What Would You Like Included in a Book About Grief?

It seems as if I am being pulled back into the world of grief, not because I am having upsurges of grief, but because other people are discovering my grief posts and my grief book. Also, I have been talking to friends as they go through their grief upsurges, and at the same time, I am getting emails from newly bereft people who have read Grief: The Great Yearning, a sort of memoir about my first year of grief. (I wonder if I am the only author who cries every time I get a letter from a reader. I am glad they contact me, but oh, so much sorrow!)

As if this weren’t enough of a pull, people have begun suggesting that I write another book of grief, sort of a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, but from the perspective of eight years later. (At one time, I’d considered doing a sequel focusing on the second, third, and maybe fourth year called Grief: The Great Learning, but I didn’t have enough to say to fill even a small book.)

This isn’t something I can start today — I need to finish that decade-old manuscript first, then I have my trip to Seattle, and finally a dance performance. But by the beginning of June, I will have cleared out all my obligations, and would have time — both calendar time and mental time — to start a new project.

If I do undertake such a project, what aspects of grief would you like to see included in the book?

Is there a particular one (or many) of my grief blog posts you’d like to see expanded for the book? (For those of you who have already offered suggestions, I will be going through the comments and emails to find those suggestions if you don’t want to repeat yourself here.)

Are there any aspects of my life, such as my penchant for adventures, that should be included? Because a need for adventure is part of the grief process, not just for me, but for many folks. It’s as if once our lives are turned upside down, only undertaking something challenging helps get us back on a new track.

By its very nature (or rather, the very nature of the author), the book won’t be a practical guide for getting through grief, won’t offer platitudes or comfort except of the roughest kind (such as telling people what they already know — that grief is impossibly hard). There are certainly enough grief self-help books on the market, and anyway, I don’t have anything to offer along those lines. I think what I do have to offer is a safe place for people to explore their own grief, maybe even offer something for them to compare themselves to. (All grief is different, but for those who have suffered the same sort of profound loss, such as the death of soul mate, grief does tend to follow the same patterns.)

I hope I’m ready for such a project. At least it will be non-fiction, so I won’t have to relive grief through my characters like I did for Unfinished. That just about did me in!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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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Free Review Copy of Unfinished

Stairway Press has just informed me they have review copies of UNFINISHED to give away! If you would like to review this novel about the secrets a grieving widow uncovers when she goes through her deceased husband’s effects, please leave a comment on this blog. Reviews are to be posted on Amazon and at least one other place, such as your blog if you have one, Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. Stairway Press would also like permission to post the review on their website.

The review doesn’t have to be brilliant, just a few words to tell your honest opinion of the book and how it made you feel.

If you’ve already read the book, and have not left a review, please leave a review on Amazon. As Stairway Press said to me in a recent email, “Your book is good. It should please readers and fan word-of-mouth flames. But, it’s just sitting there looking at us as if it expects us to do something.”

So, let’s do something! Even if you don’t want to review the book, please share this post so that it can reach as many people as possible. Thank you.

Click on the cover below to read the first chapter and see if Unfinished is something you’d like to read and review.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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 Am an Eight-Year Grief Survivor

Today is the eighth anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate. How is this possible? I remember that after Jeff died, eight minutes seemed like a lifetime, eight hours almost an eternity, eight months incomprehensible. But eight years? Totally unthinkable and unimaginable. How did I survive such sorrow? How do any of us survive?

Actually, I do know the answer to that — we survive one agonizing breath at a time.

The miracle of grief is that the pain does lessen over the years, but I truly don’t see how it can — every year that passes is one more year I did not have with him, everything I do is one more thing I could not do with him, every thought is one more thought I could not share with him.

During these past eight years, most people continued on with their shared lives — happy and sad, arguing and making up, in sickness and in health — and I, and all my brothers and sisters in sorrow, kept going somehow, trying to find a place to set first one shaky foot and then another in our suddenly broken and bleak lives.

