One Star Review. Eek.

I’ve been updating my various networking sites in an effort to position myself for becoming a bestselling author. (Even though my new book on grief hasn’t yet been written, I need to believe that it will be a success, otherwise my old friend futility will begin banging on the inside of my head, and the book will never get written.)

Although I try not to read reviews (that’s a lie, actually; it’s hard not to want to know what people think and it’s even harder to overcome the need to feel validated in some way) I found a one star review for Unfinished. One star? Eeek!

The woman claimed that the book was not at all what she thought it was, that there was too much about the character’s grief. I’m not surprised. We do not often read about a character going through the trauma of grief. In fact, one of the many reasons I began writing about my grief (and why I specifically wrote Unfinished) is the lack of grief I found in fiction. In one book I tried to read after Jeff died, a woman’s husband was murdered, and the widow cried for a single night, decided that was enough, and set out to find the killer. No other mention of grief in the book at all.

In a second book I tried to read around that same time, a woman’s husband died, and the only acknowledgment of her grief was a single sentence: She went through all five of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief.

In the third book I tried to read, the main character was a grieving widow with a young daughter, and the only indication of their grief was a conversation about how the two needed to be strong and not cry.

Up to then reading had been my life, but after those experiences, I gave up reading for many years. There has to be something in a book that resonates, and nothing anyone wrote resonated with me as a griever. Hence, Unfinished.

Another point the reviewer made was the unbelievability of a woman having a cyber affair while her beloved husband lay dying. Actually, this says more about the reviewer and her unfamiliarity with a dying mate than it does about my writing. Anyone who has had the care of long-dying mate knows the insanity of one’s thoughts (and actions). Mostly, I was numb, going through the motions of living, though there were times I hated Jeff. There were times I wished he’d hurry up and die and get it over with. There were times I desperately needed to get a start on living my life without him. There were times I wondered who that silent graying man was, and how I ended up with him. There were times I bristled when he “lectured” me. (Although we didn’t know it, his brain was clouded with cancer metastases. Since this made him unable to hold more than a single thought in his head, the fabulous, wide-ranging conversations that formed the basis of our shared life were . . . simply gone.)

And that was our life for a year, two years, eternity — me struggling to live while he struggled to die.

A few weeks before he died, during a time of clear thinking, he reached out to me. We had a long, wide-ranging talk about us, our shared dreams that never came true, the future we’d never have — oh, so many things — and I fell in love with him all over again.

Six weeks later, he died, and grief slammed into me with a force I could not have ever imagined. (Think of grief as a proliferation of emotional, physical, spiritual, mental line drawings, one piled on top of the other so densely that all you see is solid black. Then try picking out each of those images from the totality. Grief is that immense.)

Although I thought someone (well, me) should write a novel about a widow trying to deal with the practicalities of life while undergoing such trauma, I hesitated for many years. I didn’t expect people to like such a raw book. And I knew it wouldn’t change anything. People who knew grief didn’t need to be shown what it was like. People who didn’t know grief wouldn’t believe it or would find it oppressive, so I do understand the reviewer’s comments.

What I don’t understand is her complaint of too many typos, missed words, and writing mistakes.

Huh? Typos are a fact of writing, and though we do our best, as do our copy editors, typos do creep in. But writing mistakes? I don’t make writing mistakes. If it’s in the book, it’s meant to be there.

Being the rather obsessive person I am (and rather demoralized), last night I went through the book again, and I did find a couple of typos. (One of which I already knew about.) But writing mistakes? The only thing I can think of are the letters the dying fellow wrote to his wife that she found after his death. Yes, there were mistakes, but they were the character’s mistakes, not mine. (For example, he complained about his “stupefried” brain.) In fact, I thought the letters were too cohesive considering the cancer in his brain and all the drugs he was on, but the letters needed to be understandable. (I kept a note Jeff wrote the last night he was home, but I haven’t a clue what it says.)

I do think it’s unfair of folks to complain about typos and then not list them to give me a chance to get them corrected. So, if you ever read a book of mine, and find typos, please let me know what they are. Such errors are inadvertent, and are not meant to taunt you. I promise.

