The Power of Words

I am a writer, hence words are my life. So far, they are not my living, though I still have hopes of making money with my writing, but they are my life. I love to play with words. I think in words rather than images. I see hidden meanings in words. For example a friend on Facebook told me that grief is like tide pools — sometimes very shallow and sometimes unfathomably deep. She said she preferred the shallows because of the living things she could see in the pools, and all at once, in the midst of the word shallows, I saw the word hallow, meaning sacred and holy. This seemed very deep to me, but maybe I simply liked playing with the idea that “shallows” had depth.

Still, sometimes the power of words surprises me. In my previous post, Vulnerability and Upsurges of Grief,  I mentioned that I was going through a profound grief upsurge, one that was so strong I felt I needed to reach out to Jeff in the only way I knew how — by writing him a letter. The next day, I was puzzled by the absence of tears, by the peace that had settled over me. The only thing that changed from one day to the next was that letter. After I’d told him about my arm, my feelings of isolation, my financial woes, I wrote “Odd that your death brings so much grief, but it also brings me comfort, knowing you are out of this world. At least one of us doesn’t have to deal with this crap anymore.”

One of the hardest things about losing a lifemate/soul mate/spouse/partner is that there is no longer any “us.” There is only I. Me. By subconsciously identifying myself as being still part of an “us,” perhaps I felt a continuity of our shared life. Since his death, I’ve never really felt the continuity, never felt his presence — only his absence. (People sometimes suggest I should put Jeff out of my mind because he is in the past, and the truth is that I do forget him for weeks on end, but it’s also true that his absence is part of my present. His absence fuels my need to live, my need not to waste whatever life is left to me.) I’d packed his picture in my storage unit when I went on my trip, and since I have no way to go get it right now, I printed out another copy of the photo. I tacked his image above my computer, and seeing his radiant smile makes me smile.

I’d read once that those bereft who find a way to make their lost mate a part of their lives are happier and more contented than those who try to ignore the past. I suppose in my rush to live as fully as possible, I’d forgotten this, or maybe thoughts of him had just naturally drifted away. In the busyness of my life in the shallows, he’ll probably drift away again. But for now, it feels good to have this connection, even if it is all in my mind.

Because of anecdotes about near-death experiences, we all assume our dead are happily waiting for us, but I’m not sure that’s true. Even though they might not feel loss as we do, it’s possible that they too feel the separation. I also think it’s possible that sometimes inexplicable grief comes not from within us but from without, from our lost one thinking about us, missing us. (I used to think that calling a death a “loss” was a misnomer because we did not mislay the person, but now it does feel as if Jeff is lost to me, lost in the far reaches of time.)

March is shaping up to be an interesting month. Not only do I add another year to my age, I tick off another anniversary of his death. It’s also another long month of having the external fixator attached to my arm. (The surgery to remove the device will not take place until April.) Another month of isolation. Another month of surrendering to idleness. (That part, at least, sounds inviting.) I might again founder (and flounder) in the depths of grief, or I might find peace in the shallows. But whatever happens, right now, at this moment, I am at peace.

And all because of a few powerful words.

great-saguaro

***

(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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 432

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Although this letter was written three and a half years ago, it reflects so much of what I am feeling now. My father recently died, and I am packing in preparation for . . . I know not what.  I wish I could talk to Jeff, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. I don’t think I will ever lose that desire, ever stop yearning for what I cannot have. His goneness shapes my days somewhat the same way his presence used to. Everything I do is because he is no longer here.

I am more used to the idea of living alone than I was when I wrote this letter, though sometimes it still scares me. But one of the lessons grief taught me is that I can get used to anything, even loneliness and aloneness. I’m now going to lunch with women I like, so that helps.

Coincidentally, just a couple of days ago, I tossed that route beer bottle into the recycle bin, but as you can see, I still have the photo. Unfortunately, dealing with his ashes isn’t quite so easy. I still don’t know what to do with them. I’m thinking of waiting for a windstorm, opening the box, and letting Jeff take care of them himself.

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Day 432, Hi, Jeff.

Just in case you really are somewhere, I wanted you to know I haven’t forgotten you, still miss you, still wish there could have been a better resolution to your health problems than death. But what do I know? Maybe death was the best resolution. I’m not sure I see much hope of things working out for me, but I am trying. I’m getting out and doing things. It still seems as if the only way I can make sense of your death (from my perspective) is to do things I wouldn’t have done if you were alive.

