Shedding Light on Old Fears

Last night I again suffered a bout of fear over growing old alone. I haven’t had such feelings for a long time, partly because I have been living alone and am getting used to it, but mostly because I’ve been keeping my mind away from the inevitable decrepitude of old age, and away from thoughts of being that old lady whose house is falling down around her because she doesn’t have the funds to shore the thing up.

For now, the decrepitude is advancing very slowly, just a matter of knees that don’t bend as well as they did, not being able to walk as far as I once did, and not being able to easily climb up steep stairs without dragging myself along. But bodies do tend to break down, and one day . . .

Yeah, better not think of that day.

It’s odd, though, that the fear last night was of growing old alone rather than the fear of being broke because of all the extra expenses I didn’t expect when I bought this place, such as having to build a new garage. The old one might have lasted for years, maybe even the rest of my life (or the rest of my car’s life) but even though it seemed solid and well built, the shed-like garage had been built on shaky ground. (Probably above an old septic system, which, combined with a high-water table, made the area rather damp.)

The other things that I have had done to the house and property, such as putting in a new foundation for the enclosed porch and replacing the old porch floor, removing diseased trees, and putting up a fence, didn’t really change things that much. It just felt as if I were cleaning up the place.

But a garage is a whole other matter. Erecting a building from scratch seems so much like growing deep roots, as if I were no longer just playing house, but living here for real.

I realize I’ve been here for almost a year, setting down tender and tentative new roots, but building a garage seems like the beginning of a massive root system. Makes settling down — and settling down alone — even more real than it had been. (Besides, all the talk of security that came with planning the garage, such as lights and locks and security cameras, as well as having to be aware of the seedy characters that walk the alley, is enough to feed anyone’s fears of being old and alone.)

Luckily, I’ve made friends, and luckily, the contractor is aware of and considerate of my need to fix things now to make my old age easier, but fears aren’t logical. Or maybe they are logical, and I do have something to fear.

But I won’t — can’t — let myself be afraid.

Today is a new day, and though the sun isn’t shining and the temperature rather cool, it’s bright enough to shed light on that old fear and make it scurry from sight.

***

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.

Unbuilding a Garage

I had such an exciting day today watching the fellows unbuilding my garage. They started ripping off the roof early in the morning,

spent most of the day tearing into that old building,

And left the beautiful skeleton of the garage when they went home for the night.

All that work in a single day, as well as making a couple of trips to the dump — amazing.

Tomorrow, even the skeleton will be gone. I’m glad I have this photo of the great little building in the setting sun, though I’m sure once my more functional and very stable new garage is built, I’ll spend little time regretting the deconstruction of this old garage.

As an side — way off to the side! — I used the term “fellow,” meaning “man,” at the beginning of this post because it seems a bit friendlier than “guy” and less formal than “man.” In Britain, however, “fellow” connotes a person of little or no worth, so I’ve been trying to stay away from the word to keep from offending people in other countries. But I like the word, and it is no insult because the people working here today had great worth!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the morrow will bring.

***

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.

Further Adventures of a Homeowner

Nothing has gone easy when it comes to fixing things on this property. For example, the foundation of the enclosed porch was basically nonexistent, and after the contractor and his helper put in a new foundation and installed the subflooring, we discovered that the sewer pipe under the house needed to be replaced. So out came the floor, and many more days of hard work were added to the toll.

Months ago, they’d straightened the listing garage and fixed the crack in the floor, but after a couple of weeks, that crack grew and grew and grew. One of the problems was that, like the porch, the foundation was mostly nonexistent. So more recently, they got a jackhammer, and pulled out the concrete floor. Yesterday they finally returned to dig out the foundation in preparation to putting in a new foundation and floor.

Remember what I said about nothing around here being easy? Well, every time I looked out the window, I could see the guys poking at that dirt floor and talking. Now, these are not people who stand around and chit-chat. They work. So I was not surprised when they came and told me the bad news.

Water.

The deeper they dug, the wetter the soil got. I realize this is the middle of winter when generally there is moisture, but we’ve had very little precipitation in this corner of Colorado, and the rest of the yard is dry and rock hard. We wondered if there could be a nearby water leak, but then remembered that the water pipe comes in the front of the house.

Further digging in the middle of the garage floor, where no water should ever be, showed the same thing they found around the periphery of the building. Powdery soil and damp ground. And ancient sewer pipes. Putting those clues together with the hole they’d found under the porch several months ago, we figured someone had built the garage over an old septic system of some sort. No wonder the garage, though exceptionally well built with hard woods, is slowing sliding into oblivion.

