Wordlessly Hibernating

Almost every day, it seems, I get on the computer to write a blog and end up playing an hour or two of various solitaire games before shutting down without ever having written a word to post. Haven’t even written a word to add my work in progress, either. I seem to be in a sort of wordless hibernating mode. I can’t even say I’m waiting for anything, except for maybe something worth waiting for.

During all those long years of grief, I expected something astonishingly wonderful to happen because only something stupendous could balance out the horror and impossible pain of Jeff’s dying. I no longer expect that awesome thing to happen, though I suppose it’s still possible for something miraculously good to happen. I’ve had many great experiences during the past seven years, but the only things that “happened” all on their own were the not-so-wonderful things such as my father’s death, my having to leave another home, and destroying my elbow/wrist/fingers. The good things didn’t just happen; I had to push for them, such as learning to dance, taking a cross-country trip, finishing two of my WIPs. And now I seem to have run out of pushability.

I still do push myself, of course, but I don’t seem to be able to push myself beyond a few simple tasks. I manage to get to my dance classes. I exercise my hands to try to get them to work better. (The hands work for most important things, such as driving and typing and gripping a ballet barre, but the fingers tend to act more like claws than human fingers.) Because of the intense heat, I hadn’t been walking, but now it cools off a bit after the sun sets so I can walk a couple of miles before dark. That’s a long way from the hours I used to be able to ramble, but I’m hoping to build up my strength again. I still have intermittent dreams of an epic hike, but that epic hike has shrunk from something like walking across the country or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to maybe a week or so of back-packing. (Still an impossible dream at the moment because I can barely carry myself along, let alone a thirty-pound pack. And anyway, thoughts of an epic hike seem to surface when I want to run away from life, and I seem to be doing that just fine in my current hibernating state.)

It feels good to be out walking again, so I’m glad I can push at least that much — somehow I feel most myself when I am walking — and there is always something lovely to see, such as the owl tree I often stop to touch to connect in a hands-on way with the wonders of the world.

Hope you are doing well and surviving this intense summer.

***

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.

Dreaming of Adventure

I’ve been spending way too much time lately thinking/talking/writing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, especially since I doubt I will ever travel more than small pieces of it. There are many problems to deal with when hiking the length of the trail — food (two pounds a day is recommended), water (either too much in the high sierras, with swollen rivers and icy trails, or too little in the deserts), heavy packs, wind, ticks and other unfriendly insects — and I would prefer a trouble-free life.

Still, just thinking and researching the logistics of such an adventure are an escape from my life. In looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with a dysfunctional brother, I amcamping always aware of others, either listening for signs of distress from my father or listening to my brother’s moans and cries without knowing if these sounds come from pain or are a way of manipulating me. When one is hiking alone, away from civilization, away from other hikers, even, one only has to listen to oneself, only has to fulfill one’s own needs. That idea is restful to me. One foot in front of another, nothing to think about, no one to worry about.

Even more that that, thinking about such an adventure is like working a puzzle, helping to keep my mind active and alert despite too much loss of sleep. I’ve even gone so far as to join a few Facebook groups, including a couple just for woman hikers. Lots of good information in those groups, lots of things to consider. Planning such a trip gives me a new way of looking at ways of life we take for granted. Modern plumbing, for example, has made basic body functions easy for us. But what if there isn’t a restroom for hundreds of miles? How does one keep clean? How does one remain infection-free?

Thinking about living an adventurous life (simply thinking about it, not living it) has also helped me past the last hurdle of grief, giving me something to concentrate on besides what I have lost. It’s been almost four years since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I have adjusted to life without him. In fact, sometimes I forget that I once had a different life, that once someone loved me. I don’t want to forget — I loved him deeply — but I can’t spend the rest of my life yearning for him, can’t be always looking to the past. Thinking about a life on foot makes me realize that, whether my life will be on my feet or on my behind, I do still have a life.

Throughout all these years of grief, I have been afraid of the future alone, afraid of becoming the crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course), afraid of settling somewhere and waiting for entropy to take its course. Thinking about other possibilities — hiking the PCT, walking to Seattle, car camping, going abroad and just winging it, taking a freighter to New Zealand — helps me realize that I don’t have to moulder. I can live. I can be adventurous. I can take chances. I can try new things. I can learn new things. I can become the sort of person who could hike the PCT if she so desires.

