Yay! Great News!

I went to the doctor today for my pre-op appointment in preparation for surgery next Tuesday. Because there is a bit of irritation around one of the insertion points of the external fixator, he decided to reschedule the surgery for tomorrow. I planned to do a countdown this coming week, counting, down the days until the fixator is removed, so here is the countdown to surgery:

One.

I thought this would be an unsad day because of the doctor’s and lab appointments, and that busyness would have kept me from feeling the grief of this day — the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death — but at the moment I am too excited to feel sad. I refuse to think about the coming weeks (and months!) and the pain that will be involved in trying to get my hand back into its proper position and getting some mobility in my wrist, but I won’t have to think about any of that for at least another week. After the fixator is removed, they will bandage the puncture wounds and put a soft cast around the wrist to give it a bit of support for the next week. And after that. . . well, I’ll go from there, dealing with whatever it is I need to deal with.

Although this should be a relatively uncomplicated surgery, any surgery under anesthesia is a risk, so please, spare a thought for me tomorrow, and wish me well.

***

(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.

Eve of Seven Years of Grief

1:40 AM tonight marks the seventh anniversary of when my life mate/soul mate died. If it is true that our bodies are renewed every seven years, then this anniversary is another death — the death of whatever remains of him in me. When two people live together for an extended period of time, in our case thirty-four years, you not only exchange ideas and energy, you also exchange atoms and molecules, and DNA via benign viruses, so for all these years I carried a bit of him with me. And now he is truly gone. (I still have his cremains, haven’t decided yet what to do with them, but that is another story.)

A month ago, I entered a spate of grief so profound, I felt almost the same as I did at the beginning, as if parts of me were being amputated. Could that be when the last iota of him in me died? As romantic as the notion is, I have a hunch the upsurge of grief was simply that — an upsurge. Generally the month leading up to the anniversary is much worse than the anniversary itself, and I expected the past month to be a horror of pain. During that grief upsurge though, I wrote him a letter, and also printed out a photo of him to hang on my wall. (My photos are all packed away in a storage unit, and since I cannot drive because of my arm, they are not available to me.) Because of this renewed connection, as ephemeral though it might be, or maybe just because after all it’s been seven years since he died, the past month has not been a horror of grief, but rather a time of relative tranquility.

I still don’t understand life, death, grief. Don’t understand why some people are allowed to live out their lives with a special person, and others are fated to go into old age alone. It used to bother me, this unknowing, and sometimes it still does, but generally I try to live in the moment, to take from the day what I can and leave the immortal questions for another time.

I do know I will always be grateful he shared his life with me, even though memory of that life is fading behind newer memories of my life alone. And I know I will always miss him. We shared a special bond, not like a long married couple, not even like soul mates, though that is how I describe our relationship — more like cosmic twins. For most of our life together, I thought the bond was so strong it would pull me into death when he went, and I resented his having five years more of life than I would. As it turns out, something in me did die that day but other things were born, such as a determination to live, and I have now lived two years longer than he did. I resent the extra years on his behalf, though I hope he is beyond caring.

I don’t know where the next seven years will lead me — no one knows what the future will bring, of course. Will it end with me sitting at my computer telling you about the 14th anniversary of his death? By then, I will be elderly. No, I don’t want to even think about that. I’m still afraid of growing old alone, still afraid of being old alone. But today, living in the moment, there is no fear, just a sense that . . . I don’t know . . . maybe that my life is unrolling as it must.

There probably won’t be room for tears tomorrow. I have pre-op doctor and lab appointments that will take up much of the day. (As of now, the surgery to have the external fixator removed from my arm is scheduled for April 4th.) And I am packing one handed for a move to a nicer room and a nicer neighborhood.

Changes.

So much has changed in the past seven years. For a long time, I lamented that his death and my grief did not change me, but looking back, I no longer know who that woman was who clung so firmly to life when all she loved was swept away.

One thing has not changed — a great yearning to see him one more time. To see his smile that so often warmed me. To see the light in his eyes when something interested him.

