A Widow’s March

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

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

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

See? Stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Letter to the Dead

I was searmailboxching through my stack of notebooks today, looking for some information I needed, when I came across the last letter I wrote to Jeff, my deceased life mate/soul mate. I used to write him as a way of feeling connected to him, but I haven’t done so in a over a year. The letter, dated October 13, 2013, was written three years and seven months after his death. I don’t remember the dream, don’t even remember writing the letter, but here it is:

Dear Jeff,

I dreamt about you last night. You came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. You were in your underwear, and in the dream, I knew you’d come from where you were sleeping, though I had the impression you’d been with someone, as if you had another life. You said, “I miss you.”

I woke and teared up a bit, but no emotional storm, just an acknowledgment that I missed you too.

Was that really you? Some people would say so, but I still don’t know the truth of (or have any belief in) what comes after. I’ll know soon enough, I suppose. As long as my remaining years seem, I know the truth — they are but a wisp of time. For a long time, I was afraid of growing old alone and dying alone. I know we all die alone; I guess the fear was of being feeble alone, but I’ve chosen to believe that if my end years were going to be difficult, you wouldn’t have left me.

I’m trying to embrace life in a way I never did before — to see it as the gift everyone says it is. I was angry at you recently for leaving me here stuck between my father and my brother as I’d always been when I was young, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve found a new love (dancing) and I’m walking with a group when I can, which is helping me stay centered. I could leave here, of course, and run away from the men who are bedeviling me, but I’d also be leaving these activities and my new friends, which adds an element of irony to the situation.

What about you? What are you doing? How are you doing? I wish we could talk, catch up, tell our current truths, but maybe someday . . .

Will you still like me? Will you be waiting for me?

Adios, compadre. I love you.

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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.

 

Visualizing a Life of Joy

When a fellow grief survivor once told me about a woman she knew — an old woman who had lost everyone she had ever loved — and how the woman was the most joyful person she had ever met, I could only marvel. At the time, I was in the midst of unfathomable grief for my life mate/soul mate, but even before my terrible loss, I’d never been a candyparticularly joyful person. I couldn’t understand how, in the midst of the traumas and dramas life doles out like Halloween candy, anyone could find joy. And yet, and yet . . .

If you’ve read any of my posts about my current situation, looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with my dysfunctional brother, you might think I’m in the throes of despair, but oddly, there is a feeling of . . . could it be joy? . . . deep within me. It’s as if something — my psyche, my inner child, my soul — is smiling.

When my brother is relentlessly demanding my attention, particularly late at night when I’m exhausted, or when I’ve had to explain something for the tenth time to my bewildered and hearing impaired father, I wonder how I’ll ever make it through another moment, but in the quiet times, I’m finding peace and an illusive joy. I feel as if I am letting go of ties that kept me bound to an unhappy past and a burdensome present.

What helps is that I’ve found refuge in new friends and new activities that make me feel alive, especially exercise classes that stretch my body and my mind. Like yoga, these classes make me aware of possibilities I had never considered, and teach me to reach further, imagine more, dream deeper. They make me feel beautiful and graceful, even though the mirror quite clearly shows I am many years past such an ideal. Or not. My teacher skews the whole age curve, making seventy-seven look like fifty. For so long, I’ve been afraid of growing old alone, worrying about dragging a decrepit body through long and solitary decades, and while such a scenario is possible, it’s not necessarily true. The exercise teacher’s radiant smile and still sensual movements show what is possible if someone keeps active, has a great attitude, and is blessed with a bit of luck.

I don’t know what life has in store for me, of course, but for the first time in I don’t know how long — maybe forever — I can visualize a life of joy.

The very thought makes me smile.

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

Becoming Who I Need to Be

For a long time, I lamented that I hadn’t been changing, and I thought I should have been.

After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I was totally blindsided by grief. I’d lost my mother a couple of years previously, and a brother the year before that, so I thought I understood what grief was. Besides, I knew my mate was dying. We’d spent the last three years of his life disentangling our lives and severing the connection so we could go our separate ways — he to death, me to life alone. I truly thought I’d moved on, yet after he died, I experienced such agony and angst that it shattered me, my identity, my understanding of life . . . everything. An experience like that should change a person, yet month after month I remained . . . just me.

Now, two years and four months after his death, the changes are occurring on an almost daily basis. I’m still just me, but the person I am today is not the same as the one who screamed the pain of her loss to the uncaring winds. Nor am I the one so connected to another human being she still felt broken more than a year after his death. I left those women out in the desert somewhere. I’ve walked about 2,000 miles since he died, and a bit of that me evaporated with every step.

I am stronger than that person was, maybe even wiser, certainly more confident and open to whatever comes, willing to accept life on its own terms.

I no longer fear growing old alone as she did. I might not live to a great age, and if I do, I might not be alone, but even if I am, that woman will not be the me of today. She will older, used to dealing with the infirmities that come with age, perhaps even experienced in the ways of dying. She will have lived her life to the fullest of her ability, and might even be able to wake each morning feeling the joy of living one more day, no matter how painful. Or not. But the point is, I am not in that place today, and the person I am today will never be in that place. So there is no reason to be afraid.

For so long, I’ve been worried about what will happen to me now that I am alone. I worried that I’d become the crazy cat lady (sans cats) or the pathetic, lonely old woman that everyone whispers about (when they remember her at all). If I end up alone and lonely, so be it. I’ll be okay. I am quite comfortable with being alone. (I always was, to be honest. Grief skewed things, made me desperately fearful of loneliness.)

But I am not alone now. I have friends to go to lunch with, online friends to plan trips with, siblings to talk to now and again, an aged father to look after. I thought it would bother me no longer being part of a couple, but the other day at lunch when some women my age were talking about maybe meeting guys and falling in love again, I asked, “Why?” All of a sudden it seemed strange to want such a thing. Three of us had mates with compromised health, and now that they are gone, we are free to simply be. It’s not out of any loyalty to my deceased mate that I find myself unwilling to pursue a hypothetical relationship right now, but out of loyalty to me.

And that brings me to the biggest change of all. It bothered me that no matter what happened, I was always just me. Now I see that as a good thing. No matter what happens in my life, no matter what challenges I face, I will always be there, becoming who I need to be, even if it takes longer than I think it should.