All That Glitters

I haven’t done a lot for Christmas in recent years. When I was caring for my father, I made sure to make the day festive for him — decorating his small tree (which I inherited), making a requested meal (usually ham and potato salad), and getting token gifts. After he was gone, I did very little for Christmas, though I did exchange a couple of presents.

Since I’ve always saved wrappings and ribbons, I never had to purchase either. This year, however, I decided to go all out for Christmas — after all, it is the first Christmas/holiday season in my own home in my very own house. I’d used all the ribbons I had for hat decorations, and I had gotten rid of any paper when I condensed the stuff in my storage unit at the beginning of last year, so I needed to buy wrapping things.

The wrapping paper was cheap and pretty, and though I prefer blank undersides (to make gift cards and such), I had to admit the cutting lines made things easier. But oh, what a shock to find, at the end of the roll of wrapping paper not a cardboard tube (which I had plans for!) but simply rolled up brown paper. I did manage to roll that heavy brown paper tight enough to make an okay tube for what I needed (to store leftover window screening). But jeez. What’s the fun of buying rolls of wrapping paper if you don’t get a long tube with it?

And the ribbons. Oh, my. The upside: so glittery. The downside: so glittery.

When I finished wrapping my packages last night, I noticed that glitter was everywhere. I was covered with glitter. The floor was covered with glitter. The countertops and table were covered with glitter.

I dry mopped, thinking that the trap-and-lock cloths would easily pick up all the glitter. Nope. Some, sure, but not even most. Then I tried vacuuming. Again, nope. Those little suckers stuck to the floor and wouldn’t budge. Then I wet mopped — twice — which got up most of the remaining glitter, but now, when the lights are on, I can see glitter between the floorboards. My floor is the original antique flooring that has never been refinished, and some of the boards have shrunk a bit in this dry climate, leaving space for glitter to settle. I have a hunch I’ll be cleaning up glitter until next Christmas.

I was already tired from a full day of festivities at a Christmas event put on by both the museum folks and the art guild. (Here’s some of us art guild members all decked out in holiday gear.)

All that cleaning took me way past my bedtime (and I am not an early-to-bed-early-to-rise person) and wiped me out.

I try to end every blog post with some sort of hook or moral or lesson gleaned from the experience I’d written about — because otherwise, what’s the point — but the only thing I can think of to end this post is a note to myself: No matter how enticingly glittery the glittery things are, next year, be sure to buy plain old non-glittery ribbon and paper.

***

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.

Oh, the Responsibility!

About two months ago, a friend gave me a small succulent (3” including the pot). Even though I liked both the plant and the pot it was in, I hesitated about accepting it because . . . well . . . responsibility. I’ve had enough responsibility in my life and now I don’t want to be in charge of another living thing. In the end, though, I accepted the gift — I figured that come spring, I could plant the succulent in my yard.

But no. A little research showed that this particular gem would not be able to survive the winters here.

So, now I have the responsibility for watering the plant and making sure it gets enough sun. Oh, my! Such an onerous task! I’ve already had to water once. And I will have to water again in a couple of weeks.

Despite my tongue-in-cheek tone, I do worry about the poor thing. My record for keeping plants alive is . . . hmm. Let me think. Oh, yes — zilch.

I’m not much of a gardener, never have been. My second to last attempt to plant anything was eight years ago when someone gifted me with a Bonsai kit (planter, soil, seeds), and that result was typical — seedlings that poked their head above the soil, looked around, saw who they would be dependent on for their very lives, and promptly gave up their ghosts. I planted lights in the planter after that, and we’re all happy. Nothing to kill, just a bit of beauty when the nights grow long.

The results of my last attempt, planting bulbs in my new yard, are still to be determined. Meantime, my little succulent seems to be doing well.

But oh! The responsibility!

***

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.

Ornaments!

