Four Years and Eleven Months of Grief

Today marks four years and eleven months since my life mate/soul mate died. Next month it will be five years. I haven’t been actively mourning the entire time he’s been gone so the title is misleading on that account, but the world changed forever when he left, catapulting me into a world of grief that will always be a part of me.

These lonely years seem unfathomable to me on so many levels.

Unfathomable that I have survived the horrendous pain and angst of grief that made it impossible to catch my breath at times.

Unfathomable that I’ve managed to live without him.

Unfathomable that I am still here.

Unfathomable that I still get up every morning.

Unfathomable that I have found much happiness, and unfathomable that I still am beset by sadness.

Unfathomable that I smile so easily and unfathomable that I am just as easily brought to tears.

Unfathomable that he’s been gone so long — it seems just a few months ago we made our final goodbyes.

Unfathomable that he was ever a part of my life — our life together seems like a faded dream.

Unfathomable that I will not be going home to him now that I no longer have to look after my father.

Unfathomable that the world continues to spin, the sun to shine, the moon to glow, the winds to blow.

Unfathomable all the nevers —  never see him again, never see his smile, never hear his voice, never cook another meal with him, never watch another movie with him, never discuss another book, never . . . never . . . never . . .

Unfathomable that I still yearn for him.

Unfathomable.

GTGYwp

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Curiosity, the Passive Cousin of Passion

I hear a lot of talk about passion. Characters, of course, are supposed to be passionate. Apparently, passion is what makes a character compelling and memorable. Who can forget Scarlett O’Hara, with her overweening and narcissistic passion? Like her or hate her, people find it hard to look away. Her passions make her the center of attention for everyone, including herself. Well, everyone except for me. Her passion exhausts me.

We living characters are exhorted to be passionate also, to embrace life and follow our passions, which sounds like good advice for those with high levels of energy. I am too phlegmatic to be truly passionate, though I have my moments, particularly when unfairness comes into play. I despise unfairness. Yeah, I know — life is unfair, but why should it be? Is that a natural law of the universe? Thou shalt be unfair? But I digress. As you can tell by the title of this post, the topic is not unfairness or even passion, but curiosity.

Curiosity is every bit as important a motivator as passion when it comes to life and reading. I am not one for romance novels. The passion is not to my taste, and there isn’t much curiosity involved. You know the characters will get together if the story is a category romance. And you know they won’t get together if the story is not a category romance. Did Lara and Dr. Zhivago get together? Did Cathy and Heathcliff? Did Scarlett and Rhett? (As an aside, you and I would never use such spellings of names. Double tees for both major characters? How coincidental — and cutesy — can you get?)

I’ve always been motivated by curiosity, the passive cousin of passion. When it comes to reading, I want to know who did it, how they did it, why they did it. Curiosity has often kept me reading far into the night.

Desert pathsIt’s the same with life. During the long years of grief for my life mate/soul mate, it was curiosity that kept me going. (I describe him as my soul mate for lack of a better term. Despite the passion such a term might seem to invoke, we were not passionate people, not romantic, not even especially happy, but we were connected — for good and bad — on what seemed to be a cosmic level. Of course, for all I know, it could have been a folie à deux.)

I once wrote: I called for you when I was out walking in the desert today, but you didn’t answer. Well, of course you didn’t answer — you’re dead.

I kept walking, following the winding road wherever it took me. No view on the road was different from another. The road didn’t lead to any particular place. The point was just to go. To see. And so it is with my life right now. I have no real reason to do anything. There is no meaning in my life, no reason to live except for curiosity.

Since his death, I’ve often wondered what will happen to me. Where would life take me? Who would I turn out to be now that I am . . . just me? That same curiosity will continue to keep me going into whatever future there may be.

When I researched long-term walking, I came across mention of a woman who called herself the Peace Pilgrim. In her forties, the Peace Pilgrim responded to a spiritual awakening by getting rid of everything she owned, and setting out on foot to promote peace. She traveled for tens of thousands of miles with only the clothes on her back and a pen, toothbrush, comb, and map in her pockets.

I envy the belief, focus, and agenda that allowed her to travel so lightly. I’m not sure I am capable of the sort of belief it takes to travel with nothing but the clothes on my back. Don’t have an agenda, either, but as a friend told me, “I don’t think you need belief or agenda…seems to me you just need curiosity!”