I don’t know what I want to do, and there’s no reason to make any plans since my stay here at my father’s house could continue for many more years. But I can prepare. In fact, tonight I will take a backpack on my Sierra Club walk (I walk with the club three nights a week) and fill it with a five pound weight. Five pounds is heavy! I cannot imagine trying to carry thirty pounds for any distance, but at least, this will be a start.

But a start of what? Maybe someday I’ll find out.

***

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.

Life After the Death of a Soul Mate

What I love most about blogging is that sometimes when I start writing a post, new or buried thoughts percolate to the surface, ending up on the page and surprising me with insights. Yesterday, when I wrote Living Offline, I had no idea I was starting to look forward to the rest of my life. I’ve kept my head down, plodding along, trying new things, meeting new people, visiting new places, and apparently, somewhere along the line, I went through a renewal of sorts.

Many people who had gone through a grievous loss have told me that it takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life, and so it is with me. In just a few days, it will be three years and seven months since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I find myself involved deeply in life, not just with such difficult matters as looking out for my 96-year-old father and dealing with problematic family members, but also with taking care of myself and my well-being.

Sierra Club conditioning walkI’m physically active, eat right, and have accidentally become part of an intelligent and talented coterie. I say “accidentally” because when I joined a group of walkers, I didn’t expect to end up going to art shows that feature members’ work, hearing one member in a choir of madrigal singers, and seeing others dance. Because of these people, I’ve also learned not to fear old age. Although people of all ages walk with us, some of the most active members could be considered elderly, but I can barely keep up with those in their seventies. I have no idea what life has is in store for me, of course, but I do know that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean getting feeble. It just takes a bit of luck and a lot of physical activity and mental stimulation.

Grief goes in cycles, so chances are I will still be experiencing occasional grief surges (especially on the weekends when I can’t feast on the endorphins and friendship of the group walk), but now I know the truth: there is life after the death of the person who connected you to the world. There is even laughter. Maybe even 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.

Living Offline

I seem to have more of an offline life lately than I do online, which is a throwback for me. I didn’t get a computer or get on the internet until 2007, but they came at a time of upheaval in my life (my mother was dying and my life mate/soul mate was declining) and they proved to be lifesavers. Well, mindsavers. I needed something to occupy my mind to keep from giving in to foolish worry (foolish because there was nothing I could do about either situation except to be available when needed), and learning has always been my forte. So I learned what I could about using computers, navigating the internet, blogging, social networking, and everything else that goes to making up an online life.

Origidesknally, I was gifted with a year of the internet, and after checking out libraries and finding other interesting sites such as the Internet Movie Database, I wondered how I could possibly use this unexpected gift. I figured that by the end of that first year, either I would find something to do, or I would get rid of it.

It didn’t even take a year, just a few months. Not only did I find something to do, I found a life, excitement, friends, even love of a sort. (I loved blogging from the first time I posted an article and understood what blogging was all about.) I also found support and encouragement. I don’t know how I would have dealt with the death of my life mate/soul mate if it weren’t for the bereft I met because of opening myself to the blogosphere.

Now, almost three and a half years after his death, I’m looking around my offline world, and I’m finding life, excitement, friends, even love of a sort. (I love walking with the local Sierra Club.) I no longer seem to need the screen of a computer to filter the worst of my worry or pain. I see the world through the excited eyes of child rather than the angst-ridden eyes of a bereft and lonely woman.

Parts of my offline life are hard, of course. I’m looking out for my 96-year-old father, dealing with problematic family members, and experiencing occasional upsurges of grief, but what isn’t hard is easy. Fun, even.

Instead of fearing the rest of my life alone, now I’m looking forward to seeing what I will make of myself.

***

(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.

Echoes of Grief

Today marks twenty-nine months since the death of my life mate/soul mate/best friend. I’ve come a very long way from that shattered woman who screamed her pain to the winds, who cried for hours when she accidentally broke his mug.

I still miss him, still want one more word from him, one more smile, one more day. I still have an upsurge of sorrow when I remember he is gone. And although I know — I feel — how very gone he is from my life, I still am prone to the foolish fantasy that when I am finished looking after my father and leave here to start a new life, my mate and I will be starting it together. But . . .

