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.

The Imponderables of Life

A friend thinks I need to be empowered. According to this friend, people who are empowered “intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle them.” It sounds great, actually, knowing how to handle baffling situations, but all situations are potentially baffling, at least to me. Up close, things sometimes are clear, but if I step back and look at any situation from a broader angle than my singular point of view, the possibilities, parameters, ponderances are incalculable.

ripplesEach of our lives, each action of our lives, each interface with the world is like a stone thrown into a pond. All the ensuing ripples affect and change the course of all the other ripples. If you look at a single ripple, the situation is apparent. For example, if I were to spend my savings on getting my ancient VW restored, it would feel good for as long as I was concentrating on that ripple. But what if just beyond that single ripple is an accident, a theft, or some other ripple that would negate that hefty purchase? Conversely, I could keep the savings, deciding that it’s silly to waste money I will need for living expenses on such a gesture, yet the next ripple could bring a windfall that would make the savings seem minor.

Ripples.

The car is a silly example, I know, but it’s a situation I am currently dealing with. Oddly, the body shop guy I went to for an estimate was hesitant about my fixing up the car. He was horrified when I told that I wouldn’t have a garage, and he cautioned me about spending much money because the theft factor would be too great.

Whether I fix the body or not isn’t really a major problem, just a fun thing to think about. The car works beautifully, I have new tires, the rust and body damage from years of use are minor. If I decide not to do the body work, I have other options. Painting flowers on it, for example. I could always have it restored afterward. Or I could . . . whatever.

Beyond the triviality of such a situation, there are greater imponderables that totally baffle me. If I step back and look at the effects of even a single thrown stone, there is no way I can make sense of the endless eddying ripples of those imponderables.

Late yesterday afternoon I talked to a friend who had recently been released from the hospital. Her rheumatoid arthritis is destroying her lungs, and she’d been admitted for pneumonia and various other life-threatening complications. She coughed and hacked and gasped during our conversation, trying to breathe and speak through the pain. She is my age, still fairly young, and yet she is dying a painful and protracted death. The situation baffles me completely. How is it possible that she is dealing with such horror? She finds it ironic that she is now suffering the torments her husband had to deal with while he died, torments she blamed herself for, but I find the things life does to us incomprehensible. I have problems, but nothing compared to hers.

Then early last evening, I came across a heartbreaking blog post, I stand quietly about a mother who can only stand and wait while her child deals with the agony and bewilderment of a sensory processing disorder. How is it possible that some mothers have children who don’t have to worry about how their clothes feel against their skin? How is it possible some mothers can’t hug their child because that simple touch makes the child scream in agony?

How is it possible those two ripples touched my life on the same day within a couple of hours of each other?

Ripples.

The other night I was in an accident. A friend thinks I should sue, but I cannot swear I was in no way to blame. I can see my single ripple — I was driving along with my headlights on, noticing my surroundings, noticing the car that idled in the middle of a turn lane off to my left. I did not in any way instigate the woman’s turning abruptly and speeding directly across the road in front of me, as if I weren’t even there. She claims my lights were off, that she didn’t see me. I drive an old car. The headlights don’t wrap around as with modern cars, so maybe she didn’t see me. Maybe I wasn’t even there for that moment — according to the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, until I was observed I didn’t exist. How can I comprehend all the ripples that brought us two women together in such a way? How could I have known before I left the scene, that the two of us would hug on parting? In my debates with myself about whether to get my car restored, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of an accident. Could those thoughts have somehow predestined a collision?

I intuitively made a decision that night. Since she didn’t want to involve insurance companies, I agreed that we would both pay for our own damage and end the matter there. It’s only afterward, when other ripples intruded, when people thought I was nuts for leaving even with the cop’s permission, when people thought I should have gotten her name and phone number and sued her that I became baffled. Not at my actions. I did what I wanted. But baffled at the imponderables. Do I believe that the accident was in no way my fault? Of course — I know it wasn’t. Do I believe that the accident could have in some unknown way been my fault? Of course — I can’t know that it wasn’t.

Ripples.