Yep. Curiosity. Not passion, just curiosity. The need to see what is around the next bend. If I’m lucky and willing to take risks, the power of curiosity could lead me into a lot of adventure!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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 and a Need for Adventure

For the past few years, I’ve had an overwhelming desire for adventure, especially some grand and epic journey that would change me forever. I’ve noticed this same trait in others of my grief “age group,” those of us who lost our soul mates around the same time. Apparently, our psyches believe that only something great and powerful and life affirming (or death defying) can offset the terrible loss we suffered. This feeling isn’t reserved for just our group of course, but since we’ve suffered a similar loss within a few months of each other, the phases we all go through are more apparent to me.

For some people, the desire for an epic adventure dissipates as their grief dissipates. For example, I have a friend who’s been grieving the end of a love affair for the past couple of years, and although she’s been going through this same need for adventure, she now seems to have reached both an acceptance of her loss and a readiness to resume life on a more prosaic level. She wants to write and do art, which are adventures of their own, but both seem to demand some sort of settled life so the artist can pursue those adventures on art’s own terms.

campingMe? I’m not there yet. Although it seems as if I’m unequipped physically for great feats of endurance, such as an epic walk, I’m not ready to accept the idea of a settled life. In my case, I’m not sure it’s still about a need for adventure so much as a need for a simpler life. What could be simpler than taking a walk? One foot in front of the other. That’s all you need to do. At least, that’s the way it appears on the surface. The more I research, the more complicated such a life becomes. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. In desert states, sometimes you have to walk fifty to a hundred miles before coming upon a water source. At a half gallon of water and five to ten miles a day, that means a minimum load of forty pounds just of water. Add to that food, shelter (tent), sleeping system, rain gear, emergency kit, change of clothes. No wonder people who walk across the country push or pull carts so they can haul the necessities. Or they walk with nothing, and trust in the journey to supply what they need. I have no interest in a cart, and no ability to surrender to trust, so here I sit, journeying on my computer, dreaming as yet impossible dreams.

People keep asking me if I had inherited this house if I would continue living here. I always say no just because owning this house was never an option, but the truth is, I probably would stay out of inertia. If you have a place to live, it’s much harder to uproot yourself than if life uproots you. But eventually I’d have to leave because I don’t have the wherewithal to keep up such a house. Nor could I handle the stress of upkeep. Most of my recent stresses and dramas have centered around this house. Alarms chirping, things breaking down, things needing to be fixed, replaced, cleaned, packed. Things. Other stresses and dramas have centered around my computer and car. More things. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as a caretaker of things. I want more from life than . . . things. (I’ve considered joining the tiny house movement, but again, although on the surface, owning a tiny house seems simple, in the end it’s as complicated as owning a big house. )

I have dance commitments through the end of May, so whether the house sells or not, I’ll be staying in this area at least that long. (Jazz and belly dance performances in March, Hawaiian and Tahitian performances in May.) And then? More dancing, probably. I still have much to learn that dancing can teach me. I’m considering renting a room in a house, which would give me more unsettledness than an apartment lease. Besides, considering the non-credit I have, never having borrowed money or owned a credit card, it’s almost impossible for me to rent a place.

I have way too many things for a simple life, but to simplify my life, I’ll be putting it all in storage. That way I won’t have to be burdened with those things, but will have them whenever I need them.

I do know I will do something. I’ll have to. My mother died at eighty-five and my father at ninety-seven, though there’s no saying whether I will live as long as either one of them did. (My immediately younger brother died nine years ago from brain cancer.) Still, there is a possibility of my living for decades still. I will have to do something during all those years, and whatever that something might be, I’m sure it will be an adventure because life itself is an adventure.

***

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

Life is a Present

Someone reminded me the other day that life is a gift. Someone else told me that my deceased life mate/soul mate is in a better place. The juxtaposition of these two ideas used to perplex me. If life is a gift, why was it denied him? If he is in a better place, why am I here? I don’t think about this conundrum any more, at least not much. Somewhere along the line I conceded that he might have gotten the better end of the deal. (It was easier to accept his death that way than to think he was missing out.)

gift2Life, with all its pain and trauma, seems a dubious gift at best. It’s more like a present, something that was presented to us whether we wanted it or not. Or like a presence: being present (being here now) in the present (this moment).

