Body Image vs. Self-Image

In a book I recently read, a woman who’d recovered from anorexia but was slipping back due to stress, reminded herself that body image is not the same thing as self-image. That really made me stop and think because too often our self-image is reflected by our body image. For example, even though I am fairly realistic, seeing my body as it actually is, I don’t always like the way I look. I try to minimize my flaws, of course, but with mirrored closet doors in my bedroom, it’s hard not to see the unclothed truth. And, even though I generally accept myself for what and who I am, there are times when I can’t help but be influenced negatively by that mirror image of myself.

As a culture, we seem to think that beautiful, thin, fit folks have more worth than those of us who are rather ordinary and out of shape. Although people don’t treat me badly because of my looks (perhaps because the hat amuses them and my smile delights them), I can’t help but feel as if I’m not worthy of all the good things in life. Well, that’s not exactly true. I am worthy. It’s just . . . well, it’s hard to overcome that conditioning.

To be honest, I don’t want to fall in love again — I really am fine as I am — but it does bother me that deep down I think that I am not romantic material. Perhaps it’s due to my reading. In almost all books, whether thriller, horror, mystery, romance, suspense, the heroine — no matter what her age — is beautiful, tall, intelligent, feisty, fit, and attracts the well-muscled handsome hero.

Even if a writer wanted to have an out-of-shape, unattractive heroine, there’s really no way to present the character in a good light. All the adjectives to describe someone of oh . . . I don’t know, perhaps someone of my body shape, are rather unpleasant. Even “pleasingly plump” despite the “pleasingly” part, is rather negative especially since so many of us not-thin folks are not pleasingly plump — unpleasingly lumpy is more like it.

Stout, chunky, hefty, overweight, heavy, obese, chubby, dumpy, rotund, flabby, paunchy, stolid, pudgy, corpulent — these are not words that bring “heroine” to mind. Nor are they words that lend themselves to a love affair, even though most people do not fit the ideal portrayed in books or movies. One of the most disappointing movies to me was “Shallow Hal.” Jack Black was supposedly hypnotized into seeing the inner beauty of a 300-pound woman. Except he didn’t see the inner beauty — he saw her as a thin person which just exacerbated the whole “the only worthy woman is a thin beautiful woman” mystique. Or worse, that “inside every fat person is a thin person struggling to get out.” The movie would have been so much more satisfying if he actually saw the fatness but could see beyond that to the inner person.

It’s amazing to me that anyone of any body shape manages to develop a good self-image despite the current body image situation. Everything we see and hear corroborates that social norm of beauty as all important, so not-so-beautiful people tend to be at a disadvantage. It’s hard not to live down to that body image. As for those with the socially acceptable image, I imagine it’s hard to live up to it. Truthfully, I don’t have much sympathy for tall, beautiful woman because no matter what their self-image, all sorts of good things accrue to them because of how they look. (Of any two job candidates, the winner is generally the taller and prettier.) But still, I do concede that social conditioning is a hard thing to break out of.

No wonder I was so taken with the comment that body image is not the same thing as self-image. It’s an important point to keep in mind as we — no matter our size or age or level of attractiveness — navigate the pitfalls of life.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mirror of the Soul

Ever since the summer, I’ve been doing a three-card tarot reading for myself, and it began to seem silly. The only thing I really needed to know was what I needed to know that day. The first two cards only served to muddy the reading — in my mind, anyway — so this month I went back to a one-card reading. Even better, I went back to using the Crowley Thoth deck. It’s not one I particularly like, but I do have a great handbook that goes with the deck: Tarot Mirror of the Soul.

As the title suggests, this particular guidebook, more than any other, uses the tarot as a mirror to reflect inner realities without judgment to give us a new perspective. Ideally, anyway. Admittedly, the tarot itself it a tool for self-exploration, though I have not often found it to be so. This book, though, gives me more of what I need to focus on each day’s lesson.