Still, whatever anyone thinks, I would so much rather be a person who hugs a transgressor than a person who sues. Maybe I do need to be empowered (whatever that means). And maybe, just maybe I’m doing fine on my own.

***

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.

A Fighting Optimist

I was on the yearbook committee senior year in high school. I can still remember sitting in someone’s living room looking for quotes to put under our classmates’s photos. We were laughing and having a good time matching our friends with the appropriate saying until it came to my photo. A few hems and haws and a lot of silence. I was never quite sure what silence meant, but I just shrugged and picked my own quote: The only truly happy man is always a fighting optimist. (I was naïve about feminist ways at the time and took “man” to mean “humankind.” I still don’t make an issue of such words — I include myself in even if the male-oriented words were meant to include me out.) Some people called me negative back then (or rather pessimistic since “negative” as a buzzword didn’t show up until much later) but I knew the truth: I was a realist who fought to be optimistic.

Double RainbowIt’s odd that I have remembered the quote all these years when so much else has slipped into the muck at the bottom of my mind, but perhaps it’s because I often think of it. This is a world where optimism and positivism are almost religions, and if you don’t believe, or if you believe in truth no matter what form the truth takes more than in being positive at all costs, you’re called negative.

My copy of the yearbook is long gone. (I lent my high school yearbooks to the son of my mother’s best friend because he wanted to look up a girl he was infatuated with, and I never saw them again.) So when that quote popped into my head again today, I looked it up online to see where it came from. The quote I used is only half of it. The full quote is: The only truly happy man is always a fighting optimist. Optimism includes not only altruism, but also social responsibility, social courage and objectivity. — W. Beran Wolfe, author of How To Be Happy Though Human

Natural optimists might be happy, but so often they live in a fantasy world where the truth is fogged in under a pink cloud of hope, denial, and lack of objectivity. (I’m not referring to you, of course.)

It’s entirely possible I misinterpreted the quote — he seems to be saying that to be happy you need to be optimistic and fight for what is right, not just fight to be optimistic, but either way, the saying seems to hold true.

So what does this have to do with my present life? Not much, I suppose, except that I notice more moments of happiness and optimism — feeling uplifted even when there is no particular reason to feel uplifted. It’s as if somewhere inside of me, something is smiling.

Twice in my life I heard a voice deep inside of me speaking without my volition. The first time was a few minutes after I met Jeff, the man who was to share my life for thirty-four years. “But I don’t even like men with beady brown eyes and blond hair,” the voice wailed. I didn’t hear it again until a year before he died. At the time, we knew he was bad off, just not how bad. I’d made a point of hugging him every morning, thinking that each hug would be the last. One morning I inadvertently touched his ear, and he shoved me away. (I now know the cancer had crept up his left side from his kidney to his brain, and every bit of that quadrant was one huge mass of pain.) We were connected in some profound way that neither of us understood, and I thought that when he died, he’d pull me with him. But that day when he pushed me away, I heard the voice again. “You might be dying, but I have to live,” it said. And I knew then that he would be dying alone.

I wonder if that’s who is smiling inside me, whoever or whatever it is that spoke those two times.

I’m sitting here smiling at the whimsical thought. Who knows? It could be true. Maybe someday I’ll even meet her. Or be her.

Meantime, during the not so uplifting times, I will still fight to be an optimist.

***

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

Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day

I’m declaring this Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day. I mean no disrespect to people who suffer involuntarily from such an ailment, but it seems to me that the rest of us could use a bit of amnesia.

We often talk about living in the present, though generally what we mean is we will try to concentrate on today and let the future take care of itself. But the past is always with us. It’s hard to block out memories windof past hurts, misunderstandings, bad behavior, and to treat people as if we have just this moment made an exciting new friend. There is much history, even good history, between us and the folks we know, history that shades our relationships. There are many established patterns of communication that may now be outdated because one or both of the people have changed, yet the habits remain.

I have a dear friend that I cannot seem to re-establish lines of communication with. We both have our idiosyncrasies to such an extent that, like England and the U.S. we seem to be two separate countries divided by a common language. Just for today it would be nice if neither of us remembered our differences and started out with new points of view. Or started out with no points of view at all. Just a willingness to see where life takes us.