I barely remember our life together. It seems so very long ago and as if it happened to someone else. (Which is true — it did. Because of what I have endured these past two years and five months, because of embracing the challenges of the present and opening myself to hopes for the future, I am not the same as I was then.) I’ve turned enough corners now that even my grief seems unreal, as if that, too, happened to a different person. And yet . . .

Our shared life is very much a part of me still. Almost everything I do is accompanied by an echo from our past, almost everything I use originates from that time. I’ve bought a few new things — bits of clothing, mugs with my book covers on them (a totally indulgent purchase since I seldom use mugs), but I don’t really need anything. Most of our possessions are in storage, and I both dread and look forward to the day when I unpack them. I’m not sure whether I will find comfort in having our things around me, or if I will find more pain, but that puzzle is for another day, and perhaps another person. I am changing rapidly and will continue to change as my life changes, so the person who will need to deal with those possessions is not the me of today.

In a strange sort of way, I have been getting messages from him. Not messages from wherever he is now, but from where he was when he still inhabited this earth.

He used to tape movies — movies that we both liked, and movies that spoke specially to him. I am going through his movie collection, watching in backward order (from the ones he taped last to the ones he taped first), and I catch glimpses of what concerned him toward the end of his life. Death, of course, and me, perhaps. So many of the movies he taped that last year were about people (mostly women) whose spouse had died, forcing them to create new lives for themselves.

We watched these movies together when he first taped them, and I thought I knew then why he liked them — he was always fascinated with second chances, new beginnings, characters who came out of catastrophes to find renewal. But now, seeing the movies from this side of his death, they have a whole new meaning for me. Over and over again is the message: take care of yourself, accept the challenge and the change and the freedom that death brings, and most of all, find happiness again.

Sheesh. I made myself cry. But dang it — this new life would be so much more happier if he were here to share it.

Grief Update: Going on Alone

A week ago I mentioned that all of a sudden my grief seemed to have changed, and that change appears to be holding true.

After the second anniversary of the death of my life mate/soul mate I didn’t feel any different than I’d felt the previous year. I was still sad and weepy at times, and more recently I had a week-long grief upsurge starting on the fourth of July, but lately, as I’m nearing the two-and-a-third-year mark, I seem to have made some sort of accommodation with his death and my grief.

For most of the past twenty-eight months, I’ve felt bad for him, for the horror of his last years, and for all that he is missing out on, but I don’t feel bad for him any more. I’m glad he’s out of this life, glad he doesn’t have to deal with any of the political, financial, and medical changes that are coming our way, glad he no longer has to contend with growing old or to be fearful of ending up as a helpless invalid.

I’m sorry his life was cut short, but his death doesn’t shatter me any more. I take comfort in knowing that for the most part, he did it his way. He endured incredible pain, but he knew any drugs strong enough to end his suffering would also end him, and that proved to be true. When he finally had to start taking morphine, he became someone else, and I’m glad he didn’t have to endure living as that stranger for very long. I still miss him, will always miss him, but someday I will be dead, too. He just went first. It would have been nice if we’d had more good years together, but because of his illness, the good years were behind us. It would have been nice to have had more of our dreams come true and more of our hopes work out, but they no longer matter since our shared hopes and dreams died when he did.

I still have times of doubt and fears, sorrow and tears, still question the meaning of it all, but I’m getting used to the idea of going on alone, getting used to the idea of being alone.

Tomorrow, of course, I could be back in the depths of grief, feeling shattered beyond repair, but I don’t think so. The tears that come now are more nostalgic than agonizing. When I think about it, I still hate that he’s dead, but I don’t think about it much. I try to focus more on being me, on being here in this day. I still feel a disconnect, as if some of the tendons connecting me to life that ripped when he died have never healed, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The disconnect reminds me that everything comes to an end sooner or later, even me.

Getting over the worst of the pain of grief is only the first step. Next comes rebuilding. Although I don’t believe in destiny and signs and things that are meant-to-be, part of me clings to the idea that he wouldn’t have left me if he hadn’t known I’ll be okay. I hold on to that thought because otherwise the idea of growing old alone scares me, as does the idea of creating a whole new life for myself.

I won’t say reconstructing my life will be easy in comparison to the agony and angst of losing the one person who connects me to the world since I don’t know what challenges lie before me. But I will say that after surviving such devastating grief, I have become stronger than I ever thought possible, and I will be able to handle whatever comes my way.

