In response to my post, Still in Flux, where I lamented that after 12,000 miles, I didn’t notice any change in me, a reader commented:
I think everything’s changed, Pat, but you seem to be missing it right now. You have changed. Significantly. Go back to when I first met you; at three months; and see the fears then and look at yourself now. Indeed everything’s changed.
I responded: It’s odd, but returning here has thrown me back into grief mode. I would have expected such sorrow if I had gone back to Colorado where we’d lived, but he never lived here, never even visited here. It started when I drove into town, even before I remembered that the last time I had driven that bit of highway into town, he was still alive, waiting for me at home. But then, this is where I brought my memory of him. This is where I brought my pain. This is where I cried out for him. I know I am lucky we were deeply connected for all those years, but that doesn’t help with the empty/disconnected feeling I am still struggling with. I feel inept at times. Life shouldn’t be so hard. Or maybe it should be. How would I know.
And she came back with: “Life shouldn’t be so hard” What does this mean, Pat? What is the “hard” you are dealing with? Is it that you still feel moments of grief? Is it that coming back to town is filled with the energy of your grieving place? Is it hard because you don’t accept his death despite intellectual acknowledgement? Is it hard because most of al you miss companionship/relationship/whatevership and hate being alone.
Nail what is actually so very hard right now in July 2016. It will help with your thoughts about the future.
And so, I have been thinking. What is so hard about my life right now?
In some respects, I have it easy. I am basically healthy, with only a few odd problems that the right stretching routine should ameliorate. I have no responsibilities, so I can live at my own whim. I have a vintage car that is mostly reliable. And I have a bit of savings to cushion some of life’s blows for a little while longer.
And yet, and yet . . .
Although it has been six years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, I still feel his absence. The void he left behind is not as deep and black as it once was, but it still confounds me, still pulls me into sorrow. I have accepted his death in every sense, but the truth is, acceptance does not always bring with it the peace we think it should. Because accepting that he is gone from this life leaves me even more alone with his absence. (And being back here, where I can still feel the energy of my grief, makes it all the more difficult.)
What is particularly hard is that I have no roots. I often feel (especially when I think of the future) as if I am suspended over an abyss with nothing to hang on to. The high desert was a place of refuge for me during my years of profound grief, its harsh climate mirroring my own inner environment, but now it seems alien, even though I have friends here, and dance classes. The sun is excruciatingly hot, which is dangerous when driving in an old car without air-conditioning. When I lived here before, mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but now I seem to be just as much of a magnet to the critters as I was on the outer banks of North Carolina. I didn’t think my trip changed me, but it must have because I don’t seem to fit the cookie cutter outline of me I left behind.
Part of the hardship comes from not being able to find a place to live. I have looked at tiny windowless rooms scarcely larger than closets with a higher rent than the three-bedroom house Jeff and I lived in, gated communities that are merely fenced rooming houses, apartments with incredibly stringent requirements. I am staying at a fleabag motel on the outskirts of town, which at least gives me a place to get out of the heat and a fairly comfortable place to lay my head, but staying here isn’t conducive to writing. To write, I need a place where I can concentrate, and believe me, a transient motel is not such a place.
Maybe I don’t belong here in the desert. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere. But then what?
Which brings me to the thing that is most hard about right now, July 2016. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I don’t want, either. Most people my age don’t necessarily want anything since they already have the things they want, the very things I don’t have — spouses, houses, families, places they’ve grown roots.
I spent the past couple of decades taking care of my sick and dying, uprooting myself after Jeff died to take care of my nonagenarian father. Consequently, I don’t have the retirement funds I would have had if I’d had a regular job all those years, and yet, I did what I needed to do. Now I need to build a life, and I have no idea how to go about it.
The truth (at least as it appears to me at this moment) is that I am restless but not yet ready to be a perennial wanderer, tired but not yet ready to settle down. I like being alone, and yet I am desperately lonely, missing the effortless companionship of our years together. I want and want, and yet I don’t know what I want.
