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.

As Long As We Are Alive, We Are Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Tears. Again.

If you’re sick of hearing about my sorrow, you can leave. I don’t mind. I’m sick of my grief and tears, too, but I’m stuck with them.

Ever since my father’s death two months ago, I’ve been in a strange state. Not only has his death brought back the memory of the death that devastated me (the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate), it’s set in motion a whole new set of changes in my life. I came to look after my father after Jeff died, and now that they are both gone, I have to look to my own life and figure out where I want to go and what I want to do.

Do you really think I want to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, live a nomadic life in some sort of camper/van, or any of the other things I blog about? Of course I don’t. But the one thing I do want — to go home to Jeff, the Double Rainbowonly person who truly understood me — is forever denied me. And so I try to find new wants, which isn’t easy because I’m not a person who wants. (I never wanted anyone, either, but like a mythical being clothed in light, Jeff appeared in my life one incredible Saturday morning in August thirty-eight years ago. And then, almost five years ago, he left to go back from wherever he came.)

I’m fine most of the time. Really, I am. But today, I was with friends watching a movie — Patrick Swayze’s The Last Dance — and one woman piped up, “Divorce is so much worse than death.” I’d heard her make that same stark remark many times before, but today, I couldn’t let it pass. I said, more sharply than I intended, “You keep saying that, but it’s not necessarily true.” She went on her normal spiel about how when someone is dead, they don’t keep coming back, and I again spoke sharply. “Don’t you think I would give anything if Jeff came back? Your ex-husband has finally left you alone, but Jeff is still dead.” Her response was her oft-repeated, “But you didn’t have to deal with him rejecting you.”

I could have told her about the thousands of rejections one has to deal with when someone is dying, how they leave you every single day, how they have no time to think of you because their own concerns loom so large, how your heart breaks and breaks and breaks with the constant rejection until finally you don’t feel anything any more. I could have said a lot of things, but I wasn’t able to continue the conversation. I’d started crying when I spoke the simple words, “Jeff is dead,” and I couldn’t stop.

I pulled myself together to take my leave after the movie, but I cried all the way home, and I’m crying still.

How is it possible that almost five years later, I can be pulled back to the pain of his dying so quickly? Sometimes I wish I were as stoic as I once thought I was — I presumed I’d take his death in stride — but grief is more than simply feeling sad or rejected. It’s even more than those insipid 5 (or 7) stages of grief that everyone seems to believe in. Sure, we feel shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, depression, and acceptance, but most of us also feel anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, despair, helplessness, panic, questioning (both as a need to know why and as a cry of pain), loss or gain of faith, loss of identity, loss of self-esteem, resentment, bitterness, isolation, inability to focus, suspended animation, waiting for we know not what, envy of those who are still coupled or who have yet to suffer a loss. And we suffer myriad physical symptoms such as queasiness, dizziness, sleep problems (too much or too little), eating problems (too much or too little), bone-deep pain, inability at times to breath or swallow, exhaustion, lack of energy, restlessness, and seemingly endless bouts of tears. (Yes, I know, those who get divorced also feel many of these things, and I empathize with them, but they do not have to deal with the angst of death, which adds a whole other layer of pain to the equation.)

My grief has mostly wound down since I’ve dealt with so many of the various aspects of grief, but still, days like today remind me that I will never be over Jeff, never stop missing him. And so I try to be tolerant of other’s condescension, try to create new possibilities, try to want something enough to make a life out of it.

And yet, no matter what I do for the rest of my life, he will still be dead. Nothing will ever change that — not my thoughts of an adventurous future and most certainly not my tears.

***

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.

Stressed to My Limits

I’m sitting here, wondering if I should write this post. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, so I’m hoping the women involved don’t read this or if they do that they don’t fret, and yet, ever since my life mate/soul mate died, I’ve tried to write my truth.

I had lunch today with some friends after dance class. (Got to replenish those expended calories!) I was the only single woman at the table. All the rest were divorced and remarried. Not that their marital state is a problem for me anymore. I’ve gotten used to being the only uncoupled person in most situations. Nor did I think anything of their topic of conversation at first. I’ve heard it before — they all contend that losing a husband to divorce is worse than losing him to death because with divorce, he’s still around, especially if there are offspring involved.

