Grocery Story

I cried at the grocery store yesterday. It wasn’t an unprecedented occurrence — anyone whose life partner has been claimed by death knows the triggers lurking in those well-lit aisles — but in this case, the tears had nothing to do with me.

I was standing at the protein bar section, picking out a couple of Lara bars when a younger woman approached and asked if I knew which ones would help her gain weight. Apparently, her family and friends think she looks like a drug addict, and she thought if she gained ten or twenty pounds, they’d leave her alone. I looked her up and down, and shrugged. I said she looked fine to me. She was very thin, but mostly because she had a delicate (though not frail) frame. She wasn’t emaciated, and in fact had average to good muscular development. And her eyes were clear and bright with intelligence.

I said, “Tell your family I said you looked great.”

She replied, “I’ll say you were a perfect stranger.”

“I am perfect,” I said, and we smiled at each other.

That moment of connection opened her up, because next thing I knew, she was telling me her story. She had been a drug addict, but that very day was her third anniversary of being clean. Those seven lost years had changed her metabolism, and now she couldn’t gain weight.

She went on to tell me that ten years ago her three-year old daughter had been run over and killed, and the next day, her husband went out into the desert and shot himself because he couldn’t handle the pain. That, of course, was when my tears came, and I hugged her. The death of a child or a partner is excruciating, but to have to deal with both at once? Oh, my. The poor woman. No wonder she shrouded herself in drug-induced numbness. Now that she’s clean, she has to learn to cope with her grief as if it was still new.

Even worse, she is fighting not to be racist. The guy who ran over her child was of a minority, and the judge who let him off was of the same minority. And last week, two fourth-graders of that same minority choked her six-year-old son in the school bathroom. (I hesitate to mention the races of both her and her various adversaries because in today’s climate, even that could be considered racist.) She doesn’t want to hate, so she is fighting that feeling, too.

It amazed me that instead of seeing this woman’s honor, strength, and courage, her friends and family saw someone with a weight problem. Admittedly, they were probably worried about her, and afraid that she had picked up her old ways, but still, we are much more than the weight we carry, whether too much or too little.

I hugged her again and wished her happiness, then we went our separate ways.

But her story haunts me, and now whenever I am in that particular grocery store aisle, I will think of her and hope she is still okay.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of four other 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.

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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.

A Widow’s March

I have a lot of stuff in my head — no clear ideas or sharp feelings, just stuff. For example, I have conflicting feelings about the woman’s march. It seems like a good idea since solidarity is helpful, but there is a lot of contention over what the march is supposed to accomplish, which is not helpful. Some people say the march is pro-abortion, and so pro-life women are not welcome. Others say the march is for liberals, and so conservative women are not welcome. Others insist it’s about equal pay and equal opportunity, and so anyone is welcome. It seems funny that after all these months of people talking about inclusivity, separating women into various sexes such as lesbian, transgender, and whatever, all of a sudden now there’s just one . . . women. Why can’t it be that way all the time?

What I don’t understand is if this is a march about abortion, are all these women planning on having abortions? And why are there so many abortions? People used to say that there were unwanted pregnancies because of lack of education about pregnancy avoidance, but it seems as if there are more abortions than ever. To my understanding, the new regime is not so much interested in abolishing abortion as in removing federal funding. If this is what women are against — removing the funding — it’s even more mystifying to me. What they are saying is, “my body, my decision, your financial responsibility.”

More of a concern to me than abortion is the whole cultural aspect of women’s ideology. Apparently, one of the airlines used pink lights in the plane to Washington DC as a show of solidarity for the women, but really . . . pink lights? Why does pink still signify women? Pink is a color that is used to reduce aggression and anger. Could it be that’s why the airline used pink lights, not so much as solidarity but to keep the women in line?

See? Stuff.

Talking about cultural aspects of women’s ideology reminds me of the many anti-feminist themes still present in so-called women’s movies and chick lit. Too often the stories are about trying to get the guy to propose, which leaves me to wonder why the women don’t do the damn proposing if they want to get married. There are stories about successful business women who have to learn the importance of love. There are stories about women trying to teach each other how to trap a man. Sometimes, especially in historical romances, there are hints of rape as a prelude to romance. And of course, there are on-line sites that brag they are smart women who love trashy books, books that in no way reflect their own political beliefs.