We’re going to have to help speed up the destruction and tear out the whole thing because there is no way to fix that garage or even to build a new one in the same spot. (I say “we” but I have nothing to do with construction, though I did primer that old garage. It makes me glad I didn’t waste good paint or any more of my time painting a garage that will soon be defunct. I am disappointed, though, that the fake window I created will be destroyed, too.)

They’re scheduled to be here all next week, so who knows how far they will get, especially since now they will have to deal with permits and building codes and inspectors. They wanted to know if they should start some of the inside work, like redoing the bathroom ceiling and walls where the paint is peeling from the antique plaster, and I said, “Not way, not now!” With so many projects already started and unfinished, I can’t deal with one more long-term mess. Because even though the bathroom project seems simple, I know it won’t be because . . .

Yep, you guessed it . . . because nothing is simple when it comes to working on this house.

***

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.

Envied

A friend whose life was recently disrupted told me she almost envied me. The “almost” was because of how I got to this place in my life. The death of my life mate/soul mate and other family members, the years of not knowing where to go or what to do, and the need to start over are all the unenviable things that pushed me in this direction.

Her comment made me realize that if I weren’t me, I’d almost envy me too. I seem to have reached a balance in my life. No great emotional swings, just a quiet contentment punctuated by a brief sad spell now and again. I still tend to occasionally get caught in a mind trap (you know — when a disgruntlement gets stuck in your head, and it keeps going around and around and around, and doesn’t seem to be able to find its way out). And I do have small infirmities that slow me down (such as knees that don’t work as well as they once did). And sometimes I get restless from being so settled down.

But balancing all of that is . . . a place for me. Not just a room of my own, but a whole house of my own. A place to be me. A place where I get to set the rules (or to set no rules). A place I can count on being for years to come.

And not just a house, but a community.

I don’t count the cost of how I got here since it wasn’t a choice, trading a life mate for a house. It was simply that he died, and years later, I unexpectedly ended up with a house. (Oddly, the other day, I found myself wandering through the house wondering where we’d put his office and all his things, as if his living here were a possibility. But it was just an idle sort of “what if.” Not a grief thing.)

I never expected to love a house. It makes me feel good, owning this house, like wrapping a great warm blanket around my life.

So far, I feel safe inside the house, though certain neighbors make me leery, which is why I fenced the property. There is still a part of the back fence that isn’t finished since it will pass close to the as yet unremodeled garage (though the contractor is here at the moment working, and he plans to be here all next week. Yay!). I used a large board to block off the space between the fence and garage to keep people and dogs away, and someone stole the big board and left a smaller board in its place. Huh? Still mystifies me. But it does show me I was correct to have a fence installed, and once it’s completed, and the gates locked at night, I’m sure I’ll feel even safer.

So yes, though I never considered myself someone to be envied, I am envied, if only by me.

***

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.

Remembering

It’s amazing to me that after seventy-six straight days of blogging, I can forget to blog. I didn’t actually forget because here I am, and it’s not quite the end of the day. The truth is, I am here only because I happened to catch a glimpse of my note reminding me to blog. I’ll probably have to start leaving myself a note reminding me to remember to look at the note reminding me to blog.

Not that it’s important — I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a day off from my mental meanderings — it’s just that I challenged myself to write a blog every day for one hundred days, and it’s the one challenge I’ve ever managed to complete. (This is the second time I’ve done this — the last time, once the hundred days were finished, I kept going for four years!) It seemed like a good idea back then, but right now? Not so much. I’m too tired to make sense of this day.

I spent most of the morning and afternoon baking, and now my freezer is filled with cookies, not just those I made today, but those I made a couple of weeks ago.

It’s strange to be doing all this baking. I don’t usually keep things like flour and sugar on hand because I try (not very successfully) to stay away from both wheat and sugar, and if I have treats on hand, I eat them. I don’t know where this urge to bake has come from. Maybe it has to do with having my own grown-up Suzy Homemaker kitchen. Maybe it’s because I’m remembering my mother, which I have often done ever since I got this house. I’ve been especially interested in making the cookies she used to make at this time of year, like Cherry winks and date nut pinwheels.

I’ve been remembering my father, too. Some friends invited me to a VFW Auxiliary dinner this evening, with the hopes that I would join the organization. My father’s Navy service in World War II would make me eligible . . . maybe. He didn’t serve in a foreign country, unless the Bermuda triangle can be considered such — he was one of those tasked with trying to track down the planes that disappeared in that area. More than that, he was a great one for making notes to help him remember, so every time I make a note, I remember him.

Now that I think about it, I’ve been remembering all my dead — not just Jeff and my mother and my father, but also two of my brothers. The memories seem strong here where I now live, though this is neither a house nor an area where any of them have ever even visited. But I am here. And the memories came with me.