Considering all the possible gamete connections, it’s amazing that any of us are here. (Though I suppose it’s like the lottery. Someone will win the lottery even though the possibility of any one person winning it is astronomically small.) Our presence could be deemed a gift, yet there is the matter of pain and trauma, angst and ill health, grief and stress and old age, along with all the trials of everyday life. (There’s no need to mention joy or wealth or friendship or any of the other wonders of life — we know those are gifts without ever having to look for a bright side since they are the bright side.)

Perhaps the gift of life is emotion — joy and sadness, laughter and tears and all of the thousand other emotions that we humans experience, both pleasant and unpleasant.

When my profound grief over the death of my soul mate started to wane, I missed it, as odd as that might seem. There was something so very immense about such grief, as if I were standing on the edge of eternity, one foot poised above the abyss. I also missed the constant life lessons grief taught me about myself, about will and survival, even about the workings of our bodies. Would I choose to feel such grief for the rest of my life? Of course not, though knowing I will always have upsurges of sorrow doesn’t bother me like it used to. Mostly, I am grateful I was able to feel such grief and to honor his life in such a way.

It’s rather a literary cliché, one that most of us have come to believe, that the more intelligent a person or species is, the less emotional. Mr. Spock from Star Trek and Lucy from the recent movie Lucy are two such examples. But what if this belief is not true? What if emotion is a form of intelligence, and the more emotional we are the more intelligent? Are ants emotional? Are cockroaches or rats or cows? I don’t think so. Some animals do feel some sort of emotion, but no other creature can experience the range of feeling we do.

(Even if emotion isn’t a gift, it probably has some sort of survival mechanism because otherwise, why would emotion have developed?)

Not even all humans feel emotion. Sociopaths don’t feel emotions, or if they do, the emotions are very shallow. (There could be 30,000 non-killing sociopaths for every murderous sociopath, so this is a fairly common emotional disorder. See: Your Mother-in-Law, the Sociopath.)

So perhaps life is a gift after all, including all the parts like pain and sorrow that we would just as soon live without.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter 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.

Lady of Leisure

I knew that once there was a break in my blog-a-day routine, I’d have a hard time getting back here, and so it is. (Or was.)

Life has hijacked me, and even after the computer problem seemed to be fixed, doing any sort of blog put too much pressure on me. It was easier just to let it slide, but I stole a couple of hours tonight to bring you current with my ridiculous life.

Not only have I been on the phone late into the night on two different occasions with a computer technician, I’ve been spending most of my days emptying cabinets and cupboards in preparation for the cleaning crew who was here yesterday. (The window cleaning crew was here, also, which added to the commotion, but at least I didn’t have to do anything to prepare for their arrival.)

The ways of grief are strange. I was doing fine cleaning out my father’s stuff until I came upon a glass I had put in the cupboard. I hadn’t been able to decide what to do with the item when I was packing my own glassware, so I put it in my dad’s cabinet sort of as a joke for whichever of my family would be clearing out my father’s “effects.” I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me I would be the one for the task. And seeing that glass sent me spiraling into grief.

I emailed my siblings: This is the second time I had to clear out the possessions of someone who died. When Jeff died, there was no one else, so I had no choice but to do it myself, but this time, there are a whole slew of you. Not one of you volunteered to help. Yes, I know, you all have lives, but still it would have been nice for someone to at least acknowledge that the task needed to be done. It simply was not fair.

It’s all done except for the tears. The only thing left in the house is the furniture, but that will stay here until the house is sold.

I hope none of you ever have to deal with this emotionally taxing chore that I’ve now had to deal with twice.

Maybe that wasn’t a nice message to have sent, but I was too exhausted both emotionally and physically to care about niceties.

I’ve also had to deal with chirping alarms — both smoke and burglar; bills that aren’t forwarded where they are supposed to go, nasty customer reps who won’t answer simple questions such as if we could enclose a photo of the bill with payment rather than the bill itself, and a hundred other small tasks.

And, of course, there is the matter of my recently unreliable 43-year-old VW. Because I didn’t want to risk the car breaking down during the weekend, on Sunday I hiked seven miles round trip to the nearest grocery store to get oven cleaner since the cleaners don’t carry it with them. Add in a few comestibles, and I ended up carrying a five-pound pack on the trip back. Five pounds is not much, but it totally wiped me out. Puts sort of a damper on the idea of my taking an epic walk. Truth be told, that hike to the grocery store seemed pretty epic to me!