But today I am feeling fragile. It’s only been a month since my father’s death, and although I am not grieving him the way I grieved for Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, my father’s demise has upset my equilibriumtugofwar. I am aware of his empty place at the couch, his books, reading glasses, and magnifier stacked neatly the way he left them. I know he led a long and happy life, but his absence still is ever present.

Even worse, this is the second time in less than five years that my living situation has been thrown into upheaval by death, and this time I do not have a fall back position. The whole world lies open before me, but I don’t know what to do with it. To add to the complications, I need to pack in anticipation of leaving this house, which will be put on the market in a few weeks. I’d already gotten rid of the bulk of Jeff’s things before I came here, but what remains are “our things” along with what is left of his effects — things so emotionally laden that I simply could not dispose of them during that worst day of my life when I cleaned out his closet and drawers and prized possessions. And now I have to figure out what to do with it all. Oddly, the only thing so far that set off an emotional storm was the container of refrigerator magnets we used to use. Other things, like his favorite jacket and the sweater he wore when we met, I stoicly repacked because I still can’t deal with them.

Did I mention the sun sets at 4:30 around here? And I am prone to SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

So this was my state of mind as I listened to my lunch companions talk. And oh, my poor heart ached. I would give anything to see Jeff one more time. Even if he had gone to be with another woman and left me destitute in the process, I would still be glad to know that he was alive and well. I’d be angry, of course, heartbroken and humiliated, but I so loved him that his well-being meant more to me than my own. (I’m only now learning to put myself first, but that could be because there’s no one left in my life to care about that deeply. I’ve lost them all one way or another — Jeff, the two brothers closest to me in age, my parents, a very special friend.)

I no longer know who has it worst when it comes to grief — the divorced, the widowed, those who lost a child, parent, lover, sibling, best friend, pet. I no longer care. We all suffer heartache and grief in our lives. We all deal with it as best as we can (or let it deal with us). In my case, this conversation mostly served to show me how vulnerable I still am, how much I still miss him, how much his being dead is still a part of my life.

God may provide, the universe might be unfolding as it should be, everything could be falling into place, my destiny might be waiting, life could be what is happening while I am making other plans (or whatever aphorism it is that you believe), but the truth is, at the moment, I am stressed to the limits.

I keep saying that however things turn out, I’ll be okay. And I mean it. Just not today.

***

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.

Daughter No More

My father died this morning a little before four. One of my brothers was here, and he kept vigil while I took a nap, and that is when father chose to die. Oddly, it didn’t bother me not being there at the moment of his death. I was holding him during his last bit of consciousness, felt his acceptance. After all his time of not wanting to die, suddenly, he was ready. And so he did what he always did when his course was set — just forged ahead. Things happened so fast (things like arranging for a hospital bed), and he changed so rapidly, it felt like weeks passed but was less than seventy-two hours from the beginning of his steep decline to the end.

It took even less time to remove all signs of death — his body, his pills, his equipment. My brother and other siblings are notifying relatives and working to arrange the funeral, so after all these years, I’m left with nothing to do for my father. My mother died almost seven years ago, so now I am a daughter no more. The price of daughterhood has been paid in full, and I am free. But free to do what? I still don’t know.

The house won’t be sold immediately, of course, and my siblings have agreed to let me stay here at least another month or two, which is only fair considering how much worry I saved them. But after that? I’ll just wait, see what happens. I still have to go through my stuff and get rid of what I can since it will all be going into storage until I decide to settle down somewhere.

But all that is in the near future. I’m still just trying to get through this day, and then each of the coming days. For all of you who have followed my grief journey and so might be expecting me to descend into sorrowful depths again, don’t worry. That sort of shattering turned-inside-out grief only happened to me when I lost my soul mate, and I don’t have that sort of all-consuming pain today, only a strange emptiness. My father lived a long, happy, healthy, charmed life, so there is not a lot of tragedy attached to his passing. Once again, though, my life will be changing drastically due to a death, and that brings its own sort of grief, though this time it might also bring an exhilarating sense of possibility.

