Complicated Grief

I’ve been working on my book about grief, which is why you haven’t seen me here much. I’m spending most of my words on the book; most of my time, too, so I haven’t had anything much to talk about.

Until today.

In my research for the book, I keep stumbling upon a particularly odious phrase, “complicated grief.” We all know grief is complicated, straining, as it does, all our physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual resources beyond their limits. Complicating grief even more is its illogicalness, our inability to rationalize death, the unexpected and sudden triggers and upsurges of sorrow, having to find meaning and rebuild our lives after the death of person fundamental to our life, and a dozen other such complications.

But this is not what the professionals call “complicated grief.” To them, complicated grief is a medical condition that needs treatment. According to the Mayo clinic, signs and symptoms include:

  • Intense sorrow, pain and rumination over the loss of your loved one
  • Focus on little else but your loved one’s death
  • Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
  • Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Numbness or detachment
  • Bitterness about your loss
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one

Um, folks. This is called grief. Pure and simple.

The professionals say everyone grieves differently, but if your grief differs too much from other people’s grief, then you might have complicated grief disorder. I’ve been reading enough scholarly papers to know how they decide what is “normal.” They interview people. And if you’re one of the 7-15% whose grief falls outside the “norm,” then you have complicated grief disorder, no matter who died or how they died. (Apparently, in their studies, an aged parent who died quietly in bed should be grieved the same as a child who was murdered, and if it’s not, then the murdered child’s parent might have complicated grief disorder.)

They say grief takes as long as it takes, but if your grief takes longer than other people’s, then you might have CG. (Cute name, huh?)

According to one research paper I read, reactions such as having difficulty accepting the death, searching for and preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased, or being stunned by the death may well indicate complicated grief if they are present beyond the first few months after the loss. Thus, complicated grief involves the presentation of certain grief-related symptoms at a time beyond that which is considered adaptive. We hypothesize that the presence of these symptoms after approximately 6 months puts the bereaved individual at heightened risk for enduring social, psychological, and medical impairment.

Six months? Huh???? It takes at least a year just to get over the shock of it all!!!

The same study says: Complicated grief is the failure to return to preloss levels of performance or states of emotional wellbeing. Again, huh? Don’t they realize that once you have lost your life mate/soul mate, you can never return to preloss levels of anything. Everything changes, including us. Grief is a matter of becoming. Becoming the person who can survive the loss. Becoming the person who can live comfortably in a suddenly alien and hostile world. Becoming the person we need to be in order to find a new state of emotional wellbeing.

The professionals say if you have strong feelings of yearning for your deceased loved one, you might have complicated grief disorder, but studies have shown that yearning is the primary emotion of grief after the death of someone intrinsic to our lives.

They say that everyone’s loss is different, but they treat all losses as if they were the same. The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University says: Mental health training does not usually include learning about the syndrome of complicated grief. However, trainees often are taught that grief is complicated if there was an ambivalent relationship to the person who died. This is a misconception. Adapting to a loss is more difficult if a person can imagine how things could have been different. People might do this because the relationship was conflictual. However, this is uncommon. Most people with complicated grief have had an especially strong and rewarding relationship to the person who died.

So, let me get this straight. If we have had an especially strong and rewarding relationship with the person who died, as we do with a life mate/soul mate, the resulting profound grief is . . . wrong?

How the heck to do these people think? Don’t they read what they write? Do they truly have no idea that the loss of a distant cousin, for example, no matter how well loved, might . . . just might . . . be different from the loss of the person we intimately shared a life with?

Or maybe they are saying that the strong relationship is bad? Oh, right they do say that. They call it co-dependency. Cripes. What a world.

Apparently, they don’t understand that love is an interdependent relationship. They don’t understand how important love is and that the loss can be so devastating that you cannot get over it in a few months, and that such grief is not a disorder but an absolutely normal order. They don’t understand about the constant triggers that remind us that we’re alone. When you lose your one true love to death, all of a sudden you are supposed to be able to slough off your loss as if love didn’t matter, and go on with your life. Everyone else is celebrating their love, but you are supposed to accept that yours is over and you are supposed to have a good attitude so you inconvenience others as little as possible.