I’m not really interested in people’s sexuality, so all the talk of inclusivity when it comes to gender and sexual orientation passes me by (though it is nice to know how one’s friends lean in order to understand them better). When you are alone, there is no sexual orientation because orientation connotes a leaning toward, and if there is no one to lean toward there is no orientation. What does concern me personally is the subtle (and not so subtle) exclusion of widows.

Ours is a coupled society, whether the couple is the same sex or different sexes, so a person alone is someone who barely exists. Even worse, there is a vague feeling that it’s your fault for being alone. People quickly forget that you once were coupled, that you once had someone. And now you’re . . . inconvenient. If your friends used to be other couples, you are no longer invited to events, so you try to make new friends, but if the women you like are married, you’re in the same boat as you were before. (People expect widows to become friends with other widows, but this does not solve the problem of exclusivity; it exacerbates it.) If you try to do things on your own, you pay double for a room in a hotel or on a cruise ship. Ads about products for old people show couples. Ads for assisted living places show couples. Ads about supporting one another in illness shows couples. And then there are the ubiquitous articles where a couple who is celebrating their gazillionth wedding anniversary gives advice on how to say together so many years, which always makes me want to scream “You’re still together because one of you didn’t die!”

But some of us are not so lucky. We are left to grow old alone, and a woman (or man) alone is no one’s priority.

None of this “stuff” will change anything, not even for me. Current events only serve to make me feel more alone, more outside the range of what is considered normal life in the twenty-first century. I probably would not be musing about any of these things, but the juxtaposition of the woman’s march (or rather the contentions about the march) along with a blog reader’s question as to whether I had any insight on growing old alone has put all this stuff in my head.

The growing old alone part is no one’s fault, of course. Nor do I expect society, the government,  or even individuals to do anything to solve the problems that will arise for all of us folks sitting alone in our empty rooms. We will do what we have always done since the death of our beloved, take each day as it comes, do what we can to survive, and hope that someday our lives will make sense again.

I’ve never been one for marching or demonstrating in a group, but today I will do a widow’s march. Sort of. I will take a solitary walk, and try to clear the stuffing out of my head.

beholder

***

(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.

Heavy Heart

My heart is heavy today for my friend in Louisiana. We have been sisters in sorrow for many years, shadow mirrors of grief, since so many of our devastating losses occurred about the same time. My brother, her brother. Her mother, my father. My soul mate, her soul mate. One of the highlights of my recent cross country trip was finally getting to hug her for real after all the virtual hugs and tears we have shared. (This photo of azaleas was taken from her backyard.)

Now she is going through a time of hell that I can’t even imagine. Although her house is still dry, she is trapped because the roads all around are flooded, and if there were a problem, she has nowhere to go. Oddly, I am probably as close to a recent forest fire as she is close to the flooding, but except for smoke inhalation, no one I know was hurt in the fire. And almost everyone she knows has been horrendously affected by the floods.

One of her relatives died from a heart attack while being evacuated. Others have been flooded out. One friend lost everything — the water rushed in so fast, they had no time to grab anything. A niece was rescued by boat from her house, but the flooding has unmoored her modular home, and they are waiting for it to collapse. In certain areas, everyone she knows has suffered damage to their houses, in other areas, they have all lost their houses. One of her friends was stuck on an interstate overpass for nine hours after the road was closed on both ends because of flooding, and she had no way to get off because the exits were flooded, too. (She was finally airlifted out.) Caskets are popping up out of the ground in the cemetery where her loved ones are buried because of flooding, adding a surreal twist to the horror that is southern Louisiana.

Lives lost. Houses lost. Cars lost.

Who knew — hell is not fire. Or not just fire. It is water, too

In a recent post, I talked about the stomach-turning villains of a best-selling author. I have no interest in man-made evildoers created by a disturbed mind (because how can anyone who is well-adjusted come up with and embrace such ghastly characters and deeds). Nope. For me, sweet old Mother Nature, whose virtues people extol, is the worst fiend of all. No villain to pit one’s wits against, no one to capture or kill, simply a mindless force. Implacable. Unyielding. Deadly.

And still more rain predicted? Oh, my.

***

(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.”)