Thank you for all your concern and support. As always, you have helped me through a trying time.

Here’s wishing for better days for all of us.

***

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.

Death Rattle

I am sitting here listening to my father’s death rattle. First, there is the puff of the oxygen concentrator machine accompanied by the gurgling of the attached humidifier, then, like an echo, the rattle of his breath.

Things are progressing, or rather degressing, very rapidly. He started having breathing/panic attacks on Thursday, and by Saturday, he was experiencing them every couple of hours. I thought everything was more or less under control, but Saturday evening, he fell. He wasn’t hurt. Just scared. He kept demanding a doctor. I sat with him and tried to soothe him until hospice came. The nurse and I got him on the bed, but he was agitated, sweating, twitching, having pbedroblems breathing, and experiencing what seemed to be hallucinations, so she suggested he take morphine to open the bronchial tubes and haloperidol for the agitation.

Although she wouldn’t say how long he had left, I recognized the “end signs.” I stayed up with him most of the night, and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully, but this morning, he got agitated again. Tried to get out of bed, couldn’t cough up the secretions (as they so delicately call his prodigious amounts of mucus. I’ll spare you the details of my holding him while he drooled those “secretions” all over me). I finally got him partly settled, half on and half off the bed — he’s too heavy for me to lift by myself. Luckily, right about that time, the hospice nurse came to check on him, and she agreed that he is displaying the end signs, especially terminal restlessness.

I won’t bore you with the story of my (his) day, but the upshot is he is now in a hospital bed with rails (so I don’t have to worry about his falling). He’s mostly comatose, and although he doesn’t have mottling of the skin to show that his organs are shutting down, it does seem he has little time left. The nurse says her best guess is 48 hours. He can barely swallow, so I give him his few drugs with an oral syringe. He stopped eating and drinking yesterday. (When Jeff was at this point, he still had five days left, but dad changes by the minute, so I sincerely doubt he will take that long. Since he’s made up his mind to die — in fact, he asked me to help him die, which of course I cannot do — he will proceed posthaste as he always does when his course is set.)

I am with him almost constantly, monitoring his distress, and keeping him as comfortable as possible. I am hoping he doesn’t wake up — the realization that he is in a hospital bed will be too demoralizing for him.

Still, at ninety-seven, he’s led a very long and charmed life, a lot longer, happier, and healthier than most people. And his end won’t be prolonged. Something to be grateful for on this eve of my orphanhood.

***

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.

 

 

Dad Update Too

I’m taking a short break from my offline life to catch my breath here online where it is calm and quiet. Oh, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday my ninety-seven-year-old father seemed fairly normal, just starting to have more difficulties, possibly because his body is shutting down, but today, he experienced bad episodes almost hourly, and I’ve spent the entire day with him, in addition to visiting briefly with siblings, and coping with one minor emergency after the other.

And then tonight, after all that, my father fell. Oh, my. I got him untangled from his walker, and kept him lying quietly on the floor, soothing him, while I called hospice and waited for the nurse to come. He seems to be declining rapidly now — every hour is different from anything that has come before.

Luckily, I am only on my own with him until Monday night — my brother-in-law offered to come stay until my other sister could get here. It will be so good not to have to worry about my falling asleep at just the wrong time or having to leave my father to suffer his panic attacks alone. Selfishly, I am glad I will not have give up my dance classes — they keep me strong and sane. But even if it weren’t for the classes, I would need to have someone else here. He is fighting the inevitable with every cantankerous bone in his body, though perhaps the morphine and haloperidol will help him move past the restlessness and let him sleep.

I probably won’t sleep much — I’ll have to stay in the bedroom next to him so I can hear him if he needs help. And, of course, feed him his drugs at the prescribed times.

All this seems bizarrely normal, though occasionally it strikes me as strange that death has been my life for so many years now. First helping with my mother, then taking care of my life mate/soul mate, and now my father.