For example, today’s card is the Nine of Swords. It generally means cruelty directed at oneself and points to a tendency to put yourself down. In rare cases, it can mean physical or psychological cruelty by some heartless person, but no one lately is cruel to me. Actually, I’m not cruel to myself, either, though I have recently noticed a tendency to judge myself harshly when (perhaps) I am doing the best I can. Even if I’m not doing the best I can, that judgment call seems to be worse than whatever goals I breeched.

This particular card does seem to suggest that knowing the foible or lack is important — as important as knowing one’s good points, which I tend to ignore. It’s the cruelty of judging oneself that should be done without.

This book doesn’t just describe the symbols on the card and suggest what they mean, but continues with what the card indicates, which, in this case is about the necessity of recognizing the behavior pattern before it can be overcome. Another section is for questions to ask oneself, such as who judged you? And are you now ready to forgive your parents, others and yourself?

The section for the Nine of Swords then ends with an affirmation: I am loved, simply because the I am the way I am. This is something that I really do need to know. Concurrently with my recognition of how often I castigate myself for not being my ideal self, I’ve been wondering why people like me. (I suppose that’s a reasonable question. If I don’t particularly like myself — I don’t dislike myself, either, I just don’t go around patting myself on the back for my good qualities — then it makes sense I wouldn’t understand why they like me.)

People who know the tarot or who are more intuitive in their reading than I am can figure this out all on their own, but I like following along with the Mirror of the Soul. It helps me focus on one thing for the day (or at least for the start of the day because by the time I go about the business of living, I’ve already forgotten what I learned from the tarot that morning).

My plan for learning the tarot had been to pick one card each day for one year, two cards for the next year, three for the third, and so on, but the third year is only about half finished and I abandoned the plan. Eventually, perhaps, I’ll do a real reading with five or more cards once a week or once a month, but for now, this particular practice mirrors what I hope to gain from my daily tarot reading.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

It’s Weird Being the Same Age as Old People

I saw a saying on a tee shirt that made me laugh: It’s weird being the same age as old people. Because . . . oh, how true that is!

So often now when a character in a book is described as old, the character’s acquaintances go on and on about being worried about the old person, or the character’s children wonder how they are going to take care of their aged parent, or the detectives discount what an old witness might have seen because of the unreliability of an elderly person’s eyesight or hearing. I find myself nodding in agreement, because elderly people can be frail, fraught with ailments, have the beginnings of age-related dementia, or any number of issues.

Then, like a static electricity shock directly to my brain, it hits me that I’m the same age or even older than the character. When did “elderly” characters in books get so young? Or maybe they have always been young. (At least from the point of view of someone my age.) For example, although Miss Marple’s age is never stated in any of Agatha Christie’s stories, various clues make her out to be in her mid-seventies, so that’s the age she’s generally portrayed in movies. But Agatha Christie’s great-grandson thinks the “elderly spinster” was meant to be much younger — perhaps in her 60s.

Either way, these “elderly” characters are a lot younger than I imagine them to be, so perhaps a better question than “when did elderly characters get so young?” is “when did I get so old?” Either way, it really is weird being the same age as old people.

Although I have often written about getting older and have mentioned some of my age-related debilities, such as my wonky knees, for the most part, I don’t see myself as old. I don’t see myself as young, either. I’m just . . . me. Admittedly, I do worry about growing old alone, but even that shows my age ambiguity — “getting old,” you see, rather than “being old.” I have a hunch if Jeff and I were still together, age wouldn’t be a factor at all — we’d continue to deal with whatever life hands us without putting labels on it, but since I’m alone, and have only myself to rely on, it’s important for me to prepare now as much as possible for whatever old age might bring.

