Sisyphean Tasks

Sisyphus, a king from Greek mythology, was condemned to an eternity of rolling a great boulder to the top of a hill. Every time Sisyphus fulfilled his sentence, the darn boulder rolled back down, and he had to push it up again, hence the term “Sisyphean task.”

I know exactly how Sisyphus feels. Every day I work my fingers trying to form a fist, and though I manage to get them folded a bit, the next morning they are stiff again, and I have to start all over. It’s not just the fingers I have to work on, but also the elbow, though now the elbow does move a little more smoothly than it has been, and the shoulder, which is out of whack from the sling and the weight of the splint and fixator.

The odd thing about not being able to make a fist is that the doctor said it would probably be two years before I could comfortably create a real fist, and every time I manage to fold my fingers into a semblance of a fist, I wonder how could this possibly take more than a year and think I should be fine in a week, maybe or two. And every day I start from the same place, work myself up to bending the fingers at the joints, and it never gets any better than that. So despite my determination, it could take two years. And I haven’t even started working on the wrist yet.

The external fixator is still screwed into my bones, and will be attached to my arm for another month. The fixator prohibits all wrist movement and most finger movements, and since it’s been on for three months with an additional month to come, there will be a lot of stiffness to work out over the next couple of years. Stiffness isn’t the only problem, though. With this many bones that were broken and pulverized, with this many tendons and ligaments that were damaged, it’s amazing that I will have any use of the arm and fingers. Knowing that, and being grateful for what I do still have, does not really make it any easier.

Making things even more difficult, I’m counting down to the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death. I didn’t think I would still be feeling such strong grief after so long, but such is the nature of the beast. Grief does what it wants, and apparently, this year, once again, it wants to be felt. Last year I was on the road, mystified by the sadness I felt that this time of year. But then I was thinking of other things besides why I was free and unencumbered and able to take that trip.

The anniversary, the arm, the fixator, the isolation, the loneliness, the loss of my occupational therapist, are all combining to make this a rather sorrowful time. I do manage to pacify myself with games, with reading, with walking on the few nice days that we’ve had, and with hug therapy. (Lacking a living being to hug, I’ve been hugging a large Teddy bear I found on my trip, which is a trifle more satisfying than hugging a pillow. And it works to a certain extent — something about the pressure, I think.) And occasionally I play with watercolors. But all those activities put together don’t make much of a life. Still, my main focus has to be on healing, on keeping the  skin around the fixator pins from getting infected (another almost impossible task), and on keeping the rest of me from atrophying while the healing is taking place.

I wish I could be one of those writers who could put everything out of her head and just write, and perhaps I could if I were writing anything but a book about a grieving woman. I’m afraid if I continued writing right now, I’d get so deeply into the story, I’d never pull myself out of grief. (I’m not sure that’s even true, but it sounds good.)

Besides, I have the Sisyphean task of opening and closing my fingers.

This post sounds almost emotionless, and in no way shows the spurts of tears that come out of nowhere, the moments of a great yearning for . . . I don’t even know what. Jeff? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t want to disturb his rest with my prickly problems. (I said piddly problems, but my speech recognition software wrote prickly, and I like that word choice better.) Someone to care? There are a lot of people in my life who care, but not in the personal way than a mate does, or in the personal/professional way the occupational therapist did. Maybe it’s just a feeling I miss and need, but I don’t know what that feeling is or how to get it back.

And so life goes on, one Sisyphean task after another.



(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.

13 Responses to “Sisyphean Tasks”

  1. LordBeariOfBow Says:

    I cannot imagine the frustration and pain you must be going through Pat, the use of our hands is something we just take for granted, and then to be deprived of one must be shattering.
    I wish your great strength and courage ; which I know you have in plenty but it has been sorely tested of late, holds firm.

  2. Sherrie Hansen Says:

    I hate to think of you struggling so. Healing prayers and virtual hugs are all I can give. Take care!!!

  3. Sue Says:

    Once again sending and virtual hugs, from across the pond. X

  4. heidi94558 Says:

    Bless you Pat for having the courage to express yourself and for being a beacon in the uncharted waters of grief. Although I do not have your health issues, I am concerned that if I don’t get back into the land of the living that life will pass me by. I take it slow, day by day, feeling like a plant that can’t seem to root, wilting, hoping for rain, warm sunshine and maybe a stir of the soil.

