Sadness and Gladness

Today was a strange, rather unsettling day. It started out fine. I did my normal morning routine (tarot reading, exercise, Wordle, Quordle) then wrote the note to my friend overseas. I sure was glad to have that small accomplishment out of the way! It’s been niggling at me for the past two months.

On the way to the post office, a friend who was driving by pulled over to chat. I was saddened to hear that her husband had passed away. It’s always hard to get such news, but harder for us who have been there (as opposed to those who haven’t had to deal with such a loss) because we have a good idea what the one left behind is going through. We also know there’s nothing we can do or say to make things better. Each of us has to learn to cope the best way we know how, and to learn how to live alone. That sounds cold, I know, but it’s the bitter truth. Still, I feel sad for her and all that she’s going to have to deal with in the coming months and years.

After she drove off to do her lonely errands, I continued to the post office. I was glad to discover that I could walk normally up the ten or so steps to the post office door. It’s a far cry from being able to hike up eighteen flights of stairs as I did when I worked in a downtown Denver office building (so long ago that it was the tallest building in the city), but ever since I damaged my knees, I’ve had to climb stairs the way a small child does. One foot up and then the other foot dragged up to the same step.

I was glad to discover that the postage to a European country is relatively cheap — only twice what it is to send a letter domestically.

I was glad that this was such a nice, cool day that I could get my errands done and still be able to do some weeding in my gardens.

All those things I was glad about today seem paltry in comparison to the sadness of death and a friend’s grief, but still, I was glad, which is why today was so strangely unsettling.

But that’s life, I suppose — the sadness and gladness all jumbled together so we never quite know how to feel.

***

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.

Do the Job in Front of You

I’m reading a science fiction book about people being able to step from this Earth into multiple other Earths, as if all possible Earths were stacked together like a deck of cards, and people could go from one to another.

At first, it was kids who found a way to step, and suddenly, kids all over the world were disappearing. The cops didn’t know what was going on. Terrorists? Aliens? One young cop asked the sergeant-in-charge what he was supposed to do, and the sergeant relied, “Do the job in front of you.”

It’s funny how in a story about strangeness, such an innocuous remark should have caught my attention, but it seems to be good advice no matter what. For example, landscaping a yard and creating garden spots in that yard can be rather overwhelming. It’s not something that can be done in a season or even two or three. I’m starting my fourth season, if I counted accurately, and despite how nice some parts of the yard are, other parts are still quite wild and weed-infested.

I’ve never had much patience for such long projects — I’m more of a do-it-and-get-it-done sort of person. Or at least I was. Apparently, I am now someone who can embark on a project that will never be finished. Almost by definition, a garden is always in progress. Volunteer plants show up. Long-standing plants die. Weeds take over certain areas. The only way to deal with such a long-term, unending project, is to do the job in front of you.

This change in me, from wanting things to be done to being able to deal with things that never are done, is a holdover from grief. Grief is one of those things that are never finished, though oddly, grief comes about because a loved one is finished — finished with their life here on Earth. But for those left behind, it’s never finished. At the beginning, especially, it seems impossible. Not only are you going through the most horrendous pain and most confusing time of your life, you are faced with a never-ending list of end-of-life chores. A person who dies doesn’t just disappear. The body has to be dealt with. Their things have to be dealt with. The government has to be informed and dealt with. Banks have to be dealt with. The only way to get through all that is to do the job in front of you.

It’s the same way with writing a book — during the course of the months and sometimes years that it takes to complete a novel, there are thousands of decisions to be made. Some people can sit down and simply write, without a plan, without agonizing over every detail, but for others, writing is the details. And the way to write for those people is to do the job in front of them, whether a paragraph, a page, a chapter.

I suppose life is the same way. I tend to try to look into my future, to see what I can do now to prevent some possible effects of old age, but in the end, no amount of projection will protect me (or anyone) from the vagaries of life. All any of us can do is the job in front of us, and the job — the life job — is to live the best we can today.

Luckily, we are all (or at least I think we all are) dealing with a single Earth, which makes things just a bit easier to do the job in front of us.