And it’s not just me. Other people in my situation — women who lost their mates and have been left to live alone — also think about the same things. One friend told me she had to be careful because what if she fell and knocked herself out and no one knew? This happened to one woman I know, but luckily for her, it was her cleaning lady’s day to work. I try not to think about such things, because there’s not much I can do about it but be as careful as I can (and I do have a neighbor who pays attention to my window shades and gets concerned if I don’t raise them each morning, so that’s a comfort) but this is simply concern for the coming elderliness, not for now. Still, if I were a character in a book, I’d be worried.

In real life, though, I don’t have to worry about being elderly. From what I’ve been able to gather, most of us consider an elderly person to be anyone who is ten or more years older than we are, so from that standpoint, none of us is ever really elderly until there’s no one that much older than us left alive.

So perhaps it’s not being the same age as old people that’s weird. Maybe it’s just age in general that’s weird.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Go? Stay away?

Back when “shelter in place” edicts went into effect, I happily discarded all my group activities. When I moved here, I’d been careful to get involved so that I wouldn’t become a total hermit and stagnate in my aloneness, but pulling back came at a good time. I already knew many people, had friends to see occasionally, a small job, and neighbors to talk to over my fence.

Even though most people seem to have gone back to their normal gregarious lives, I’m still leery about doing things in groups, though I have been attending meetings for the one group I still belong to. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for the group), there have been several new members, just enough that the number of people attending makes me uncomfortable, but not enough to make me want to quit. Not that I would quit — all of the original long-standing members have become friends, and since they all have busy lives, the meeting is a good opportunity for me to visit with them. And anyway, I can generally handle anything for a couple of hours.

A lunch was added to the most recently scheduled meeting, with everyone to bring offerings to feast on before the business discussion followed by a special project, which would greatly have extended the time of being around others.

Thinking of all those people in a small room, especially since this is turning into one of the worst flu seasons in several years, and the flu season hasn’t even started, I worried about going, obsessed even. I didn’t want to take a chance on getting sick, but I also thought I should go since I seldom do anything in a group anymore. (And anyway, not everyone shows up each time, so perhaps it would have been okay.) All the dithering was driving me nuts, so I considered calling a friend and asking her to talk me into going. In the end, I decided to leave it up to the fates: if it was warm enough to finish my outside chores before it was time to get ready for the meeting, I’d go. If not, I wouldn’t.

As it turned out, despite the awful winds, I managed to water my lawn in plenty of time. Resigned, I started getting ready to go. Then I got a text: due to an emergency, the meeting was cancelled.

I laughed. Not at the emergency, of course, but at myself. All that worrying for nothing! It showed me the folly of becoming preoccupied by a situation that might not even come to pass. (Part of me wonders if all that obsessing somehow caused the emergency, which turned out to be rather minor in the end, but that, too is folly.)

So here I am again, apparently having learned nothing. The lunch and meeting have been rescheduled for next week, and I’m wondering: Should I go? It would be nice to step out of my hermitage and see friends. Should I stay away? It certainly wouldn’t be nice to be inadvertently exposed to any of the flus going around.

Go? Stay away?


When it comes time, I suppose I’ll do whatever it is that I end up doing, so there’s no real point to thinking about it before hand.

Or so I tell myself.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Filling My Life

I can see why I had such a hard time trying to find topics when I was blogging every day — there are no great emotions in my life as when I was dealing with grief, no great adventures as when I was hiking or road tripping, no wonderful new experiences as when I bought my house. There’s just me going about what has become my normal life, which mostly entails spending two or three hours working on my yard and the rest of the time reading or relaxing and trying to recuperate from the labor.

To be honest, I’m not sure this is a fulfilling life, but to be even more honest, I’m not sure I care. It takes a lot of energy to search for ways of being fulfilled and then to follow through, and I have never been a high-energy person. I do have a part-time job looking after an older woman, so that’s something anyone would consider worthwhile. Outside of that job, however, my only responsibility is looking after myself, and that should be at least as worthwhile as looking after someone else, right? I’m not sure why, but we seldom think we are as important as others. When we’re coupled, it’s easy to feel as if we’re leading a worthwhile and fulfilling life because of its “we” centeredness. Being “me” centered is considered selfish, but when “me” is all there is, then by definition, we have to give ourselves as much validity as when we were a “we.”