On the bright side:

1) My computer seems to be fixed. Even after they cleaned my caches, uninstalled and reinstalled the antivirus program, there were problems, but shutting down the computer every night instead of just leaving it in sleep mode has made a big difference. The way the computer guy explained it, the computer runs on memory, and sometimes bits of the memory get tied up and become unusable, so restarting the computer resets the memory and makes more of it usable. That could be computer speak for “I haven’t a clue what is wrong with your computer, but if it works when you shut it down every night, then do it.”

2) Except for the furniture, my father’s stuff has been disposed of. All cupboards, closets, drawers, cabinets are empty. The house is so clean it looks new, (except for the carpets, but that’s next week’s task). The windows, screens, sills, shutters are all clean. And best of all is knowing I will never again have to deal with the effects of a newly dead loved one.

4) It will give me great pleasure to discontinue Charter Communications when the house is sold. They are almost as unpleasant as Microsoft folks. (Though no one, so far as I know is as unpleasant as MS people. During my computer troubles, the computer guy suggested I contact Microsoft for help on a particular registry issue. One MS person couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to understand, and when I asked her to repeat what she said, she hung up on me; another said they would help but demanded money; and third spent more time on a hard sell for some sort of protection plan than they did listening to my description of the trouble. Thank heavens for System Restore! It made the MS people redundant.)

3) I found a VW guy who specializes in air-cooled engine bugs! Yay! I have an appointment with him in two weeks. He already knows what the problem could be — the coil combined with cheap parts from the auto parts store rather than the real thing. (Bosch being the real thing, apparently.) He’ll give my car the shake test (as I understand it, they literally shake the car), and check to see if it’s worth keeping.

Several people (well, two) have told me that so much going wrong is indicative of a major shift in energy, and that breakdowns could be a sign of breakthroughs. I suppose it’s possible, and I would like to think they are right. All I know is I am exhausted.

I still have a lot of work to do — I didn’t finish packing my stuff, just threw the stuff from my cabinets and drawers in boxes to make it easy for the workers to deep clean, and I now I can’t find anything, so now I have to unpack and repack. And I still have several unfinished projects to do before I become that fabled creature — a lady of leisure.

If all goes well, I’ll be back here again tomorrow. I hope you are doing 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.

The Kindness of Strangers

Grief — or it could be self-pity — always seems to catch me unaware. I’ve been having good days recently, feeling that the universe is smiling on me, so today’s brief bout of tears was especially unexpected.

I’ve been doing a few small chores for my father’s estate — getting an electrician to fix the chirping smoke alarm on the 15-foot-high ceiling, clearing out a few more of my father’s things, scheduling an estimate for the carpet and tile cleaning. I was fine during all that, fine even when I closed out my father’s account, but on the drive back to the house from the bank, I could barely see the road for the tears.

heavenAlthough my father’s death didn’t devastate me like the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, it has had its traumatic moments. It’s difficult — and bewildering — to dismantle a person’s life, even a person who owned as few personal things as my father did. The person is gone, but their “effects” linger long afterward. Someone has to dispose of them, and since I am in the house, that chore has devolved upon me. (I suppose I could have left it for someone else to do, but during the past few years, I was the one most immediately involved in his life, so that in addition to propinquity makes me the logical person for the job.)

Closing out his bank account shouldn’t have been any more difficult than the rest of the tasks, but it was, perhaps because it means one less connection to my life here and ultimately to my past. Or maybe because the people at the bank were so nice to me. Since I was an equal signatory with my father on the account, they thought the money should go to me instead of my father’s estate. When I explained that legally the money didn’t belong to me, they made sure I had copies of the paperwork and urged me to keep them for my protection.

So few people have paid attention to me during these months my father has been gone, including those who told me they would owe me forever for taking care of him, it’s like I died with him. I’m not the only one who lost a father, of course, but most of my siblings’ lives will not be changed appreciably by his death — they still have their husbands and wives, still have their homes, still have . . . whatever it is that they have. But my life is in upheaval once more because of death.