And afterward? My father will be at peace, and I . . . well, who knows what I will be doing. Other than dancing, that is.

***

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.

Dad Update

My father, for most of his 97 years, has seemed invincible, as if even death couldn’t defeat him. In fact, I’ve been worried that because of his continued improvement after a recent hospitalization, hospice would evict him. But no one is truly everlasting, and for the first time, I see distinct signs that his long life will someday be ending.

He seems to have reached a new low. He has more troubles breathing, more panic attacks, more nightmares, and more loss of strength — all in the past week. I’ve put off giving him morphine for as long as I could — I’m in and out four days of the week, and I didn’t want him to be alone when he started using the liquid morphine for breathing in case there were side effects. (Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, was on morphine at the end, and he wasn’t himself at all, though it could also have been due to the cancer that had spread to his brain. Oddly, my mother, who died of lung cancer while on hospice, never had to resort to morphine for breathing or for pain.)

I’ll be with my father almost continuously for the next three days, but that’s not enough for him. He wants me here all the time, and I simply cannot do it. It might seem terrible of me to want to continue dancing, but dancing brings me joy, releases whatever stress I might have from being my father’s sole caregiver, gets me out of the house, and keeps me from resenting the situation. (I don’t resent taking care of him, but I would if I had to give up my dance classes.) I’m only gone for a total of about twenty-five hours a week, either taking classes or running errands, and the rest of the time I am here alone with him.

He could be to the point where he can’t be left alone at all. Luckily, I have a sister waiting to be summoned back to help. It’s hard sharing such close quarters with a strong-willed woman, so I’ve been dragging my feet on making that decision. But I gave in to the morphine, and I will give in to this, too. I need to keep my mind on the goals — my dancing (first!) and my father’s care. Even if I didn’t have dancing, I couldn’t be at his beck and call for twenty-four hours a day. It is simply too stressful. I know people do it because they have no other choice, but I’ve already put in my time when Jeff was dying, and anyway, he was easy to deal with because he knew what was happening to him, and he accepted it. My father, on the other hand, fights the inevitable every step of the way, hurrying through what he calls his “chores” (taking his pills, doing his breathing treatment, urinating) so he can sleep, then hurrying through his naps so he can do his chores, as if he were trying to stay one step ahead of death.

I try to be conciliatory toward his drama attacks (everything he experiences is the worst thing he ever felt in his life, even if it is a short-lived pain or bloody nose or bad dream). But the truth is, it’s hard to find the tragedy in the dying of a 97-year-old man who lived a charmed and healthy life well into his nineties. (I know comparisons are not fair, but I keep thinking of Jeff who led a painful life and died when he was only 63.) But so many years of good health and good living have left my control-freak father ill-prepared for losing control of any part of his life, and because of it, he can’t handle even the small things that go wrong.

Do I sound unsympathetic? I’m not. It’s just that it doesn’t help the situation if I get as panicked as he does. Of course, when he’s gone and my life is turned upside down yet again, I might give in to panic. Or not. All of my life’s uncertainty might (at least I hope it might) help me deal with my own end, particularly since I don’t have a devoted daughter to ease my final years.

***

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 Joy That Is To Come

One of my online friends once told me about an old woman she knew, the most joyful person she’d ever met. The woman had lost everyone who had ever mattered to her, and yet somehow she exuded joy.

We marveled at the woman and wondered how she could find joy in the midst of life’s sorrow. And oh, my. There is so much sorrow. My friend had lost two of her children (lost to death, that is, not misplaced them.) I’d lost my life mate/soul mate who was also my best friend, my home, my constant companion. My friend and I were drowning in grief and anger, unable to find a way back to life. I’m now 1000 miles away from my controlled and coupled life, dealing with the chaos of a dying father and a schizoaffective, alcoholic brother. And yet, and yet . . . sometimes I catch glimpses of the joy that is to come and I understand the old woman’s bright outlook.