So many internal conflicts! Life shouldn’t be this hard, especially since, for the most part, my life is fairly easy.
(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.”)
July 6, 2016 at 1:37 am
Don’t let anyone invalidate or minimize how you feel. If you feel something, you feel it and it’s real to you
July 6, 2016 at 8:30 am
Yes, those feelings are real, even if don’t always know how to explain them.
July 6, 2016 at 5:36 am
I have spent most of my life living in a part of the country what I don’t care for–as a permanent residence. There are multiple reasons for this, too many this little response window. But, it all comes down to “paying the rent,” buying the groceries, finding a person or two who’s fun to hang out with, and finding time to read and write. This den I’m sitting in right now could be almost anywhere. What I see are my books and my PC. I’m not sure life has to wait for a person to find some perfect place to live whether they come upon it via intuition or a series of checklists. One stops moving and waiting and starts living in a new place. For most of us, there’s no perfection in where we end up living. If I were waiting for it to get started on everything else, people would tell me I’m doing what they tell writers not to do: keeping books as manuscripts in progress indefinitely as some impossible level of perfection is sought; there’s a refusal in that to publish the book or submit it to a publisher. Are you concerned that if you say “I’m going to live in town ABC” that as soon as you lease a house, register your car in a new state. get a new drivers license, etc., that you’ll think “I wish I’d moved to town XYZ”?
Perhaps the trip was partially you driving 10,000 miles to find the place you want. Okay, now it’s time to choose, start paying the rent, and get back to writing. My two cents.
July 6, 2016 at 8:18 am
I wish it were just about finding the perfect place to live. I know about hunkering down and dealing with whatever place you land in. I’ve done it all my life, and eventually I will have to do it again. I’d stay here awhile if I could find a place I could afford. There is a vast difference between living in a three-bedroom house with a mate as I did with Jeff and living in a windowless cell by oneself, which is all I can afford here, but it’s more than that. It’s about feeling unconnected. It’s about still dealing with the emptiness his death has left behind. And dealing with all my conflicted feelings of living life alone in a coupled world. And most importantly, it’s about still not having the focus to be able to write.
July 6, 2016 at 8:45 am
Those empty, disconnected feelings are hard to withstand, I know.
July 6, 2016 at 9:02 am
I think the poster you responded do made some excellent points. I also know something of what you feel. I’m thankful I still have my soulmate but I’m separated from my family for good reasons. Having moved around a lot and tied to my computer at home, I, too, feel disconnected from others. I, too, long to leave the desert, once and for all – especially in the summer. I seem to go mad every day at around 5 p.m. until the sun sets – I’ve had enough of it by then and it exhausts me and I find it difficult to think clearly.
They say we must focus on gratitudes. And so I am doing exactly that. I have so much to be grateful for. That seems to help. I’ll try not to focus on leaving the desert until it’s time.
As for you, Pat, I was so hoping you’d discover some place you wanted to move to during this adventure. I saw how happy you looked in Florida and was hoping that was your happy place. And then you seemed to really enjoy the Midwest – Iowa, Wisconsin, and Kansas. But it may take some time before you really internalize what you have learned from this adventure and how it has changed you. It’s early days yet, as they say. And the in-between place is the toughest place to be.
I wish you peace and happiness and finding your happy place. We want to hold onto the past and at times it seems impossible to let it go. But we must move forward and until you’re ready to do that, those words may sound cruel. I know, I must let the past go, too, even if for different reasons.
July 6, 2016 at 9:29 pm
I have a hunch what I like is being on the move. Seeing life from different angles. Still, I’d have no objection to staying put for a while if I could find a place that’s tolerable. So far all I have found are various horrors. I’m thinking of running away for the weekend. Seems so much more exciting than staying in this awful motel one more night.