***

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.

Feeling Old

I had a rather cryptic e-conversation with a therapist friend who recently attended a grief workshop. She mentioned that they stressed things I’ve written about but aren’t commonly known, such as there being no way to do grief wrong (it might be painful, but it isn’t wrong). She said I was ahead, and that this wasn’t the first time.

I responded, “It’s nice to know. But then, I already knew.”

She came back with, “Yes, you did. And I am sorry you had to learn.”

I was about to agree that I was also sorry that I had to learn about grief the hard way, then I realized how remote all those years of grief seem now, so I wrote back, “It’s funny, but it was so long ago, none of it seems to matter anymore, except, of course, for the part about Jeff being dead. That will always matter to me.”

She agreed, “Except, of course, about Jeff, that will always matter. I feel that about many things.” Then we come to the cryptic part. She ended by saying, “Maybe it is age, maybe perspective, but I am feeling many things not felt before.”

I’m not sure what she meant by that final sentence, but it got me thinking about the things I feel now that I have not felt before, and only one thing came to mind: I feel old. That’s sounds so terrible, but it really isn’t. I don’t feel old as in decrepit or sick or helpless, but old as in a different era of my life.

When we were young, the old seemed separate from us, as if they’d never been like us, as if they’d always been old. Most of us were smart enough to know that wasn’t true, but since we’d never seen the elderly when they were young, it seemed true. The other side of that feeling is that we never really thought we ourselves would cross that line from youth to old age. Most young people feel they are different from the elderly, that they will be the exception and will remain forever young. Well, I certainly wasn’t the exception, and now the line has been crossed and I am on the side of the elderly.

Oddly, just as I’d imagined the elderly when I was young, as if they’d always been old, that’s how I feel. As if I’ve always been old. My youth is now as distant and as unimaginable as old age once was. That girl I was, that young woman, that half of a couple, that griever are all lost in the past and no longer seem to have anything to do with the woman I am today.

I don’t think this feeling is a bad thing since it is what it is. It doesn’t feel negative, anyway. It’s just an acknowledgement of a different time of life. The whole maiden, mother, crone trilogy, perhaps. My mother stage sort of came first because as the oldest girl of a rather large family, I so often had to take care of the younger kids. My crone stage came in having to shepherd Jeff and my parents out of this world — a midwife to the dying, so to speak. What’s left is the maiden stage, and that’s not happening. Though in a way, it is. Buying my first house so late in life, starting over in a new place. Just . . . starting. That is all part of the maiden era.

People often talk as if the elderly are simply youngsters in a decaying body, and that might be true for some people, but that isn’t true for me. Despite my facetiousness about going through my “maiden era,” I don’t feel the child in me struggling to escape the burden of age. I feel ageless, or perhaps I feel more as if being my age — the age I am right now —is the right age. And so it was during all the “right now”s of my life. (Meaning that whatever age I was, that was the right age for me at that time.)

The bad part of being old is that the body is wearing down and wearing out. Weird little things happen, such as rolling over in bed and suddenly the knee is out of whack and you can’t walk or your trusty immune system doesn’t work as well or things slide down the wrong tube when swallowing. But even these matters don’t seem so much a part of growing old as of . . . entropy, perhaps.

I might change my mind about all this as I slip from a young elderly age into an older elderly age, but whatever happens, I hope I can continue to see the aging process as just another phase of the adventure we call life. After all, that’s how I tried to deal with grief: accepting it as much as possible as another experience — a rather painful experience (to put it mildly) but no less valid than the pleasant times.

Just as our culture seems to frown on people who admit to feeling grief, as if grief is failing, it seems to frown on people who admit to feeling old, as if that too is a failing. But I didn’t hesitate to admit to feeling sad, so I certainly am not going to hesitate to admit I feel old. It’s just the way life is. And it’s just the way I am.

***

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.