Next week I am supposed to bring a Christmas ornament to a party and tell the story of the ornament and why it’s special to me. It’s not really my thing, maybe because my grade school never had show and tell, so I hadn’t planned on doing it. Now I can’t. Too many to choose from!

Today I got a gift from my sister (who definitely sends the best presents ever) with instructions to open it right away. Inside the box were five small prettily wrapped gifts — Christmas ornaments for my first tree and my first Christmas in my first house.

Each ornament illustrated a facet of my life.

A nod to my new house, of course.

Books, definitely.

My car, naturally.

A dragon because we all need a dragon to guard and protect.

And . . . Pat in the Hat. (Front and back)

I’m not sure I ever mentioned how I became Pat in the Hat. I’ve always been a big walker, but it wasn’t until my middle years that I wised up and started to wear a hat to protect me from the sun. Back then, the hats I wore weren’t anything special — ball caps or straw hats, anything cheap and accessible.

Later, when I lived with my father, my sister would send the two of us ornately wrapped gifts with gorgeous bows. My father tore off the wrappings, and tossed them away, but I rescued the bows. They were simply too nice to throw away. I didn’t really have any use for those ribbons, but one day, when I came in from a walk, I tossed my hat on table where I’d put the most recent offering, and something clicked. I wrapped the ribbon around the hat, and was thrilled with the festivity of it all.

Not too long afterward, I noticed that the ribbon was gone, and it devastated me that I couldn’t find it. This was shortly after Jeff had died, when any loss, no matter how insignificant, set me on a downward spiral of grief. Although I retraced my steps several times, I never found that bow. Luckily, I had another one packed away. This time, I made sure to tack my makeshift hatband to the hat to keep from losing another ribbon. I still have a stash of ribbons from my sister, as well as a few things I bought to decorate whatever hat I happened to have.

Now, delightfully, not only is she providing decorations for my hat, but also my tree — my dad’s tree, actually, and come to think of it, my sister bought it for him.

For a person who isn’t that fond of show and tell, I sure do a lot of here! Maybe that’s why I don’t need to do it in person.

***

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.

Dreaming of Our Dead

A friend told me the other day that she reads my blog, and she agrees with all I say about grief, but that I never mention one thing: dreaming of our dead.

The truth is, I hate dreaming. I don’t like the feeling of weird and inexplicable things happening, I don’t like the feeling of being out of control, and mostly I don’t like being controlled by any nightmarishness. Researchers say that to aid in dream recall, one should take Vitamin B6 before bed. When I read that, I immediately stopped taking any B vitamins before bed, and that certainly aided in my ability not to recall dreams.

That being said, I have the impression I do dream of Jeff, though mostly as a reflection of my everyday thoughts. He is seldom far out of mind, so it makes sense that he would appear in my dreams as a nebulous character.

There were times, though, that I had specific dreams about him, and those were terribly upsetting. One dream, for example, seemed to be about the end of his life when he was so often disoriented. He was trying to cook something, and he continued pouring whatever it was into the pan after the pan was filled, getting the food all over the stove, him, the floor, even me. I tried to catch his attention so he’d stop, and when I couldn’t, I slapped him to bring him back to reality.

I woke feeling ashamed. I’d never raised a hand to him, never even raised my voice, and yet, in the dream, I did both, and I couldn’t bear it.

Dreams about the dead seem inordinately real. Sometimes they feel like a visitation. Once I dreamt that he came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. He was in his underwear, and in the dream, I knew he’d come from where he’d been sleeping, though I had the impression he’d been with someone, as if he had another life. He said, “I miss you.”

When I woke, I felt as if he’d come to see me one last time, though I have no idea what is true when it comes to life, death, and especially dreams.

Even when we know it’s a dream, what happens in the dream affects our waking life. Once I dreamt we were going somewhere on foot, and I realized that it would be cold before we got back, so I went inside to get a coat. In my closet were two of his coats — a jacket and a trench coat, which I have in fact kept. As I was pulling the jacket off the hangar, I remembered that I had gotten rid of most of his things after he died, and I panicked, wondering how to tell him that his stuff was gone. I left the room, and met one of the moderators of the grief group I had attended. He asked how I was, so I explained the situation, then I added, “It’s a good thing this is a dream, otherwise he would be really angry.”

