The Dark Underbelly of Home Ownership

Although I was hesitant to post a photo of my creepy basement, enough people wanted to see it that I figured I should go ahead and post the image.

I don’t suppose it’s really all that creepy, just . . . old. The little room off to the left is the old coal bin back when coal used to be the most up-to-date heating system. What doesn’t show in this photo is the crawl space that surrounds this dug out part of the basement. The walls are only about shoulder height — the rest is a wasteland of dirt, junk, cables and conduits.

It seems the perfect setting for a murder mystery, or rather it did until I realized how trite the setting would be.

One day, though, when the  contractor has time to redo the floors and walls, I have no idea what (or who) we might find buried behind those cracking walls.

And so the adventure continues . . .

***

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.

Buyer’s Remorse

I’d forgotten about buyer’s remorse. Not that I ever had reason to remember the concept because until last week, I’d never owned a house. (Until a couple of months ago, I’d never even considered owning a house!) It’s come as something of a surprise that I am now not just a homeowner, but a house owner.

So far, though, it’s been great. No remorse!

There have been a few frustrating episodes, such as trying to get set up with the internet. What a chain of errors, lies, and miscommunications! But I’m set up now, so that’s good. There’s so much work to do to get unpacked and settled that I didn’t really miss the internet, but it does help to be back online. It feels normal and familiar in a world where little is familiar. New house. New (to me) furniture. New town. New folks to meet. New chores. (I’ve never been obsessed with neatness, but I have discovered how lovely it is to wake in the morning and see my beautiful living room, so I make sure I do a quick clean before I go to bed.)

And then there was “that” day. For the most part, the weather has been ideal, but shortly after I got here, a bomb cyclone hit. We didn’t get the blizzards that Denver and other areas got. We just had a bit of rain and insanely high winds. Being in town helped moderate the winds because other houses provided a bit of a wind break, but even though we didn’t get the 80-mile-an-hour gusts that were recorded at the local airport, the wind was still severe.

Luckily, this house really is solid. No drafts, no whistling or rattling windows. The electricity, however, did go off for a couple of hours. After about an hour, the smoke alarms started screeching. To be honest, I don’t see any reason for smoke alarms to be wired into the electric system — individual alarms seem to work just as well — but that’s what I have here: inter-wired alarms. When one goes off, they all go off.

Which is overkill. A beep from cell phone can wake me. Why would I even need four alarms screeching at me all at once? I dismantled all the alarms, but they still continued to screech. It wasn’t until I took out the batteries that silence finally prevailed. When the electricity came back on, I reattached the alarms. Or tried to. Two did fine, but one chirped and one screeched. Thinking it might be a circuit problem, I ran outside in my stocking feet for just a second to check the breaker box, but couldn’t figure out how to open it. I ran back to the door, but the screen door had latched. (I think the wind banged the door shut with such force that the latch latched.)

So there I was, in the rain and mud, with winds that about blew me over, in my stocking feet, and no way to get inside. I had the keys, but the screen door didn’t have a keyhole. I ran down the street to where a handyman lived, but no one was home. Then I ran to my next-door neighbor, and asked if he knew how to jimmy a lock. He did. Took about a second. (But he couldn’t figure out how to open the circuit box, either.)

Such an adventure!

I’ve been trying to connect with people. I went to a spaghetti lunch put on by the historical museum and introduced myself to a few people, spent a day with the previous house owner, (she wants me to join their bowling league, but as much as I enjoyed being with her and her friends, I’m not a bowler, and don’t really see myself ever becoming one), and had tea with my next-door neighbor. When she saw me in my hat, she donned one, too. That was fun. I’d never lived next door to someone close to my own age and, as it turned out, I’m the answer to her prayers. (She prayed that someone nice and friendly would move into this house.)

And tomorrow, I’m going to a meeting of the art guild.

Not bad for being in town just a bit over a week!

I’m looking forward to new adventures, new people, new plants. I found some green poking up through the awakening soil, a couple of lilac bushes hiding behind the garage, and a few periwinkle plants.

So no remorse! Of course, I don’t know what the coming days, weeks, months will bring, but although I miss the friends I left behind, I’m interested to see what will happen next.

***

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.

My New House!

People worried about my buying a house I’d only seen in photos, but I knew immediately it was my house, and so it is.

Some things need to be fixed such as the enclosed porch foundation (which I knew about) and the crumbling crypt that passes for a basement, but I have been assured by two different inspectors that the house is solid. Other than that, the house is perfect for me.

I am especially enjoying the antique touches from the 1920s when the house was built — original hardwood floors, glass doorknobs, and the pull down seat in the now-modern bathroom.