The neighbors, who loved my father, have been snubbing me for the past three months because although I told them he died and made sure they could say goodbye as he left the house for the last time, I somehow neglected to tell them when the funeral was. It just never even occurred to me. His obituary was in the local paper and even though they knew where to find me, they never asked. Never stopped by to see how I was doing, either. Never expressed an interest in what was going to happen to me. And yet, devastated as I was by the rapid turn of events surrounding his death and my renewed grief for Jeff, somehow I was supposed to put them foremost in my mind. Oh, my.

No wonder the kindness of strangers brought me to tears.

Tomorrow, I will be back to my determined optimism, will be back to feeling maybe the universe is unfolding as it should be, will be back to believing wonder and joy await me, but tonight I will honor my dead with a few more tears laced, perhaps, with a touch of self-pity.

***

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

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 445

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Although this letter was written three and a half years ago, it reflects much of what I am thinking about now. My father recently died, and now I am facing what I could only think about back then — the vast open plain of the future before me.

I am packing to leave this house and go . . . I know not where. I’ll probably stay around here for a while. I have made new friends after those referred to in this letter disappeared out of my life, and it just occurred to me that I can speak about all of my concerns to at least one of those women. It’s nice and helps offset the loneliness that still hits me every evening.

And oh, yes. I still keep hoping for major changes — good changes.

###

Day 445, Hi, Jeff.

I’ve been going through an upsurge of grief, missing you so damn much. It stuns me, like a snake stunned by a rock thrown at it, to think I’ll never see you again. You’d think I’d have come to an accommodation with that, but such ”acceptance” of that fact does not bring acceptance of what it means — death for you, loneliness for me.

Life involves people, doesn’t it? I’m trying to “people” my life, but it’s not the same thing as being connected to one specific person. We were often lonely even when we were together, but this loneliness is incomprehensible. I’m considering staying here after my father dies because at least I know people here, but so many of the people I have met, especially those from my grief group, have already faded from my life. And if the rest disappear, then what?

It should be exciting to have the vast open plain of the future before me, but all I see is bleakness and aloneness. I have no one to talk to about my concerns. I don’t know how to cope with that. I keep hoping for major changes (good changes), but all that seems to be happening is a slow descent into inevitability.

I hope you’re not lonely. I couldn’t bear that.

***

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

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 435

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Although this letter was written three and a half years ago, it reflects so much of what I am thinking about now. My father recently died, and I am packing to leave his house and go . . . I know not where. I am trying to hope for some sort of great new life, but it’s easier not to hope, and just take each day as it comes.

Luckily, I have discovered dance. I am taking dance classes, and those classes give my life a semblance of meaning, bring me friendship and joy, and fill the emptiness. For now, it’s something to hang on to.

###

Day 435, Hi, Jeff.

Another Saturday. I’m tearing up again, though I’m not sure why. Loneliness, I guess. Feeling sorry for myself. I need to get on with my life, concentrate on myself. But how lonely is that? Perhaps it’s better to have no hope. Just try to take the days as they come. It sounds a lot easier than it is. The damn emotions get in the way.

Will this sorrow ever end? Will anything good ever happen to me? Do you miss me? Do you still exist? Will I ever love again? Will anyone ever love me? Is this all there is — this emptiness? I can fill the emptiness with doing things — reading, writing, walking, whatever comes my way — but as soon as I stop concentrating on the “fill,” the emptiness shows up again.

I need something to hold on to. I need something concrete to build my life on, but there isn’t anything but maybe survival. Survival — that’s what your life ended up being about. Is that all there is? Survival until there is no more survival?

How did you manage to survive as well as you did? Was it worth it living with such pain? I guess, in the end, there isn’t really a choice. You have to play out the hand you’re given. Damn. I wish I weren’t so lonely. I might be able to deal with your being gone if not for that. And I really should be able to deal with it. For cripes sake, I am not a child.

What a mess my life is, well, if emptiness can be called a mess. I wish I cared about something. I wish I could talk to you. I wish you weren’t dead. I wish you hadn’t been so sick for so long.

Maybe I’m being insensitive, whining about my life when you no longer have a life. But then, maybe you got the better end of the deal. I hope so.