If you are the person who wrote the review, I appreciate your taking time to post your thoughts. I don’t mean to be disrespectful in this rebuttal, and in fact, I don’t normally write rebuttals since it is unprofessional, but I needed to write this. Blogging is how I “unobsess” about things, and I cannot allow myself to believe what you wrote, otherwise I would be too discouraged to write my new book on grief, and it does need to be written.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

An Element of Futility

In ballet class today, we spent almost half an hour on a step that I have never been able to do and will never be able to do, no matter how much I try. As I stood there, feeling utterly frustrated and foolish beyond belief, it occurred to me there is a strong element of futility in my life. I spend too much time trying to do things that are truly impossible for me, such as some parts of dance class, the whole hiking the Pacific Crest Trail thing, or trying to get my poor deformed arm to perform tasks it simply cannot do any more.

I once knew a woman who got upset with anyone who used the word “can’t.” “I can take you to the store and show you a lot of cans,” she would say, “but I won’t be able to show you even one can’t.” (She never appreciated my pointing out that if she can’t show me can’ts, then there was something she can’t do.) Still, there does come a time when we really can’t do things, and refraining from using the word doesn’t make those can’ts any more possible than if we told the unpalatable truth.

It’s important to try new things, but once you reach the point where you know for sure you can’t do that thing, is the frustration of continuing to try to do the impossible worth it? I don’t know. I used to like (or at least not mind) the struggle to do what I can’t do, but now . . . not so much.

Stagnation is not something I appreciate either. Nor is giving up.

Someone pointed out the other day that a common thread with my blog posts is that I have no idea what is around the corner, and this is certainly true with this post today, because I sure as heck have no answer to this conundrum.

Maybe I’ll go take a nap. That, at least, is something that comes without the added element of futility that seems to be haunting me lately because I sure could use the rest!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Always Writing

I’m laughing at myself. Well, chuckling, anyway. I’ve often railed against the foolish comment, “A writer writes. Always.” For one thing, “always writing” is a physical impossibility — you also have to eat, sleep, work, do at least a minimum of household and personal chores. For another, spending all your time writing gives you nothing to write about because you are writing, not living. (Though some people would argue that writing is living.).

Of course, if you accept a broader definition of writing that would include living, thinking, outlining, researching, learning the craft, promoting, then yes, a writer spends much of his or her time writing. But still, that does not have the same meaning as “A writer writes. Always.”

So why is this amusing me today? Well, I’d planned to spend the past few days going through all my grief blog posts and my email responses to messages from fans and supporters to glean what bits of wisdom I can for my new book on grief, and I’ve only managed to get through part of the correspondence. Haven’t even started rereading the hundreds and hundreds of blog posts I wrote on the subject of grief.

Apparently, while denying that a writer always writes, I’ve been always writing.

It turns out this is a good thing. I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve said during the eight years I’ve spent writing about grief. (Not surprising since most of it was stream of consciousness more than long thought theories.) Even though it’s painful visiting the past, many salient points have been buried beneath all those words, and those points need to be considered for inclusion in the book.

For example, in response to a fellow who said he didn’t know how to forgive himself for the things he’d written to his mate during an argument. I wrote, “Don’t forgive yourself,” which shocked the heck out of him because the advice goes against everything we are taught and everything we believe.

I’d completely forgotten this exchange, and yet, it’s true. Why should he or any of us forgive ourselves for things we said while in a living relationship? The only thing wrong is that his mate died. If death hadn’t intervened, they would have made up, and life would have gone on. But life didn’t go on. Death did. We so often think we are the villains of our life, and yet death is there off to the side, waving its bloody hands and yelling, “Me. Me.”

Well, here I am, adding more words to an already overloaded gallery of words instead of tackling the dreaded task of revisiting my grief. But what else can you expect from a writer who seems to be always writing?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief, Sex, Skin Hunger, and Minimization

I am in the preliminary stages of writing a new book about grief, though “writing” is a misnomer. I’m mostly just thinking about the project, trying to get the structure of the work solidified in my mind, and in doing so, I discovered a hole in my grief writings. I never mentioned sex, and this topic should be included in a book that is supposed to be a comprehensive look at grief.

For people with an active sex life, the sudden cessation of sex must be truly horrendous. For me, that was a separate grief because physical intimacy ended long before my life mate/soul mate’s death. (Simply trying to stay alive for all those years depleted his resources and energy, and there was nothing left for anything but mere survival.) When that part of our shared life came to an end, I went through a horrible (and horribly long) time of what I call skin hunger, where I was desperate for the feeling of skin on skin. It wasn’t just an emotional thing — my skin itself cried out for the touch of his skin. I can’t imagine having to deal with the torment of skin hunger as well as all the other horrors grief throws at us.

