It Is What It Is

I talked to a friend today about the various problems we are facing in this, our fourth year of grief, and she said, “It is what it is.”

Robert Hartwell Fiske calls such sayings “quack expressions,” saying they “readily explain behavior that the dimwitted otherwise find inexplicable, and justify attributes that they otherwise find unjustifiable.”

He’s right to a certain extent, and yet . . .

My friend is anything but dimwitted. She, like me, is struggling with life, death, grief, change, and other life experiences that are inexplicable to everyone, dimwitted, brightwitted, or somewhere in between. Sometimes it truly is what it is, quack expression or not.

Desp077cite what the positive thinkers and those who believe we create our own reality profess, much of life is beyond our control. We don’t decide who lives and dies. We can’t choose who we love or despise (though we can choose what we do with those feelings). We can’t always help people who need to be helped. We can’t hurry along or slow down natural processes, such as childbirth or old age. Nor can we recreate the world to suit our desires. The sun always rises in the eastern sky and sets in a westerly direction. The moon always affects our world, though  myths tell of a time before the moon came to stay. And, as they say, time and tide wait for no man. (Though I suppose, being a woman and not a man, I should be able to sway such natural phenomena.)

It is what it is.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with a couple of situations that are not of my making, that I have no control over, that don’t affect me in a primary way (besides tearing me apart by conflicted loyalties). I can’t solve any of the problems that have arisen, can’t walk away from them, can’t change anything. All I can do is realize each situation is what it is, and let it go as best as I can. (It helps to realize that in a case of divided loyalties, my loyalties belong to myself.)

In my writing, of course, I stay away from such expressions since I like my writing to have a tinge of elegance, but life is not always elegant.

It is what it 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.


Figuring Things Out

For the past two months, I’ve been dealing with a situation I can’t write about. It’s outside the scope of this blog, and the people involved would be terribly hurt if I were to make the drama public. It’s a sadly inevitable predicament, with roots dating back to my childhood, and without being able to write about it, I haven’t had any way to deal with my grief over the situation except walking. And tears.

I’ve foundDesert paths myself crying at odd moments, and it’s been comforting, being in the embrace of this old friend. Like most people, I used to think tears were a sign of weakness, but now I know they are a way of getting rid of the hormones that build up with stress. They are also a way of connecting to one’s inner self, as if that self is saying, “There, there. Everything is going to be okay.”

And maybe things will be okay. Eventually. I’ll figure out my dilemma, if only how to deal with the fallout of the situation.

Today I went out walking earlier than normal to try to beat the heat, and apparently that’s what many others did because I saw a lot of people out and about. I don’t like meeting other people when I walk. Walking is my private time, a means of getting in touch with myself and my surroundings, a place to open myself to inspiration and mystical thoughts, a way to deal with my problems, and people disrupt all that. Since the foot traffic kept me away from my usual route to the desert, I took a different direction to get to the back trail I prefer — the trail is a demanding walk with lots of ups and downs and in certain areas a cool wind comes drifting down the hills. Also, for some reason, it’s where I talk to my deceased life mate/soul mate. (I’ve never been able to figure out why I associate him with that particular area. He never liked the desert, he hated the heat, and he’d never been within a thousand miles of the place.)

When I found my way to that back trail, I said aloud to him, “See? I figured it out.” And then I realized how true the words were. During all these years of dealing with the dying of my life mate/soul mate and my ensuing grief, I’ve had a lot of trauma thrown at me, but I figured out each step. I had to deal with funeral services people, get rid of his things, clear out the twenty-year accumulation in our home, store what I wanted to keep, get myself to my father’s house so I could look after him, learn to live with grief and all its torments, deal with the challenges of the book world and of the world in general.

Although I worry too much (I call it weighing my options), and don’t always know where I am headed, when it comes time to take action, I do manage to figure things out. And I have no doubt I’ll continue doing so, which is a good thing. Life isn’t finished throwing challenges at me — besides my current dilemma, there’s still my father’s decline, my need to restart my life when he’s gone, the vicissitudes of aging to deal with alone, and a host of other difficulties that will be sure to taunt me — but I will figure things out when I get there.


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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Was a Horoscope Ever More Wrong?

On a jaunt around the internet, I happened on my horoscope for 2012.

The year 2012 is going to be favorable for you. You will surprise your partner and add some spice to your relationship. Harmony will be there, but you will have to put in more effort on your life partner to keep him satisfied.

