Cleaning up the Past

Many people I know seem to be suddenly delving into their past — getting DNA results to see their ancestry, trying to trace their family trees, or even doing past life regressions.

At one time I was interested in my roots, even kept a few notes from conversations with my parents, but now, I don’t really care. Since I know who my parents were to a small extent, where they came from, what their medical history is, I realize I have the luxury of not caring. Those who don’t know their parents, such as adoptees, lack that luxury.

My non-caring is more than simply indulging in such luxury, though. It’s about being who I am, not who I am in relation to who I used to be or in relation to everyone around me, but who I am right now. Today. This minute. Once I was a newborn, a child, an adolescent, a young adult, a part of a couple. Today . . . none of that matters. None of those permutations seem to have anything to do with me, as if somewhere, light years behind me, each of those people still has some sort of existence separate from me.

I started shredding my past yesterday, and continued with the exercise today. Things that once were important no longer seem to have any meaning at all. I have a hunch it’s because whoever I was in that past is gone. I am changed beyond anything that erstwhile “I” would recognize.

This disconnect with the past began when my life mate/soul mate died. (He was only 63. Seems so very young!) And somehow taking my dysfunctional brother back to Colorado finished the disconnect. For the past four years I’ve felt as if somehow I was born anew. Back then, I was born into the world of grief, but now? Maybe I’m becoming who I was always meant to be. Whatever that is.

I will keep a lot of stuff, of course. Someday I will have to settle down, and it will be good to have essentials such as pots and pans and towels, perhaps even some fripperies to remind me of my past. Or not. Without a special someone to love, without something to hang on to, I might just be blowing in the wind.

For whatever reason, it feels good to be getting rid of things. Very cleansing. Periodically, I consider getting rid of everything I own, and maybe someday I will do so. But not today.


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.

4 Responses to “Cleaning up the Past”

  1. Rhonda Says:

    Just curious – did you consciously decide against having children? I think, for me at least, their presence in my life now, as young adults, has made so much difference in my perception of what is important…now. The circle is starting anew and it is refreshing and positive. Maybe some youth(s) being brought into your fold would help?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s an interesting idea about bringing youths into my fold, but that will have to wait. I still have other responsibilities now, and then I need a time of not having to take care of anyone. I’ve been caring for the aged, the dysfunctional and the dying for more than ten years now. It’s a lot to handle.

  2. E Says:

    Pat: your thoughts in this post about being reborn and your past permutations being no longer relevant really resonated with me. This is my first time commenting, although I have been following your story and found your thoughts on grief both helpful and heartbreaking. My husband died in March under circumstances that very closely mirror those of you and Jeff. While we had more time after diagnosis (a rare soft-tissue cancer), I saw my husband through weeks in the hospital, a terrible surgery at a hospital away from home, recovery, repeated rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, metastases to bones and brain, multiple transfusions and medical procedures, decline, hospice, a “respite” stay in a convalescent hospital, and death. But we had a vicious complication towards the end where as a result of exhaustion I ended up injured myself—which probably saved my life. I am honored that I was able to help him through to the end of his life, but find myself not only grieving but traumatized, and am only now beginning to feel a bit more like myself.

    I am fortunate that I am able to stay in our home and take comfort from the many ways he set our house up to be functional for us. I have been sorting through his possessions as I have the energy and inclination and have struggled with things to keep or donate. Much as I would love to keep things as they were when he was alive, things will never actually be the same, so I have been making things more functional for me and using that as a guideline and passing on family items I no longer have a use for to the kids. I don’t feel like anyone I used to be, but like you am also not sure who I will be. I like the idea that I am reborn, and feel an underlying strength and clarity that I hope will carry me forward. As I go through things, I enjoy reliving the various phases of our 25 years together, and feel I am putting our marriage to rest along with the man.

    A neighbor recently speculated that I must be very lonely. I told her that I am not lonely. I miss my husband terribly, but understand that it was impossible for him to continue living. I see friends more often than I have in the last years of caregiving and have always been very independent and am okay. I try to appreciate this time and strangely enough find that I am not necessarily unhappy underneath the weirdness of grief.

    Thank you for analyzing and putting words to this experience. Your experience helped me prepare for what to expect, validated that my feelings are normal, and that others live through this. I follow in your footsteps.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My reply to you somehow got lost in the maw of the internet. I am sorry about that. I would never have purposely ignored someone who has had such an experience, especially since it echoed mine.

      “The weirdness of grief.” Oh yes, it so very strange, not just what we feel, what it does to us, but that no matter how painful it is, we recognize the necessity of the process. What we learn going through the pain helps us go beyond the pain to a new life. Because for me and for many of us, the truth that we are still alive even though they are gone brings its own pain

      I am very sorry about your husband. It always seems especially unfair and traumatic that after undergoing such prolonged medical “care” that they died anyway. And then having to deal with your own problems on top of it. Oh, my.

      Thank you for commenting. It’s important for all of us to tell our stories.

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