete rewriting. I still love the premise, but I’m not really sure what to do with it.) I opened the file for the third WIP today, which actually is the oldest of the three, started before I ever had the Internet. (I was given the gift of the Internet nine years and 341 days ago. I wasn’t really sure what to do on the Internet, but figured I had a year to decide, and if after that year I still didn’t know, well, I could always get rid of it. But here I am.) I think the last time I worked on this particular book was maybe seven years ago, and I’d forgotten a lot of the fun little bits. It will be nice to finally finish it, but finishing it will bring its own level of sadness because it was the last book Jeff helped me with. My mother’s death, the advent of the Internet and publication of two of my books, and then Jeff’s death, shunted this poor WIP off my radar. And when the book is finished done, it will end my literary link with Jeff.

He was my first reader (or rather listener, since I read to him while he did chores). I did not think I would be able to write without his smile to encourage me, but the books I finished were both started after his death, and in fact, reflected either his death, my grief, or both.

I hope I’ll be able to continue to write after these started books are finished and (keeping my fingers crossed) published. Hope I will still have something to say. But I do not need to concern myself with the future right now. Other things matter more. Working my arm. Finishing my third WIP. Trying to get strong and healthy. That’s enough for any one person to concentrate on.

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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.

The Blooming Desert

The desert is blooming, and so, I hope, am I. Each day I do a bit more, stretching my poor deformed limb, trying to get back into my life, whatever that might be.

No — not my poor deformed limb. My exquisite limb. As Sheila Deeth, friend and fan extraordinaire, suggested, paraphrasing the blurb at the bottom of my posts, “’an exquisite wrist, wrenching to move, and at the same time full of profound promise’ perhaps?” I like her phrasing so much better than the way I describe my wrist! And I’m sure the wrist would appreciate the new appellation because it is trying so hard to move! It’s not the limb’s fault it doesn’t look the same as it used to. (Though who am I to judge? I don’t look the same, either!)

Today I used both Pacerpoles (I’d been using the right-handed trekking pole as a cane), thinking the left pole would give my wrist a workout, and sure enough, it did, though I had to carry the pole part of the way. Still, any usage of the wrist, no matter how painful, is a step in the right direction.

And, even better, both my exquisite wrist and my exquisite self were rewarded with these exquisite images of the blooming desert:

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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.

Dipping My Toe Into Wanderlust Again

Facebook has a feature where they show us our memories — the pictures or articles we had posted on this day a year or more ago. Today Facebook reminded me of a blog post I wrote two years ago called “Dipping My Toe Into Wanderlust,” which I found synchronous because today, once again, I dipped my toe into wanderlust.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? And, in its way, it is very exciting. I drove today! I’ve only driven twice since I fell on November 19, once to the hospital with my wrist wrapped in the glittery veil from my dance costume, and once very carefully when I moved to my new place. Both times I knew the danger of driving a standard transmission one handed, so I’ve been keeping my car packed away. I knew eventually I would have to start driving again, maybe in another week or two, but my erstwhile occupational therapist stopped by to visit with me yesterday (such a treat to see her!), and she thought I should start driving as part of my physical therapy.

She expressed dismay at the surgeon’s disinclination to prescribe therapy yet, but I am okay with his decision. I am doing what I can, taking myself to the edge of tolerable pain, and that is enough for now. At least that is what I tell myself.

Apparently though, I am doing okay for one who is a mere two weeks past surgery and a week past having the soft cast removed. I drove for a couple of hours today — perhaps foolishly, but it felt so good to be on the road that I didn’t want to come back. (And the poor, long-suffering bug needed exercise.) Although my hand is still too swollen to make a tight fist, I was able to get a good grip on the steering wheel. I had no problem at all, not even backing up or making tight turns, even though my ultra-basic car has no power steering.

I ache now of course, but I am at that stage in healing where I almost always ache. If I don’t ache, I use the pain-free interval to do wrist and hand exercises, which returns me to the place of pain. I don’t like pain, I’m certainly no masochist, but I’m learning to appreciate whatever sensations come my way. With as much damage as there was to the elbow, arm, wrist, and hand (although the hand bones were not broken, they had all been pushed close to the thumb), including the breaks in the the bones and the rips and tears in the tendons and ligaments, it’s miraculous that I had no nerve damage. And so, lucky me — truly! — I have full sensory use of my fingers and arm, and if that sensory awareness includes pain, so be it.

But this is not a time to be talking about pain, but to celebrate. I drove today! Can wanderlust be far behind?

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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.