When I woke, I was still glad I didn’t have to tell him his things were gone even though I had done what he wanted me to do with his stuff. The reason I still have his coats is that he wanted me to keep them since coats are always a good thing to have.

The most powerful dream came at about six months. After a restless night, I finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, and I dreamt.

I dreamed that Jeff was dead, but I woke to find him alive and getting well. It was wonderful seeing him doing so much better. I could feel the tension of grief seep from my body, and a quiet joy seeped over me.

I started to wake. In the seconds before full consciousness hit, I continued to feel the joy of knowing he still lived. And then . . .

Wham!

The truth hit me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, like an aftershock, came the raw pain, the heartbreak of losing him . . . again.

I’d been feeling a bit smug that I was getting a grip on my grief so early in the process, and the dream caught me unaware. In the depths of my being, I believed that he hadn’t died.

It took me weeks to regain the equilibrium that the dream cost me.

When it comes to grief, it seems as the dreams are a facet of our reality. What we feel in the dream continues into our waking state. There is no separation. Even if in a dream we act a way we would never act, we still have to deal with the effects of those acts once we wake. If the deceased in the dream acts in a way they would never act, we are left to deal with that, too.

Although I would love to visit with Jeff once more, if only in a dream, I’m just as glad it never happens. Except for an occasional brief episode of grief, I am in an okay place, both physically and mentally, and any sort of visitation would upset that equilibrium.

Maybe that’s why he never visits me in my dreams. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s why I never dream of him.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Toast to Mother

Today is the twelfth anniversary of my mother’s death. I have thought about her more since I moved here to my new home than in all the years I lived at her house.

Admittedly, by the time I got to her house to take care of my father, it wasn’t really her house any more. During the last nine months of her life, she’d cleared out all of her things, and returned all the presents we’d given her over the years. (As one sister said, “If I had known we’d get this stuff back, I’d have given her better gifts.”)

There were a few things left that reminded me of her, like the cupboard full of unmatched stemware. I kept those goblets, and so now I too, have a cupboard of unmatched stemware. I also kept a few interesting utensils, ones that I didn’t already have, and a tiny cutting board, just perfect for cutting an apple. Also a few bits of furniture.

Ah ha! Now I know why I think of her so much. After my father died, I’d packed away the gifts she’d returned to me along with the few pieces I kept when I closed out their house. Now those things are part of my daily life, and every one of them reminds me of her.

When I got my first apartment, I asked her for the recipes that I especially liked — things like pierogis, tuna roll with cheese sauce, and hamburger rolls (known to others as Runzas or bierocks). I found it interesting that I was the only one of my siblings who had those recipes, so several years ago, I made each of my siblings a “Taste of Childhood” recipe book, which included those recipes as well as a Friday staple of our youth: creamed tuna and peas on toast. (Sounds disgusting but was actually quite tasty.)

I didn’t copy all of her cookie recipes. Neither cherry winks nor date nut pinwheels were favorites of mine when I was young, but luckily, my sister kept them, thinking that mother’s treat recipes shouldn’t be thrown away so now I am collecting some of the recipes I didn’t back then. Also, I imagine that at the time I got that first bunch of recipes, I wasn’t considering the distant future when she’d be gone.

Well now, she is.

She wasn’t much of a drinker, though she did love Bailey’s Irish Cream, so in honor of her this day, I offer a toast — in a Bailey’s glass that once belonged to her!

Here’s to you, Mom. I hope your new life is what you’ve prayed for.

***

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.

All I Have Lost

Grief seldom visits me anymore, but last night, I couldn’t keep the tears from falling. I thought I’d gone through all the firsts — first Christmas after Jeff died, first birthday, first everything. But there was one first I hadn’t expected.

