You Know You’re Not in California Anymore . . .

Jeff and I always brought our own bags to the grocery store even though it wasn’t mandated or even strongly recommended. We just did it because we didn’t need all those bags and didn’t want to have to worry about recycling unnecessary bags. After I went to take care of my dad in California, and the state outlawed single use plastic bags, there was no problem. I continued bringing my own bags. Once or twice I made an unexpected stop, and so went ahead and bought the multi-use bags that were available under the new law. These bags were said to be so much better because they were supposed to be able to be used 300 times. Um, no. I think I got about three uses out of them before they were rendered unusable.

Even worse, people on food stamps and other programs did not have to pay for those bags, so they used those heavy multi-use bags with the same disregard they did the old cheap ones, which helped the environment not at all since the new bags have a much heavier environmental impact than the original thin bags. Also people who used to use the single-use grocery bags for trash liners and such, now have to buy them, which does little to reduce plastic bag waste. (Studies also shown that since the ban, people buy more and thicker trash bags than they did before the ban.) Moreover, the cotton or polyester bags that people use instead need to be used 131 times before they break even in an environmental sense, and those bags — especially the polyester ones — don’t last that long. And you still need plastic for things like meat, because meat often leaks, and soiled bags can cause illness. Most confusing to me is that paper bags are given free if people want them, but the idea of cutting down trees just so people have things to carry their groceries in seems absurd (and wasteful) to me.

But that’s not really the point of this discourse. I was just reminded of the plastic-bag controversy when I went to a local store the other day, plopped the bags I was reusing on the counter, and told the cashier, “I brought my own bags.” He looked at me blankly, then threw them away. “I brought those bags to reuse,” I told him. “That’s what ‘I brought my own bags’ meant.” The kid still didn’t get it. He put a couple of my items in a new bag, and when I told him I didn’t want a bag, he started to throw away that unused bag, too. I said, “If you’re going to just throw it away, it defeats the purpose of not using a bag, so I’ll take it.” Another blank stare.

Yep. Not in California anymore. As ill-conceived as the California ruling is, it’s still a good idea for people to be more cognizant of excess plastic bag use. Some people are aware of the necessity of reusing bags or bringing their own, they just don’t do it. One older woman told me her grown daughter always brought her own bags to stores, but her daughter only had to shop for one person, and she had to shop for a family. I told her it was just as easy to bring ten bags as one, and she nodded, but the look she gave me was as blank as the one the kid had given me.

Colorado still allows single-use bags, which is nice for me — if I need wastepaper basket liners, I let the grocery stores put my groceries in their bags. That way I don’t have to buy any. Still, if it ever got to that point, I’d find a way since many stores are exempt from the ban, but I hope I don’t have to worry about it.

Legislation is never an answer. Being aware of the impact of one’s actions is. Not that I’m preaching. I just found these examples of not being in California anymore rather illuminating. Actually, I’m not really even in Colorado anymore, at least not when it comes to bag use. Stores on the front range (Denver, Colorado Springs, etc) and stores on the western slope (Grand Junction, Montrose, etc) credit people for using their own bags (it used to be five cents a bag), so that cashiers were at least cognizant of the idea of reuse.

Eventually, I’ll get people around here used to the idea that I don’t waste plastic bags. Already one or two cashiers automatically hand me my items. But I have yet to see anyone else bring their own bags.

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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.

Librarier

There is an anecdote going around the internet where a mother asks her little girl what she wants to be when she grows up.

The girl responds, “A librarier.”

“Don’t you mean a librarian?” the mother asks.

“No,” the girl says. “A librarier. Someone who goes to the library and reads.”

This could be a true story because kids can be that precocious, but even if someone besides a little girl made up the word, it’s a good one. And since I identify with the term, I would modify it to simply mean “someone who goes to the library.” I don’t do well reading in public — I need the mental space and freedom to relax into the book, and I can’t do that — don’t want to do that — when people are around. I feel too vulnerable.

Since I’m such a good and reliable librarier, I get to check out more than the maximum. (Being a “good girl” sometimes has its privileges!) But I still go quite frequently.

I have a friend who also reads a lot, but she does read at the library. She once said to me, “People always tell me that life’s too short to spend it reading. I say life’s too short not to spend it reading.”