The Courage to Start Over

Two characters in the book I am reading are talking about why they moved to that particular small town. One was born there, moved away, then returned for as yet undisclosed reasons. The other said she just wanted to start over. The first woman said, “I think it’s admirable. A lot of people don’t have the courage to do something like that.”

Is it true? Does it take courage to move to a new place to start over? Or is it that sometimes we’ve lost so much there’s nothing to lose by doing so?

I know several widows who moved out of their homes, and then took off, looking for a place to settle. A couple of them bought RVs, traveled across country, and eventually found a place they liked well enough to stay. Others just . . . wandered. It might have taken courage, but I have a hunch it was simply easier than staying and living with the memories and the ghosts of things past. Some people who are left behind do stay in their once-shared home and that, perhaps, takes more courage than heading out to look for a new place.

In my case, after Jeff died, I moved to a different state to take care of my father, and when he too died, I wandered. In between road trips, I’d rent rooms in people’s houses. Then three years ago, I bought a house sight unseen (though I had seen photos), in an area I’d only driven through once. At the time, I knew no one in town, though I promptly rectified that little matter. Did any of this take courage? Not particularly. Does it take courage for a stone that was catapulted into the air to land somewhere? No. It’s just the way things are. It’s the same thing when you are catapulted out of your life — you eventually have to land somewhere. It’s just the way things are.

Come to think of it, that’s not the only time I went looking for a new place to live, though the other times were with Jeff. We were fed up with the growth of Denver and the attendant problems like crime and pollution. We were also without work. So we just took off with no destination in mind. I don’t think that took courage; it was an adventure, and to be honest, once we left everything behind, it was the freest I ever felt in my entire life. The problem with such an irrevocable act is that eventually you have to find a place to live, and that search destroys the feeling of freedom.

It’s a good thing this place is working out for me because I don’t have another move left in me.

But I am getting off the theme of “courage.” Although I have done many things people say take courage — such as dealing with grief, my solo road trips, buying my first house so late in life — I didn’t particularly feel courageous. I did endure, however, and I did persevere despite having lost so much, and I tend to think that counts more than mere courage.

***

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.

Safe and Well and At Peace

I am very grateful to be safe and well and at peace today, with only minor irritations to plague me, such as smoky air and wind. It doesn’t seem right to be grateful on my own behalf when there are so many problems in the world right now, not just internationally, but locally. Wildfires on either end of town pretty much isolated us yesterday because the highway had to be closed. (Not that the closure itself is a problem for me since I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, and even if I wanted to, I can’t drive until my brakes get fixed.) Some friends were evacuated, though most were allowed back home today. (The smoke is so bad in town, I can only imagine what it’s like out there near the burn zone even if they are so lucky as to be able to return home.) Others are still homeless, and from what I understand, a couple of houses did burn.

Then there are all the people I know who are still suffering long term affects from The Bob, as well as those with new and old cancer diagnoses.

I don’t even want to get into the whole war thing, except to say, doesn’t such a hot war seem out of place in the world today? Don’t we call ourselves homo sapiens sapiens? Not just wise man, but wise, wise man. Yeah, right.

On the other hand, even though it feels wrong to be grateful that I am safe and well and at peace, as if I were indulging in a bit of smugness (though truly, I am not), wouldn’t it be worse if I were not grateful? As if I took my good fortune for granted?

You grievers of all people know how little I take my good fortune for granted. We all have suffered such great losses and because of that, we are grateful for whatever peace and safety and wellness we manage to find. We also know how quickly fortunes change — health disappears in an instant, death comes between one breath and the next, what is given can be taken away.

I guess I’m answering my own question. Not the one about war, because that is unanswerable, but the one about it being worse if I were not grateful. Yes, it would be worse to take whatever good comes my way (even if it’s only good in relation to other people’s ill fortune) as if it were my due.

So, today — as every day — I am grateful to be well and safe and at peace. And I wish the same for you.

***

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.