Women Adrift

I hadn’t been posting my blogs about my internal journey lately. For the first time, I’ve actually deleted a post or two without publishing it, not wanting to look as if I were unbearably pathetic. Although it might seem like it, I am not really unhappy. (I’d be a lot happier if it weren’t so hot and I could walk off my melancholy, but I am not so foolish as to go hiking in the desert in 105+ weather.) I have, however, been going through a small grief upsurge lately, nothing much, just riding the waves of emotion. This particular time of sadness hasn’t been so much about the loss of my life mate/soul mate, though that particular trauma has colored my whole life and probably will color it for the rest of my days.

Part of this particular upsurge has come about because now that I am back at dance class, I’ve been spending too much time with a group of married women, mostly older women who are still married to their high school or college sweethearts though there are a couple who are divorced and remarried. While I have been struggling to deal with one loss after another, their lives have mostly continued on the same track. As I listen to their chatter about their houses, travel plans, the care and feeding of their men. I feel . . . unbelonged. I don’t know how to deal with this particular issue. Maybe skip class occasionally when I get too overwhelmed? Mostly, I handle the situation by concentrating on the steps and trying to ignore the rest of what is going on, but the constant reminder that I am alone still gets to me.

It wasn’t until today, though, speaking to a woman my age who is dealing with some of what I have been going through, that I realized the greater problem, a problem I haven’t yet figured out how to resolve.

This other woman came to the high desert about the same time I did. Like me, she gave up her life in a cooler climate and moved here to take care of an aged parent. Like me, she is now lost. She has been here too long to go back and pick up the life she was living. After all these years, she has too much to lose by leaving, but she doesn’t have enough to keep her here, not enough to make this place (especially in the 105 degree heat) feel like home.

Where do you go when you have no real ties anymore?

I met a few other such women on my trip, women tent campers who had nothing but a restlessness born of unbelonging. They too had left what they had known and moved in with an aged parent to care for that parent until that parent’s death. The fact that we designated daughters were not married, were widowed, or otherwise lived alone, and so it fell upon us to make the move, does not mitigate the circumstances. We were uprooted when we went to be a caregiver, and uprooted again when the caregiving came to an end.

And so we drift.

This particular facet of my life has been mostly subsumed into the whole grief spectrum, but it is something separate from all the other losses, something I haven’t had to face it until now. After my dad’s death, I stayed at his house until it was sold, did some housesitting, visited friends, and then rented a room until it was time to take my cross-country trip. Now that the trip is ended, at least until the end of the summer, I have to face the truth. I have too much to lose by leaving, but it’s not enough to hold me here.

And so I drift.

***

(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.”)

The New Segregation

I am currently renting a room in a modular house in a modular neighborhood, if you can call this 55+ community a neighborhood. It seems more like a ghetto to me, a place where a single group is sequestered, though in this case, “ghetto” doesn’t have the usual slummy connotations, and the people choose to live here rather than are forced by mandate to occupy the area. Still, the place is segregated from the rest of the city, populated by a distinctive group of not wealthy, not young individuals. That these folk are a mixed lot, all colors, nationalities, and opinions, does not mitigate their age-related sameness.

old manOutside the gates of this so very depressing “park” where the manufactured houses seem dealt out like a game of solitaire, there is a high school. And every afternoon, while the aged walk the inside perimeter of their cage, the young folks mill around outside, waiting for their rides. Old. Young. And never the twain shall meet. Or something like that.

When did we become such an age-segregated society? It can’t be a good thing. Don’t the young and the old complement each other? One group bringing wisdom, the other youthful idealism? And yet, I don’t see a lot of idealism among the young or wisdom among the aged. (As the father says in the Kevin Bacon movie, She’s Having a Baby, “People don’t mature anymore. They stay jackasses all their lives.”)

I don’t know what I want from myself as I grow older, but I do know the thought of living in an old folks ghetto (or even in an upscale gated community for “active” seniors) gives me the creeps. Or maybe I’m just denying the inevitability of my own aging, though I don’t think so. I can’t think of anything more depressing than only dealing with old folks (though mostly I’m doing that now — the majority of my friends are considerably older than I am, and in almost all of my dance classes, I am the baby, though I am not so young for all that.)

Of course, since I won’t have the money to live in a gated community, even a downscale one, I doubt I’ll ever have the choice of ghettoizing or segregating myself, but the other amenities that will be available to me seem just as creepy. I don’t see myself joining senior-only groups, going on senior outings, partaking of early-bird specials for seniors, or living in any sort of senior-oriented neighborhood. I certainly don’t want to be one of those old folks who gain cachet from their advanced years, and who make sure everyone knows their age.