I’d gone to a women’s club Christmas dinner, and it turns out that husbands were invited. In all the years since Jeff died, although I’ve often been in the company of married women, this was the first time I’ve been in a group with mostly couples. I had no idea that such a first would be a problem. But it was. Since the couples wanted to sit together, I got shunted toward the end of the table, between two husbands, both of whom were faced away from me.

I didn’t know any of the men at the dinner, barely knew the women, didn’t know any of the people they talked about, didn’t understand any of the local issues they discussed, so there I sat . . . alone. Toward the end of the evening, a couple of women made the effort to talk to me, so I was able to keep my tears in check, but as soon as I got home, I started crying.

I thought I was over this part, this feeling out of place in a coupled world. I’ve been spoiled in that most of my new friends are widows (or once were widows). There is no feeling of being a third wheel or fifth wheel or any sort of wheel when I’m with them, so the feeling of being superfluous hit me hard. I’m still feeling sad and unsettled. In a little over three months, it will be ten years that Jeff has been gone. It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve lasted this long. It doesn’t seem possible that I can still feel so bad and for such a silly reason.

I’ve been doing a good job of looking forward instead of back, of not lamenting all I’ve lost, but last night, it was simply too much. I wanted go out into the dark and scream about the unfairness of it all, wanted to wail, “But I didn’t do anything wrong.”

But death doesn’t care about fairness. Death doesn’t care about rightness or wrongness. Death came ten years ago, and sometimes, like last night, I can still feel the cold winds of grief it left behind.

Part of me feels as if I’ve been playing a game, playing house, playing at being sociable, and I was suddenly brought back to the reality of my aloneness. Luckily, there’s nothing I have to do today, so I can find my center again before I once more put on my smile and act as if this life is what I wanted all along.

Don’t get me wrong — it is a good life. But sometimes, oh sometimes, I can’t help but think of all I have lost.

***

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.

Taking a Pot Shot at Pot Shops

In this tiny town where I now reside, there is one grocery store, one drug store, two dollar stores, two liquor stores, and three pot shops with another two rumored to be opening soon.

In addition, a hemp shop is supposed to be opening, and at a local craft show, several people sold CBD oil products, including brownies.

I’m not drawing any conclusions, just laying out the facts, but it’s no wonder that at certain times of the growing season, the whole area smells like skunk. (There are commercial growers as well as many recreational growers.)

Unsurprisingly, there is controversy about what the legalization of recreational marijuana means — some people think that since it’s legal to buy and use in this state (though still illegal according to Federal laws), they can smoke it anywhere, even at work. Moreover, the city is considering getting rid of drug testing for jobs since so many people test positive for marijuana. (Apparently, it stays in the body a week.)

Common sense, of course, tells us that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is acceptable to smoke on the job (or even right before). After all, liquor is legal, but it’s not acceptable to drink or be drunk at work. For example, I’m sure no one wants their children under the care of someone under the influence of anything that might take their attention from their jobs.

You’d think that all this legalization would get rid of this particular aspect of the drug trade, but apparently, there is still a lot of illegal pot being sold. (The stores limit how much a person can buy at a time, though with three stores, all within a block of each other, it’s easy to enough to triple the dose.) The prevalence of marijuana also increases drug traffic because some people “trade up,” using their pot allotment to get more potent drugs.

None of this affects me, at least I don’t think it does, but I do have to be careful since I am highly allergic to all aspects of jute and hemp — both the smoke and the oils (and burlap!).

I know a lot of people use these products for pain and various other ills, but I’ve never understood the fun of using any sort of mind-altering substance. I have a hard enough time dealing with life when my brain is working on all available cylinders. (Nor would I use CBD oil. Since there is no regulation, the quality varies widely. Even worse, anyone can sell anything and call it CBD oil.)