I might need notes to remind me of certain things, such as writing a blog, but I do not need a note to remind me of all those who are gone.

I remember.

***

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 Stockings Were Hung by the Heating Unit with Care

A word of advice — if you don’t like the sun setting before 4:30 in the wintertime, be sure to move to the western end of a time zone. The sun sets at the western end of a time zone almost an hour later than the eastern end.

And I live close to the eastern edge of the mountain time zone.

Even worse, there are still three weeks until the end of the creeping darkness.

Usually I wait to put out my bowls of light until close to the winter solstice to celebrate the returning light, but this year, I need them early. Not only does the sun set at 4:30, the long twilights I remember from my previous years in Colorado seem to be missing (maybe because I am further south than where I used to live). So, full dark comes at 5:00. Yikes.

Yesterday I put out the bowls of light.

Today, I put up my Christmas trees. The red tree was a gift to cheer me up three years ago when I couldn’t go anywhere because of my destroyed arm, the green tree was my father’s. I hadn’t intended to bring it with me, but someone thought I needed it, because when my brother helped me move my stuff into a storage unit after my father’s death, there is was.

And now here it is.

One odd aspect of growing older is that everything has a story. Those trees, of course. The stocking that was hung above the heating unit with care was a gift from my sister about fifteen years ago that has been packed away. The bowls the lights are in used to be my mother’s. The table used to belong to an aunt, got handed down to my brother, and now it, too, is here. The red wreath started out as a hatband and will again become a hatband in another week or so.

Every ornament has a story, too. Quite frankly, I had no idea I had so many ornaments — I haven’t had a tree for decades. I put up my father’s tree for him but decorated it with the cute felt nativity set I’d made for my mother when I was young. (It seems to have disappeared. I know she gave it back to me before she died, which is why I had it to use for my father’s tree, but I must have gotten rid of it during one of my storage unit cleansings.) I did recently buy some ornaments from an artist friend — the arabesque (onion shaped) ones — but mostly what I have are things I was gifted. A couple of things I found in with my ornaments, I don’t remember ever seeing before.

It might sound as if I get too attached to things, but if you knew how much stuff that I liked that I’ve gotten rid of over the years, you’d see that some things attach themselves to me, and those are the things I still have.

In this case, it’s good I have the stuff. I mean, first Winter Solstice/Light Festival/Christmas in my new house? Of course, I’ll decorate!!

Besides, it makes the long dark nights on the eastern edge of the time zone a bit brighter.

***

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.

 

 

Suzy Homemaker

When I was a little girl, I wanted a toy oven that really worked. Actually, now that I think of it, I’m not sure it was the oven I wanted but the accessories — small baking pans, child-size utensils, and especially the miniature boxes of cake and muffin mixes.

My mother, being the practical woman that she was, thought those mixes ridiculously high priced for the little that came in the package. (I’m sure she thought the adult-size mixes too high-priced, because she baked everything from scratch.)

On Christmas morning, I found huge present, almost as tall as I was. Instead of the tiny boxes of mixes that I wanted, she had given me dozens of full-size mixes as well as a full-size Pyrex mixing bowl set.

Somehow, she just didn’t get it.

Still, it was sweet and thoughtful of her. I enjoyed using those mixes, of course, and the bowls, which I kept for many years, though I don’t know what eventually happened to them. (I think the orange Pyrex bowl I found in her kitchen when I cleaned out the house after my father died was mine, but I couldn’t keep it — I already had too much stuff.)

Well, now I have my very own kitchen, and though all my utensils and such are adult-sized, I still love small things. I spent several days baking, not just making my pretty flower cookies, but miniature cranberry muffins,

Miniature toffee bars,

And, even some full-size cookies that I baked and painted free-hand for an upcoming Snowman (Snowperson? Snowfolk? Snowpal?) exhibit at the museum.

In another couple of weeks, it will be the twelfth anniversary of my mother’s death, and I wonder what she thinks of me now, in my own house, in my own kitchen, using my own oven to make baked goods from scratch — and not a cake mix in sight!

***

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.

Nest Building

I’d been counting the days until it got cool enough to start planting the three hundred spring bulbs I bought. The instructions said not to plant until the highs were consistently in the mid-60s or cooler, and today was supposed to be the day. A couple of times during the past weeks I’d almost given in to the urge to start plant, but considering what a non-green thumb I have, I figured I needed to give those poor plants the best start possible.

So I waited.

After a few unexpected (and lovely) eighty-degree days, the temperature did drop today as forecast, so I got all gussied down and went out to play farmer.