And one other thing has not changed — disbelief. I can’t believe he’s been gone so many years. Can’t believe I survived.

And yet, changed,/ unchanged, here I am.

***

(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 a Person Can Get Used To

It’s amazing what a person can get used to. Four months ago, after I broke my arm and elbow and wrist in more than a dozen places, I had surgery to have an external fixator screwed into my arm to keep the hand bones from migrating down to where my wrist was supposed to be. When I woke from the anesthetic with the hardware attached to my arm, I have no idea why I didn’t freak out. I don’t know if they told me what they were going to do; if I was so drugged, what they did to me just didn’t register; or if the whole thing was so preposterous that I just accepted the device for what it was.

At first, it was hard having something that looks like a small sewing machine attached my arm, a  sewing machine that weighed a couple of pounds, but at the beginning I had a bit of help — an occupational therapist that miraculously showed up at my door one day. I think one of the hospital doctors have prescribed a nursing service, which I did not need, and along with the service came this wonderful woman. For a couple hours a week, she helped me open bottles, cut up apples, wash my hair, help with whatever finger exercises I could do, massage scars and aching muscles. During most of that time, I was on heavy duty opioids that did little more than fog my brain, make me sleep, and slightly reduce the acuity of the pain. The loss of this therapist, who I had come to depend on, happened to coincide with my grief anniversary date (exactly one month before the seventh anniversary of his death, which for some reason is more painful than the anniversary itself).

I survived that unexpected and quite profound bout of grief, of course, because, odd though it might seem, I have gotten used to grief popping up whenever it feels like it.. After the grief episode, I entered a period of equanimity that hasn’t been especially good, but it certainly hasn’t been bad. I think it’s more that I’ve gotten used to the fixator, to not being able to drive, to spending most of my time a loan in a single room. The last week or so, I have done away with all pain medications, and surprisingly — or I suppose not surprisingly — I’ve begun to feel like writing again. Having forgotten most of the book I was writing, I had to reread the entire thing — twice — to get it back into my head. I also gave the rough draft to a couple of friends to read, and took their suggestions into consideration along with some of my own suggestions, such as moving a crucial scene closer towards the end.

Now that I have gotten used to this life, I have been given a surgery date to get the fixator removed. (First week in April.) People keep telling me, “I bet you’re going to be glad to have that thing off your arm,” and though I agree to keep from seeming contrary, the truth is, I’m not particularly glad. To be honest, I feel a bit of trepidation. As long as the fixator is on my arm, I am more or less forced into a life of idleness. Reading, writing, walking, painting, doing puzzles. When the fixator comes off, there will be a period of recuperation, drugs, and I’m sure quite a bit of backtracking in the use of fingers, elbow, etc. After that comes a year maybe two of relearning how to use the wrist and hand, and learning how to accommodate whatever deformity and disability I end up with. All necessary steps, but not necessarily pleasant ones.

So for now, these last couple of weeks before the fixator comes off, I intend to enjoy this idleness I have gotten used to.

I hope you are finding periods of creative idleness, 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.

The Power of Words

I am a writer, hence words are my life. So far, they are not my living, though I still have hopes of making money with my writing, but they are my life. I love to play with words. I think in words rather than images. I see hidden meanings in words. For example a friend on Facebook told me that grief is like tide pools — sometimes very shallow and sometimes unfathomably deep. She said she preferred the shallows because of the living things she could see in the pools, and all at once, in the midst of the word shallows, I saw the word hallow, meaning sacred and holy. This seemed very deep to me, but maybe I simply liked playing with the idea that “shallows” had depth.

Still, sometimes the power of words surprises me. In my previous post, Vulnerability and Upsurges of Grief,  I mentioned that I was going through a profound grief upsurge, one that was so strong I felt I needed to reach out to Jeff in the only way I knew how — by writing him a letter. The next day, I was puzzled by the absence of tears, by the peace that had settled over me. The only thing that changed from one day to the next was that letter. After I’d told him about my arm, my feelings of isolation, my financial woes, I wrote “Odd that your death brings so much grief, but it also brings me comfort, knowing you are out of this world. At least one of us doesn’t have to deal with this crap anymore.”

