Getting Over Grief

People often ask me how to get over grief, but the truth is (despite the title of this piece), we never get over grief for the simple reason that the person being mourned is gone for the rest of our life on Earth. Still, over time, the focus does change from the past and from our lost love to the future and perhaps a new love.

At the beginning, our focus — when it’s not on what we have lost — is about breathing. Taking one breath after another. Generally, breathing is simple. It’s something we do without thinking. But after the death of a person intrinsic to our life, such as a spouse or soul mate, it’s as if they took our breath with them when they left us, and breathing becomes something we need to focus on. A breath in, a breath out. Such a painful thing, those breaths! Adding to the complication is that so often we don’t want to breathe. We’d just as soon it was all over for us, too, and yet, we are compelled to continue taking those breaths.

As the years pass and the pain begins to subside, we hold on even tighter to our pain because grief is all that connects us to our lost love. During all those months and years, grief does its job, changing us into a person who can survive without the person we most loved. And gradually, a new love creeps into our life. Actually, I should say, a new focus comes into our life. Whatever it is that we find to focus on, it’s compelling enough to take our mind off our pain and sorrow and loneliness for a short time. And over the next months and years, all those “short times” add up. New memories are made. The past lessens its demands. The future becomes more compelling. And life goes on.

This new love or focus doesn’t have to be a person. It can be almost anything. Visiting museums. Hiking. Planning epic adventures. Yoga. Dance classes. Traveling. A new home. Gardening. For me, it was all of those things.

I tried so many things at the beginning. I wrote about my grief. I walked for hours. I visited museums. I went on day trips with people from my grief group. I took yoga classes. Sometimes, I could forget myself and my pain for minutes at a time, but nothing held. When the moment passed, I was right back where I started, in full grief mode.

It wasn’t until I started learning to dance that the focus lasted more than the moment. I started thinking about dancing, started practicing at home. Although grief didn’t leave me alone for long, it did start to lose its intense hold on me, and I could finally focus on something other than my loss and my pain.

As grief further eased its grip on me and I could sometimes imagine a future, I dreamed of — and planned — epic adventures. I was going to visit independent bookstores all over the country to see if they would sell my books. I was going to walk up the coast to Seattle. I was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I was going to take a freighter to New Zealand. I was going to go on a year-long camping trip. I was going to drive cross-country in my vintage VW. I still have the research I did for all these adventures, but in the end, the only one I followed through with was my 12,500 cross-country road trip as well as a north/south trip along the western coast and several trips from California to Colorado.

A couple of years ago, I changed my focus yet again when I bought a house and found a place to call home.

And now, what I find compelling enough to propel me into the future is gardening.

I’m far enough away from my focus on grief that I seldom get snapped back to those early months, but for the first seven years, no matter how compelling my current focus was, I often found myself blindsided by grief.

I’m not sure how a person goes about finding a new focus. I tend to think that when a griever is ready, a new focus — a new love — appears, rather than needing to search for it, but however it happens, the readiness and the new focus are part of this process of change we call grief.

***

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

Things to Worry At

In a book I just finished reading, the character often stayed awake at night worrying about all the things in her life that she couldn’t do anything about. As it turns out, the one thing she should have been worrying about, the thing that will change her life forever, is something she could never have imagined. But that’s not what this post is about.

Mostly, her worrying got me to thinking about my worries. Luckily, my worries at the moment are all minor. Even better, “worrying” in my case doesn’t mean causing anxiety; it means to tug and pull at things. Like a dog worrying at a bone, I worry at thoughts — I poke and prod them, pushing them around in my head, looking at them from all angles.

The current bone that I am worrying at is what to plant in the “island” between my two sidewalks. The space lends itself to some sort of formal desert garden, or rather it would if it weren’t for all the shade that area gets. A garden like that would take more studying and preparation (and money!) than I want to deal with right now, though I can always plan such a garden at a later date. My latest thought is to take all the seeds I have, mix them together — cultivated flowers and wild flowers, annuals and perennials, new and expired — and then next summer toss them onto the space, cover them with dirt, water, and see what happens.

The summer after that would be the key to what I ultimately decide. If enough perennials take hold, then the decision would be made for me and I wouldn’t have to do anything. By then, too, the prostrate knotweed that passes for grass around here might have taken over, since it’s almost impossible for me to keep on top of it, and in that case, I wouldn’t have to do anything, either, except give up and let it be.