Now that I think of it, I spend more time looking after my yard than I spend looking after myself. I’m pretty easy to care for — make sure I have plenty of books, fix relatively healthy meals, try to put myself to bed at a reasonable hour. My yard, on the other hand, is rather demanding. Because of the lack of natural moisture in the area (due to a curse put on this land by the survivors of the Sand Creek massacre, I’ve been told, and even a subsequent blessing ceremony by more current members of that tribe couldn’t remove the curse) I have to spend time watering my grass and plants. I gave up weeding my gardens in the summer because it was impossible to keep on top of the growth (the weeds around here thrive even without much moisture), so I am having to do now what I didn’t do then. I’m also extending my garden, bit by bit. (There is still a swath of my backyard that has never been cleared; the weeds and weedy grasses are so dense it takes an hour just to clear a few feet.)

Although such work might not be compelling to others, it is to me, especially this time of year when the cleared gardens stay cleared, and the fall flowers bring intense color to the yard. It’s also fulfilling work in a creative sort of way, with the yard as a canvas I paint with plants. Although the heat-stressed grass hasn’t yet greened up, at least, with the cooler temperatures, I don’t have to worry about additional damage the sun can do, and there’s always hope for the spring.

Actually, hope isn’t just for spring. When there aren’t big emotions, big adventures, big experiences to fill my life, there’s always hope for something — a chance visit with a friend, a few words that make me think, a new flower to plant or to enjoy, a book that keeps me interested. Even without hope of . . . something . . . there’s still today and my gratitude that even though there might not be a lot to bring drama to my life or heighten my emotions (and hence give me blog topics), there’s nothing to torment me, either.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Dream of the Future

I came across a Buddhist quote this morning: “Do not dwell on the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

Normally I would agree that this is a good philosophy (one, moreover, that worked well for me while I was dealing with grief), especially since all we have is the present moment, an eternal now. Though come to think of it, I’m not sure that’s true. By the time you’ve said or thought “now,” that particular now — that moment — is already in the past. I suppose the secret is to forget “now.” To just be. Though I wouldn’t know either the truth of that or how to do it now that I’m identifying as a gardener. Or landscaper. Or whatever.

For example, this morning when I was out digging up Bermuda grass and other weedy vegetation, I also tried to figure out what else I need to do now to prepare for the garden I hope to have next spring. Prepare the ground, of course, to extend a grassy area into the garden area so I can more easily get to the back of the garden to take care of those distant plants. Decide what to plant in areas denuded by the removal of dead annuals, or perhaps decide not to plant and simply wait until next spring and see if any of those annuals reseed themselves. Also decide where to move plants that need to be divided, such as the New England aster, which are growing rapidly this year. (I started out with one stalk three years ago. It grew to seven stalks last year, so I divided them and thought I was set for another couple of years, but now each of those seven stalks has spawned at least an additional seven stalks.) Since the asters won’t divide and replant themselves, I have to decide where to put them.

Admittedly, this transplanting won’t need to happen for another month or so, but meantime, I need to get an idea of where to put them and to prepare the ground if they are to be planted in what are now uncultivated areas.

All of this takes planning because all of this takes a lot of work, and I have to pace myself to make sure I can do the work despite an aging body and diminishing reserves.

So, is planning part of the present moment? Obviously, one can only think in the present moment because you can’t think today’s thoughts yesterday or yesterday’s thoughts tomorrow, but all that planning is for the future.

And a garden is, almost by definition, a dream of the future.

Dwelling on the past is also something that is necessary when it comes to a garden. You have to pay attention to what thrived and what didn’t, what you did that you might not want to do again, what you didn’t do that you should have done. (I’m still trying to figure out what I could have done differently to keep swaths of my newly sodded lawn from dying, because until I can figure that out, any reseeded grass would surely end up with the same fate.)