I took a trip along Route 66 with some friends, which was fun. I kept a soda bottle for a souvenir. “Route Beer.” Tasted like plain old root beer, but I thought the name was cute. I’ve been going to lunch about once a week, sometimes after the grief group, sometimes with a couple of women I met there. I’m not sure I like the women, but for now, it’s enough that they like me. Yep. I’m that starved for affection.

In a couple of days, I’ll have been here a year looking after my dad. Who knows how much longer it will be. Maybe years. And then after? I truly don’t know.

I feel so hypocritical with all this grief — I wanted the horror of our life to be over, but I didn’t want you dead. Ironically, if you hadn’t been dying, I wouldn’t have wanted our life to be over, but the truth is, I wanted your dying done with. The stress was incredible for me, so I can only imagine how much worse it was for you.

My dying is still to come. It scares me to think of having to deal with infirmities alone, though I think it will be easier knowing that my death will not grieve anyone the way yours did me.

Did I tell you? I finally and forever understand what you mean by the pilot light of anger. I don’t want to be consumed by anger, but a quiet pilot light to keep me going, that is important. I can’t simply accept what life did to us — it’s not right. Maybe the universe is unfolding as it should, as people tell me, but from my standpoint, here and now, I need that pilot light. Maybe it will be a “pilot” taking me where I need to go, though I don’t know where that would be.

Part of me wants to find someone so I don’t feel so alone, but I’m not ready for that. It’s a matter of learning to deal with the loneliness. I lived with it before I met you, and I imagine I’ll learn to live with it now that you’re gone. I hope wherever you are that you aren’t lonely. I hope you’re not in pain. I hope you’re delighting in being free of that diseased body. I still have your ashes. I wish we could talk about what I should do with them. I wish we could talk about what I should do with my life. I wish . . . oh, so many impossible things.

I love you. Take care of yourself. I’ll try to take better care of me.

***

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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 423

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). Although I have largely moved beyond my grief, I still wish I could talk to him, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. I don’t think I will ever lose that desire, ever stop yearning for what I cannot have. His goneness shapes my days somewhat the same way his presence used to. Everything I do is because he is no longer here.

I am more used to the idea of living alone than I was when I wrote this letter, though sometimes it still scares me. But one of the lessons grief taught me is that I can get used to anything, even loneliness and aloneness.

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Day 423, Hi, Jeff.

I went to St. Simons Island where I gave a speech on creating characters. My talk went well — I dazzled. I could see it in their eyes. I met soLighthouseme authors, toured the town, climbed the lighthouse, steeped myself in island culture, even ate fried green tomatoes, though I didn’t like them — too much rosemary. Then, on the last day, I got sick. Might be a cold, might be an allergy flare-up, might be psychological (I couldn’t bear the idea of coming back here rather than to you, and it was a way of keeping me isolated.)

I refused to think about you this past week — didn’t want to suffocate. The stuffiness of tears on top of the stuffiness from being sick would have made it impossible to breathe, but Saturday, my sadder day, I did cry. Just kept crying, crying, crying.

I’m doing okay mostly, but I miss you. I hate that you’re gone, both on your behalf (though I doubt you care) and on my behalf. I still panic at the thought of dealing with life alone. Growing old alone. Dying alone. Living alone. I never expected to be so lonely, but I am. I’m lonely for someone generically and for you specifically. You’re so far out of reach! It seems pathetic that I need you — needed you — to give my life shape, form, focus, but it seems even more pathetic to be alone.

What’s to become of me? How can I go on alone? I know I’m strong enough, but shouldn’t there be more to life than simply endurance?

I miss you. I yearn for you. Just one more word. One more smile. Doesn’t seem too much to ask, but it kills me they are things I can never have again. How can it be over? And how can it still be painful after all these months?

I love you. Take care of yourself.

***

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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 409

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). Although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief, which is a mixed blessing because I no longer feel connected to him in any way except for the place inside of me that echoes with his absence. And oh, how I wish I could go home to him! Or at least go talk to him, see how he is doing, feel his hug, bask in his smile. Luckily, because of my dance classes, I don’t have to spend so much energy trying to be upbeat. Dancing makes me smile, brings me joy and friendship, puts life into my life. I wonder what he would think of my dancing. Probably would be glad to know I found happiness.

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Day 409, Hi, Jeff.

