My life is slowly winding down . . . Hmmm. That sounds ominous. Let me rephrase the sentence. The dramas and traumas of my life are slowly winding down — my life itself is going strong.
My brother is gone from the area, my father is sleeping most of the time, my sinus infection is mostly healed, my sister is trying to decide if she wants to continue catering to my father’s whims and needs or if she wants to head out. And I’m left wondering what the heck happened during the past fifteen months.
Fifteen months ago, I was mostly housebound. My father set the burglar alarm when he went to bed somewhere been 7 and 9 pm, and he wouldn’t give me the alarm code. (His compromised health made him even more paranoid than normal. I have no idea what he thought I’d do while he was asleep. Debauched parties, maybe.) Such imprisonment seems barbaric to me now, but at the time, I was still struggling to find a way out of grief for my life mate/soul mate, and nothing really mattered. Even worse, my then ninety-six-year-old father was ill, had just been released from the hospital, and I wasn’t sure he’d make it. I was waiting on him, doing whatever he wanted because he claimed he was too ill even to walk to the kitchen to get food for himself (afterward he said he thought I liked doing it, as if by letting me wait on him, he was granting me a favor). Hanging around all day and nursing him was making me feel even more imprisoned.
And then my homeless brother, who had long been estranged from my father, showed up to try to make amends. Within the month, my father came alive, shouting at my brother for innocuous little offenses that my brother couldn’t even understand. (Like being too quiet. Like eating food that had been purchased for my father. Like interrupting the old man while he was praying.) Things got worse, and finally, against my wishes, my father kicked my brother out of the house, just as he had done when my brother was sixteen.
This isn’t meant to be about my father and brother, though my father’s actions toward my brother precipitated the hell my life became. It’s about me. How my father’s resurrection angered me and allowed me to take my life back. If he had energy enough for tantrums and fights, why the heck was I catering to his every need as if he were an invalid? And so, when I found a nearby dance studio, I signed up for lessons, more for something to do than anything else, and I fell in love with dance. The very same day I took my first dance class, I also discovered the Sierra Club walk, and so my life opened up even more. I came alive.
We are gradually ending back where we started, with just me and my father. But those fifteen months are still to be reckoned with. They were some of the most horrific months of my life, dealing with both my father and dysfunctional brother. But they were also some of the most wonderful months of my life, learning to dance and making new friends.
I don’t know if I’ll ever make sense of it all, but what I am left with is the feeling that no matter how we plan, no matter how much we think we are in control, we can never know what life will bring us. Fifteen months ago, I could never have conceived of the abuse from my schizoaffective brother, never have conceived of the heartbreak of saying goodbye, maybe forever. (The brother I knew is gone. I don’t know who that tormented and tormenting stranger is.) Fifteen months ago, my grief group friends were scattering to new lives and new loves, and I was mostly alone. I couldn’t have conceived of making so many delightful new friends. Fifteen months ago, I had absolutely no interest in dance, couldn’t even have conceived of the importance it could have in my life. And all those things happened without my making a single plan.
Of course, I will continue to plan — that is my nature. But I will also be aware that plans are simply that: plans. They aren’t life. They don’t have reality. Reality shows up all on its own.
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.