One of the hardest things about losing a lifemate/soul mate/spouse/partner is that there is no longer any “us.” There is only I. Me. By subconsciously identifying myself as being still part of an “us,” perhaps I felt a continuity of our shared life. Since his death, I’ve never really felt the continuity, never felt his presence — only his absence. (People sometimes suggest I should put Jeff out of my mind because he is in the past, and the truth is that I do forget him for weeks on end, but it’s also true that his absence is part of my present. His absence fuels my need to live, my need not to waste whatever life is left to me.) I’d packed his picture in my storage unit when I went on my trip, and since I have no way to go get it right now, I printed out another copy of the photo. I tacked his image above my computer, and seeing his radiant smile makes me smile.

I’d read once that those bereft who find a way to make their lost mate a part of their lives are happier and more contented than those who try to ignore the past. I suppose in my rush to live as fully as possible, I’d forgotten this, or maybe thoughts of him had just naturally drifted away. In the busyness of my life in the shallows, he’ll probably drift away again. But for now, it feels good to have this connection, even if it is all in my mind.

Because of anecdotes about near-death experiences, we all assume our dead are happily waiting for us, but I’m not sure that’s true. Even though they might not feel loss as we do, it’s possible that they too feel the separation. I also think it’s possible that sometimes inexplicable grief comes not from within us but from without, from our lost one thinking about us, missing us. (I used to think that calling a death a “loss” was a misnomer because we did not mislay the person, but now it does feel as if Jeff is lost to me, lost in the far reaches of time.)

March is shaping up to be an interesting month. Not only do I add another year to my age, I tick off another anniversary of his death. It’s also another long month of having the external fixator attached to my arm. (The surgery to remove the device will not take place until April.) Another month of isolation. Another month of surrendering to idleness. (That part, at least, sounds inviting.) I might again founder (and flounder) in the depths of grief, or I might find peace in the shallows. But whatever happens, right now, at this moment, I am at peace.

And all because of a few powerful words.

great-saguaro

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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.

Vulnerability and Upsurges of Grief

Lately I have been experiencing an upsurge of grief so strong it feels as if Jeff died a short time ago and is just out of reach. If I could only stretch my arm a bit farther. . . and farther . . .

But no matter how far I reach, he is gone. In one month it will be seven years. Always the weeks leading up to an anniversary are hard, but this year is much harder. I even had to resort to writing Jeff a letter last night, which is something I haven’t done in years. The letter writing helped enough that I will probably repeat the exercise until I get through this difficult time.

Because of this blog, I have been in touch with many people who have lost their mates, and I discovered that a common occurrence was a huge upsurge of grief at 18 months just when we thought we were over the worst of it. My current upsurge makes me wonder if there is a significance to the seventh anniversary. It’s been said that because of the constant changing of cells in our bodies, every seven years we have undergone a complete changeover. After the loss of a life mate/soul mate, it takes 3 to 4 years to find a renewal of life. I call that time the half-life of grief because half the physical connection is gone. Does this mean that at seven years, any remaining iota of his physical presence in my life and body is now gone and hence this grief upsurge?

This morning while texting with a friend, I mentioned my upcoming anniversary. She thought my grief had less to do with the number seven and more to do with increased vulnerability because of my poor shattered arm and my needing “a soft place to lean.” (She also thinks I should be documenting what I’m going through for a possible future book that might help others who are dealing with a similar situation, but this blog is all the documentation I will need.)

She could be right about my needing a soft place to lean. Ever since my fall, I had been feeling a bit of an upsurge in grief, both for my arm and for my now long-gone shared life, but it wasn’t until I lost my occupational therapist (the one person I had to lean on) to bureaucracy that I began this downward slide into profound grief. But also, coincidentally, that is when I began the downward slide to the anniversary.

Whatever the truth of the matter, this current upsurge surprised me because I thought I left such deep sorrow in the past. You’d think after all these years of learning about grief firsthand, there would be no more surprises left for me, but grief does what it wants.