When I was young, my mother never told me I did something good “for my age.” If it wasn’t good, I got no credit. On the back end of my life, I want to live the same way. It (whatever “it” is) is good or not good in and of itself, not with consideration for age.

And yet, what do I know? Life changes us. Age changes us. As decrepitude creeps in, as I start making the accommodation for the end of life, maybe I’ll be glad to be surrounded by others of my ilk.

But not yet. With whatever “youth” I have left, I want to live life to the fullest, to experience the world as much as I am capable, to deal with people as individuals rather than as effects of their age.

***

(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.”)

Wanderlust and Wonderlust

I can already feel the wanderlust taking over, which is not altogether a good thing. I said I was going to leave my fate up to the fates, but this wanderlust is starting to dictate my future. For example, I talked to a woman today who is looking for someone to rent a room from her elderly mother, so that her mother will have companionship, and I’m hesitating. For one, I don’t want to be a companion — I need time to write and do other solitary activities when I am not walking or dancing. For another, the rent she is asking is too high since they want more from me than simply money. And finally, the place is far from the dance studio, she has a rambunctious dog, and has no internet service.

old woman

Do you see the old woman? Do you see the young woman?

And yet, at one time, it would have seemed a good deal to me. The silly thing is the woman’s age. The daughter went on and on about all the things her mother is still capable of doing, such as driving short distances and doing a bit of grocery shopping. Then she listed the things her mother was not capable of doing, such as yard work, getting herself to doctors’ appointments, and picking up a week’s worth of groceries.

I envisioned someone decrepit, and there is no way I want to deal with another old, sick, or dying person, so I asked the mother’s age. I had to have her repeat the number three times because I could not believe it. This elderly woman is my age.

Huh? I’m not elderly. Not even close! I’m not sure what the beginning date for “elderly” is, but I’m not there yet. In fact, according to the US Census, I’m still middle aged. Rapidly sliding down the banister to old age, as are we all, but I am not elderly. And certainly not suited for being a “companion.”

Still, I’ll have lunch with the woman and her daughter next week. Can’t hurt, and for all I know, we could hit it off. I do understand the mother somewhat, even unseen and unmet. The poor woman lost her husband five years ago and her brother (who lived with her) a few months ago. So much sadness and sorrow is enough to throw anyone off kilter.

Meantime, I’m savoring every minute of dance class, and dreaming of the wonders that await me when I begin my wanders.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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 Secret to a Long Marriage

I just saw another of those ubiquitous and supposedly heartwarming posts about a couple who were married for a zillion years (I’m exaggerating — it was only sixty or seventy). They were asked how they stayed together for so long, and they gave the same answer everyone in that position does — respect, love, never going to bed angry, etc., etc., etc.

The true answer and the answer no one ever gives is that one of them didn’t die. That’s how you end up being together for all those years — neither of you die.

Some of us didn’t have a choice about how long we were together. Death came, and that was that. Death didn’t care that we were respectful, that we didn’t go to bed angry, that we cared for each other (in both meanings of the phrase — we loved each other and we took care of each other).

We were never given a choice whether we’d go into our twilight years hand in hand. We were never given a choice about how long we’d stay together. Death chose.

It’s not as if he was careless with his health, either. He never smoked, wasn’t dependent on caffeine or any drug no matter how benign, seldom drank and when he did it was little more than a beer or a bit of wine. He knew more about health than anyone I ever knew, including all the doctors I’ve ever met. He was also disciplined, putting all that knowledge to work — exercising, eating right, keeping his mind active. And he was kind to everyone. (It’s one of the things I fell in love with — his universal kindness. You know those women who fall in love with a jerk who is nasty to everyone but her, and she always says, “but he’s good to me.”? Well, I am not that woman.)

We thought because we took care of ourselves and each other, we’d be ones who would get to have a long and happy old age. But death thought otherwise.

When he was but 63 years old, he died.

So everyone else can ooh and aah over the sweet photos of a loving geriatric couple, but I know the truth. They were able to stay together because death left them alone.

And me? All I have to warm my old age is a photo and memories of a man who died way too young.

I sound bitter, but I’m not, not really. Life — and death — does to us what it wants. I just wish those old folks who remain together for all those years would tell the truth: “The secret to a long marriage? That’s easy — don’t die.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.