Because oh, yes, not only do we have our grief to contend with, we have the whole sociological horror to deal with: friends and family — and even mere acquaintances — who don’t understand what we’re going through trying to control our grief, sometimes with gentle (and not so gentle) reminders that we have to move on. People who are uncomfortable in our presence or who find our grief and inconvenient reminder of the fragility of life shunting us off to the side.  And of course, amateur and professional psychologists who try to define our grief as a disorder or a syndrome.

The grief — the normal grief — for a life mate can take years. We’re not necessarily actively mourning all that time; we often have long patches of peace. (According to the American Cancer Society, mourning is the outward expression of loss and is part of the grieving process. Grieving is the process of coming to terms with the loss. Researchers often get this backward, which complicates even further their already complicated papers on complicated grief.)

It takes a very long time to process death, to come to terms with our shattered couplehood, and to find a new way of living that can encompass the loss. In fact, I have found a distinct pattern to grief after the loss of life mate to whom we had a particularly strong attachment, and if the professionals had been reading this blog all these years, they’d see it too.

I do understand that some people get stuck in unhealthy thoughts and actions and so need help to get unstuck, but for most of us who have lost our life mate/soul mate, if we let grief do its work — no matter how hard it is or how long it takes, and no matter how abnormal it might appear to outsiders — we will get to where we need to be.

Maybe I should write a book about grief and tell the truth.

Oh . . . right. I am. Perhaps the professionals will even read it and learn something.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Did You Experience Widow’s/Widower’s Fog

I’m working on my new book about grief. Currently I am looking for something different to say about widow’s fog. Although it’s supposed to be universal, I never really experienced this grief-induced amnesia, dazedness, and fogginess that people say shrouded them after the death of a spouse or life mate, mostly because the things I did to help make sense of my grief were the very things that get rid of widow’s fog. The fog basically comes from an overloaded prefrontal cortex. Most people, when faced with the enormity of grief, try to suppress the emotions and think their way out, and this overloads their brains even more. But I didn’t. I just let everything flow. I’d walk for hours in the desert, feeling my grief, letting my mind wander without trying to think about anything in particular, and apparently, this “not thinking” is the very thing that reduces the overload. Also, telling ourselves the truth about what we feel and labeling our emotions help us through the fog, and that is what I did on this blog. Just being in the moment helps, and I did that, too.

Consequently, I have nothing really to say on the matter and no way to describe how it feels, and such a common part of grief should be included in my book. Did you experience this fog? If so, would you mind telling me about it? You can either leave your answer here as a comment or email me at pat@bertramsblog.com. If you have a scientific bent and can lend me your expertise, that, too, would be appreciated.

Oddly, I’d never even heard of this fog until a couple of years ago when I did a dance performance for a widows and widowers group. So maybe it’s not as universal as it’s supposed to be? If you didn’t experience it, I’d like to know that, too.

While I’m at it — what did you do to comfort yourself and relieve the stress of grief? I have written that chapter several times, and it never comes out right. I mean, how many times can I say I cried, and screamed, and beat up defenseless sofas? That’s not enough to fill a chapter.

(For those of you who are interested in what I’ve been up to and why I haven’t been blogging, this book is the reason. Lots of thinking, researching, writing.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Hello, Sorrow, My Old Friend

Any of you who have followed this blog for the past few years know of my struggles to deal with my troubled brother while I was taking care of my father. I finally had to drive my brother back to Colorado, which was the most horrifying trip of my life. He was out of control, and I wasn’t sure I would survive.

But we got there safely. After being stymied at finding a place for him to stay, I finally had to give up.

I still remember the last time I saw my brother. I was sitting at the wheel of a rental vehicle, and he was standing outside the window. He begged me to stay one more night, but I knew the next night he would beg, and then again, and I had to make a clean break.