There are, of course, those times in the garden that one does what one does — planting, weeding, watering — without thinking of . . . well, without thinking of anything. Much of gardening is mindless work where nothing exists beyond the work itself. So that part might live up to the Buddhist ideal, but the rest of it? Not so much.

It’s a good thing, then, that I’m not Buddhist.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Thinking Things into Futility

I’ve spent an interesting hour or so online looking for a word to describe one who tends to think things into futility. I started with “fatalist,” which sounds like it should be a word for a “futilist,” but only the end result of the philosophy is the same. Fatalists believe all is fated, all is destined to happen, which can leave them feeling resigned about life since they believe they are powerless to change anything, and in the end, that powerless can lead to feelings of life being futile.

Fatalism led me to nihilism, because apparently, the two are intertwined on the internet if nowhere else.

Nihilists believe there is no underlying grand meaning (or grand being) behind life and human existence, and that belief, too, can lead to feeling of life being futile since many nihilists believe that in the absence of inherent meaning, human existence has no particular value.

So although both fatalism and nihilism can lead to a feeling of futility, they start from completely different points of view.

Mostly, a search for a name for someone who tends to think things into futility led me to a plethora of mental health sites, as if a person who tends to think about meaning and meaninglessness has a mental health issue when in fact, such people (according to a different plethora of sites) tend to be intelligent and realistic.

The best thing I found about a person thinking things into futility is a quote from Alan Watts, a writer and speaker who translated Asian wisdom into plain English. He said, “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So, he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.”

He makes an interesting point, though I’m not sure if it fits the premise I’m developing for this blog post. In my case, I tend to think that by thinking about thoughts, I get pulled out of the world of illusions, and that by not thinking, I am lulled into a world of illusion.

But this isn’t supposed to be an essay about illusion; it’s about my tendency toward “futilism”.

I’ve recently mentioned that I’ve been trying to look at gardening as a game, which helps me keep on doing the best I can with my yard, otherwise, I tend to think to much about what I am doing, and the work begins to seem futile. Which, in the grand scheme of things, it is . . . futile, I mean. A hundred years from now (heck ten years from now!) who will even care? The land will be here no matter what is on it and how much work was done.

Even on a daily basis, gardening seems futile (if I think about it). Life so often does what it wants. Some plants that shouldn’t live in this climate do well; others that should do well don’t. Sometimes watering is the right thing; sometimes, it isn’t. Which means, that if I want to keep up with my yard, to continue my creative endeavors on such a large scale, I have to stop thinking so much about what I am doing and why I am doing it, and just play the “game.” Thinking about what works and doesn’t work in the garden — strategy — is all part of the game. Wondering about the purpose of it all is not part of the game, and in fact, is an unnecessary complication because a game is its own reason for being.

This tendency of mine to think things into futility is not just about gardening, but about almost anything. To keep up with this blog and to write a blog post a day, I have to focus on what I am going to say and then say it, because when I start thinking too much about what I am doing here on this blog and why I’m doing it — other than as a writing discipline — the concept of blogging turns to dust in my hands, and it seems futile to continue.

I read the same way I breathe — I just do it without thinking. But when an author makes a serious mistake, it thrusts me out of the story and makes me think, which is not a good thing. In the book I just started reading, for example, the character got a phone call from a call box, the last old-fashioned coin-operated phone left in town. Okay, as unrealistic as that may be, I can accept it. But when the author goes on to explain that the phone booth is outside the drugstore, in the alley by the dumpster — that did me in. For decades that phone has been hanging on a wall in an alley, and no one ever vandalized it? How am I supposed to believe that? So, since there can’t be a phone, there can’t be a call, and if there can’t be a call, there can be no story and continuing to read the book becomes futile.