An explosion of emotions is most likely to happen in the second half of the year. Neither you nor your life partner will be ready to compromise. If the relationship is already dead, it is no use giving any advice. You will be more inclined to retreat and you will feel more comfortable with some distance between you and the outside world. It is your way of regaining your strength. Your partner might be surprised by your wish for solitude if you refuse to share certain moments with him — that’s why it is essential you talk to him to avoid any misunderstanding.

Well, they got one thing right — the relationship couldn’t be deader. It’s hard to add spice to a relationship when only one of the people in the relationship is still alive, or to satisfy someone who has been dead for two years. There isn’t much space for compromise between the living and the dead. Nor is there any need to avoid misunderstandings.

(I thought I could write an amusing rebuttal to this horoscope, but apparently I’ve run out of “amusing.” I don’t seem to have the knack of black humor, and I see nothing to laugh at when it comes to death. Perhaps death is too important not to joke about, but I can’t make light of it. Death devastates the living, and grief for sure is no joking matter.)

Still Confounded by Grief

For two years, my reaction to the death of my life mate/soul mate has bewildered me. I knew he was dying and I’d spent over a decade preparing myself for that eventuality. I thought I’d accepted the inevitable, but now I see I was merely resigned (and perhaps exhausted). Still, I am independent-minded, always have been. I know how to do things on my own, know how to entertain myself, know how to take care of myself. I’ve never been afraid of being alone, never been one to hide behind pretty lies or protective fantasies. And yet his death devastated me as much as it confounded me. In fact, after almost two years (two years minus two days, to be exact; 729 days) I still feel lost, still feel broken.

Not all deaths affect people the same. My mother died three years before my mate, and my brother died a year before that. My grief for them was what I used to consider “normal.” I missed them and felt bad that they were gone, but my life went on without any major upheavals. But when my mate died, it was a cataclysm, affecting every part of my life. And the strong connection we always had, a cosmic-twin sort of connection, was broken.

The day before my mother’s funeral, I broke my ankle, so I spent her viewing at the emergency room and I spent her funeral at the bone specialist. It turns out that what I had was a very bad sprain, so bad that when the ligaments tore away, they cracked the bone.

I realize now this same sort of thing happened when my mate died. Whatever connection we had was so strong that when he was torn away from me and our life, it fractured me. This fracture had nothing to do with my being weak or too dependent on him or unwilling to face the truth or any of the other snide rationalities people have made about my sorrow. However deep and prolonged, my grief for him is normal and understandable. It takes a long time for a broken bone to heal and regain its former strength. How much longer must it take when one’s psyche has been broken.

And so, I still deal with the fracture his death caused in me, and I still deal with the bewilderment of his death. Perhaps when he died, he took a chunk of me with him, the same way bone still adheres to torn ligaments, and so part of me would be wherever he is, if he is. His death felt like an amputation, and I can no longer feel that part of me where we were attached. Some people still feel connected to those who are gone, but I never do. I merely feel his goneness, his absence, which seems as strong as his presence once did. And I still feel fractured. Still feel lost. Perhaps to a certain extent I will always feel this way, because the cause of this loss, his being dead, will always be a part of me. And that is one truth I wish I didn’t have to face.

Falling into Grief

I wonder how much of grief is hormonal. I often think of the young women who have their lives mapped out, want to accomplish so much, are on the fast track to success and then . . . whap. They meet the love of their life, and all of a sudden, their lives, their plans, their dreams all change. Those sex/nesting/procreating hormones are so powerful, they can derail your life, make you see things in a different light, make you do things you would never do. Women who never wanted kids start dreaming of cradling sweet-smelling bundles, look for houses in neighborhoods with good schools, invest in SUVs. People call this maturity, but basically, it’s just hormones and preprogrammed DNA kicking in. After all, in terms of genetics and evolution, we are just DNA machines, and everything works together to make sure we do our duty.

Grief does the same thing. It makes us see things in a different light, makes us want things we’d never thought about, derails all our plans, makes us do and feel things we never thought possible. Changes us. People think grief is a choice, but it isn’t — it’s something that’s thrust on us. There is no way we can choose to feel things we never imagined possible. I thought grief was a quiet melancholy, a sweet nostalgia, a pervasive sadness. Grief, for me was none of those things. (Well, that’s not strictly true — it’s how I felt when my brother and my mother died, but did not at all resemble how I felt after my life mate/soul mate died.)

