Excerpt From UNFINISHED

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNFINISHED is Now Finished and Available on Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fresh Chance to Take the World by Storm

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

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

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

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

But Amanda has secrets of her own.

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

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

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

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

So, look for Unfinished. Coming soon!!!

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

 

 

End of the Great Yearning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you blue skies and clear days until next time.

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

My April Time

Last week brought big changes. First, although I was not supposed to have the surgery to get my fixator off until this Tuesday, April 4, when I went for my pre-op on Monday, March 26th, the surgeon decided to take the hardware off the next day due to irritation around the pin sites. So, I had the surgery on Tuesday, March 27, the seventh anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death. I spent Wednesday in bed trying to recuperate, finished packing on Thursday, and moved on Friday and Saturday with the help of some friends.

I hadn’t really planned to move, but the place where I was staying had become un-conducive to healing. (Is that proper terminology? If not, the words describe how I felt, which makes it proper.) And this new place fell into my hands. It’s across the street from open desert, and while the house itself is much quieter than the one I came from, the area is vastly noisier. Dogs barking, power tools screeching, and trains howling. (This is a major transit area for trains, not passenger trains but freight trains, and they come within a mile of where I am staying, sometimes every few minutes, blaring horns all the way. Yikes.)

Still, I think the trains create sounds I can get used to, I have earplugs for other intrusive noises, and — did I mention? — I am across the street from the desert! I can’t really go hiking yet— because of my destroyed arm I am considered a fall risk (and I feel like I am at risk for a fall) — but I can pick my way carefully through the lower trails and washes. The neighborhood is also much nicer than the one where I’d been staying, and I have a private bath, which, along with the proximity to the desert, helps offset the noise pollution. (It’s amazing to me how much noise pollution we allow. Why should one man with a chainsaw be allowed to destroy the quiet of an entire neighborhood? It doesn’t seem right.)

I still have a long recovery ahead of me, at least a year, perhaps two, until I get to my maximum mobility. Although the surgeon continues to claim I will only end up with fifty percent mobility and guarantees that I will suffer from posttraumatic arthritis, I intend to do everything I can to heal. If I were with someone, I’m sure I would have the same resolve, but being alone and facing a future alone, I need to give myself the greatest chance of being able to take care of myself completely for as long as possible.

Oddly, despite a few surges of grief over the fate of my arm, I’ve handled the situation with equanimity. Perhaps the lessons of grief and other adversities have finally sunk in. The arm might be deformed, might be lacking in strength and mobility, but I am not deformed. I am not lacking in strength and mobility. Whatever happens with the arm, it in no way changes me — who I am at the core. (Of course, it still hasn’t been determined who I am at the core, but I don’t know if it’s necessary to make that determination. It should be enough simply to be. To adapt. To become.)

One change I’m curious to see how will affect me is that for the first time in a long time, I have a place to read and relax other than on the bed. Will I be able to sleep better using the bed only for sleep? I guess I’ll find out.

It seems sort of a new beginning, this April. I passed the seventh anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death. I got the external fixator removed, which will allow me to enter a more active role in my healing. And I have a new place to stay.

In her book The Stillwater Meadow, Gladys Tabor wrote: “People have seasons . . . There is something steadfast about people who withstand the chilling winds of trouble, the storms that assail the heart, and have the endurance and character to wait quietly for an April time.” During the first years of my grief — while I worked through the pain of my life mate/soul mate’s death and our separation, adjusted to life without him, learned to think of him with gladness instead of sadness, searched for new ways of being and new reasons for living, realized that he is he and I am I and we have separate paths in life — I held fast to the idea of an April time.

Now, finally, an April time — perhaps even my April time — is here.

***

(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.

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.

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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.

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

***

(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.