Apparently, from the proliferation of the pot shops, I am in a minority here. But if I ever change my mind, I certainly have a plethora of places to choose from!

***

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.

Being Clever

When I first started participating in the online world twelve years ago, I was unimpressed by the trivia of it all — the posts about what someone had for lunch, what their dogs or cats did, all the day-to-day things that make up the social aspect of networking.

Since I was trying to establish myself as an author, I tried to take a more grande-dame-ish approach. I wanted to be respected, to be seen a someone with dignity and grace, someone who had something to say and had the power to say it.

To that end, I tried to keep my clever, craft-oriented side to myself.

The whole great lady idea went out the window after Jeff died. It’s hard to try to maintain the appearance of being a grande dame when one is screaming their pain into the blogosphere. Still, I did try to maintain a bit of dignity and grace through it all. Now that my grief has been subsumed into my new life as homeowner and no longer brings me close to the great mysteries of life, what I’m left with is . . . whatever is the opposite of grande dame. Unsophisticated, maybe. Inelegant, perhaps. No high-blown thoughts, for sure.

There’s certainly no reason to keep my cleverness under wraps, especially since it’s about all I’m left with to blog about.

The truth is, I’ve always enjoyed being clever when it comes to small things. I’d prefer, of course, to be brilliant, but cleverness will do. It’s also nice to have a reason to be clever. Considering all the activities I am involved with, such as supplying treats for programs or creating something interesting for potlucks, I have ample opportunities to be clever. Like this little giveaway I thought of:

A Christmas Eve teabag on one side, a Christmas morning teabag on the other.

See? Clever.

But not at all grande dame-ish.

***

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.

Writing is a Super Power

Last night, I gave a brief speech to the seventh graders essay winners, though as it turned out, there were way more family members than there were school kids, so as I talked, I had to adjust what I was saying to address everyone. The following is as close as I can recall to what I actually said:

When I was asked to talk to you about the importance of writing, I immediately sat down and began writing. I listed all the ways writing was important, then I asked my writer friends what they thought was important.

I condensed all of that down into a few points I thought might be of interest. I’d geared this talk to the essayists, but what I have to say applies to everyone. I was going to try to memorize what I wanted to say, but then I realized [I waved my page of notes] what I have here is an example of writing and why it’s important. Writing helps us condense our thoughts and helping us remember. But writing is more than that. 

I’m sure all of you have read stories or seen movies about wizards and magic, super heroes and super powers and have wished you could have a super power too. Well, you do have a super power. Writing might not be as dramatic as poofing someone or something to change them, and it’s much slower, but what we write can change people, events, the world, and ourselves.

Writing is magic. At its core, writing is the ability to transform thoughts, ideas, and emotions into to written word. It takes what is in your mind and allows other people to experience a part of you.

When we talk of writing, we often mean writing stories, writing to entertain people.

To a large extent, what makes us human, what connects us to one another, is our ability to tell a story. A joke is a story. What you tell your friends or your parents about your day is a story. Something you post about yourself online is a story. An advertisement is a story — it tells a story of what your life will be like if you buy that product.

Your essays told a story.

Writing isn’t only about telling stories. It’s about us. About life. About communicating with one another and even with ourselves.

Some of you are going through changes in your lives. You might be experiencing more than you can explain using an emoticon. You can be happy and sad, angry and confused, all at the same time. Sometimes you won’t know how you feel. But writing what you are feeling can help you understand what you are going through, and that will help you to deal with it.

On a broader level, writing is an essential life skill. It is the primary basis upon which you and your work will be judged—in school, in a job, and in the community. If you write well, you can communicate well. If you can communicate well, you can succeed.

Writing is at the center of everything we modern humans do. Language is part of our DNA. It is part of our birthright as human beings. Whenever you write, whatever you write — a story, a diary entry, a post on the internet, an essay, you are engaging in a form of wizardry using letters and words.

And that’s your super power.

Thank 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.