July 7, 2016 at 10:50 am
Sounds like a good idea – I am, too. 🙂
July 6, 2016 at 8:40 pm
Your post made me hurt, both for you and for me. I understand your feelings, and I don’t. I have so much, and yet I long for the easy friendships and companionship I had in Colorado when I was younger, and often feel like Mark and I have no friends, no social life, no circle in which we can simply relax and let loose. A person can be lonely even within a relationship. Sometimes I wonder if it’s about being older, and not having children at a time in my life when my peers are focused on their children and grandchildren, of which I have none. And then I think, if I did, would I see them, busy and full as my life is? My mom says I must like what I’m doing because I keep doing it, but changing what I do or where I live fills me with terror. When Mark talks about retiring one day and where we would go, I simply panic. I have no advice except to focus on what you do have, and to write. Don’t wait until you’re in a conducive place – just write. Write a story about someone who’s alone and lost and doesn’t know where to go or what to do, and see where they end up. I’ve worked through so much in my stories, gotten to know myself so much better, learned so much. See where the story takes you. You can always hit delete and start over, or you may just find the place where you’re supposed to be. Write.
July 6, 2016 at 9:14 pm
Good advice. I keep thinking the answer is in my writing, but I sit down and nothing comes out. Maybe I am writing the wrong story.
It is harder to make friends when one is older, harder to find that easy companionship we took for granted when we were young. And change, even change for the better is frightening. It makes us (or me, anyway) feel as if we are suspended over an abyss with nothing to hold on to. As spooky and as difficult as it is to live without belonging, in a way, I prefer the chaos because it’s . . . creative. Makes change into a friend.
I feel silly at times complaining about my life because I have so much to be grateful for, but still, there are times when it is hard, so I understand (I think) what you are saying.
July 7, 2016 at 10:54 am
I’m also trying to write but realize I’m writing a Memoir. It seems important to tell my story for me because I don’t really have anybody to hand it down to. I might give it to a niece who might be interested in it.
July 7, 2016 at 12:29 am
We need to let goooo of the past think about Now and don’t worry about tomarrow tonight carlos introduce me to an older gentleman who dance’s western line dance really interesting we did the western cha cha what fun and then the security guy drove bye and stopped and finally talked to us which he hadn’t in 3yrs he found out I was a dance teacher and saw my records in the garage and flipped out he is a record collector. anyway we had a fun evening !!
July 7, 2016 at 4:32 am
Hello Pat. Still following your very honest posts with the greatest of interest. Is it perhaps that there is a difference between activity (traveling, writing, dancing etc) and having a sense of purpose in life? I notice that a lot of retired folks chug along quite aimlessly (and can get away with this as part of a couple) whereas on your own after bereavement there seems to be a profound need to identify a purpose to take your forward. It isn’t easy as far as I can see, but I don’t think it’s something you can ignore. Warm wishes and greetings from England, hope very much you can find a way forward!
July 7, 2016 at 11:37 am
It’s nice when someone gets what I’m talking about. It’s not about looking to the past, but looking at what exists now, including the way I feel, and finding some purpose, something to hang on to so I don’t feel suspended over an abysss is a big part of that. Married folk so often seem smug in their purpose as part of a couple, and don’t seem to understand that some of us didn’t choose this wayward life, but had it thrust on us. To me, it’s not about looking to the past, but finding a future. Warm wishes, and best of luck in your own quest.
July 7, 2016 at 12:26 pm
[…] Life Shouldn’t Be So Hard […]
July 7, 2016 at 4:25 pm
I have loved following your recent journey. I feel your call to the universe. Your sorrow is so deep and prolonged that the obvious thought is that you may need help with depression now. Things may look different with medication or counseling. My oldest daughter has occasional depressive episodes. It is hard to see through the curtain of depression because it robs you of judgement and creative solutions. I wish you a speedy healing as I love your writings. Joan
July 9, 2016 at 11:28 am
Pat it has been almost four and a half years since my loss,I put off retirement,earned my black belt in karate,help take care of my over ninety parents in assisted living,go to grief support,have pets,yet,that hole,that loss,that missing part,I hear you.