People tell me to get over it, to move on, not to be sad, and in recent years I have been doing all those things, even went on a great adventure. But now, suddenly, I am in a place of “not doing.” I have to be very careful with the fixator attached to my arm. Because the pins go through skin and muscle and all the way through bone, the insertion points are prone to infection, and it is a full-time job keeping them clean. I want to hurry up with my hand exercises, to try to quickly get back as much range of finger motion as I can, but too much stress and stretch aggravates those puncture wounds. So here I sit, isolated, alone with my hand-me-down Nook filled with books, and my computer. (Though the poor Nook is threatening to quit on me, and my aged computer is struggling to keep up with today’s technology.)

I don’t feel quite so sick or so lost in the post anesthetic fog as I did the first couple of months after the fall, and I only take pain pills now to help control the pain so I can sleep. I hope that one day soon I can go back to writing. I try to put myself in a happy place, and it seems as if it’s been years since I’ve been happy, it was only a few months ago. Last October. Writing. Finishing my dance novel.

When I started working on my grieving woman book, I couldn’t help feeling sad for that poor woman and all she went through, so it did not bring me much happiness. But now that my normal state is sadness, writing might offset some of the sorrow. It does amuse me, though, thinking that this grief upsurge, so reminiscent of the early months, puts me in the proper frame of mind to write about a brand-new widow. Also amusing, though in a more ironic way, I can’t figure out how to end that woman’s story, just as I can’t figure out how to end mine.

Luckily, I have a treat in store for me today — I am going grocery shopping! A friend who comes to town occasionally to help with her aging mother makes time to help me with errands, and today is the day! I will revel in the company, the laughter, the largess spread out all around me, and be grateful for this chink in my isolation.

And tonight, if tears flow once again, I will write Jeff another letter, thank him for letting me share his life, and tell him how glad I am that at least one of us is spared any further pain and sorrow.

But dammit, I miss him.

Apparently, I always will.

heart

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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.

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.

sisyphean-task

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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.

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 to Fill the Hole in My Book

When my life mate/soul mate died, I went into a tailspin of grief that lasted years. It came as a shock to me because I thought I was stoic and had my feet so solidly on the ground that I would be sad and lonely and then get on with the business of grief. The sort of grief I felt, I had never heard of before. I’d seen a few characters in movies shrieSunrise/Sunsetk in agony at their husbands’ funerals , but these theatrics always seemed more for effect than as a sign that half their soul had been ripped away.

The few mentions of grief in novels were pretty lame. One book said, “She went through the five stages of grief.” That was the only mention of how the woman felt after the death of her husband, and it especially seemed phony because there are not five stages of grief or seven. There are an infinite permutation of emotions that come again and again in ever widening spiral until finally the spiral is wide enough you don’t feel the loss every moment of every day.

A character in another book cried one night, then woke up the next morning, with a determination to be done with tears, and she was. Again, this was a phony reaction. Sure, we can be determined to be done with tears, but grief has physical life of its own, throwing hormones out of whack and interfering with brain chemistry. Those physical effects cannot be ignored. They are there whether you want them or not. It’s not just that we go through grief, but grief also goes through us.

So, being both a writer and a woman who experienced grief, I decided I needed to write a novel about a woman going through grief. I wrote much of it during National Novel Writing Month the November after his death so I could show the emotions while they were fresh. To do the daily word counts required to “win” the challenge, I wrote whatever chapter came to mind.

Now, all these years later, I’m trying to put those scattered chapters into a reasonable facsimile of a novel. I’ve had to get rid of thousands of redundant words, had to winnow out many of the paragraphs that talked about her pain rather than showing her going through grief, and I have to struggle to make her likable even though she doesn’t much like herself. (Many of us don’t like ourselves when we are grief-stricken.) We are so bludgeoned into believing that we must be upbeat at all costs, that crying is for sissies, that emotions are to be controlled, that a character going through grief sounds like a whiner or a loser or a weakling.