That’s basically my philosophy. In my younger years, that’s what I did — read. It’s all I ever wanted to do. It’s not a good career choice since there’s no money in it (I could have been a librarian, I suppose, but then I’d have to watch everyone else read while I worked, and that’s not the same thing.) Still, I managed to mostly read my life away.

After Jeff died, everything changed, even reading. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t stand to read fiction. Too many books involved death, and I couldn’t face that faceless beast. Other books involved couples getting together, which was excruciatingly painful since I no longer had anyone. Still other books involved couples not getting together, which was just as bad, because it reminded me of my situation. And I was too unfocused to read non-fiction.

I did struggle with books for a while, but when the library closed for asbestos cleanup, I didn’t miss reading. I did buy an occasional book, but my finances don’t really lend themselves to such an indulgence.

Now, though my finances are even in greater disrepair than ever before, I have a library a few blocks away, a decade’s worth of reading to catch up on, and even better, death’s sting has receded.

So once again, I am a librarier.

***

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.

 

Celebrating the Newness

I’ve never really celebrated the New Year because it doesn’t mean much to me. It’s a relatively arbitrary date. The calendar numbers change, but that’s all. It’s not a universal new beginning. The Chinese New Year this year is on January 25, the Jewish New Year is on September 18, the Persian New Year is March 19, the Korean New Year is January 25, the  Tibetan New Year begins on February 24, and various communities in the Hindu religion have different dates for their celebration.

January 1 is not even the beginning of a new season or of a solar cycle such as a solstice or an equinox. Nor is there any personal demarcation — no black line separates the old from the new. The world is no different today from yesterday, nor are we. We carry the old year with us because you have the same problems, sadnesses, hopes, fears.

There is a newness to January 1, though, and that is the newness of a new calendar.

Like school kids with stiff new clothes and a satchel full of crayons, unread books, and blank paper, we are ready to set out on an adventure, trembling with both trepidation and excitement. Our new calendars have 365 blank squares. How will we use those squares? With notations of appointments and special days, of course. Perhaps with reminders of bills to pay and chores to do. But many of those days will be blank. What we will do with those blank days? Will we search for happiness or a new love? Will we recommit to an old love? Will we strive to attain a better level of health? Will we experience new things, meet new people, visit new places, sample new foods?

I do feel that particular newness today, that hope.  I’ve had marvelous adventures the past past year — buying a house, settling into a new home and community, making new friends. And now I have 365 blank days on my new calendar. I plan on getting out my box of crayons and coloring those days brightly with the glow of a smile, laughter shared, and moments of appreciation for the world around me.

I hope your days will be filled with color, new adventures, and much joy.

Happy New Year.

***

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.

Spam

I wonder how many people fell for the following bit of emailed spam. It’s cleverer than others I have seen, but still obviously a scam. I’ve printed it exactly as I received it, though I must admit, I itched to correct the punctuation:

Greetings to you.

Please I am writing to you out of despair.

I was living with a foreign contractor ,I know he is not related to you but he is of the same last name with you ,I got a child for him, in the same year he was attacked by pirates on the coast of Island of Malta.

Before the attack, he shipped (Bucyrus continuous miner with other refurbished mining machines) to a firm based in Brazil on an agreement to be paid after confirmation of the functionality of the machines (which precisely was to be within November 2013).

Because of attack incident, they did not pay as at the stipulated time. I decided to wait ,hoping that the family of my daughter’s father would contact me ,thus we can make a claim to be paid. but ever since ,they never contacted us ,which prompted me to call the company’s lawyer that drafted the contract agreement.

He spoke with the company and invited me to come ,I have met with the company ,after our deliberation ,they said they prefer to pay the money to the family directly since I am not legally married to him.

Their lawyer asked me to invite the family for the money or let them call him for directives .and sincerely ,I am helpless with their decision ,because I don’t know his people ,they never contacted us since the incident. which is extremely understandable that they don’t know about us.

Therefore please ,I wish to beg for your cooperation to stand as his relative since you are bearing his same last name please so that they can release the money to you and you transfer back to me.

Please I pray you to help me for the sake of my child’s support please ,even if you can take 30% please.I beg you o help me.

I am worried with a hope that you reply so soon please .

Miss Suzy Bikam

***

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 Never Too Late to Make a New Year’s Resolution

Only 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions until the end of the year. Most people abandon them in the first month or even the first week.