Even more, I love the new kitchen And the walk-in shower. And … well, all of it!

I haven’t done much exploring yet, except for the house itself, but I did go and get a library card. The library is only about four blocks away, so it reminds me of when I was a kid and walked to the library every day in the summer.

The weather has been great, and I have a hunch it will continue being great because I need a storm. The contractor who is going to fix my porch and basement is so backed up with outside work, that he can only make time to do this inside work when the weather is too harsh for his other jobs.

But it will all work out. Meantime, I will enjoy the rest of my house.

My home!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Good Madness and Magic and Dreams and Surprising Myself

Good madness and magic and dreams and surprising myself are all pinkie promises I made to a friend on New Year’s Day. My newest adventure (buying a house — a very small, very old house in a very small, very old town to be sure, but still a house) fulfills all those promises.

Did I surprise myself? Oh, yes! I don’t particularly like owning things — they weigh heavy on my soul — and I especially never wanted to own a house (so many possible problems and such a responsibility), but after the death of my homeless brother this past summer, the idea got planted in my head, and I let it blossom. In a way, it’s his final gift to me.

This latest adventure, while potentially life-transforming, has been relatively sedate so far. Mostly, I’ve just been e-signing documents, figuring out the logistics of a move, and packing.

It should be interesting, after all these years of feeling lost, of not knowing where to go — of not knowing how to even figure out where to go — to see what happens now that I’ve made my decision. What will I do with the empty space in my head? The space all that thinking —and rethinking and re-rethinking — has taken up.

So many possibilities!

Some people think it’s weird that I am buying a house I have never seen, but I have seen photos and had two different inspections, so I’m not exactly walking into the situation blindfolded. I don’t know how I will feel when I walk into the door and see the house in person for the first time, but I expect to be excited, to feel trepidation, maybe even to . . . fall in love with the place.

I’ll have to wait until I get there to post photos. I don’t want to post the link to the house because I don’t like the idea of the whole world knowing exactly where I will be living, but soon we will all see it!

Closing is in six days. I won’t be there for the closing, but I will be there a few days afterward.

And then my grand adventure of good madness and magic and dreams and surprising myself will really begin.

***

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.

Going Home

It wasn’t until after my Jeff, life mate/soul mate, died that I understood what home meant to me. It turns out, he had been my home. Wherever we were, as long as I was with him, I was home.

And then Jeff died, and suddenly, just like that, I lost my “home.”

For me, home was definitely not a case of “home is where, when you go there, they have to let you in.” I left the house and state where Jeff and I had lived and moved 1000 miles to go look after my aged father. I’d visited my parents several times while my mother was dying, but I had never lived in that house, so it was not in any way a homecoming. And although I was there for four years with my father, it never felt like home. I was awash in too much grief, missing Jeff, feeling bereft and lost and adrift.

When my father died, the house had to be sold, so I lost that place of residence, too. And oh, I wanted desperately to go home. But my home was gone from this earth. Because he was gone, and because I felt lost and rootless wherever I was, there didn’t seem to be any reason to be one place rather than another, so I drifted.

I tried to find home within myself, and to a certain extent, I succeeded because wherever I am, there I am. I have lived on the road, babysat houses and a bed and breakfast, stayed with friends, rented rooms, camped out, spent more nights than I can count in motels. It worked because one place felt no different from any other. I was always myself, always doing my best to celebrate life despite missing my dead.

Recently, my homeless brother died, and I started thinking of a different kind of home — a house of my own I can turn into a home. A place where I can set down roots. A place where I can grow old in peace, maybe.

Such a strange feeling! I’ve never wanted to own a house. Never wanted the problems, the aggravation, the expense, the very fact of owning something so . . . big. Jeff and I were minimalists before minimalism became a fad — we didn’t even own much furniture — and yet, here I am, all these years later, suddenly wanting, needing, a house to turn into a home.

I daydreamed a house into existence — a very small, very old house in a very small, very old town. A house just big enough for one person, a house with a walk-in shower and a modern galley kitchen.

I’m now in the process of buying the house (closing is almost upon me — in thirteen days to be exact), and I am starting to feel as if I am going home despite never actually having seen the house, only pictures of it. And oh, yeah — I don’t know anyone in the area, either. I am going back to Colorado, but to a corner of the state where I’ve never lived.

I’m taking a leap into the unknown, into my future. An epic adventure!

It’s actually not as much of a risk as it sounds. An inspector and a contractor both assured me it was a cute little house, and solid. More than that, what do I need to know? I will have a refrigerator to myself!! A kitchen of my own. A yard.