Across the Great Divide

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death. It seemed like it should have been some sort of great divide, though why I expected this particular anniversary to make any more impact than any other anniversary, I don’t know. Maybe because five seems such a momentous number. A prime number. A strong number. Maybe because it comes at the same time my father’s house was sold, leaving me without a place to call my own. (Though I never did call this place my own. It was my father’s house, and now it belongs to all his heirs.)

The Black Canyon of the GunnisonBut there was no divide. Today is just the same as any other day. Jeff is still gone, and I am still left alone to deal with his goneness.

People advise me not to look to the past, to put his death behind me, and for the most part it’s good advice since there is nothing we can do about that which has passed. The problem is that although Jeff is gone, leaving our shared life in the past, his absence is very much a part of my present.

His absence brings an urgency to my life that it would not otherwise have since his goneness is a constant reminder that death is but a breath away. His absence brought me to this desert town to look after my father — if Jeff hadn’t died, I would never have come, would never have found dance, would never have made so many friends. His absence creates not only a void that begs to be filled but an uncertainty that demands to be acknowledged — since life is uncertain anyway, it makes sense to embrace that uncertainty along with a need for adventure. His absence engenders a sense of uncaring. It’s not that life doesn’t matter — it does. It’s that it doesn’t matter so much what I do or where I go because no matter where I am, there I am. And there he isn’t.

I know I can be happy because I so often am. I know I can find joy in living and discovering, searching and learning, maybe even loving, because I do. But none of that negates his absence because although the great divide of death separates us, his absence will always be a presence in my life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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 a Five-Year Grief Survivor

I’ve been doing well recently, trying to be excited and optimistic about the future, accepting the uncertainty of it all as something wonderful, but this afternoon, I crashed.

Today is the fifth anniversary of Jeff’s death.

In my grief blogs, I call him my life mate/soul mate, which gives people an erroneous idea of our state of bliss. We weren’t a romantic couple, and we didn’t bring each other a lot of happiness. In fact, we weren’t happy very often — we had to deal with too many setbacks with both our finances and his health. And yet, through it all, we remained together, connected in a profound way that neither of us ever understood. We used to joke that the trickster gods hated us because of that connection so every time we almost reached success, they toppled our lives, leaving us to start over.

The connection was so great, in fact, I often thought that when he died, I would die too, that he’d pull me with him when he left, and at times it felt that way — as if I were straddling the invisible line between this world and eternity, with half of me a mere shadow of death.

But life isn’t so simple or dramatic.

I survived his death. I survived the breath-stealing and heart-stopping pain of grief. I survived the long bleak years of loneliness. In many ways, I’ve even thrived.

People seem astounded by my ability to accept an uncertain future, but those are people with something to lose. After Jeff died, I came to look after my father, and now that my father is gone and his house sold, my future is up for grabs. I don’t want to settle down, don’t want to deal with a lease, utilities, and all the rest of the responsibilities that come with a “normal” life, and so I will fling myself to the mercy of the winds.

It’s not really a virtue, this acceptance of uncertainty, but more of a necessity. What do you do when the one person who connected you to the world is gone? Where do you go? How do you choose? The truth is, it simply doesn’t matter. If he were alive, of course, I’d go home to him. He was my home. Everywhere else is simply a place. I suppose as time goes on, it will matter where I am, and I will make plans accordingly, but now . . . uncertainty is as good a way to live as any other.

If it works out, of course, I’ll stay in this area and continue to take dance classes. I have friends here. People who care about me. But if it doesn’t work out? I’ll get in my soon-to-be-restored VW Beetle and take off.

I think Jeff would like my feeling so free. He told me once he admired my spontaneity, and how it bothered him that our life together changed me. What he didn’t know is that meeting him and knowing there was someone like him in the world is what inspired me to try new and daring things. Until then, spontaneity had never been one of my defining characteristics. Not that it matters any more what he would like — he left me. I know he didn’t have a choice, but still, he did leave me to fend for myself.

And now I am free for . . . whatever.

Tomorrow I’ll again be optimistic and try to be excited about the world opening up to me, but not tonight. Tonight I’ll remember him, and weep. I’ll indulge in wishful thinking of what might have been. And I’ll give thanks that once I was lucky enough to be so connected to another human being that even five years after his death I can feel his absence.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.