Sad Day

I was sad last night, but it had nothing to do with Jeff or me or the anniversary of his death. I had to say good-bye to a friend who is heading back to Thailand to care for his wife until the end. The doctors’ prognoses for her have varied over the past several months, from a possible three months left to maybe a year or two, so he’s not planning on coming back any time soon. He smiled when he said good-bye, but his eyes were bleak. I cannot imagine doing what he is doing — leaving the country for an indefinite stay so he can give his wife the care she needs. It’s so very heroic. Sad, but heroic. Admittedly, he’s fine with living elsewhere, but his previous lengthy visits to other countries have been for fun and education, rather than for the heartbreaking task that is awaiting him this time. Even worse, he tries to put on a happy face since she doesn’t want anyone to be sad on her account.

I can’t help being sad over the situation because his wife is a dear sister/friend. From the beginning, although we are different nationalities, grew up on opposite sides of the globe, and had a bit of a language problem, we discovered a strong connection to each other. All I can do for either of them, the one cared for and her caregiver, is to continue looking after their house to give them one less thing to worry about.

Not wanting to feel sad (because even if the end is coming, my friend is alive and happy now despite her infirmities), I kept myself busy all day. I went for a walk, cleaned my floors, cleaned my clothes, cleaned me, fixed a nice meal (a salad and an overloaded-with-spinach frittata), and did various other small chores.

And now I am here, dumping my sadness into the ether where I have deposited so much sadness over the years.

After today, I intend to honor her wishes and think of her at home in Thailand. Happy. With her husband and family and old friends.

But first, I need to get through today.

***

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.

Twelve Years. Unbelievable.

Today is the twelfth anniversary of Jeff’s death. If I hadn’t made a note of the anniversary on my calendar, I might have forgotten to commemorate the day. I remember the date he died, of course, but I lost track of time and didn’t realize today was the 27th. It used to be I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to because the day was written in my bones, in my soul, and I could feel it with every breath I took. But now, not so much. I still miss him, still feel the void, still have the date emblazoned in my mind, but my body has forgotten.

It’s an odd — and confusing — experience, this thing called grief. I am long past the mourning stage. When rare tears do come, they barely spill over, not like the early days when tears were so copious, they chapped my cheeks. In fact, the emotion of it all is so distant, my life with Jeff and my grief after his death seem almost mythic, a half-remembered dream that dissipates in the bright light of daily activity. (Come to think of it, when I speak to him — or rather, to his photo — it’s generally at night, just a few words mentioning my day, words that really mean “I am here, I am alive, I matter.”)

It’s hard now, in my settled, peaceful, and generally pleasant life to believe I was that shattered woman who screamed her pain to the uncaring winds. That sort of wild grief seems so out of character for me. Until then I believed I was a rather placid, stoic, and resilient person, and I believe that of myself again today, but during those first years of grief? I was anything but placid and stoic. And no wonder — the very foundation of my life, my identity, my hopes for the future, everything that anchored me to the earth had disappeared in an instant leaving me teetering at the edge of the abyss.

I’m surprised I survived that feral time. Apparently, though, at rock bottom, I really am mostly placid, stoic, and resilient. It just took a while for those characteristics to rise to the surface after I was hit with the tsunami of grief, but I learned to go with the flow, to take whatever came, to feel whatever I felt, to deal with the pain however I could, and to wait for a more peaceful time. I also learned that such all-encompassing and savage grief has a strong physical component that supersedes any character trait or emotional response. Hormones go nuts, our brain chemistry changes, and often we suffer from stress-related issues. Losing a life mate ranks at the very top of stressful situations, and that stress itself causes physiological changes.

But I came through all that. And now it is twelve years later. I am different. My life is different. My expectations are different. It’s confusing when I remember what my life once was — my years with Jeff and my years of grief — and compare it to what my life is now. It simply doesn’t compute. (Which is where that mythic feeling comes in. I know it happened, I know I was that person who lived that life, but it doesn’t seem real.) I cope with the confusion over this dichotomy the same way I coped with my years of numbness during Jeff’s illnessness and my years of grief after his death — try not to think of the past, try not to think too far ahead, try to accept that each day is sufficient in itself.

Still . . . twelve years. Unbelievable.

***

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.