If anything comes up, I will deal with it. If I don’t like something, I’ll change it. If it doesn’t feel like home, I’ll create a home within its walls. If neighbors are noisy, I’ve learned to live with earplugs.

But none of that is important. I’m going home, not to settle down (which still scares me because I am afraid of stagnating) but to settle in (which sounds comforting).

I truly have no qualms about any of this. I don’t understand it, but Jeff’s death shattered my life and my world, and now it feels as if my brother’s death is gluing my life back together. I feel as if this house is meant to be.

It’s hard leaving my dance teacher, who has become like a sister to me. It’s hard leaving dance class and my dance friends.

But . . . a house!

A home.

***

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.

Video Trailer for “Grief: The Inside Story”

Learning About Ourselves From Grief

Someone asked me if we could learn more about ourselves from grief. The question  made me stop to think because whatever we might learn would in no way offset the loss of our loved one, would in no way offset the pain of grief.

But . . .

Like any traumatic experience that we’ve survived, grief teaches us that are all stronger than we believe we are, braver than we can imagine, more emotional than we ever expected, and have the ability to pick ourselves up and take another step when all we want to do is dive into oblivion.

Mostly, though, grief is a process of change, of becoming a person who can survive our loss and our grief. Often what we learn about ourselves is not something that was present before grief gripped us, but something that comes during the process. Values are turned upside down — what was once important is no longer important, and what was once unimportant becomes less so. For example: Not wasting time used to be something I valued, so waiting in line at a grocery store used to irritate me. It was such a huge waste of time. After my life mate/soul mate died, it no longer mattered if I was one place rather than another. It no longer mattered if time passed slowly or moved quickly. It no longer mattered if I wasted time or used my time effectively. So I stood patiently in line. It’s not that I learned I was patient, but that I become patient.

Sometimes people find they are more independent than they expected, but often they are forced to become independent rather than learning that they’d always been so. My mother had been a traditional wife, always catering to my father, cooking for him, cleaning, etc. After she died, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he remarried right away so he’d have someone to look after him, but my brothers taught him to “cook.” And oh, how proud he was of his new-found ability to heat up a frozen dinner or fix instant coffee and toast! He’d always been rigid, and yet, he didn’t suddenly learn he was resilient. Her death had forced him to become resilient.

A friend whose daughter had been murdered set out to learn everything she could about the law and how to get boyfriend who’d murdered her daughter. Although already forceful, she became utterly relentless in her pursuit of justice.

So yes, we learn about ourselves from grief, but often that which we learn didn’t exist before our loss. We became that person we are learning about.

***

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: Divorce vs. Death

A week after Jeff died, I had to go to the bank to open a new account in my name only, and the woman who helped me said she had recently undergone a devastating, unasked for divorce. She was the first person I met who understood at least part of what I was going through, and we commiserated with each other.

Up to a point, there are many similarities between the two losses. Both involve:

  • Deep emotions: shock, pain, yearning, angst, loneliness.
  • The death of hopes, dreams, the future the two of you had planned for yourselves.
  • The ripping apart of the pair bond, the survival unit, which causes a fight or flight hormonal upsurge and puts tremendous stress on the body.
  • A disruption of habits. Once a behavior becomes automatic, the prefrontal cortex no longer has to make decisions about that particular behavior, which saves the prefrontal cortex from becoming overwhelmed. Disruption of routine after the loss of a life mate, however, destroys this balance, and contributes to brain fog.
  • Being suddenly uncoupled in a coupled world. Ours is a culture of couplehood. Many songs, movies, books, holidays are about love and the importance of being with that one special person, and now you are expected to slough off the weight of this culture and go on as if nothing happened.
  • Dealing with betrayal and rejection. Divorce is a betrayal and a rejection, but so is death. The fact that someone who died of illness did not choose to leave does not mitigate the betrayal and rejection. It’s not as if a person has done these things to us, but as if life itself turned its back on us.
  • Learning a whole new way of living. What you once did together, now needs to be done by you alone.

But there is a divergent point, and that point is death. With all a person has to contend with while going through a divorce, they do not also have to deal with death as a concept or as a reality. 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. And yet, while we bereaved are going through the most traumatic event of our lives, we also have to learn to deal with and accept this utterly unfathomable concept.

We all know, of course, we are going to die, but we don’t KNOW. And now we do. This knowledge sends so many chemical and electrical signals throughout our bodies, setting off a cascading series of hormonal reactions, that it leaves us feeling bewildered and traumatized. This is all in addition to our emotional grief. We feel the loss, feel the death, in the depths of our soul. We feel the very winds of eternity screaming through the gaping wound in our heart where our love had been amputated from us.