It’s been a while since I wrote or talked to you. I’ve been trying to let you go, trying to get on with my life, but I’m tired of being upbeat. I just want to be me, however I feel at the moment. I’m tired of trying not to think of you just so I won’t be sad. I’m tired of not having anyone to talk to, which is strange because I now have more people to talk to than I have had in years, but we don’t say much of anything, just talk St. Simons Islandabout the minutiae of our lives. I’m tired of not having anyone who understands. For example, if I tell anyone of my small infirmities, they just tell me to go to doctors, and we know that’s not much of an answer. You often had an answer, and if you didn’t, you simply listened to my worries, which made me feel better.

I miss you, not just because I’m tired you’re gone, but because of you. I’m going to St. Simons Island to give a speech at a writers’ conference, and you’re not here to send me off, to see my new clothes, to wish me well. Odd to think I’m taking only a couple of garments you have ever seen. Most of my clothes are new since you’ve been gone.

I wish I knew why things worked out the way they did. Or maybe I don’t. I just wish . . . I wish . . . that you were here, happy, rich, and loving me. I guess that’s what I wish. But perhaps you’re better of where you are. If so, where does that leave me?

I know it doesn’t sound that way, but I really do try to be upbeat and not to be sad all the time, but it’s wearying. It’s going to be worse when I get back from St. Simons. I won’t be coming home to you and a hug and a smile. I’ll be coming back here to my father’s house.

Funny, I wasn’t going to write to you again, but it does make me feel close to you, if only for a minute.

I miss you, Jeff. I love you. I want to go home. Please?

Damn it! I hate this. Are you okay? Are you taking care of yourself? Do you miss me? I guess I’m glad for the upsurges of grief. At least I know I still remember.

***

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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 386

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no rainsequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief. I’m at the point, however, where I will have to make a decision about where to go when I leave this house, and I still don’t have a clue. I’ll probably stay in the vicinity for a while longer so I can continue taking dance classes, but afterward, oh, how I wish he and I would be starting over together.

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Day 386, Hi, Jeff.

I’m lying here in bed thinking of you. I’m tired and don’t want to get up so I thought I’d write you. I’m trying to focus on the good things, but it’s hard. My books aren’t selling. I’m living somewhere I don’t want to be, being someone I don’t want to be. I have a pilot light of anger to keep me going, otherwise I probably never would get out of bed.

And yet, looked at from a different direction — forgetting the past, forgetting what I want — my life isn’t so bad. I don’t have to worry about paying bills. I’m warm, comfortable, fed. And I have new clothes. A couple of women from my grief group took me shopping (a belated birthday present). They bought me pants and tops. I detected a hint of something not totally altruistic, as if they thought I was clueless when it came to clothes. One woman said she was sick of the blouse I was wearing. Who says something like that? What difference does it make to her how I dress? Still, it was nice. And I don’t look like me, which is even nicer. I go to lunch with those women a couple of times a month and a couple of times a month I go to lunch with a few others from my grief group. So see? Things aren’t totally terrible, but no matter how I look at it, it’s a lonely life.

I miss you. I want to come home. Or start over with you somewhere else. It’s a good thing I don’t have to make a decision where to go because I haven’t a clue. Maybe I’ll know when the time comes to leave here. I just wish, with all my heart, you were well and I was going to go home to you.

Adios, compadre,. I love you.

***

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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 383

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons blocksgleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling sorry for myself now — at least, not much. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief. At the moment, the future doesn’t seem bleak the way it did on the 383rd day after his death, though I still don’t know what to build my life on, and I’m still waiting for something to happen.

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Day 383, Dear Jeff,

I’m having a hard time coping, but maybe it isn’t necessary to be stoic in order to cope. Maybe tears and tantrums are my way of coping for now. If nothing else, those tears and tantrums help get rid of the terrible stress of grief.

I feel as if I’ve been abandoned by you. You were the only one who ever truly cared for me, and I don’t know how to be alone. I don’t mean physically alone — that I can do. I mean that mental, spiritual, emotional aloneness when there is no one in the world who cares on a daily basis. I know there are some people who care sporadically when they get a few minutes, but it sure isn’t something for me to build a life on.

I’m feeling sorry for myself. I keep hoping something good will happen. I need something to offset this pervasive sadness. The years stretch bleakly before me. It’s just too sad.

Adios, compadre. I love you.

***

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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 378

Double RainbowI’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning, and detail the lessons gleaned from the second and third years of my grief. Because I no longer want to keep revisiting such angst, there will be no sequel, so I’m publishing the letters here on this blog as a way of safeguarding (and sharing) them.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling disheartened now. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief. I still don’t know if things will work out for me, but (at the moment, anyway) I no longer dread facing the future alone as I did on the 378th day after his death.