Ideas for that garden particular area are not all that I am pushing and pulling around in my head. Behind the currently roofless gazebo, in the middle of the reddish pathways, there will be a raised garden, and that, too, is something I worry at. It will be the focal point of my secret garden (because when all the bushes along the fence grow up, that space will be utterly private), and I’m not sure what one plants in a raised garden. It would seem as if tall plants would overpower the area and perhaps make it claustrophobic. And low-lying plants might get lost. I’d originally thought it would be a good place for a vegetable garden, but since I’ve killed a couple of my tomato plants and can’t even manage to grow a zucchini, I’m not sure it’s worth the time and effort to plant vegetables.

None of this matters, of course. It’s not as if the fate of the world lies in the decision of what to plant in my various garden spots. It’s not even as if my own fate lies in the decision. It’s that I like having some idea of what I am going to be doing. More than that, apparently, I also need things to worry at, and with nothing major to worry about, I worry at my gardens.

***

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

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Just Like That

Awhile back, I accepted a job as a part-time caregiver (more of a companion, to be honest) for an older woman. I promised to stay a year, and wow! Just like that (snapping my fingers), the year is gone. I signed up for another few months, which is nice for all concerned. I get along well with the women, both the client and her permanent caregiver, they get a break from each other, and I get help with some of my expenses, most notably, my gardening expenses.

I spent a nice chunk of my paycheck on bulbs to plant for this fall. I got carried away, and so my spare time (weather permitting), will be spent preparing the soil for the bulbs. I have a good idea where the bulbs will go, so that’s good. Tulips will go alongside one of my garden paths, and lilies will go to augment the lilies I already have, so that eventually I will have a lily forest.

One area of the yard I have no idea what to do with is the six-foot space between the two sidewalks in my back yard that lead from my back door to the garage and gazebo. This year, I just planted whatever seeds I had plus any extraneous purchased plants. What seemed like a good idea has devolved into rather a mess, and I don’t want a repeat of that next for next year.

I’ve been considering a combination of cosmos, zinnia, larkspur, and baby’s breath because all of those go well together, but since those are all tall plants, I’m not sure how well they’d fit in the overall scheme of my yard. I considered various flowering groundcovers, but none of the samples I bought and planted seemed to take hold. In fact, some of them simply disappeared.

Luckily, I don’t have to make any decision about that particular garden space quite yet. We haven’t even made it through this summer. But the fall and winter will go fast (in fact, by the time next spring comes around, my most recent job stint will have come to an end), and I’ll need to have some idea what to do. I guess if inspiration doesn’t strike, I’ll go with my idea of zinnias, cosmos, larkspur and baby’s breath. Considering that those are all annuals, it would give me an extra year to decide what would look good in that area. Maybe a perennial about a foot tall with big showy flowers. I have no idea what that would be, but it would give me a place to start looking, because (snap) just like that, it will be spring and time to plant.

***

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

Call to Adventure

As I’m sitting here, mentally sorting through my recent activities to find something at least vaguely interesting to write about, I hear a train whistle as it passes through town. This train whistle has an old-fashioned mournful sound, evocative of summer days and faraway places.

I’m glad the trains that pass by within a few short blocks of where I live use that particular whistle. The last place I lived before I moved here was also close to the tracks. It was actually about a mile away rather than a matter of blocks, but there were no houses between me and the train to absorb some of the sound, so sometimes, the train sounded as if it were racing past my window, a few feet away from where I slept. From what I understand, there is a variety of horn or whistle sounds that can be used when a train goes through a town, and trains in that particular area used a horrendous screeching noise. Sometimes, I’d be awakened by what sounded like banshees shrieking outside my window. At first, it scared me until I realized what it was — no monsters, just a train making a monstrous noise.

I never did understand why those trains shrieked rather than wailed; perhaps the train rushing through a populous area made it imperative. Luckily, that train is a thousand miles away. Even more luckily, at least for now, the trains trundling through this town use the more traditional sound.

It’s too bad the trains just pass through. There is a station here that once was used for passenger traffic, and if it were operational to this day, I could walk a few blocks, get on the train, and head . . . somewhere. As it is, the train stops at a town about twenty-five miles away, which isn’t far but would require a concerted effort and some planning to take a trip rather than the impulse of the moment.