Divorced people know where there erstwhile mate is, and if they don’t, they can find out, but we bereaved don’t know, can’t know. We call for them, we wonder how they are doing, look for them in crowds. But they are no longer here in the flesh.

When people would tell me how much worse divorce is than death, I would fight back my tears and wish that Jeff really had divorced me. At least I would know he was happy (once I got over being furious with him, that is), at least I would know he was well.

Beyond this empirical evidence, there is an actual, factual difference between the two types of losses, and statistics bear out the truth of it. On a scale of 1 to 100, the loss of a life mate or child tops all at 100. Divorce, the second worse stressor is 73.

I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s pain. We all deal with the traumas life throws at us the best way we can, but ever since Jeff died, my goal has always been to help the bereaved understand what they are going through, and to help their friends understand the enormity of their loss.

Whatever your loss, I wish you peace.

***

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.

Fake News and Grief

I’ve been spending time on Quora in an effort to become known on yet another networking site. Quora is a question and answer site with a news feed similar to Facebook, but what appears on the feed are questions. It’s kind of a fun thing, and even makes me think. When I saw the question, “What do fake news and losing a loved one have in common?” I just passed it by. I mean, they don’t have anything in common, right? And yet, as I got to thinking about it, I realized that in both cases, people believe a lot of things that are not true, and they act on those false beliefs, creating heartache.

The complex and painful experience of grief for a life mate or child is not something we see on television shows, in movies, or read about in novels. Through thousands of movies and books, we are taught to be stoic, to hold back our tears, to be cool. Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven was the epitome of western cool, gliding across the film’s landscape without a single show of emotion.

Fictional folks shed a fictional tear or two, perhaps go on a fictional spree of vengeance, then continue with their fictional lives unchanged.

Because of this cultural conditioning (and because we quickly learn to hide our grief from view), people believe that grieving is a much faster process than it actually is, so just a few weeks after the funeral, the phone stops ringing, people we encounter no longer mention our loved one, and our family and friends start urging us to move on.

This can be disheartening, especially since this is when the awful realization starts to sink in that our loved one really is gone. Those closest to us go home to their husbands and wives and unchanged lives. We go into our sad and empty rooms, apartments, houses to be faced again—and again and again—with the knowledge that who we loved was gone, what we had was gone, what we needed was gone, what we hoped for was gone. All gone.

And we’re supposed to be okay with that.

I had lunch one day with some women friends, and one woman’s husband was off on a trip. The woman went on and on about how much she missed him, and the women were all sympathetic toward her. Yet when I mentioned that I missed my deceased life mate, there was a long moment of silence, and then one of the women told me I had to get over it and move on with my life.

She wasn’t an unsympathetic friend. She just based her advice on the “fake news” that it’s best to forget the dead and concentrate on living.
With news, it’s always good to check your sources and not assume what you hear (and believe) is is true. With grief, it’s always good to check your source (the griever herself) and not assume that what you have heard (and believe) is true.

Becoming a person who can live forever while missing that one special person takes a long time — years, even. Becoming a person who can live happily while missing that person takes even longer. But always, you miss them.

***

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.

Anniversary Reactions

Anniversary reactions are the strong physical and emotional effects experienced on or around the anniversary of a particular trauma. Our bodies remember even if we don’t, and for those of us grieving the loss of an intrinsic person in our lives, body memory accentuates the strong emotional impact of anniversaries.

Body memory is often associated with extreme stress. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.

People often tell us to try to put our deceased loved ones out of our minds. They have the erroneous idea that if we don’t think of our mates, then we won’t grieve.

At first, it’s impossible not to think of our loved ones all the time. Perhaps we feel as if by holding them in our minds, we can stave off their death, even though it’s already happened. Or maybe we want to continue to feel connected. Or it could be that the enormity of death is so overwhelming, we can’t think of anything else.

But eventually, we do learn not to hold as tightly to these thoughts, and sometimes we even forget to think of our loved ones. But our bodies still keep the faith.

When the brain is overwhelmed with stress and trauma, such as when we are dealing with the death of a life mate, the brain imprints the memory on its fear circuits. Later, when a date or a scent or a sound or the weather triggers that memory, we feel the undiluted power of the trauma.

Now that I no longer have these body memories, I purposely try to remember Jeff’s death anniversary. It’s a way of honoring him, of being grateful he was in my life, of celebrating what we once had.

***

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.