I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

As Long As We Are Alive, We Are Alive

During the last months of my life mate/soul mate’s life, his brain was so riddled with cancer, he lost the ability to hold a thought long to enough to have a conversation, so his communications seemed more like lectures than exchanges. I remember bristling during those lectures — gritting my teeth and clenching my fists. It seemed as if he were being paternalistic, as if he didn’t trust me to take care of myself.

I knew he was ill, of course, though at the time, I didn’t know how bad off he really was. He’d been ailing for so long, I thought that’s the way it would always be, his getting weaker and weaker, maybe for many more years. But he died, shocking me to my core. And then guilt and regret descended on me. How could I not have listened to every single word he spoke during the time of his dying? How could I not have treasured his concern for me? How could I have been so impatient, so irritable, so resistant to what he had to say?

In the five years since Jeff’s death, I’ve worked through my guilt and regrets, even came to the realization that it wasn’t he I was resisting but his dying. Still, it wasn’t until my father’s death when my personal history repeated itself that I truly understood the dynamics of what had happened between Jeff and me. (In the case of my father’s last days, he wasn’t lecturing me so much as expecting to be waited on, and I simply did not want to do for him what he could do for himself.)

In my writing, I’ve been calling the last months of both men’s lives “the time of his dying,” but it was only their “dying” in retrospect. It was actually still a time of living for them, which makes my less than perfect behavior understandable. We were still involved in our relationships and roles, and it was only death that made my reactions seem horrific. If they both had continued to live, of course I could not have tolerated spending many years being lectured to or being expected to wait on someone who was able to do things for himself. These are just normal conflicts of living. And though they dying, they were still alive. Still living. And so was I.

I remember crying to the hospice social worker after Jeff died, lamenting his ill health. “He never had much of a life,” I wailed. She said, “He had a life. Being sick was his life.”

It seemed like such a terrible thing to say, but now I understand what she meant — that he was alive until he wasn’t.

This is one case where understanding can’t change anything. If I am ever thrust into such a situation again, I’d still do the same thing — carry on as if the person were alive and going to be alive for a long time. The one change will be that I won’t have regrets. Although my regrets over Jeff loomed large, I have no regrets over anything I did or did not do for my father. We were involved in playing out our roles the best way we could up to the end. And there is nothing to regret in that, nothing to feel guilty about.

I did learn something from both men, though, and that is to live until the very end. As long as we are alive, we are alive.

***

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

We Are Not Our Stuff

Strange day today. I packed what was left of Jeff’s things, both the items he asked me to save and the items I still can’t get rid of such as the sweater he was wearing when we met and his “new” jacket. I’ve had his antique perpetual perpetual calendarcalendar and several of the smaller items on my dresser ever since I got here to my father’s house. They brought me comfort then, and I thought I would feel sad now that they are packed away, but it just seems part of the process of my moving on.

Only two things caught me off guard. I have two original copies of his death certificate, and I opened the envelope to pull out one so I could put it with my papers to make it more accessible if I need it, and in the envelope I found the certificate of cremation. Did I ever read it? Did I ever know it was there? I can’t remember, but oh, the pain when I read those stark words today. “This is to certify that the remains of ____________ were cremated by authority of Pat Bertram.” Cripes. Even worse was the label they gave me to put on the urn if I ever traveled with those remains: This package contains the remains of _______________ whose body was cremated on March 31, 2010. Apparently, it’s illegal to travel with unmarked human remains. Well, that’s just too bad. One of these days, I will figure out what to do with those remains, and I sincerely doubt I will be labeling him (it? them?) like a commonplace parcel. (Unless you are on the human remains regulatory committee, then of course I will be labeling them.)

But the pain of dealing with his remains is reserved for another day. Today, after I packed up what is left of his possessions, I hesitated, not sure how to label the box. If he were alive, of course, I’d just put his name on the carton, but I didn’t want it to seem (even to me) as if he were inside that box. We are not our stuff. In the end, I just wrote, “J’s things.”

One amusing note (amusing to me, anyway). When I came here after Jeff’s death, a local mover gave me a great rate since his driver was going to be passing this town, and he had empty space in his moving van. I asked him if he would come pick the stuff up when I was ready to leave, and mentioned that there would be less to move back. He laughed and said, “That’s what everyone says, that they are going to get rid of things, but they always end up with more.” Not me. I have done a good job of getting rid of stuff. By the time I figure out where I want the stuff moved, I hope I will have gotten rid of even more.

***

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

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