New Steps on the Journey Through Grief

I’ve reached a new level of grief. I’m still sad, but I can barely remember why. I still feel the absence of my life mate/soul mate, who died two years and two months ago, yet I can barely remember the living man. The life I shared with him is receding, as if it happened to someone else. There is still a hole in my life and a decided lack of “life” — no sparks kindling new ideas, no electricity of excitement, no radiance — but I no longer have anything with which to compare that lack of life. It’s as if these sad and lonely days are the way it has always been for me.

During those years when we were together, I had someone to talk to, someone who could help put life into a different perspective, and now there is just me. To tell the truth, I still talk to him, but he never offers a different perspective. I used to feel a tenuous connection to him (or at least to our shared past) when I talked to him, but now I have no idea if I’m even talking to him or simply talking aloud.

With our shared life moving further into the dim past and my memories of him fading, I worry that I will forget him. I know I’ll forget the person I was when I was with him. No matter how I change, I’m always just me, and yet, (for example) I cannot remember this little girl, cannot remember being her. She has receded far into my past. Or perhaps she’s become subsumed into my current persona? Either way, she no longer exists even in memory. And so will the person I was with him disappear as I move further into the future without him.

The irony is that I was in such pain after his death that I made a special point to experience new things so I could create new memories. I thought new memories would help cushion the severity of the break between our shared life and my life alone, yet those very memories are taking me further away from him.

I might not completely forget him. I have moments when I flash onto a vivid image of him, and as heartbreaking as those moments are (because I am reminded once again that he is dead), they are all I have left of him except for some of his things. It seems cruel that their things outlive the dead. Shouldn’t people live longer than things? Or else, shouldn’t the things disappear when our loved ones do? And yet, as my memories fade, the things I kept of his and the things I kept of ours, such as our household goods, will be all I have to remember him by.

Every new step on the journey through grief brings its own grief. It saddens me that he is forever receding from me. Yet I am still here, and I must live. I can’t cocoon myself in memories of him and our life together. I can only go on doing what I have been doing — experiencing new things and making new memories, even if they take me further away from him.

Wondering About Life And Death And The Meaning Of It All

I don’t think I had survivor’s guilt after the death of my life mate/soul mate, but I do feel bad that I’m leaving him behind. I get a second chance at life, new friends, new vistas, new experiences, but he has been denied that. And in fact, he was denied all those things long before his death since his protracted dying kept him from doing much except struggling to get through one more pain-filled day.

He often told me that when he got incapacitated, I had to put him in a home and walk away. Just forget him. I know he’d want me to do the same thing now that he is dead, but I didn’t walk away when I had to put him in the hospice care center, and I can’t walk away now, and for certain I can’t just forget him.

But perhaps I am looking at the situation backward. His being dead is still the thing that drives my sadness — sadness not just for me but for him. And yet . . . what if it is he who left me behind? Perhaps he has gone on to a wondrous new life, in which case my sadness on his behalf is misplaced. And maybe none of this has anything to do with me. Maybe it’s not up to me to worry if he was cheated or not, or even to wonder if he’s in a better place. Despite our deep connection, he was still his own person. Maybe I’m poking into something that is his alone.

Just as I have to accept that my life is mine alone now.

About a year before he died, I hugged him and accidentally touched his left ear. I know now cancer had metastasized all the way up his left side and into his brain, but at the time, all I knew was that he pushed me away, wincing in agony. Something shut off right then, and a voice deep inside me said, “He might dying but I have to live.” For all that year, we went our separate ways, he to dying, me to living. Then, six weeks before he died, he made the connection with me again. He needed to talk about what was happening to him so he could gather courage to face what was coming, and during that daylong conversation, I remembered why I fell in love with him all those years ago.

Because of that disconnected year, a year where I felt dissociated from him and our life, I didn’t expect to grieve, but here I am, two years and seven weeks later, still struggling to deal with the wreckage of our shared life, still sad, still wondering about life and death and the meaning of it all. When life makes sense, death doesn’t. When death makes sense, life doesn’t. It would be nice to talk to him and compare notes about what we’re both doing, but so far he’s remaining silent.

One thing has changed recently. In between the moments of angst and wanting it all to be over with, in between the pinchings of grief and not caring what happens to me, that determination of several years ago is making itself felt.

He might be dead, but I have to live.

I just wish I knew how.