This morning I took my father his meager meal and kept him company while he ate. He is nothing but bones wrapped in a sack of skin and body fluids, and it seems as if his whole life now revolves around the management of those fluids. Mucus. Saliva. Urine. Feces. Blood. As I sat there, recognizing that this was the same man who sometimes terrorized me as a child, often ignored me, and occasionally showed me he cared, something shifted in my mind, and I saw life at a different slant.

afternoon teaIf this is what it all comes down to in the end, ingesting, digesting, and egesting, then there is no reason to be anything but joyful. The dramas and traumas of our life are eliminated just as surely as the food we eat or the liquids we drink. Sitting here, I can feel joy creeping through the cracks in my life, and I welcome it. My joy does not in any way affect my father, does not make his end days any easier or harder. My joy does not in any way change my brother’s situation. He got screwed in life’s lottery, ending up with problems I can’t imagine and even if I could imagine them, I can do nothing to help besides an offer of life’s necessities.

During the past four years, I have heard many horrific stories, stories of people’s grief, stories of people’s dealings with schizophrenic sons, narcissistic mates, abusive parents. At times I felt as if the whole world was created out of tragedy and pain, and yet, without in any way diminishing those traumas, I now understand that those tragedies are not mine. I can sympathize, empathize, listen with care, but I cannot spend my life bleeding for all the wrongs of the world, though once I thought it was the soulful way to live.

Now my idea of a soulful way to live is to embrace joy. It might be naïve of me to think so, but for now, I am Visualizing a Life of Joy.

***

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.

Handmaiden of Death

In June, I finished my started projects, cleaned house, and did everything I could think of to enable me to dedicate July to writing my new novel. I wrote for five days, then life, with a mocking laugh, stole my free time.

My elderly father developed prostate complications, and while he was in the hospital, his general practitioner decided to use the opportunity to do other tests. And since my father decided he had the right to refuse any treatment, he declined to sit in a chair or walk down the hall. And so he developed pneumonia, which extended his hospitalization.

He is home now, but mostly bedridden by choice. He can still walk, but both my sister, who came to help out, and I insist that one of us be there because he refuses to use the walker. Not a problem, really. He prefers to stay in bed except when he feels the need to empty his bowels, and so often, that feeling comes from his body sending him the wrong signal or perhaps he is simply misinterpreting what he feels.

During the past few years, I’ve seen way too many people in the final stages of life — a brother, my mother, my life mate/soul mate, and now my father. The first three died of cancer, and my father is simply wasting away from old age, his once strong body slowly shutting down.

To be honest, I find the end of life horrific, both for the dying and the tortures they endure(d), and for me as a bystander and future victim. I know this is the cycle of life — conception, birth, growth, decline, death — but something in me cannot grasp (or accept) the idea of decline.

heavenOne of my favorite end-of-life scenes is from the movie Soylent Green where the sick and dying are taken to beautiful rooms and treated to a visual and musical montage of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life, scenes that had long disappeared from earth because of human overpopulation. And then the sick folks were gone, peacefully and instantly. That seems a much better and more humane way to die than waiting for the body to eat itself with cancer or to begin decaying while the body is still alive. (In Biblical times, executioners would strap a dead man — the “body of death” — on to the one convicted, and as it began to decay it would begin killing the living man . . . by decomposition. So vastly different from a Soylent Green death!)

In our culture, we basically have no recourse but to let the body do what it will. And rightly so, I suppose. Who among us is wise enough to say who is to live and who is to die? I remember another story I once read where the aged mother had told her daughter she didn’t want to live as a vegetable, and if that ever happened, then she wanted her daughter to end her life. One day the mother did end up paralyzed with no means of communication, but she found a quiet joy in her greatly condensed world. And then her daughter killed her. Ouch.

My sister had a rough time with our father last night, and tonight is my turn to be on call. We got a long-range wireless doorbell and gave him the button to push when he wants us. We women move the doorbell from room to room depending on who is to answer his call. It seems strange to be handmaidens of death, but that is the role we have accepted for now.

Despite all this, I’m still hoping to work on my book a little more this month, though exhaustion — for me, anyway — is not exactly conducive to literary endeavors.

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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.

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