A friend of mine wrote me: I have done therapy for 40 years. I have worked with people who have lost kids, spouses, parents, dogs everyone and every kind of pet. I had NO clue what it was really like in spite of losing my best friends and parents. I think a therapist who counsels someone in grief should have gone through a loss like you and I have before she/he tries to help someone. God knows there are enough of us out here who REALLY know grief. NOW I am one of them. (I hope she doesn’t mind I passed this on, but it is too important to keep to myself.)

Before people fall in love, they haven’t a clue of its true power, and then it washes over them in a life-changing moment. Before you fall into grief, you haven’t a clue of its true power,  but it too washes over you in a life-changing moment, and all but drowns you. Even though I’ve experienced so much of what grief does to a person, I still can’t believe its power. The way grief reflects falling in love as in a very dark mirror, there has to be a hormonal component. I know stress releases hormones, as does shock. Adrenaline courses through your body, and there are changes in brain chemistry that produce hormones. Your immune system goes on hold.

Do our bodies know we are no longer mated and ratchet back the DNA machine? I do know there is some effect on the limbic system. The lizard brain, which has been slumbering peacefully beneath our consciousness, wakes up and screams, “What?? I could die?? Say it isn’t so!” That’s a bit fanciful, so many of us feel it deep inside, the hurt of an animal who suddenly realizes there is an end. (As if there isn’t enough to contend with when if comes to grief.)

I don’t suppose it really matters what causes the physiological changes of grief — hormones, stress, agony, lizard brains. The primary cause is what matters. Someone we were deeply connected to died, and we fell into grief.

The Shoulder Season of Grief

I had a rough time around the publication of my new book, Grief: The Great Yearning, due partly to the fact that the story of me and my life mate/soul mate has been told and is now contained between the covers of a book, and partly to the realization once and for all that he is never coming back. I already knew that of course, knew it from the moment he died, and I came to that same realization dozens of times afterward, but this time I reached rock bottom of acceptance, and it took. Surprisingly, the last couple of days have been good ones. My emotional state evened out, and I felt light. It wasn’t just that my grief took a hiatus, but also that my anger had dissipated. I’ve been angry for so long, since way before he died, that it became my default state. Because of that, I didn’t even realize I’ve been angry.

For many years, we sustained loss after loss — his health, our business, security — and finally, his life. So many reasons to be angry. I haven’t been furious or enraged, just a quiet anger that went soul deep. So, why did the anger leave me, even if only temporarily? I don’t know. Perhaps because the realization he is never coming back brought the knowledge that the past really is the past. Or perhaps this is simply the latest stage of my grief, a letting go. Or perhaps it’s because spring is almost here.

Whatever the reason, I no longer fear the third year of grief. I expect to experience grief upsurges, but for the most part, I think I’ll be entering the shoulder season of grief.

In the travel business, the time between the high season and the low season is called the shoulder season. I’m coming up on the two-year anniversary of his death. I will probably have some unbearably sad days as the date approaches, but after the anniversary, I could be entering a time of not-grief but not non-grief, either, a bit of a shoulder between the wildness of my early grief and the road to the rest of my life.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, but I feel a quickening of interest. If I let myself, I still panic at the thought of growing old alone, of being old alone, of dying (although the idea of being dead doesn’t bother me, dying does — it can be a terrible thing) but I still have many good years left. I actually might accomplish something. Or not. I’m not sure if I want to “do” or if I want simply to “be”. I do have a new philosophy, though — the platinum rule. If the golden rule is to treat others the way you would want them to treat you, then the platinum rule is to treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you. So, I intend to be kind to myself, to be patient with my deficiencies, to be proud of my accomplishments. And I intend to encourage myself to be bold and adventurous.

Sounds like a good beginning to my shoulder season of grief.

Grief: Love or Codependency?

Heavy winds today reminded me of a walk I took thirty-five years ago. (Weird, huh? Hadn’t thought about that day in a very long time.) It was a lovely spring evening, or rather, it would have been if it weren’t for the winds. But I was too restless to stay inside. This was about six months after I met the man I would spend the next few decades with, and like a homing pigeon, I headed for his store even though I knew he wouldn’t be there. I wanted to feel connected to him, even if in such a minor way.