    Last week I made up my mind, I have to move or continue to slowly wither. All the traveling I have been doing only emphasized the necessity for me to start fresh. I’ve decided to move a few states away and now 2/4 of my adult children feel I am leaving them, even though we do not live nearby now. In fact they are all scattered as their lives demand. I want my kids to be happy for me, cheer for me, encourage me for making this decision after seeing me plod along day to day, rather hiding within my 4 walls and feeling like the world is moving forward and I’m stuck.

    I was a stay at home wife and mother. My job was helping my husband with his business and managing the family. Now with my husband gone, kids grown, I feel so lost and that every decision I make leads to making someone unhappy. It’s so hard not to feel selfish, but who else is there to care for the inner me? It’s terribly hard not to be full of self doubt when your head hits the pillow and his voice that used to sooth and encourage, is no longer there.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s not selfish to want to make a new start. It’s not selfish to think of yourself. Your kids are grown, so they don’t need you as much as they did, and what support you can give them now can be given from anywhere. They might be feeling that you are uprooting their lives you will be selling their childhood home, but that’s inevitable, and there’s nothing you can do about it. With no one else but yourself to care about your inner self, to care about all the small matters that make up our days, you have to do what’s best for you. And yes, in our situation, we do have to make sure we don’t wither. When there’s two people creating a life together, there is always someone to bring new energy into the equation, but when there’s only one, it’s too easy to stagnate.

      How did you decide where to move to? I know other widows who have moved long distances, but I still haven’t found a place I’d like to live. Don’t even know how to find one.

      Best of luck on your move! Please let me know how things work out for you.

      • heidi94558 Says:

        Last summer I moved out of the home my husband wanted to downsize to when he was sick. I knew it wasn’t small enough for the time ahead when it would just be me, but he was happy there. My kids did not live in near then either and all my friends were married couples. Suddenly I felt I was in a sea of widows. Who knew there were so many, but you become drawn to each other in your commonality and the need to know that if they were able to survive their grief, I could too. Every weekend I would drive hours to see one or another of my children. Finally I got tired of being alone during the week and moved closer to one of them, only to have them relocated far away for their job. So, after a lot of time in the car driving state to state and flying here and there, I was drawn to want to go back to the area where I felt happiness and peace. The place that made me feel that if I got out of bed, there would be a beautiful day. I’m not talking sunshine and lollypops, but because of the sense of peace I have there, that my life would have more meaning for being a part of it.

        It will probably be fall before I am settled there. First, I am putting the rest of my meager belongings into storage and then making the rounds to the kids one more time to hopefully put their minds at ease on my decision. This includes going to meet a new grand-baby arriving this summer across the pond. Completing this trek I will be assured I did everything to help them understand and that now the result of my decision is up to me.

        Pat, I sure hope everyday you feel a little more strength and encouragement in both your healing processes. One day at a time. Someday we will be able to look back and see how far we’ve come, but day to day it’s often too minute to notice.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          It seems as if you thought this out well. Since you already moved once to be close to a child and it didn’t work out, the only sensible thing is to find a place where you might eventually be able to find happiness, or at least peace. I hope your children will understand, because I’m sure their support will mean a lot to you, but you do have to think of yourself. Do not let anyone think you’re being selfish!!

          I wish I could find a place that would make me happy, but for me it might not be a physical place but a mental place. Lately, I’ve felt most at home when walking or writing, but I still need to find a physical place that’s conducive to both walking and writing. So, see? You’re way ahead of me already. Maybe when I’m healed, I doubt on another great adventure to see if anyplace speaks to me.

          Best of luck on your great adventure! Thank you for taking time to comment, thank you for your words of support.

  5. Terry Allard Says:

    I think grief is a Sisyphean task. Before my husband died 23 months ago I wished for a long life now I feel as if I have a life sentence. The reward for getting through another day, month,year is more time to get through…the Sisyphean task.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Isn’t that the truth. I’ve done so much in the past seven years, trying not to waste the life I have, and yet here I am back missing him with a ferocity I haven’t felt since the beginning. I almost feel as if I’ve been playing a game, and the damage to my arm and the fear for what I might not be able to do, brought me back to to reality and the one great truth of my life. He is gone, and there is nothing I can do about it.

  6. Coco Ihle Says:

    Pat, in trying to decipher the meaning of your words, one thought came out at me. You said the things that make you most happy are reading and writing (not so much a place). I find that true, too, because at those times I am in an escape mode away from life’s reality. I think some time spent in escapism is also time spent healing. It’s good to balance escape-healing with dealing with life’s reality. So when you feel overwhelmed with life’s reality, find a book to escape into or delve into some all encompassing writing. Does that make any sense? That seems to help me, anyway.
    Whatever helps you, I wish you well.

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