It’s just as well, I suppose. I’m still working, still have a house to take care of, still have a yard to landscape. Besides, there truly isn’t any place I would rather be than where I am at the moment: in my own house, on my own property, listening to the train calling me to adventure.

***

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

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

The World at Small

When I was young, the cool kids all used VO5 shampoo, which was then a premium brand. I’m not sure why people liked the shampoo; it’s possible the name seemed high-tech for the times, invoking images of race cars. The name in actuality referred to the five vitamins and oils that had been added to the shampoo, which perhaps made it a better shampoo than its competition because back then shampoos were little more than gentle liquid soaps. They might still be, for all I know. It’s been a while since I’ve done any in depth research on such products.

I hadn’t thought of this particular brand since . . . well, never. When I was young, of course, I used whatever shampoo my mother bought. Later, I bought so-called “natural” products from Jeff’s health food store. (That’s where I met him — at his store.)

Still later, I used the shampoos we’d stocked up on before his death. (I can tell you for a fact that old shampoo never loses its luster.) And then, of course, during my months of travel, I used motel and hotel shampoos.

When I moved here, one of the first things I had to do was buy shampoo. I stood at those seemingly endless shelves for a long while, trying to figure out which one to get. I finally purchased a couple of shampoo/conditioner sets that bragged about being natural and having herbs, but they weren’t any different than any other shampoo I’d used in recent memory. So, a week or so ago, when I again found myself in need of shampoo, I stood in that same spot without a clue about which of the hundreds of bottles to pick.

And then I saw them, there on the lowest shelf — bottles of VO5 shampoo. It shocked me, not just that such an old brand was still extant, but that it was priced so cheaply — under a dollar. It seemed much the same as the bottles of high-priced shampoo I’d been looking it, so that’s what I bought.

I seldom talk about the products I use, and almost never mention brands, but this particular incident has stayed with me, probably because of the wider lesson.

I’m sure, to the world at large, my value has been discounted the same as that once prestigious hair product. Luckily for me, I live in the world at small. In my small world, whether my small space online or my small space in my small neighborhood in my small town, my value still holds true. At least, it does to me, to the people I work for, to the people I have befriended.

Luckily, too, there is no price on my value to the world at small. It would be rather disconcerting to find oneself relegated to the bottom shelf while other folks, younger and flashier though perhaps no better, lounged on higher tiers.

***

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

Possible Dreams

As I water my various plants, I daydream about what the yard will look like in the coming years, assuming I can keep up with the work. I hadn’t realized I would like lilies, but I find them amusingly cheerful. I looked up my order for the lilies I planted and discovered they are orienpet lilies, a combination of oriental lilies and trumpet lilies. To be honest, I hadn’t remembered planting them. Luckily, they remembered! Apparently, their lying dormant the first year is not unusual. Even better, every year they’re supposed to get bigger than the previous year, and eventually they will grow to be six feet tall. Now I am dreaming of a lily forest. I bet it will be beautiful, especially if I order more lilies to fill in the space around where these lilies are growing. And since I water and weed that area anyway, there won’t be any extra work once the lilies are planted.

Although the lilies are supposed to be strong enough not to need staking, mine are still so young that I need to invest in some garden stakes. Right now I am using wooden stakes leftover from the various concrete jobs around the property, but although functional, they detract too much from the flowers.

Another place I have dreams for is the area in front of the lilacs along the path next to the garage. It seems perfect for tulips. I water there anyway, just like with my future lily forest, so once the bulbs are planted, there won’t any extra work. And it won’t look like a mess once the flowers have faded.

I felt more like playing in my yard today than I have the past couple of weeks, so I harvested hollyhock seeds, which I am willing to share with anyone local who wants some. Just let me know. I also cut down a couple of the spent hollyhock stalks that were unsightly, but that only made the weeds along the fence more apparent. I’m thinking it would be a good idea to extend the slag driveway along the fence line to help with the problem. There will be way too much inside the fence for me to take care of without having to worry about anything outside the fence. I also did a bit of weeding, but wore out quickly. And anyway, I had to put the gardening on hold because I needed to start my car. Even though the brakes aren’t fixed yet (the brakes work, but the brake warning light still comes on), I’ve been doing a bit of driving just to keep the car mobile.

It still amazes me how gardening has gotten into my blood. When I first moved here, all I could think of was putting in some sort of landscaping that would take care of itself, and now I’m dreaming of a mini estate that will take plenty of work.

