Memorial Trip

I recently returned from an adventure that can only be called a memorial trip. On my way to my brother’s memorial, I stopped in Nephi, Utah for the night. That truck stop has always seemed a place out of time to me because during a period of turmoil in our lives, Jeff and I spent a very relaxing and pleasant night there. And so it was again, though a bit sad since his presence was only in my memory.


The next day I stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. I had to smile at the legend of the Indian Maiden who’d leapt to her death after the supposed demise of her lover, and how Mother Nature, to memorialize the depth of her love, created a bridal veil for her. Really? A bridal veil? For a Native American? Still, the falls were lovely.


The main purpose of the trip was to attend the memorial for my brother and to thank the people who’d looked out for him. It wasn’t so much a service as a pot luck dinner for people who had known, cared about, and cared for my brother. I was a bit nervous about meeting those people because I was the one who’d dumped him on the streets for them to deal with, but they were all very nice. Understood my tears. Hugged me. Beneath their frustration with my brother and their inability at times to deal with his nastiness, I sensed true affection for him. They were  pleased to hear stories of his younger days from me and my siblings and to see photos of him when his future shown brightly, because all they knew of him was the end of his story. I doubt any of us will ever be able to make sense of his life, but then, we’re not really supposed to. It was his life, however tragic it might seem to us. To me.

Clearing out my brother’s stuff (my stuff actually, since he’d given me everything a few years ago) was another sort of memorial. One of the oddest and most enigmatic things I found was a collection of Tarot cards. Although we shared an interest in truth, whether the truth of history, of life, of mysticism, and had often talked for hours in our younger days about such matters, he had never once mentioned the tarot. Nor was the tarot a part of my life at all except for a one-card reading I’d done for myself a while back. And yet, there were all those decks of cards and stacks of books about the tarot. (When I got back, I laid out the decks and contemplated the meaning of the collection as if it were a tarot card reading, but I found no answers.)


On the return trip, I stopped at a mountain park that had once been a place of refuge for me. I almost never saw anyone back when I used to visit the place; in fact, there hadn’t even been much of a parking lot then. But now, there is no peace. Two parking lots filled with cars, paths filled with loudly chatting folks and screaming kids. A far cry from what used to be my private place.


Still, the clear air was scented with pine, and between the hordes was a lovely view or two.


Next, I drove past the road to Lost Park, a place my brother often visited when he was a young and carefree spirit. My siblings and I had planned to take my brother’s ashes there, but the plan didn’t work out. And I’m just as glad. The park is at the end of a 20 miles long, rutted, dirt road. We would have had to leave the ashes somewhere along the road since my car would never have made the journey into the far hills, and that would not have been the same thing at all.


I spent the night in a mountain town, and outside my motel window was . . .



That small patch was the only snow I saw the entire trip — the weather had been  warm and sunny with a stray sprinkle or two — and that patch was sort of a memorial in itself since I haven’t seen snow in quite a while.

I took a favorite low road through the mountains, eschewing the high passes, then drove through Utah. I stopped at a viewpoint called Black Dragon, though I could see no dragon. Just bright red hills shining in the noonday sun. Weirdly, when I looked at the photo I took, there was the dragon.


It was a strange journey, with strange portents. For example, on the first day, somehow one of my shoelaces got tangled around the clutch pedal. (I still can’t figure that one out!) And the next day, my new starter stopped starting, but a mobile mechanic took care of that. Later, a pin fell out of the carburetor about a mile from a VW repair place, so it was easy enough to get the problem fixed.

I don’t know what to make of any of this memorial trip, but it certainly was an adventure.


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.

18 Responses to “Memorial Trip”

  1. Wanda Hughes Says:

    I’m so saddened to hear of the death of your brother. Words are, of course, useless; paltry conveyances of heartfelt messages. But they’re all we have in place of hugs and warm smiles and shared tears. Sending you peace and a hug, dear sister.

  2. snakesinthegrass2014 Says:

    I was on hiatus for a while, and I probably missed any posts you wrote about your brother’s passing. So please accept my belated sympathies for your loss. I do hope that the memories of him hold you strong. – Marty

  3. Leigh M. Says:

    Hi, Pat–I am also surprised by all the Tarot material you found in his storage space. I first met Tom in Santa Barbara in 1984, and last talked to him on the phone around 2010. He never once mentioned an interest in Tarot, although he knew a lot about Eastern religion and was impressed that my mother was a theosophist. (The few times I saw him with written material, it was usually far-right conspiracy-themed pamphlets.)

    That’s a difficult subject: making sense of Tom’s life… I believe he probably was bipolar, although I’m certainly not qualified to diagnose anyone. Tom had this unshaken belief that he was somehow bound for Greatness: as a blues-guitar musician, a blues-harmonica player, an inventor (in the early 1980s he did make a working prototype of a small battery-powered tube-driven audio amplifier, but it was not practical enough to market or patent) or a song-writer. But I frankly don’t think he had the talent to do it–his guitar-playing was rough and choppy; his singing was terrible, and he often lapsed into fantasy. I recall him dropping by my Santa Barbara apartment, disheveled and a little dirty from sleeping outdoors, and told me he was going to write a hit song and buy land in Colorado. I pointed out that he did not have ANY songs published, which made him somewhat indignant. Several times he told me me his firm believe that he would soon meet a “patron”, a rich person who would support him while he developed his potential.