This sad state of affairs makes us seem wishy-washy at best and lazy at worst, but there is something more at work than simply a lack of . . . well, a lack of resolve.

I’ve come to realize that instead of losing our resolve, we lose the clean-slateness. After only a few days, the sense of a new beginning dissipates. We become used to writing the new year on our checks. We’re back into the routine of our lives, probably more tired, more broke, and fatter than we were before the holidays. And somehow, in the comfort of our old lives, we forget the idealism we had when embracing a new year. We forget that for a moment we believed anything was possible, that we could become better, stronger, healthier, wiser, richer, more beloved if only we . . .

I abandoned the practice of making resolutions when still a child after I realized that by the end of that first week, I’d completely forgotten my resolution. (I only remembered when the next new year rolled around and I tried to, once again, make that same undoable commitment.)

Too many things happen during the year to make us either forget our resolve or to make us stop caring. So perhaps another reason we can’t keep New Year’s resolutions is that we make them too early in the year. What if we made the resolutions after birthday celebrations, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, summer, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas are passed?

Today seems a perfect day to make New Year’s resolutions for 2019 — especially since I started these resolutions yesterday. So from now until the end of the year, I resolve eat more vegetables, drink more water, and do a bit of exercise.

Now I have to remember those resolutions.

Oh, the pressure!

***

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.

In and Out of Kilter

The origin of “out of kilter” is unknown, though the phrase itself has been in use since the 1600s. Kilter or kelter means good condition, so you can be both in kilter or out of kilter, though generally at separate times. “Off kilter,” which is a variation “out of kilter” and means the same thing, seems to have originated in the 1920s.

The origin of “out of whack” is also unknown, though the word “whack,” meaning to hit something, was used as early as the 1700s, and “out of whack” itself has been used since 1885. It’s been conjectured that “out of whack” refers to machinery that needs to be whacked to get it going, but the truth is anyone’s guess.

The origin for haywire is known, however, and is a relatively new term, only about a hundred years old. The etymology is obvious when you think about it: hay + wire. Haywire or baling wire is a thin, flexible wire that is used to hold bales of hay together, and was the equivalent of today’s duct tape. I’m sure you’ve heard of old vehicles being held together by baling wire. So not only does haywire refer to shoddy or makeshift work, the wire itself, once it’s off the spool, gets easily tangled. Hence something that is out of whack or off kilter is also haywire.

So why all this talk of things being out of order?

I seldom break things. Though stuff does slip through my fingers all too frequently, the items are either unbreakable or they fall softly without breaking, but last night I knocked over a champagne flute that was on the kitchen counter, (I was toasting the day after my first Christmas in my first house with sparkling cider). Although the flute simply fell over onto its side, it shattered. Took me forever to clean up all the crystal crumbs!

Then later, as I was lounging on the couch drinking tea and reading, I got a text. After responding to the text, I reached out to put my phone on the table and knocked over the empty mug. It too shattered.

Neither of these breakages meant anything (except that I had one less flute and one less mug), but it showed how far I’ve come in the last ten years. About seven months after Jeff died, I dropped a mug. It shattered on the hard tile kitchen floor, and set me back into full grief mode. I couldn’t stop crying for days. It was one more thing gone out of the life we shared, and it struck me as horrendously sad that stuff was going to break, wear out, get used up until there was nothing left of “us”?

Last night, there was no emotional aftershock. The things broke, and I cleaned them up. End of story. Well, except for the part of wondering why things were so off kilter. Which of course, led me to wonder what kilter meant, which led me to out of whack, which led to haywire.

Which leads to my New Year’s wish for you — that your life remains in kilter all next year.

***

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.

Facing the Unfaceable

We who have lost our spouses, life mates, soul mates often have to show empathy and understanding to others rather than receiving it from them. We are the ones hurting, so why do we need to be understanding of their feelings? Because it is far easier for us to remember what it felt like to be in their situation, than it is for them to imagine what it must be like in ours.

Shortly after Jeff died, I had to let a man know of the death, though I don’t remember how I conveyed the information. It took months before I could actually say the words, “Jeff is dead.” But I do remember his response. “I know what you’re going through,” he said. “My dog just passed away.”