I had envisioned the ending of the book as her driving off alone, probably because since I am alone, I can’t envision a different life. And anyway, it’s too soon for her to hook up. If I keep that same ending, I have a huge hole in the book, not just a lack of about 25,000 words, but a lack of character growth. You can’t have a woman whining and crying and screaming for most of a book, and then suddenly, it’s over with. What a cheat for the reader! If you suffer through all that sorrow, you need a bigger payoff. (Of course, in life there generally is no payoff, but in a story, there needs to be.)

So, this is what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks when I haven’t been blogging — trying to figure out how to dig myself out of the hole. No success yet. Although I wanted to finish this book, I might have to set it aside when I get all those original chapters typed up and inserted into the proper place in the story. You can’t survive with a hole in your heart where love once lived, and a book can’t survive with a hole in its heart, either. I do have a cyber romance for her. I suppose I could fill that out a bit. I also have a a mystery about why her husband has a gun — I suppose I could fill that out too.

But still, the hole is there.

Could it be because I still have a hole inside me? If so, there’s not much I can do about it. Apparently, that hole is here for good.

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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.

If You Want To Help Me, Buy My Books!

People often say that helping others makes you feel better, and it’s true, you do feel better. I used to try to help people, but then a rebellious thought hit me. Wasn’t it a bit arrogant to assume we know what other people needed? Has anyone asked the ones who are helped how they feel about receiving such help? Sure, in dire situations like the Louisiana floods, people rally around, as they should. But in everyday matters? Shouldn’t we wait to be asked before we decide someone needs to be helped? I’ve seen situations where the elderly are “helped” into being dependent, and the quality of their lives diminishes dramatically. Sometimes people no matter what their age rebel at a being given a helping hand, preferring to do for themselves. Which is at it should be.

I was perusing blog posts this morning, when I came across a post that mentioned me. The blogger referred to an open letter to blog readers I’d written where I said “So what if I still have a hard time being around coupled people? That’s my problem, not yours. So what if I still feel lonely and sorrowful after six years? That too is my problem, not yours. The truth is, missing one’s mate is something that lasts a lifetime. Think of all the good things (and bad) you have experienced during the past six years of your couplehood. Well, guess what? I haven’t had any of those experiences. I have done a lot of interesting things, but no matter what I do, what I experience, how I grow or stagnate, I do alone because my mate is gone. And if that still affects me, what difference does it make to you?”

I didn’t think I sounhandsded needy in that post, and I certainly didn’t feel needy. (Exasperated, maybe, but not needy.) Apparently, though, the blogger was upset that some of my friends still expected me to get over Jeff’s death and move on. Which was fine — I didn’t mind her being upset even though I wasn’t particularly bothered by what my friends said, especially since that wasn’t the gist of my article. (The gist was that I am a writer. Everything anyone does to me or around me belongs to me and provides ink for my pen.) What upset me was the conclusion to her post where she wrote that she and a couple of partners were starting a business and how they “wanted our business to help people like Pat.”

I’ve been online friends with this woman ever since we fell into the grief maelstrom about the same time, so I understand her desire to help others, but her assumption that I needed help made me uneasy. Diminished me. As if I she thought I couldn’t handle my life.

Her post reminded me of the beginning of my grief cycle, where people would write and say they wished they could take my pain away, or that they bled for me. I hated that. My grief is my own. I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. I don’t need help, not that kind.

Right after Jeff died, a lot of people offered to help, but they wanted to help by giving advice. The one person who really did help found out I was defeated by the thought of cleaning that big house by myself before I moved out, so she showed up with a friend and carload of cleaning supplies and spent an entire day cleaning. Now, that’s help! But other kinds of help? No. I’m not interested, thank you. Unless you want to buy my books, of course.

Truly, if you want to offer me a helping hand, buy my books! Write reviews of my books. Do something to promote my books. What I need is a living, and since I am a writer, I would prefer to make a living from my books.

The rest of my life, for now anyway, I’m handling just fine on my own.

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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.”)