Weather and Walking

The good news is that the latest snowstorm didn’t seem to affect my upcoming tulips except perhaps to encourage a few more to break through the ground.

The bad news is . . . well, there really is no bad news. There is bad news elsewhere, of course, but within my personal gated community (i.e., my fenced-in property), all is well

We did have horrific winds yesterday, but the only damage they did was to blow away the petals of the crocuses that had already bloomed. There are a few more crocuses coming up, so any bloom time that was cut short will be more than offset by the new blossoms. Today is a gorgeous day, blue skies, still air, and warming temperatures. By the weekend, it will be astonishingly warm — in the low eighties. Wow! If there are no winds accompanying those glorious temperatures, it should be a good day for walking.

I never used to let weather get in the way of my taking a walk, but I do now, especially when it’s slushy or windy or too hot or too cold. Unfortunately, I also let other things get in the way — work, too much to do, too tired, and all the other things that knock me out of routine. Last summer gardening was the culprit. Any work in the yard had to be done early before the day heated up, and by the time I finished watering and weeding and all the other small tasks necessary to take care of a yard, it was too hot to spend any more time outside, so the walking fell by the wayside. If all that weren’t enough, then there was the whole knee issue that really put the kibosh on walking.

With any luck and my knees willing, this summer I’m hoping to be able to do both the yard work and take a walk, but I seem to have lost the compelling urge to walk once I moved here. (Even when my knees prevented me from walking, I still felt the compulsion, but now I don’t.) So much of the walking I did for more than a decade was grief-induced. Grief seemed to keep me on the move, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was trying to run away from grief. Maybe I simply needed to relieve the stress of grief. It could be I needed the Zen of walking to keep me centered. Possibly the training for an epic long hike kept me focused on the future rather than the past. Most probably, it was a bit of all those things. With much of my grief-induced problems resolved, the impetus for walking isn’t there especially since my current walking paths lead me only around town rather than through nature, so now I have to rely on discipline to get me out there, and that is in short supply.

Once I am back in the habit of walking, it won’t be a problem keeping the habit going. Well, it won’t be a problem until the wind rises, slush happens, it gets too hot, my knees go wonky again, or work and chores intervene.

Even today, though I am looking forward to a walk, it’s possible that I will have to go to work instead. In that case, I’ll try again tomorrow, and if that doesn’t work out, then the next day. Or the next one after that.

***

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.

Grief is Universal

I got an email from Germany today from someone I didn’t know. It was written in German, and one of the few words I recognized was “sex,” so I assumed it was some sort of spam. (The subject line in the email was: Trauer, Sex, Hauthunger und Minimierung.) I was scrolling down to find the “unsubscribe” link when I noticed a translation of the email, and realized it actually was a message to me, a response to my blog post: Grief, Sex, Skin Hunger, and Minimization. I wondered how he got my email, but when I checked that blog, there it was, posted for all to see. (It’s actually not an email address; it’s more of a forwarding service that WordPress offers.)

Until I saw my email address in the body of the post, I thought I got his comment via email in error, so I went ahead and posted his comment on the blog. I hope he’s okay with that, because he had done what I asked in the post — added to the discussion about sex and grief. I did respond to his email and told him what I did, so if he wants me to remove the comment, I will.

Two things came to mind when I read his comment.

First, that intense grief over the death of spouse seems to be universal. The lack of information not just about the realities of grief but also the various affects grief has on us and the additional losses (such as the loss of sex and the problem with skin hunger) also seems to be universal. We all tend to suffer in silence, thinking we are the only ones who are dealing with such pain. Although I mostly kept quiet in my offline life, here on this blog, I’ve been anything but silent, which turned out to be a good thing. Now people all over the world know my experience and my belief that grief is hard, grief takes a long time, and grief should not be suffered in silence.

Second, many men don’t remarry and aren’t interested in remarrying, despite the prevalent idea that men who lose a wife immediately remarry, not just to have someone to take care of them, but so they can have sex. Some bereaved men don’t miss sex in general, though they intensely miss sex with their wives. Some men do remarry, but often it’s to have someone to be emotionally intimate with because for many men, their spouse is the only emotional support they have, the only person they feel comfortable hugging or talking about personal issues with.