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Day 378, Dear Jeff,

I don’t want to dump my problems on you, but I have no one else to talk to, at least not about what’s really bothering me. I am so disheartened that I need someone to tell me it will all work out. You told me things would come together for me, but so far they haven’t.

I try to hold on to positive things, such as being glad you don’t have to deal with life’s problems, yet I can’t help thinking that if you were here, these problems wouldn’t matter — we’d be together. But that is foolish thinking. You’re not here.

One of my brothers has a golf analogy about hitting a ball into a sand trap, and how you need to figure out where to go from there rather than obsessing on how you got there. I can see that at the time of making the shot you need to concentrate on getting out of the trap, but still, at some point you need to figure out how you got in that position so it doesn’t happen again. But thinking how I got in this state of disheartenment gains me nothing. It was no mistake, not something I could fix, not something that will ever happen again so I don’t need to figure out how to prevent it since you will never die again. If I knew you were okay, I could handle this. (This meaning being alone.)

I am not totally selfish. I want you to be happy. After all those miserable years, you deserve that. I find I’m most content when I don’t think of you being dead, when somewhere in the back of my mind I have the feeling you’re back home doing well.

I hate knowing you’re gone. I hate feeling so disconnected from you. How am I going to get through the coming years, Jeff? I dread living in an apartment, dread growing feeble alone. I don’t want to live with anyone else — just you. But that’s not going to happen. I also dread taking all our stuff out of storage and using it. It will be so very painful, having the constant reminder that you no longer need the household items we bought together.

I’m tired of being sad. Tired of having things to be sad about. But I guess I better get used to it. Even if by chance things do work out for me, you’ll still be gone.

Ah, well. Apparently I’m feeling sorry for myself today. I’m going to go for a walk. Change my circumstances for a bit to see if I can change my attitude.

I miss you dreadfully. You were my one. Take care of yourself and I’ll take care of me.

Adios, compadre.

***

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.

Grief: The Great Learning, Day 376

I’ve saved the letters I wrote to my life mate/soul mate after he died, thinking that one day I would write a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, the story of my first year of grief. I’d planned to call the sequel Grief: The Great Learning and tell how I and others I knew got through the second and third year after the death of our soul mates and include all the things we learned along the way, but I don’t want to keep revisiting my grief, so there will be no sequel.

writingSomeday I will probably toss the letters in the trash, not wanting the weight of all that sorrow sitting in a box somewhere. On the off chance that the letters will help people (and on the off chance that I will regret throwing them away), I’ll be publishing them here on this blog.

Please note that this particular letter reflected what I was feeling three and a half years ago. I am not feeling bleak now. I’ve found a new love (dancing). And although I will always miss him, always feel a void in my soul where he once was, I have largely moved beyond my grief.

If you are newly bereft, be assured that you, too, will someday find a life beyond grief, the great learning.

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Day 376, Dear Jeff,

I was going to give up this crutch of writing to you, but here I am. I miss you terribly. I’d forgotten how I used to wake each morning with such expectation, thrilled to see you, thrilled to be with you. Your years of illness took their toll. I don’t know when that expectation turned to dread, and I woke never quite knowing what horrors the day would bring. Now there is neither expectation nor dread, just a heavy emptiness.

Light Bringer was published on the one-year anniversary of your death. I wanted so much for the book to burst on the scene to great acclaim, but sales have been disappointing. I don’t know whether I hoped success would offset the bleakness of losing you, or if disappointments are greater because I have to bear them alone. I’m glad I don’t have to tell you in person. I wouldn’t have liked burdening you with such bad news. There would have been more silence between us, and toward the end, there were already too many things we didn’t talk about, not wanting to bring more sorrow to each other.

I hope my writing you doesn’t keep you from going on to wherever you need to go, but I still need this connection to you. I still cry way too much, though the tears come in short bursts now rather than unending storms. I’m trying to keep hope alive, trying to believe that somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, things will work out for me, but how can they work out when you’re dead? The good things that happened were so much better when shared with you.

It’s so hard to believe that it’s over. I so yearn to talk to you once more, to see your smile, to fix one more meal together.

I’m glad you were able to do things your way at the end. I’ve heard such terrible tales of people regretting what they put their loved ones through in the hopes that the doctors could make them better. At least I don’t have that guilt.

I miss you. I love you.

***

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.