When you fall in love, such bits of silliness are expected and excused. Apparently, they are understandable in the context of new love. But when you spend a lifetime with someone, and you still have that connection, people start looking askance, thinking that perhaps you’re codependent. And when he dies, leaving you feeling as if half of you died, too, then the pointing figures become more . . . pointed.

A few days ago I posted my latest chapter of the collaborative novel Rubicon Ranch that I’m writing with eight other authors. In my chapter, I wrote:

Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered her husband when they first met. His hazel eyes had blazed with golden lights as he smiled at her, and young fool that she’d been, she’d been dazzled. They had a great life, or so it had seemed. She’d felt safe with him as they traveled the world over. And free. What need had she of a house, a car, kids when she had him?

Well, now she had nothing but debts. And doubts. Had Alexander ever loved her as she loved him?

Today I had a bizarre little exchange with a total stranger. He wrote: “This excerpt suggests your ‘young’ lady may benefit from CODA; this is like AA for Co-dependency; a peer support group[P2P] that provides support for individuals struggling to devise[and adhere to] a recovery plan[WRAP].”

I responded: “Maybe she simply loved her husband. Not all people who are deeply connected to another human being have codependency issues. Her surviving her spouse’s suspicious death confuses the matter, makes her wonder what was real. Perfectly normal behavior under the circumstances. Grief skews one’s perceptions.”

His response: “Kinda my point! How do we define for ourselves what is real love, or a symptom of dependency? …define for ourselves who is grieving; who is stuck in this codependency conundrum?”

There is no codependency conundrum here. Just because two human beings are depending on each other for love and support, it does not make them a therapist’s subject. And even if only one of the parties is in love, as might be the case in my story’s scenario, it still doesn’t make the one who loves codependent. Unrequited love is still love.

It’s very simple. Love means wanting what is best for the other. You help each other grow. You never expect the other to fix your individual problems, though you often take each other’s advice. You don’t cling, demand, or base your relationship on unrealistic expectations. Together you provided a safe environment where each can be yourself. And you support each other any way you can. No matter how connected you feel or how bereft you are when your mate dies, if the relationship helped make you grow, made you a better person, it is not codependency no matter how it appears to outsiders.

Admittedly, this exchange was about a character in a book, but I’ve had similar conversations with people about my grief, as if grieving for a life mate/soul mate is somehow . . . sick. As if it makes me un-well-adjusted. The truth is, I am very well adjusted, so much so that I’ve been willing to make my grief public in an effort to spread the word that it is okay to grieve.

And it is okay. Don’t let anyone blow off your grief.

Passing the Test of Grief

I am still freaked out by the imminent publication of my book, Grief: The Great Yearning. Still crying intermittently. I knew I was due for a grief upsurge since I’ve been careful to turn my mind to other things the past month or so, and grief can only be denied for so long, but this upsurge is different. It feels like the end of something — perhaps the end of a subliminal belief that his dying was a test. It could still be a test, but the reward for accomplishing this particular task of dealing with the fallout from the death of my life mate/soul mate is not our getting back together, at least not in this lifetime. And maybe not in the next. Maybe the only reward is in what I become because of his death and my grief.

When we met, I still believed in a cosmic plan, and I had the feeling that he was a higher being come to help me on my quest to the truth. But now? I no longer believe there is a universal truth, and I don’t think he’s waiting for me, though I try to pretend that he is. It’s better than believing that he is gone forever.

And perhaps he does still exist in some form. What do I know? One thing I have learned from my grief is that a human life is a spectrum. You don’t notice it so much when you are both alive, because you are both in the moment, both always the people you have become. But when one of you dies, his becoming ceases, and you see his life as a whole. The person he was when you met is every bit as alive in memory as the person he was the minute before he died. The youthful man, the middle-aged one, the healthy one, the sick one are all merely spaces on the spectrum of his life. It’s possible the spectrum of a human life is the same sort of spectrum as light — beginning long before the visible part appears and ending long after the visible part disappears. Of course, the non-visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum aren’t light but sound and radiation and other invisible waves, so whatever exists outside of the visible human spectrum might be something completely different from we can ever imagine.

It’s this sort of speculation that gives rise to the feeling that my grief has been test — a game, perhaps — something that is not quite real. If I keep philosophizing about death and what comes after, then I don’t have to deal with the reality that for the rest of my life, I will have to survive without the one person who knew me, who listened, who helped, who cared about every aspect of my being.