We talked for a while, then he told me I shouldn’t drive far before getting a room, that he was worried about my falling asleep. This concern for me, the first he had shown in the fourteen months we were together, broke me. I started to cry. Then he told me several sights I should be sure to see, and I cried harder. “Do you think this is a fun trip for me?” I said. “It’s killing me. I don’t want to leave you here on the streets.”  He briefly touched my hand, and my tears poured down my face. He expressed surprise that I cared, and I explained that of course I cared. I’d spent the past fourteen months trying to keep him off the streets, which is why I’d lobbied for his camping out in the garage.

I reached out for my brother’s hand, needing that one final touch, but he turned and walked away, tears of his own in his eyes.

I cried all thousand miles back to my father’s house.

I knew I’d never see him again, so I thought I’d finished my grieving, but still. the news that he died last night has torn me apart.

Now I am crying again. All I can think of is that brilliant boy I so idolized, and the tortured man he turned into.

And I can’t help reflect that both brothers near to me in age, the one a year older, the one a year younger, are now gone. Both died way too young. It’s as if my childhood, such as it was, has died too.

Yeah. Sorrow.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Ironies of Grief

I’ve been working on my new book about grief, and I noticed how often I used the word “irony.” No wonder. Grief seems to be fraught with ironies.

It is devastatingly ironic that the one person we need to turn to help us with our grief is the very person who is gone.

It is ironic that it is we bereft who have to be understanding of and make allowances for the thoughtless things people say to us.

It is ironic that when we most need people, they make themselves scarce, as if grief is a terrible and terribly contagious disease.

It is ironic that while grief is not a disease, it is a dis-ease.

It is ironic that when we are at our weakest, as we are after a grievous loss, we have to be our strongest.

It is ironic that grief, which seems to be something that needs to be healed, is actually the way we heal from the traumatic assault perpetrated by the grim reaper.

It is ironic that we’re supposed to believe life is worth living at the very same time we’re supposed to believe the dead are in a better place.

It is ironic that while we are dealing with the most profoundly painful time of our lives, we have the most mundane tasks to complete.

Some of these might not be strictly ironies, but I’m padding the list.

Can you think of any more ironies of grief? I’d like to do a chapter for the book on irony, but what I have here wouldn’t make much of a chapter. Normally, I’d fill out a chapter with explanations of my various points, but there’s really no need to explain any of these ironies because the irony is evident.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

One Star Review. Eek.

I’ve been updating my various networking sites in an effort to position myself for becoming a bestselling author. (Even though my new book on grief hasn’t yet been written, I need to believe that it will be a success, otherwise my old friend futility will begin banging on the inside of my head, and the book will never get written.)

Although I try not to read reviews (that’s a lie, actually; it’s hard not to want to know what people think and it’s even harder to overcome the need to feel validated in some way) I found a one star review for Unfinished. One star? Eeek!

The woman claimed that the book was not at all what she thought it was, that there was too much about the character’s grief. I’m not surprised. We do not often read about a character going through the trauma of grief. In fact, one of the many reasons I began writing about my grief (and why I specifically wrote Unfinished) is the lack of grief I found in fiction. In one book I tried to read after Jeff died, a woman’s husband was murdered, and the widow cried for a single night, decided that was enough, and set out to find the killer. No other mention of grief in the book at all.

In a second book I tried to read around that same time, a woman’s husband died, and the only acknowledgment of her grief was a single sentence: She went through all five of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief.

In the third book I tried to read, the main character was a grieving widow with a young daughter, and the only indication of their grief was a conversation about how the two needed to be strong and not cry.

Up to then reading had been my life, but after those experiences, I gave up reading for many years. There has to be something in a book that resonates, and nothing anyone wrote resonated with me as a griever. Hence, Unfinished.

Another point the reviewer made was the unbelievability of a woman having a cyber affair while her beloved husband lay dying. Actually, this says more about the reviewer and her unfamiliarity with a dying mate than it does about my writing. Anyone who has had the care of long-dying mate knows the insanity of one’s thoughts (and actions). Mostly, I was numb, going through the motions of living, though there were times I hated Jeff. There were times I wished he’d hurry up and die and get it over with. There were times I desperately needed to get a start on living my life without him. There were times I wondered who that silent graying man was, and how I ended up with him. There were times I bristled when he “lectured” me. (Although we didn’t know it, his brain was clouded with cancer metastases. Since this made him unable to hold more than a single thought in his head, the fabulous, wide-ranging conversations that formed the basis of our shared life were . . . simply gone.)