And so, with that attitude in mind, I am declaring this Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day.

Hi. My name is Pat. I don’t remember ever seeing you before. It’s so nice to meet you!

***

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

Are Online Friendships True Friendships?

A few weeks ago, an offline friend expressed reservations about making friends online because she thought we don’t really get to know people online. An online friend also wondered about the trueness of online friendships, though she admitted she considered me a friend. And another online friend (she’s probably more of a mentor since she offers me more support than I offer her) wrote a blog about the meaning of friendship and how that applies to online friends.

digital lifeSo can you have a true relationship online? Of course, though to be honest, I rarely interact with the vast majority of my online “friends”. At one time, I thought it was important promotionally to have a lot of connections, but that doesn’t seem to hold true. Still, it is possible to make real friends online.  In some respects, these real online friendships are based on something deeper and more meaningful than offline friendships because (sometimes) we can connect directly to the mind, heart, or soul of each other. We are basically electronic beings, masses of focused energy, which is sort of what a computer is. We do have a tendency to show our best side online, but that’s not a bad thing. Besides, through numerous blog comments or facebook discussions, the truth comes out.

I have never met some of my best friends. I hope I will meet them someday, of course. (Although some of my hopes for an epic adventure are fading in light of the realities, taking a trip to meet these friends is still possible.) One drawback to such friendships is that it’s hard to hug an efriend, so such friendships to endure might have to go offline. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s enough to celebrate the wonder of knowing someone who lives on the other side of the country or even the world.

The few times I have met an online friend, there wasn’t a bit of awkwardness. It was as if we’d known each other for a long time, which was no surprise because we had known each other for a long time online.

A few years ago I met one such online friend. She came here for a book showing (I call it a showing instead of a sale because we sold so few books) and we got along well. Not only were our attitudes similar, we even dressed alike. Next weekend I will be returning the favor by going there for a book showing.

Friendships of this online/offline variety are not the neighborly sort where you run next door to borrow a cup of sugar or a pinch of salt, but I’ve never had any friends like that. Nor are they the kind who could visit you in the hospital or take you to the airport (though I’m sure they would if they were in the vicinity.) But they are still real friendships. And they are probably longer lasting than other friendships because if they move or if I move, we are still as close as the internet.

***

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

The Family Demon and Other Conundrums

Mercury is retrograde, according to what someone told me today. I don’t know what that means other than what the person said — that the retrograde is the cause of all sorts of things going wrong during the past three weeks. If this is true, things should get better now that the retrograde is over. Since Mercury is a big ball of iron (at least that’s what I read — I’ve never been there and taken a sample, so I don’t know for sure), it affects our electronics, which is why all the gadgets in my vicinity — smoke alarm, computer, phone, burglar alarm — went haywire.

fireIt’s also possible the unusual spate of recent problems in my life could be the family demon unleashing its powers. Not that I believe in demons, family or otherwise, but when my sister first mentioned the possibility of our family being infected by a demon, the stained glass cross hanging on the front door fell and broke.

Coincidence? Of course.

And yet . . .

There are so many things we don’t know — way more than what we do know — especially when it comes to the specifics of how everything is connected. Generally speaking, we are connected to each other and the universe in a thousand different ways because we are all beings of energy, all made of stardust (to put it romantically). I once came upon an intriguing theory that the universe and everything in it is made up a single electron. This speedy little fellow moves so fast and in so many different directions and dimensions, including backward and forward in time, that it gives the illusion of many particles. And if anything happens to one phase of that poor lonesome little electron, then obviously, everything else is affected.

I am learning — finally — that there are things we can never know. Our brains are wired to translate the energy of the universe into sight, taste, sound, smell, feel, so we can never experience life raw, but just whatever our brains present to us as real.

So what does any of this have to do with the way the things in my vicinity are malfunctioning? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

***

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

Lady of Leisure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the bright side:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

The Kindness of Strangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder the kindness of strangers brought me to tears.

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

***

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

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