Yep — thinking my way into futility again.

It does make me wonder, though: if “not thinking” seems to give me a sense of meaningfulness and “thinking” seems to give me a sense of meaninglessness, of futility, what does that say about me? Or thinking? Or meaning? Or anything, for that matter.

Hmmm. I think I just proved my point.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Second-Class Mind

In a book I just finished reading, a teacher accused a grown character of doing a job anyone could do. As he said, “You have a first-class mind. Or if you want to quibble, a good second-class one.” That tickled me for some reason, perhaps because that would be how I’d like myself described, as having a good second-class mind. For sure, no one ever accused me of being a genius, of having a first-class mind. In fact, one teacher in high school said to me, “I bet you think you have a high IQ, but you don’t. It’s average.” Why a teacher would tell a student that — no, let’s be specific. Why a teacher would tell me that, I don’t know. I do know that teachers always thought I was an overachiever, as if my good grades came from constant study. In fact, one teacher told my mother that I worked too hard and that I should take it easier. I’m sure that confused my mother since she never noticed me studying or doing homework, but then, teachers never saw me for anything other than a passable, passive child who didn’t cause trouble.

I’ve been decades away from the influence of teachers who underestimated me, and yet, perhaps they were right. Like the character in the book, I haven’t been doing much with my good second-class mind. In fact, if you must know (which is a silly way to preface a comment because no one “must” know anything about me), I’ve been spending this lazy summer afternoon dozing . . . cough, cough . . . I mean reading. Or should it be the other way around? I’ve been spending this lazy summer afternoon reading . . . cough, cough . . . I mean dozing.

Either way, it’s not the day that’s lazy, but me. In my defense, I was anything but lazy this morning — watering, weeding, chatting across my fence with neighbors.

At least this afternoon was more productive than yesterday afternoon. I have a OneDrive account that I set up when I got a new computer so I could easily transfer my files, and now that my free space is filling up, they want me to start paying for the service. Instead, I spent an hour or so deleting redundant files and folders, and I accidentally deleted an important folder — my blog photos. Come to think of it, it’s not that important since all the photos have been uploaded to my blog, but still, I didn’t want to delete it. I had marked the folder as one to save on my computer no matter what, but apparently, when I deleted it from OneDrive, it still deleted it from my computer. And since the folder in its entirety wasn’t in my recycle bin (each file was listed separately), I had to restore the entire recycle bin. It took my computer hours to get everything back where I had it.

Not that what I did had any importance, it’s that the net result of my falling asleep this afternoon while reading had the very same results as yesterday’s attempt to clean up computer files.

So what does all this have to do with having a good second-class mind? Nothing really except it goes to show that whatever class mind I have (even, perhaps, no class at all), I’m not using it.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.


Sometimes I feel as if I am serving an alchemical apprenticeship as I continue my transformation into an old woman. You notice I said “old woman” rather than a “wise old woman,” because I’m not sure wisdom is something that can be apprenticed. Neither can old age, actually — we get there or we don’t — and yet there are things we can do to make aging easier.

My apprenticeship is about learning the art of living when it doesn’t seem as if life is worth living anymore. So many frail elders are beset by an existential crisis, especially when they are the last ones left of their family. (Or even if it only feels as if they are the last ones left.) It is a valid point — is life worth living when everyone you have loved has died? When you have little control over your life and yourself? When your body continually fails you? When it’s hard to see, hear, feel? When your days extent too far behind you and —even though you know you have an expiration date — seem to extend too far ahead? When all anyone cares about is how old you are, not about you and how you are dealing with your great age?

A vast old age (or even a frail younger old age) leaves elderly people feeling as if they have outlived their usefulness, as if there is nothing left to live for, as if they don’t belong here. I’m hoping, in this apprenticeship I have apparently taken on, that the lessons I learn now will become habit, so if (when?) I go through my own age-prompted existential crisis, the tools for continuing to live as full a life as possible will be at hand.