These are just generalities, of course. Although I have learned that despite the cliché, not everyone’s grief at the loss of a spouse is different from everyone else’s — grief for many of us followed the same pattern and timeline — when it comes to marriage and new relationships, the cliché is true: everyone is different. We will each of us find our way to a new relationship when we feel the need, when the time is right, or when we meet the right person.

In my case, it’s a done deal. I’m okay most of the time with the idea of growing old alone (the idea of it, you understand; not necessarily the reality of it). I certainly don’t want to have to deal with the possibility of caring for someone else in their old age, especially since I’d be old myself. Besides, there’s no room in my house for another person, and I won’t give up my house for anyone. But this sort of life isn’t for everyone, though it is forced on so many of us without our having a choice in the matter.

***

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.

Body Memory

Occasionally during the past few days, I’ve been overcome by a momentary sense of panic and dread, as if I’d forgotten something I was supposed to or as if something terrible was about to happen. It’s not a big deal, more of a frisson than true panic, but I can’t think of anything that is currently happening (or not happening) that would prompt such a feeling.

Although I would have thought I was long past the time of grief-related body memory, this feeling seems like something being resurrected from the past. Twelve years past, to be exact.

At this time twelve years ago, I was dealing with Jeff’s various end of life issues, such as terminal restlessness and confusion. Some people, toward the end, can’t sit still, and so it was for Jeff. Because of the cancer that had spread to his brain as well as the potent pain killers he needed, he was unsteady on his feet, and he tended to fall. So, sleep-deprived me stayed with him all night, pacing with him, getting him to back bed in the hopes he could fall asleep, and then pacing again.

I didn’t talk about any of this back then, at least not here on my blog, because it seemed such a betrayal of him, but after he died, which seemed to me to be the ultimate betrayal, all bets were off, so I wrote about what I felt. Until then, I had hospice to talk to.

Many people are leery of hospice, perhaps confusing them with the Hemlock Society, but I only have good things to say about the hospice in western Colorado. Although they were scheduled to come once a week (we were settling in for the three to six months the doctors said he had left to live), he deteriorated so fast that I called the hospice nurse every day with some issue I had not previously encountered, and she always responded, first by phone, and then with a visit.

During the past twelve years, I hadn’t thought about that time very often — his death and my grief were such traumatic experiences that they overshadowed everything else — but if it hadn’t been for hospice, I have no idea how I would ever have known what to do for him. Would never have known what was happening.

Next week, it will be twelve years since we admitted him to a hospice care facility. Although hospice is mostly an at-home program where they help the family and give them the tools to take care of their loved one, this particular hospice also had a nursing facility to take care of the patient for short stays to give the caregiver a rest. Oddly, although his admittance was for my benefit because it had been many days since I slept more than an hour or two — I’d been staying up all night with him and was totally exhausted — I didn’t sleep any better when he was away, knowing he was with strangers, and he was dying alone. (He didn’t die alone, though. I was with him when he took his last breath.)

There are a lot of things I can barely remember from five and ten years ago, but that whole month from twelve years ago is seared on my brain and in my body, apparently for all time.

Instead of exacerbating my grief (and despite the momentary pangs of panic), these memories today are accompanied by gratitude for the nurse and social worker who helped me through the worst time in my life.

[Hospice helped with my father, too, but by then I knew a lot about dying (from an outsider’s point of view; obviously, I know nothing about dying from the point of view of one who is dying), so although I was grateful for their help, they weren’t quite the angels of mercy that the first hospice people were.]

I wasn’t so far gone in grief after Jeff died that I neglected to thank the women who helped me with Jeff — I did, sincerely — but over the years, I haven’t often thought of that time.

And now, twelve years later, I am remembering with love and gratitude, and also, apparently, with panic and dread, though it seems silly since there is absolutely nothing I can do to change even a moment of the past.

***

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.