Over and over, we had to listen to people tell us to move on, and yet, after their sometimes compassionate, sometimes irritated words, those people went home to their husbands and wives, and we went into our sad and empty rooms, apartments, houses to be faced again — and again and again — with the knowledge that who we loved was gone, what we had was gone, what we needed was gone, what we hoped for was gone. All gone.

Incredibly, I have become used to the goneness. Incredibly, I have moments of happiness. Incredibly, I have even come to like being alone. And yet, I wish I didn’t have to do this anymore, this building a life from scratch, this living without him. Sometimes I want desperately to go home to him. If not that, then see him one more time in the flesh. Be warmed by one more smile. Hear one more word.

For those of you who are still comfortably married, how long has it been since you saw your husband or wife. Eight hours? Eight minutes? Eight seconds?

Well, it’s been eight years since I last saw Jeff. Eight years (and five days) since I last talked to the one person who understood me fully, the one person I never had to explain myself to, the one person who shared my sense of humor, my sense of honor, my sense of history.

Eight years. What was totally unthinkable and unimaginable in the beginning remains totally unthinkable and unimaginable.

For those newly inducted into this hall of horrors, I hope you will find comfort in knowing that a person can survive, find a sense of renewal, maybe even find  new dreams.

For those of you who have friends and family who still mourn their deceased spouses, next time you want to tell them to get over it or move on, think about how long it’s been since you saw your spouse and think how long it’s been since they saw theirs.

Eight minutes. Eight hours. Eight days. Eight months. Eight years. It’s all the same. Grief truly knows no time.

The one thing that does change, the one thing that makes the goneness bearable is us. Grief gradually changes each of us bereft into a person who can survive the loss, but that change brings with it another loss to grieve — the loss of the old self.

Have I spent the totality of the past eight years drowning in tears and sorrow? Of course not. The person who was born when Jeff died has never shared her life with another. That person has always been alone, done things alone, developed into a strong person, gained some wisdom. But the person she left behind is still grieving, and last night, the grieving woman came to visit, bringing her endless tears, her great yearning, her profound loss.

And we comforted each other — the woman who died when Jeff did and the woman who was born eight years ago into the world of grief — as we kept vigil until his time of death.

Eight years. Unfathomable.

After last night’s tearfulness, today I gathered my courage and valiantly began my ninth year without him.

And so it goes.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home

When I was young, my favorite song was Joe South’s “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home.” Back then, the lyrics spoke to me of poignancy, change, and the way growth was destroying the special places in the world.

Now, I couldn’t bear to listen to the song. It would speak to me of grief, of loss, of my inability to ever go home again. And oh, I do so want to go home!

This is an especially hard time for me because I am nearing the eighth anniversary of Jeff’s death. I’ve been holding on to myself, not giving in to sadness, (or rather, not welcoming it), just trying to take life as it comes.

Well, today at dance class, life came hard. After we’d practiced the dance we’re learning for a performance, the others were standing around talking about the dance and how to do things or change things or something unimportant like that.  So I took the opportunity to step outside and scratch myself discreetly. As I left, one woman called after me as if I were doing something wrong, “Pat, don’t be like that.”

Well, I scratched, took a few deep cleansing breaths, and went back inside to where a couple of the women were talking about me. Then the teacher lectured us on how there is no animosity in dance class.

Huh? Animosity? The only animosity I felt today was against this itch that won’t go away. Through ballet class and then belly dance class, I’d barely said anything to anyone, just minded my own business, and for what?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore, but I still don’t know where to go, still don’t know how to create a new life. Still don’t know how to earn a living. (I’ve always hoped I’d be able to make a living with my books, but I can’t even give them away.)

I just know I want to go home and there is no home to go home to. Jeff was my home. He’s gone, and I am just so damn tired of it. I’ve done very well with my meager resources all these years, finding renewal, finding a dream, even finding joy at times, but still, he’s dead.

I spend a lot of time counseling grief-stricken folks — sometimes just through this blog, sometimes through email or phone conversations, and I always tell people the truth. That it is almost impossibly hard. That they will always miss him/her. That they will find renewal, though it might take many years.