And that was our life for a year, two years, eternity — me struggling to live while he struggled to die.

A few weeks before he died, during a time of clear thinking, he reached out to me. We had a long, wide-ranging talk about us, our shared dreams that never came true, the future we’d never have — oh, so many things — and I fell in love with him all over again.

Six weeks later, he died, and grief slammed into me with a force I could not have ever imagined. (Think of grief as a proliferation of emotional, physical, spiritual, mental line drawings, one piled on top of the other so densely that all you see is solid black. Then try picking out each of those images from the totality. Grief is that immense.)

Although I thought someone (well, me) should write a novel about a widow trying to deal with the practicalities of life while undergoing such trauma, I hesitated for many years. I didn’t expect people to like such a raw book. And I knew it wouldn’t change anything. People who knew grief didn’t need to be shown what it was like. People who didn’t know grief wouldn’t believe it or would find it oppressive, so I do understand the reviewer’s comments.

What I don’t understand is her complaint of too many typos, missed words, and writing mistakes.

Huh? Typos are a fact of writing, and though we do our best, as do our copy editors, typos do creep in. But writing mistakes? I don’t make writing mistakes. If it’s in the book, it’s meant to be there.

Being the rather obsessive person I am (and rather demoralized), last night I went through the book again, and I did find a couple of typos. (One of which I already knew about.) But writing mistakes? The only thing I can think of are the letters the dying fellow wrote to his wife that she found after his death. Yes, there were mistakes, but they were the character’s mistakes, not mine. (For example, he complained about his “stupefried” brain.) In fact, I thought the letters were too cohesive considering the cancer in his brain and all the drugs he was on, but the letters needed to be understandable. (I kept a note Jeff wrote the last night he was home, but I haven’t a clue what it says.)

I do think it’s unfair of folks to complain about typos and then not list them to give me a chance to get them corrected. So, if you ever read a book of mine, and find typos, please let me know what they are. Such errors are inadvertent, and are not meant to taunt you. I promise.

If you are the person who wrote the review, I appreciate your taking time to post your thoughts. I don’t mean to be disrespectful in this rebuttal, and in fact, I don’t normally write rebuttals since it is unprofessional, but I needed to write this. Blogging is how I “unobsess” about things, and I cannot allow myself to believe what you wrote, otherwise I would be too discouraged to write my new book on grief, and it does need to be written.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What Makes a Story a Slow Burn?

Rami Ungar The Writer

You know, for a little while now, I’ve been pondering something. I’ve heard a lot of people refer to certain stories as “slow burns.” Heck, I even called my friend/colleague Pat Bertram’s book Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare a slow burn mystery when I reviewed it on Amazon (and I highly recommend you read it, BTW). But what exactly makes a story a “slow burn?” Sadly, searching in Google didn’t pull up a lot of information, and I needed a short break from working on Rose (which is going great, BTW), so I thought I’d share my observations on the matter.

So what is a slow burn story? Well, to put it simply, it’s a story that doesn’t try to rush itself or keep escalating things as the story goes on. Instead, the story takes its time getting to the story’s resolution, using an intriguing set up, good characters and character development…

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An Element of Futility

In ballet class today, we spent almost half an hour on a step that I have never been able to do and will never be able to do, no matter how much I try. As I stood there, feeling utterly frustrated and foolish beyond belief, it occurred to me there is a strong element of futility in my life. I spend too much time trying to do things that are truly impossible for me, such as some parts of dance class, the whole hiking the Pacific Crest Trail thing, or trying to get my poor deformed arm to perform tasks it simply cannot do any more.

I once knew a woman who got upset with anyone who used the word “can’t.” “I can take you to the store and show you a lot of cans,” she would say, “but I won’t be able to show you even one can’t.” (She never appreciated my pointing out that if she can’t show me can’ts, then there was something she can’t do.) Still, there does come a time when we really can’t do things, and refraining from using the word doesn’t make those can’ts any more possible than if we told the unpalatable truth.