I have no idea what I will be feeling in those hopefully still-distant years. My experience with grief has taught me that we cannot imagine how we will feel about anything until we get there. I do look to the elderly people I know and have known in recent years, see how they are feeling and acting (or not acting), and try to extrapolate from them what I might need to know. One advantage I have is that existential crises are not uncommon for me, the big ones being when I hit adolescence, when allergies (and the prescribed allergy medication) tossed me into a black hole of depression, and when Jeff died. Too often, people sail along fine their entire life until they become physically incapacitated in some way, and then . . . wham! Along come all problems and thoughts that were held at bay by activity.

To this end, I celebrate the small beauties of the day — a flower, a pretty stone, a smile. I look for something to care about and to focus on — for now, it’s my yard, but when that becomes too much for me, I hope something else will come along to give my life focus. I look for something to be grateful about every day. Admittedly, it’s hard to think about one’s life here (especially if that life feels insignificant) when a person is focused on what comes next after this life. So along with the gratitude, I look for something to ground me, to connect me to life and to Earth. Right now, as with so much else, that grounding comes from my garden, from dealing with the literal ground rather than a mental one.

I am also paying attention to the ways my body works and doesn’t work to try to figure out what muscles I might need to exercise to make sure I can do for as long as possible the simple things we take for granted — stand, sit, walk, swallow. Yep, swallow. About a month ago, I was downing a vitamin when it slipped straight past my esophagus into my lungs. Yikes! Scared the heck out of me. So I researched the mechanisms of swallowing and learned that in order for the windpipe to be blocked off, it’s necessary to swallow with the tongue pressed onto the roof of the mouth. The only thing I can think of is that day I forgot how to swallow and relaxed my tongue and throat, and then . . . oops. I’m very lucky that it wasn’t worse. The pill (a capsule) was innocuous and eventually, it dissolved with no lasting effects. Now I am mindful of where my tongue is when I swallow anything. And if I don’t feel like taking the vitamins, I don’t. Even though I do feel as if they are helping me, they can’t help if I can’t swallow them.

It’s all part of the apprenticeship. There is no grade to this apprenticeship, nor is there any reward except that I get to live another day. When I feel more as if I “have to” live rather than I “get to” live, I remind myself that today is not given to everyone, and I find a way to mark the occasion. I hope I can continue to do so. If nothing else, having such a tool at my disposal will help make all the coming years worth living.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.


A woman saw me getting out of my vintage Beetle today and told me, in a distinctive southern accent, that I was adorable. Or maybe it was the hat she thought was adorable, or the car, or both. (I get a lot of admiring comments for both of those accessories.) It does come as a surprise at times that I have reached the “adorable” age, though why older women with a different sense of style (such as it is) are considered adorable, I don’t know.

I smiled, of course, and thanked her, because what I else could I do? Shortly afterward, I thought of her comment when I acted considerably less than adorable. I was waiting in line for a checkout clerk, but the clerk kept looking around and seemed to be interested in everything but me, as if I were invisible, and I know I’m not. Invisible, that is. I finally said that if she weren’t going to help me, I was going to leave. She did approach me then, but there was something about her lackadaisical attitude that rubbed me the wrong way, so I said rather irritably, “Forget it. I’m going to leave anyway.” And I did.

It was the right thing to do because by that time, I didn’t want to have anything to do with her or the business that employed her, but I would have preferred leaving the irritation out of my voice and adding in a bit of the “adorableness” that the woman from the first encounter had seen.

Ah, well. Who wants to be adorable, anyway? I’d rather be known for a razor-sharp wit (which, unfortunately, I don’t have) or . . . hmm. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be known for. I certainly wouldn’t want to be known as an irritable old grump (which, unfortunately, I was for a moment today.)

On second thought, maybe it’s not so bad being thought of as an adorable old woman wearing an adorable old hat and driving an adorable old car.


Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.