But we all need dreams, right? And not impossible ones either.

***

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

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Technological Marvel

Like many people, I am conflicted about the ever-growing incursion of the electronic world into our daily lives. It seems that so much of it is about keeping track of us, one way or another.

For example, one feature that not everyone knows about in some modern cars, is the ability for the car manufacturers, insurance companies, and various legal authorities to track drivers’ movements, not just where the drivers go, but how they get there, how fast they go, how they maneuver through traffic, and whether the driver starts smoothly or indulges in jack-rabbit starts.

I don’t know if all cars come equipped with this technology — some people add it intentionally because it lowers their insurance bill. I do know that there is so much technology in cars — way more than I like — that I restored my old pre-tech car so I wouldn’t have to deal with any of it.

If eyes on our personal space inside our vehicles isn’t bad enough, there are cameras everywhere, including far up in space, that can keep track of our every movement.

The same is true with the internet. Although computer software purveyors pretend they aren’t using our data in any way, to a certain extent, they are more in control of our computers than most of us non-technical folk are.

And then there is the whole black web thing, where all sorts of unsavory things go on.

Like most everything I do, my online life is a cotton candy version of what is out there. I stick with this blog, play a game or two, make use of email, do a bit of research and do even less than a bit of shopping. It’s so ho-hum that I doubt anyone is watching me, though I am always cognizant of that possibility so I protect myself as best as I can. Still, even with a certain level of vigilance, and maybe even because of it, I tend to take technology for granted and forget what a marvel it all is.

Today I got a phone call from a local area code. Most people don’t answer unknown calls in their own area code because that recognition factor is how the scammers try to sucker people into answering the phone, but my area code is from a city I’ve never lived. I don’t even know anyone who lives there. So any call from that area code, I immediately block. But the area code from where I live? Those calls tend to answer because every once in a while, I do get local calls from people I know who aren’t in my contact list.

So I answered the phone, and oh! What a surprise. I am watching a house for a couple of friends who are out of the country, and the husband called me today. At first I thought he was back in town because of visa problems, but no, he’s still out of the country. He just wanted to talk, to tell me how they are doing, to let me say hi to her, and to thank me for taking care of their house.

So how did this marvel happen? Skype. I thought to use Skype, both people had to be signed up, but apparently not. He was able to get a Skype number from the closest city, so now he can call all the way from Bangkok, and it shows up (and is billed) as a local number.

Truly a marvel!

Note to local folks: B & L said to tell you hi. She is doing better, though she’s having trouble walking. They thank you for your prayers. And, of course, they miss all of you and hope you are doing well.

***

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

Wasting My Author Mind

I’m reading a book that was published a couple of years before The Bob mess, and it gives me the willies since it could so easily reflect what’s happening today with the vaccine.

In the novel, a super-secret organization that is not government sanctioned but that uses the various alphabet agencies as cover for their dastardly deeds is trying to create a new hierarchy. In an effort to control the population, they are injecting people who rebel against this new hierarchy with nanotech implants that assemble themselves in their bodies and brains and turn the injected people into willing robots who will do anything in response to their handlers, even kill themselves.

Not that I think that’s happening in the real world today, but the point is that it could. As in the novel, some of the major players in The Bob mess are a multi-billionaire software mogul with a god complex, a whole stratum of the population that seems to want to remake the world in a way that is inimical to another swathe of the population, and way too many ways of spying on ordinary citizens (satellites, traffic cameras, phones in everyone’s hands).

What is missing in the fictional story is a pandemic and people who are trying to inoculate the whole world with a dubious vaccine. The vaccine might be dubious only in my own mind, but truly, who among us knows for absolute certain what all is in the injection they are so obviously foisting on us? And why, if they want everyone to get the vaccine, do they show commercials of people having needles stuck in their arms? So not a way to convince the needle-phobic to get the shot! Besides which, although they want us to believe that the vaccine protects us against delta and lambda and any other variation, vaccinated people are still getting sick from those as well as the original organism. Lambda is the scariest since it’s said to be able to work around the vaccine’s antibodies.