And then the winds came. Severe winds.

Being stubborn, I didn’t let a little — or a lot — of wind force me inside, but I postponed the precision work of planting the bulbs for another time. Just as well. The guys who’d put up the fence hadn’t yet finished burying the bottom of the chain link fabric, and they’d left the dirt they were going to use piled in the middle of front yard where I’d planned to plant. So I raked leaves away from the fence and moved the dirt — shovelful by shovelful — where it belonged. Then I gathered up the leaves, and smashed them to use for mulch.

Such excitement!

I’m laughing to myself. A friend made a remark the other day about certain blogs that said nothing important (she wasn’t referring to mine; she hadn’t known I had a blog), and well . . . I sure hope she doesn’t read this one. Talk about nothing important!

Not important in the grand scheme of things, that is. The job was very important to me — to be outside despite the wind, to work physically, to accomplish something. To continue building my nest. And that nest building, of course, is the most important of all.

It’s taken me my whole life to get to the point where not only could I own a house but that I wanted to. And anything I do for my home is a way of honoring the house, and me, and the painful journey it took to get here.

***

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.

Joys of Planning

I still have scabs and scars from the multitude of mosquitoes that feasted on me this summer, but I’ve already made plans for protecting myself next year. For example, I bought some khaki pants (they love the black pants I normally wear) and I intend to soak them in permethrin to make them abhorrent to the little monsters. I’m also collecting long sleeve shirts I won’t mind wearing for gardening or painting or any of the myriad outside chores that come with owning a house. And even though I do not like bug killers, I will spray my yard in self-defense. I tend to be allergic, and do not get small bumps and short-lived itching that apparently are the norm; instead I get immense lumps that itch for weeks.

Despite what it might sound like, the issue here is not the mosquitoes, but the planning. It’s been many years since I could pretty much count on being in a certain place the following year. I have lived on the edge of uncertainty for so long, that it’s a real joy to be able to plan on being somewhere and to know that, with a little luck, I will be that “somewhere.”

I have planned, of course, but always in the back of my mind was the qualifier: If I am here.

This need to qualify the future started long before Jeff died. His health was iffy for so long that we never knew from one day to the next if we could follow through on any plans, never knew if he’d even be around to put those plans into action. It was the same thing when I went to take care of my dad. I never knew from one day to the next if he’d be around and if I’d have a place to live. After he was gone, I traveled, never quite knowing where I’d be the next day, and when I returned to my dad’s town, I rented various rooms, and again, never quite knew how long I’d be there. I knew I couldn’t stay in California — didn’t want to stay — but with no compelling reason to move, I just . . . stayed.

Besides not being able to plan, I couldn’t buy anything big even if I wanted to because I didn’t know if it would fit whatever lifestyle I might have. Would I be forever a nomad? Would I move to a city? Would I bunk with a friend?

Well, now I know. Now I can plan.

And I’m planning what to do next summer when the mosquito invasion begins.

***

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.

Putting the Pieces Together

Today is my twentieth straight day of blogging. So far, I am honoring my commitment to blog for 100 days straight, though I almost didn’t make it today. The note by my computer reminding me to blog got knocked over (during a wild game of solitaire) and without the reminder, it was too easy to let the day go by.

Not that the day was easy. It wasn’t particularly hard, either, just . . . well, let’s call it a rerun. When I first moved here, much of my stuff was stored in the enclosed porch, but when the workers came to redo the foundation of the porch (there were only two small columns of concrete on either end of the 20-foot room, and since that wasn’t enough to hold up the weight of the house, the porch was rapidly sinking), I had to move all the stuff into the garage. At the time, I thought it was the final move for the camping equipment, tools, and things I wasn’t ready to throw away — there’d been a huge crack down the center of the garage, and the patch seemed to hold. But then came a freeze/thaw cycle, and that was the end of my pretty floor. Now the crack is bigger than ever.

The workers are planning on coming later this week to redo the garage foundation as well as the concrete floor, and so all the stuff had to be moved. I’m hoping by the time I get it all back in the garage, it can stay there.

There are so many bits and pieces to putting together a home, it seems like I am forever moving the pieces around, trying to get it right — and to get my life right. I seem to manage not to do things I should, like exercise, and I seem to manage to do things I shouldn’t — like eat unhealthy things.

I’m sure there are also extraneous pieces that will need to be set aside one day, but that’s not a problem for today.

(I found this quite disturbing piece in a puzzle of featuring a cardinal in a cottonwood. It took me awhile to realize I had it upside down and that it was not part of the bird but a face. It took me even longer to discover that it is part of Chaz Palminteri’s face from a movie puzzle.)

***

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.