What I’ve never said is that the one thing you never get over is being tired of their being dead. How can you? Although your efforts through time do make things better, it’s the passing of time that continues to make things hard, because every year that goes by is another year they’ve been gone, another year you’ve had to live without them.

Luckily, this month is more than half over, and every day that brings me closer to the anniversary also brings me closer to my May trip. I can’t make changes until after the trip since I won’t know until then if any sort of epic hike is possible, so I’m sort of just hanging in there by the tips of my fingers. Holding myself together the best as I can.

But oh, I’m so tired of having to do any of this.

If I could just go home for a little while . . .

But I can’t.

Dammit.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Reviewers Wanted!

Stairway Press has just informed me they have review copies of UNFINISHED to give away! If you would like to review this novel about the secrets a grieving widow uncovers when she goes through her deceased husband’s effects, please leave a comment on this blog. Reviews are to be posted on Amazon and at least one other place, such as your blog if you have one, Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. Stairway Press would also like permission to post the review on their website.

The review doesn’t have to be brilliant, just a few words to tell your honest opinion of the book and how it made you feel.

If you’ve already read the book, and have not left a review, please leave a review on Amazon. As Stairway Press said to me in a recent email, “Your book is good. It should please readers and fan word-of-mouth flames. But, it’s just sitting there looking at us as if it expects us to do something.”

So, let’s do something! Even if you don’t want to review the book, please share this post so that it can reach as many people as possible. Thank you.

Click on the cover below to read the first chapter and see if Unfinished is something you’d like to read and review.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

My Life After All

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that I’ve been ambivalent about taking dance classes lately. I still love dancing, but now frustration and unhappiness seem to occur more often than joy. It’s not just having to deal with people I don’t want in my life, it’s also feeling that I’m living someone else’s life. I’m not sure why I feel this way after all these years of classes, though I suppose it has a lot to do with my never having had any inclination to be a dancer, not having any natural aptitude for dance, being too heavy for grace, and lacking musicality. I suppose it has even more to do with my sinking back into myself after Jeff’s death catapulted me to hell and beyond, and so I feel more myself than I have in ages, and “myself” is … well, not a dancer, which makes me feel more and more like an imposter. (Oddly, I dance more than I write, but I consider myself a writer even when I don’t write.)

And, of course, there’s my dubious financial situation, which adds even more ambivalence to the issue because I really should be working rather than depleting my savings on ungainful activities.

It’s no wonder then, that I woke the other morning with these words echoing in my post-dream-state brain: You can teach an elephant to dance, but that doesn’t make her a dancer.

Still, I have the strange idea that I can get stronger, more agile, and more balanced by combining the dance classes with the backpacking saunters, and before I settle down to some ridiculous job, I want a chance to see what I can do physically.

If I am ambivalent about dancing, it’s nothing compared to my ambivalence about long distance backpacking. Even if by some miracle, sheer determination, or a combination of the two, I am able to carry the weight I need, it’s still remains to be seen if my body will cooperate.

For example, I’d been feeling a pinch in one knee occasionally when I went uphill and a pinch in the other when I went downhill, so I researched how to walk downhill properly, and then my knees really started to hurt! Apparently, the advice was all wrong for me. It was more for powering down a hill rather than saving one’s knees. So now that I’ve found the right “right way” (hypothetically, by shifting weight side to side as you walk downhill, you use more hamstrings than quadriceps, which helps keep the muscles in balance and protects the cartilage), we’ll see if I can keep from destroying my knees.

Still, ambivalent or not, living my life or a borrowed life, I plan to keep moving ahead with the combined strength and agility training. And maybe, someday, whatever I end up doing will feel like it’s my life after all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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’s Gravity

I’ve had requests to continue writing about grief, but the truth is, it’s hard to write about something I no longer particularly feel. And yet, whether I write about it or not, grief is still part of my life.