It seems as every step of this journey is worse than the last, and this next part, where I truly understand that he is gone and that I truly am alone is going to be the hardest. It takes my breath away to think of it, and leaves me teary.

Maybe grief was just the pop quiz. Maybe the real test is what I do with the rest of my life.

Grief Means Never Having to Say I’m Sorry

I found myself crying yesterday morning. Nothing major, just a few tears and a desperate plea for forgiveness from my life mate/soul mate. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I wailed, as if I had done something to make him leave me and now I’m left to suffer the consequences. I did nothing, of course, and he didn’t leave me — he died. But somewhere in the depths of my being, I cannot process his death. I witnessed his last days, weeks, hours. I was there for his last breath. I saw the nurses clean him, wrap him in a white blanket shroud. Accompanied the gurney out to the hearse (a black SUV, actually). Watched the SUV drive away. Picked up his ashes several days later. There is no doubt in my mind he is dead. And yet . . . and yet . . .

I mentioned in my post a couple of days ago that there is an element of blank when it comes to death, a non-comprehension of what it means for him to be so very gone from this earth. I must have assumed that his death would feel as if he’s in another room, or out running errands, or some such. But it doesn’t feel like that at all. It feels like there’s a massive void where once he lived in my mind, my heart.

Last night, when I got the final proof of my grief book, I starting sobbing because the reality of his death really struck home. As I wrote to a bereft friend, “I haven’t cried this long for many weeks, but now I can’t stop crying. All of a sudden it is too damn real. He never is coming back, is he? It really is over. I feel as if I have been playing at grief these past months, and now playtime is finished, and real life begins. I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”

I knew he wasn’t coming back. I accepted that he was dead from the moment he died. But there’s been something unreal about my grief. I am not an emotional person. I’m very staid and down-to-earth, but his death rocketed me out of myself into another persona, and last night I felt as if I’m settling back into my old self. And he is dead for real.

How many times can one man die? When it comes to grief, apparently there are more deaths than one, and we grieve for every single one of them. Knowing that Grief: The Great Yearning is finished, knowing that our story has been told and that it even has an ending, has brought the truth home to me on a deeper level than ever before. No more waiting for him to call to tell me I can come home. No more hoping to meet him for a mountain rendezvous or a swim in a north country lake. There’s just me, now, and the memories that haunt me.

And I am so very sorry that he is gone.

The Final Resting Place for My Grief

I’ve been working on my new book Grief: The Great Yearning for the past couple of months, trying to get it as perfect as possible for publication, though I doubt anyone will notice if there are any typos. So, far, no one has been able to read it without weeping, and tears would mask any imperfections.

The text has been ready for over a month, but for some reason, the printer kept smearing the back cover copy. This sort of delay drove me nuts with my other books, but I’ve been patient with this one. I know it’s important to get it published, and yet I’m ambivalent. Do I really want all those raw emotions let loose on the world? Forever after, I will be a grieving woman. Even if I find happiness in some unimaginable future, my grief will still be there in my words, as desperate and real and profound as the day I felt them.

Today I received the final proof, and it is perfect. (Well, perfect except for the typo or two I have since found, but I am NOT going to worry about those.)

I’m sitting here weeping as I write this. I don’t know why the publication of this book makes the death of my life mate/soul mate final, but it does. His death and my grief are no longer my personal affair, but something real, something books are made of. He has no funeral plot, no memorial, no epitaph engraved for all eternity. Or rather, he didn’t have those things. Now he does — this book is his epitaph, his memorial, the final resting place for my grief.

It’s as if the past thirty-six years, and especially the past twenty-three months culminated in this one moment tonight when I held the book in my hands. Where did it all go? Where did he go? Where did my love go? How can our shared life, begun with such hope and radiance, have ended already?

I know now there are worse deaths than his, and there are worse fates than mine, but still, this wasn’t the way things were supposed to end. We always took care of ourselves, didn’t make stupid or foolish decisions, didn’t act rashly. We were kind to each other, looked out for each other, respected each other. We shared as much as is possible for two people to share. And this is how it ended: between the covers of a 166 page book.

It will still be a few days before Grief: The Great Yearning appears on Amazon in print and Kindle, and a few more days before it shows up on B&N, Apple, and the various other ebook sources, but my part is finished. And suddenly, I don’t want to let go.