It’s important to try new things, but once you reach the point where you know for sure you can’t do that thing, is the frustration of continuing to try to do the impossible worth it? I don’t know. I used to like (or at least not mind) the struggle to do what I can’t do, but now . . . not so much.

Stagnation is not something I appreciate either. Nor is giving up.

Someone pointed out the other day that a common thread with my blog posts is that I have no idea what is around the corner, and this is certainly true with this post today, because I sure as heck have no answer to this conundrum.

Maybe I’ll go take a nap. That, at least, is something that comes without the added element of futility that seems to be haunting me lately because I sure could use the rest!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Always Writing

I’m laughing at myself. Well, chuckling, anyway. I’ve often railed against the foolish comment, “A writer writes. Always.” For one thing, “always writing” is a physical impossibility — you also have to eat, sleep, work, do at least a minimum of household and personal chores. For another, spending all your time writing gives you nothing to write about because you are writing, not living. (Though some people would argue that writing is living.).

Of course, if you accept a broader definition of writing that would include living, thinking, outlining, researching, learning the craft, promoting, then yes, a writer spends much of his or her time writing. But still, that does not have the same meaning as “A writer writes. Always.”

So why is this amusing me today? Well, I’d planned to spend the past few days going through all my grief blog posts and my email responses to messages from fans and supporters to glean what bits of wisdom I can for my new book on grief, and I’ve only managed to get through part of the correspondence. Haven’t even started rereading the hundreds and hundreds of blog posts I wrote on the subject of grief.

Apparently, while denying that a writer always writes, I’ve been always writing.

It turns out this is a good thing. I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve said during the eight years I’ve spent writing about grief. (Not surprising since most of it was stream of consciousness more than long thought theories.) Even though it’s painful visiting the past, many salient points have been buried beneath all those words, and those points need to be considered for inclusion in the book.

For example, in response to a fellow who said he didn’t know how to forgive himself for the things he’d written to his mate during an argument. I wrote, “Don’t forgive yourself,” which shocked the heck out of him because the advice goes against everything we are taught and everything we believe.

I’d completely forgotten this exchange, and yet, it’s true. Why should he or any of us forgive ourselves for things we said while in a living relationship? The only thing wrong is that his mate died. If death hadn’t intervened, they would have made up, and life would have gone on. But life didn’t go on. Death did. We so often think we are the villains of our life, and yet death is there off to the side, waving its bloody hands and yelling, “Me. Me.”

Well, here I am, adding more words to an already overloaded gallery of words instead of tackling the dreaded task of revisiting my grief. But what else can you expect from a writer who seems to be always writing?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief, Sex, Skin Hunger, and Minimization

I am in the preliminary stages of writing a new book about grief, though “writing” is a misnomer. I’m mostly just thinking about the project, trying to get the structure of the work solidified in my mind, and in doing so, I discovered a hole in my grief writings. I never mentioned sex, and this topic should be included in a book that is supposed to be a comprehensive look at grief.

For people with an active sex life, the sudden cessation of sex must be truly horrendous. For me, that was a separate grief because physical intimacy ended long before my life mate/soul mate’s death. (Simply trying to stay alive for all those years depleted his resources and energy, and there was nothing left for anything but mere survival.) When that part of our shared life came to an end, I went through a horrible (and horribly long) time of what I call skin hunger, where I was desperate for the feeling of skin on skin. It wasn’t just an emotional thing — my skin itself cried out for the touch of his skin. I can’t imagine having to deal with the torment of skin hunger as well as all the other horrors grief throws at us.

And what about suddenly sleeping alone? How did you handle that? I didn’t have this problem, either. Because of his night restlessness, he slept in a different room, and then after he was gone, I left our home to go take care of my father.

And there is another sex-related issue I never mentioned but should be included in the book since it’s another almost incomprehensible aspect of grief. Some people’s bodies deal with the presence of dying and death by fighting for life, which can mean an emotional detachment from the dying partner, or something even worse — an incredibly severe upsurge of sex hormones, and a very painful, almost constant arousal.