    Perhaps because of his sense of destined-to-greatness, he also felt he was entitled: as an artist he complained that he could not be supported by the government; friends would be manipulated by small lies and borrowed items would never be returned.

    I’m sorry.,.. am starting to sound negative. I really LIKED Tom: he was an intelligent and very original person, with a great sense of humor. We had a lot of great times together.

    Late last July I was listening to Green River Blues by Charley Patton ( and was thinking Tom Bertram was the only person I’ve ever known that would like this kind of music. I had not heard anything from Tom since around 2010, so I spontaneously Googled TOM BERTRAM COLORADO and found his obituary. I cried for the first time in a long time…

    Thanks to you, your family and his Fort Collins friends who helped him.

    –Leigh M. in Santa Barbara, Calif.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Hi, Leigh. Thank you for your comment and for your insight into Tom. It’s possible he was great, not in worldly ways, but in other ways. He certainly touched many people’s lives, and despite his behavior, they liked him. His death is bringing changes to people’s lives. It’s as if his going stirred up a tornado of energy that might perhaps have far-reaching consequences. That tornado certainly touched on you, making you think of him at such a time. He was . . . a force. Mysterious and enigmatic. Like a four or five dimensional being caught in three dimensions. Of course, that could just be my own mystical bent coming to the fore. Thank you again for stopping by. And thank you for your tears.

  4. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Those are some lovely pictures, Pat. And if we ever see each other again, let’s see if we can get Tarot readings together. Just for laughs and blog views. How about it?

  5. Constance Says:

    Sorry to hear about your brother. I wondered about him out there alone.
    Be careful with the Tarot Cards. The readings can come true.

  6. Kathy Says:

    I’m so sorry, Pat! It seems like we’re at that stage of life where we’re losing the people who knew us the longest and it feels like being a little lost! I lost my 18-year-old cat in July and that was devastating – he was my constant companion and he left quite a hole. Two weeks later I lost my dad after meeting him just 17 years ago. I may have already told you all of this but it’s a tough time right now. Also living on the opposite coast from where I call home – makes the losses even harder. That trip must have been hard, if not a little weird due to the circumstances. My situation with my dad was also weird. Anyway, hugs to you!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m so sorry about your father, Kathy. That you had him for such a relatively short time, and that the situation was weird makes things even that much harder. I didn’t realize you still thought the west coast was home. I was under the impression you went back to Florida because that was your home. Either way, yes, it does make things harder. Wishing better times for both of us. Hugs back to you.

      • Kathy Says:

        Florida has been a fun vacation home for us but when life gets in the way, there’s no place like home home. And we’ll be back soon.

  7. Ken Coffman Says:

    Pat, it really seems like a rocky road has been set before you. There must be some redeeming positivism, somewhere. If not, for our sakes, you’ll have to learn to fake it like everyone else. Hang in there, my friend.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Ken, fake it? Me? Even if I knew how, how would you know I reached a level of happiness when I get there? Research has pinpointed two years in a person’s life when they are happiest. The first is long gone, the second will come in a year and five months. It should be interesting . . .

  8. Joe Says:

    My sympathy for a journey that sounds agonizing. But I have to say I am touched by your reply to another comment, to wit, “Like a four or five dimensional being caught in three dimensions.” Eloquently put, and possibly more right than we could ever know, because really, what DO we know? That’s quite a collection of decks. I have only one Tarot deck, the same one I bought when I was 19 (i’m now 45) and it has held up well. Like Tom, my Mark was a bit enigmatic and the sense of mystery only increases with time. There are a lot of things I am realizing I never knew about him. I long to ask, “How come this…? Why that…? Did you ever…?” It’s an unsettling feeling to realize the man I believed I knew better than anyone else in the world, is nevertheless still full of mysteries. When I scattered his ashes almost a month ago at a place we both loved, I was not surprised to observe a small orange-red butterfly alight very briefly on the ground near the base of a tree planted in his honor. Animal sightings happen to me daily. What *surprised* me was that the common name of this little butterfly is “Question Mark.” I find that rather fitting. And it’s probably the only “answer” I’ll ever get.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It always makes me laugh when a biography comes out about the life of a young celebrity who’s barely begun to live. How could anyone make sense of the whole person from such a brief glimpse of an as yet unlived life? I suppose, though, that’s what we’re doing — trying to make sense of the whole of the life of those we loved from the brief glimpses we had of them. Maybe we can never know anyone. Despite our deep connection. Jeff was always mysterious to me. What I knew of him were the parts that were like me, and the parts we developed together. Some of the differences I could sense but not understand, and some of the differences I never even glimpsed, though he hinted at them. And yet, there was always that profound connection neither of us understood. But it was different with my brother. We always just blew off his idiosyncrasies, mental issues, and abysmal behavior with a shrug and a “That’s the way he is.” But the truth is not ours to know. It’s his truth, whatever it might be.

      How cool to see a butterfly and a “questions mark” butterfly at the scattering. Sounds like a good epitaph for an enigmatic man.

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