But what do I know? None of us know the truth of The Bob, the vaccine, the variants. All we know are what we are told by news organizations and political hacks, which might be the true truth, a semblance of the truth, or a wholly manufactured truth. All any of us can do is pick our truth. Although it might seem like it, in this essay, I’m not trying to peddle any brand of truth. Basically, I’m just playing author, combining the two stories — the novel I am reading and the story we’re being told about The Bob — and extending the scenario beyond the original premises as all good authors do.

There are certainly enough wild surmises out there to add plot twists to the story: The Bob being a result of “gain of function” experimentation gone wrong; the whole mess being instigated by a prominent population-reduction activist; the entire scenario being enacted for the purpose of inoculating the world’s population with some sort of chip or nanoconstruct; a dress rehearsal for some future nefarious plot to see what it takes to get us to do what they want us to do.

Instead of wasting my “author mind” on such far-out scenarios as these, I’d be better off trying to figure out some sort of world or a bunch of characters to play with that would carry me from book to book. Because if I were to write this story that’s currently writing itself in my mind, people would yawn at the very thought and put the book down (assuming they picked it up in the first place) with a “Bo-o-o-o-ring. Been there.”

***

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

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Unexpected Treat

I had an unexpected treat today — a couple of guys showed up to work on my yard! One left quite quickly — I got the impression he wasn’t really into shoveling dirt and rocks — but luckily, the person who has been doing most of the work stayed a little longer. He’s really getting into the artistry of the work, which helps keeps his interest.

He mentioned he’d seen a photo online of the flagstone path I put in from the sidewalk to the mailbox, and I felt a moment of panic as I always do when I discover that someone in my offline life read my blog without my being aware of it. It’s not a problem, of course, since that’s the whole point of posting what amounts to a personal diary on the internet. The panic comes from not knowing if I said anything that the person could misconstrue — or even construe, for that matter.

Although I try not to be unkind, sometimes I get frustrated with how slowly the work is going, especially when I can’t keep up with something I shouldn’t have to keep up with. For example, I got overwhelmed trying to clear away a mini forest that grew from the roots and stump of a cut-down tree, and that frustration showed up here on this blog. Luckily, they finally ground out the stump, the mini forest was dug up, and that whole area is now covered with rocks so I will never have to deal with the mess again.

Generally, though, I don’t mind that everything is taking so long because the longer it takes, the more I can enjoy the process. I lead such a quiet life that there is a certain amount of excitement that comes with work being done, and when everything is finally finished, that excitement will be finished, too.

But perhaps not. With a house, there is always something to be done, and this contractor doesn’t seem to mind when I call him with emergencies that are really more in the handyman category than in the construction category.

Speaking of things I can’t keep up with — a few more plants are fading in the heat. I don’t seem to be able to water them deep enough. I’ve been considering putting in a small lawn (about 300 square feet) in a corner of my front yard, but now I’m not sure I’d be able to water it enough to keep it alive, but other people in the neighborhood manage to keep their lawns green, so I suppose I could too.

Not everything is fading, though — another lily showed up today! It’s successes like these — someone coming to work for a few hours or new flowers — that keep me focused on my yard. Though I must admit, I’ve been letting the weeding go lately. It’s too hot for such a thankless job. I’m just grateful the workers who do show up are willing to put in the time despite the heat. I certainly wouldn’t want to do the work!

***

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

Lily Selfies

I’ve been disappointed with my garden lately. On second thought — it’s not the garden that’s disappointing me, it’s the lack of photo opportunities. The plants themselves are doing what they are supposed to be doing. For example, the hollyhocks have stopped blooming and are now going to seed, which is great, because I want those seeds, but the plants are not very pretty. The stalks are brown and scraggly, and the leaves have huge holes where the grasshoppers have been feasting.

Today, however, I was surprised by the lilies. I had forgotten I’d ordered and planted the lilies almost two years ago because only one ever poked its way above ground, but this year, several are growing and a couple of them are even blooming. And wow! Those flowers are big!

I had a hard time photographing the flowers, because they are shy things and hang their heads.

Luckily, I remembered that my phone’s camera has selfie capabilities (the function was easy to forget since I never take selfies), so I put the phone in selfie mode and managed to get a good look at the lilies. Lovely! And such dainty colors.

As I was heading into the house, I happened to see a pairing of flowers that looked so beautiful together that I took that picture too.

I enjoy growing things, but photographing the blooms adds to my enjoyment, so much so that sometimes I wonder if that’s why I like gardening — it gives me a reason to use the camera.

***

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

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God