It’s been almost a year since my last real upsurge in grief, and though I’m just as glad not to have to deal with the horrendous sorrow and the bleak outlook that comes from grief, I feel that something is missing — not just Jeff, because of course he is missing from my life, but also a wildness that came from grief.

I had never experienced anything as massive as grief before Jeff died, except perhaps falling in love. Grief is an all-consuming state that seems to swallow you whole. In addition, if you have been deeply connected to the deceased loved one, you often feel as if you are straddling the line between this life and eternity, as if part of you went to the other side with him, and part of you remains here. Gradually, you move away from the abyss, but that feeling of being on the edge of eternity, as much as the death itself, leaves its mark.

Whenever I have to explain what my life is like, I usually mention how little I have to anchor me to the world, with no house, no children, no living parents, no place I really want to be, and no mate. The other day a woman told me, “You say Jeff is gone, but he is still in your life.” This wasn’t a patronizing remark; it was said more as an observation.

The truth is, he is gone from my life in any real concept of the term — I cannot touch him, cannot hear his voice, cannot see his smile, cannot take care of him, cannot be comforted by him.

His absence, however, is in my life. His absence bounds my life.

If I were still with him, I would never have come to the desert, never have taken dance classes, never have gotten the madcap idea of an epic hike or even a short backpacking trip. I wouldn’t be searching for something to fill the hole in my life because there would be no hole. I wouldn’t be looking to experience “something more,” because I probably wouldn’t know there was more.

It’s grief that taught me about “more.” If there is such an awe-full and awful state as grief that we humans can experience, a state that changes our very being, perhaps there are other unknown states to experience. Love, of course. But could there be more?

A downside to this lingering phase of grief, for lack of a better term to describe it, is difficulty in putting up with some people’s spirit-draining chatter and their perpetual self-aggrandizement. Even if their narcissism comes from a sense of their own inadequacy, I can understand and sympathize, but in no way do I want to have to deal with their negativity. Because if there is more, I don’t see why I should have to settle for so little.

To be honest, no one — grief-stricken or not — should have to settle for less than pure wonder. There is a whole lot of world out there to experience. If you can walk, you don’t even need to go to other countries, don’t need to do tours and such to see the wonders. Every step shows you a new marvel, every turn of the path gives you a new view to contemplate.

What it comes down to is that even though I’m not exactly grieving anymore, not trapped in the wild center of the whirlwind we call grief, I am still caught in the outer fringes by grief’s gravity.

And chances are, I always will be.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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 Moment the Future Begins

In a little over two months, it will be eight years since Jeff died. It seems unfathomable to me that he’s gone. Seems unfathomable that it’s been so long. Seems unfathomable that it’s been such a short time.

Sometimes my shared life feels like it happened to someone else, and in many respects, it did happen to someone else. I’m not that same person. I don’t know what happened to her, don’t know exactly what (or who) has replaced her.

At other times, although I am no longer caught up in the breath-stealing agony of new loss, I feel as if my life stopped when grief began, and in a way, that is also true. I cannot live in the past. Although I am way too introspective for my own good, I never, ever, think about what my life would be like if he hadn’t gotten sick. If he hadn’t died. There is too much pain in that thought, too much negation of the reality of our lives.

At the same time, I cannot live in the future. We can never know what the future holds, can’t guess the traumas, such as my horrendous fall, can’t even guess what good might happen.

So, like this heron sculpture I photographed in the botanical gardens in Wichita, Kansas, I am forever poised in the moment with the past gone and the future not begun.

It seems odd to feel in any way that my life stopped when Jeff died since I truly have had an incredible number of experiences and adventures in the past years, experiences I would not have had if Jeff were still alive. I sometimes wonder what he would think of what I have done, what I have yet to become.

But that thought brings pain, too.

I used to think living in the moment was living on a knife’s edge, but now I prefer to think of it as living in the very instant before I take flight. It seems a bit more hopeful, as if I will eventually soar, but for now, all I have is that frozen flight.