I stared at him, unable to process those words. To this day, his remark appalls me, though I have come to understand he was reaching out the only way he knew how.

Death is shrouded with an element of blank. It is the great unknown and unknowable, and our brains are not equipped to handle the immensity. While we are in the grip of our grief, the survival mechanisms of those around us are triggered. To avoid facing the unfaceable, people close to us will indulge in self-protective behaviors that shut us out.

Sometimes long-time friends, especially couples, draw away from us. The death of our spouse and the demise of our couplehood change the dynamics of our friendships. People fear we will now be uncomfortable in the company of couples. At the same time, they are uncomfortable with us because all unwittingly, we are a reminder of how fragile life really is.

This drawing away is often an unconscious reflex — they know we are hurting, know they feel helpless in the presence of our pain, but they don’t really know they are acting any different and certainly they don’t know why.

The jargon of grief is that of illness, of negativity, of . . . fault, as if somehow we who are grieving chose our state and now we have to overcome, heal, recover, move on, get over, return to normal. By blaming us for grieving too long, by refusing to admit that our grief is normal, onlookers to our grief can more comfortably return to their job of surviving, and leave us alone with our sorrow.

Even those who are kind to us bereft, even those who continue to be supportive, lose the urgency they had at the beginning. They cannot sustain that same level of support because grief takes way too long, and they need to focus on their own lives.

Despite these protective behaviors and the almost bumbling way people treat the bereaved, and despite my occasional acrid comment about the insensitive things people say to grievers, people do care, and they do want to say the right thing. In the last couple of days, more than 3,300 people landed on my blog post What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? after Googling such things as “how to say Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” “how to wish someone a Merry Christmas after a loss,” “Christmas greeting for grieving person,” “how to wish Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” In fact, since I posted that particular blog in 2011, more than 80,000 people have viewed the article.

Many thousands more have viewed What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving.

The true villain here is death. While the very idea of death drives non-grievers away, it draws us grievers in, forces us to face the unfaceable, makes us an accomplice. And yes, even allows us to show empathy to those who don’t understand but who try to show sympathy the only way they can.

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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 Gift for You

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, Peace and Joy, Warmest Wishes, Happy Solstice, Good Yule, Noel, Good Cheer, Good Tidings, Merry Xmas, Happy Holy Holidays, Warm Greetings, Holly Jolly Holidays, Let it Snow, Ho Ho Ho, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Mele Kalikimaka, Buon Natale, Buone Feste Natalizie, Feliz Natal, Nollaig Shona, Fröhliche Weihnachten, God Jul, Wesołych Świąt, as well as any other greeting you use to acknowledge this special day.

Click on the gift to open. Have fun!

***

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.

Happy End of the Creeping Darkness!

20171214_195354-1.jpgThe creeping darkness will end this evening at 9:19 pm MT. “Creeping darkness” is a phrase I created, which is probably why you haven’t heard of it before.  I have a hard time with this time of year and the way the darkness comes earlier and earlier, stealing light from my days, and so “end of the creeping darkness” seems a perfect name for this particular event. The correct term, of course, is “winter solstice.”

“Solstice” comes from two Latin words, sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “stationary” because on this day, in the northern hemisphere, the sun seems to stand still, as if garnering it’s strength to fight back the darkness.

Technically, the winter solstice marks the moment when there is a 23.5-degree tilt in Earth’s axis and the North Pole is at its furthest point from the sun — from here on, the days will get longer, gaining us an additional 6 and 1/2 hours of sunlight per day by June 21st when the days begin to get shorter again. (This is reversed in the southern hemisphere, so today those down under will be celebrating their summer solstice.)

Though neo-pagans have claimed the solstice for their own, this is one of those natural holidays (holy days) that we all should be celebrating. The end of the lengthening nights. The triumph of light over darkness. We don’t even need the metaphors of light=good and dark=bad to find reason to celebrate this day. It’s simply a day of stillness, of hope. A day to give thanks for the promise that even in our darkest hour, light will return.

My celebration will be simple. I’ll turn on my bowls of light and go outside to toast the pale winter sun with sparking cider. Technically, I will be toasting the moon since the sun will have set hours before, but the sun won’t care. It will be shining brightly in the southern hemisphere, and will return to this part of globe tomorrow with greater strength.

Wishing you a bright and hopeful end of the creeping darkness.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.