Since this is about all I know personally of the subject, I’d appreciate anything you can add to the discussion. I don’t expect you to leave your remarks here on this blog (unless you want to), so feel free to write me via pat@bertramsblog.com. (You can write me at any email address you might have for me, but this is the only one I feel comfortable publishing here). Even if I were to use your comments, I would preserve your anonymity. This is a difficult subject and needs to be handled with delicacy.

I remember a woman showing up at our grief group once, and all she wanted to know was if she’d ever be able to have sex again. The poor woman seemed utterly bewildered by the loss of her sex life. That was the only mention of sex during my time in the grief group. Since most of us had taken care of our mates during a long illness, it wasn’t an immediate issue for us, and even if it were, I doubt any of us would have been comfortable discussing the matter in public.

Another hole in the book is a mention of the way people minimize our grief. For example, a woman in that same grief group who lived with her soul mate for years without being married, was told by another member of the group that the woman’s grief wasn’t as bad as everyone else’s because she and her “husband” had never been married. (I imagine people such as this would never understand that a surviving member of a gay couple also experiences profound and debilitating grief.) Another woman, who’d divorced her first husband to marry her soul mate, was told that she got what she deserved. This sort of belittling is totally uncalled for, and needs to be brought out in the open. If you can think of any other examples of such belittling (as opposed to the general sort of insensitivity we all experience after the death of our life mates), please let me know, either in the comments here or via the email address mentioned above.

If you can think of anything else you’ve experienced that I have never mentioned on this blog, especially if it’s something you don’t think anyone has ever felt, I’d like to know that, too.

Thank you, as always, for reading my words and supporting me in this very important project.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Stardust of Reality

I’ve been going through an upsurge of unbelonging lately. I first experienced this unbelonging after Jeff died, when I lost the feeling of belonging to someone, to a place, to life itself. This needing to feel as if I belong somewhere is one of the main reasons I’ve focused for so many years on the dream of an epic walk/hike — I hoped such a trek would help me feel connected to the earth in a more fundamental way. And I needed something bigger than me in my life.

Couplehood is bigger than either of the partners, and when we lose that connection, not only are we set adrift in an alien world, we are set adrift in a life that suddenly seems so much smaller than it was. Grief’s immensity gives an illusion of connection to our deceased life partner, but as grief wanes, the unbelonging becomes even more apparent.

Hence, my need for the dream of an epic walk. Now that I have whittled that dream into something I can handle — just a few miles — it is no longer bigger than my life. (Going from “impossible” to a couple of days on the trail was an incredible step, but it is still 2,645 miles short of the dream of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.)

I didn’t mind when I just had the dream of thru-hiking the PCTrather than the reality, because that way, I never had to think about what came next. But now I know — life as usual. That’s what comes when the dream ends.

And so here I am. Once again, feeling unbelonged.

Someday I hope to get strong enough do a longer backpacking trip, but for now, I have other things I need to concentrate on, such as my new book about grief.

I’m still at the preliminary stage, which means I’m thinking about the book and trying to arrange it in my head. I’ve also been going through blogs and emails, looking for topics to include in the book. As I was going through emails from a woman who encouraged me in my grief journey, who kept me focused on the need to grieve rather than to hide from the pain (and made me see that my grief posts were neither whiny nor self-indulgent but necessary for me and for my readers), I came across the following comment:

“You belong, my friend, simply because you are part of the stardust of reality!”

sky space dark galaxy

I love that — “stardust of reality.” It’s something to keep in mind as I navigate this post-dream stage of my life.

And who knows, maybe I’m setting myself up for a new dream, a new reality.

Last night I got a text from my sister that included a screenshot of comments on my blog where people mentioned how adventurous I was. She said, “Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees you as an adventurist.”

I responded, “Apparently, I am the only one who thinks I am a bit of a fraud. But I tell a good story.”

She texted back, “We—all of us—think on some level we are frauds. No joke.”

Later, much later, I realized that when it comes to writing, I don’t feel like a fraud.

That should tell me something about where to look for belonging.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.