I was going to add that I wish I knew that my life would work out (rather than the dread I have of being lonely and broke and old) but I really don’t want to know. If wonders are in store, then they will be a joyful surprise. And if not? Well, I’ll deal with that dreaded future when it happens.

So here I am — as we all are — poised forever at the very moment the future begins.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

New Year’s Letter to the Newly Bereft

I’ve been corresponding with a fellow who lost his life mate/soul mate a few short months ago, and after the holidays, he emailed me, telling me how unimaginably difficult it was going into the new year without the love of his life.

I wish I had comforting words to say to him and all the others who are new-born into the world of grief, or a bit of wisdom to help them get through this terrible time, or even a pat of encouragement, but I have no comfort, wisdom, encouragement. All I have is the truth. As I wrote to this new friend in grief:

Yes, it is unimaginably difficult. There is no way to sugar coat it. All the firsts are going to be hard — the first Christmas, the first New Year, the first Valentines day, etc. etc. etc. And such days will always hard.

I wish I had something more to offer than simply a validation that what you are feeling is normal and right and to be expected. Doesn’t help with the pain, though, does it? Sometime this year you will go through a period of peace. Savor that against the long haul. Because it is a long haul.

Wishing you a new year of health and peace.

Whether you are looking forward to a new love or looking back to your lost love, I wish you all a new year of health and peace and renewal.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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 Courage to Grieve

I’ve mentioned before — many times before — that I started writing about grief when I got frustrated with all the misconceptions of grief I found in fiction. And I continue to write about grief because the misconceptions continue.

In the book I just started to read but probably won’t finish, the guy’s very rich wife was murdered. When he told his wife’s secretary about the death, the secretary cried a few minutes, vomited, then took a deep breath, and said, “No more tears. We have to be brave.”

He, of course, had been “brave” from the beginning, and hadn’t shed a single tear. Had no trouble breathing, thinking, planning, and yet, his dead wife was the love of his life. I can understand a writer not wanting the character to succumb to grief, and I can understand the writer not knowing the full impact of grief, not just tears and sorrow, but the horrendous physical and mental changes that occur when you lose someone who has meant everything to you — changes that you cannot control, and changes that (if you’ve never experienced them) you cannot even imagine.

What I cannot forgive is that “we have to be brave” sentence. Blocking out grief (to the extent that it can be blocked out), is not bravery. It is rank cowardice. (I’m not talking about people blocking out grief because of shock or a true inability to accept the truth. I’m talking about a fictional character deliberately blocking out grief in a misguided attempt at being brave.)

True courage is facing the loss, experiencing grief in all its permutations, going where grief takes you. And that means tears, explosive anger, inability to breathe or think and the dozens of other insane ways that grief flogs you. I understand the character’s need to find the murderer in a timely manner, but you don’t do that by blocking out the grief. You use grief’s own energy — and your own anger — to catapult you into action. Blocking the grief enervates you because it takes a huge dam of energy to shut off grief’s demands. (Only people who have been in that situation know that you don’t go through grief; grief goes through you. Grief is the one in control.) And the block only lasts so long, anyway. Eventually, like any tsunami, grief will break through the dam with greater energy than if you’d have had the courage to face it in the first place.

I know I’m being idealistic here — a character, especially a male thriller/adventurer character must be macho no matter what (with only miniscule chinks of vulnerability to shed light on the true depth of the character), but the stereotype still perpetrates the myth of grief that so many of us believe — that we must not cry because we must be strong at all costs and we must be brave and tears make us weak.

Tears do not make us weak. Tears actually make us strong because they relieve stress of all kinds and enable us to continue when we think we can’t. Maybe there wouldn’t be so much nastiness in the world if people would just let themselves cry. If cowboys had wept, the west (at least the mythological west) would have been a more genteel place. But then, there would be no “westerns.” And if soldiers wept . . .

Well, now I’m getting ridiculously idealistic. But the truth remains: it takes courage to grieve. Refusing to face grief because of a fictional need to be brave is cowardice. Pure and simple.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.