And what about suddenly sleeping alone? How did you handle that? I didn’t have this problem, either. Because of his night restlessness, he slept in a different room, and then after he was gone, I left our home to go take care of my father.

And there is another sex-related issue I never mentioned but should be included in the book since it’s another almost incomprehensible aspect of grief. Some people’s bodies deal with the presence of dying and death by fighting for life, which can mean an emotional detachment from the dying partner, or something even worse — an incredibly severe upsurge of sex hormones, and a very painful, almost constant arousal.

Since this is about all I know personally of the subject, I’d appreciate anything you can add to the discussion. I don’t expect you to leave your remarks here on this blog (unless you want to), so feel free to write me via pat@bertramsblog.com. (You can write me at any email address you might have for me, but this is the only one I feel comfortable publishing here). Even if I were to use your comments, I would preserve your anonymity. This is a difficult subject and needs to be handled with delicacy.

I remember a woman showing up at our grief group once, and all she wanted to know was if she’d ever be able to have sex again. The poor woman seemed utterly bewildered by the loss of her sex life. That was the only mention of sex during my time in the grief group. Since most of us had taken care of our mates during a long illness, it wasn’t an immediate issue for us, and even if it were, I doubt any of us would have been comfortable discussing the matter in public.

Another hole in the book is a mention of the way people minimize our grief. For example, a woman in that same grief group who lived with her soul mate for years without being married, was told by another member of the group that the woman’s grief wasn’t as bad as everyone else’s because she and her “husband” had never been married. (I imagine people such as this would never understand that a surviving member of a gay couple also experiences profound and debilitating grief.) Another woman, who’d divorced her first husband to marry her soul mate, was told that she got what she deserved. This sort of belittling is totally uncalled for, and needs to be brought out in the open. If you can think of any other examples of such belittling (as opposed to the general sort of insensitivity we all experience after the death of our life mates), please let me know, either in the comments here or via the email address mentioned above.

If you can think of anything else you’ve experienced that I have never mentioned on this blog, especially if it’s something you don’t think anyone has ever felt, I’d like to know that, too.

Thank you, as always, for reading my words and supporting me in this very important project.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Stardust of Reality

I’ve been going through an upsurge of unbelonging lately. I first experienced this unbelonging after Jeff died, when I lost the feeling of belonging to someone, to a place, to life itself. This needing to feel as if I belong somewhere is one of the main reasons I’ve focused for so many years on the dream of an epic walk/hike — I hoped such a trek would help me feel connected to the earth in a more fundamental way. And I needed something bigger than me in my life.

Couplehood is bigger than either of the partners, and when we lose that connection, not only are we set adrift in an alien world, we are set adrift in a life that suddenly seems so much smaller than it was. Grief’s immensity gives an illusion of connection to our deceased life partner, but as grief wanes, the unbelonging becomes even more apparent.

Hence, my need for the dream of an epic walk. Now that I have whittled that dream into something I can handle — just a few miles — it is no longer bigger than my life. (Going from “impossible” to a couple of days on the trail was an incredible step, but it is still 2,645 miles short of the dream of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.)

I didn’t mind when I just had the dream of thru-hiking the PCTrather than the reality, because that way, I never had to think about what came next. But now I know — life as usual. That’s what comes when the dream ends.

And so here I am. Once again, feeling unbelonged.

Someday I hope to get strong enough do a longer backpacking trip, but for now, I have other things I need to concentrate on, such as my new book about grief.

I’m still at the preliminary stage, which means I’m thinking about the book and trying to arrange it in my head. I’ve also been going through blogs and emails, looking for topics to include in the book. As I was going through emails from a woman who encouraged me in my grief journey, who kept me focused on the need to grieve rather than to hide from the pain (and made me see that my grief posts were neither whiny nor self-indulgent but necessary for me and for my readers), I came across the following comment:

“You belong, my friend, simply because you are part of the stardust of reality!”

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I love that — “stardust of reality.” It’s something to keep in mind as I navigate this post-dream stage of my life.

And who knows, maybe I’m setting myself up for a new dream, a new reality.

Last night I got a text from my sister that included a screenshot of comments on my blog where people mentioned how adventurous I was. She said, “Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees you as an adventurist.”

I responded, “Apparently, I am the only one who thinks I am a bit of a fraud. But I tell a good story.”

She texted back, “We—all of us—think on some level we are frauds. No joke.”

Later, much later, I realized that when it comes to writing, I don’t feel like a fraud.

That should tell me something about where to look for belonging.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Wander Woman

When I was on my recent overnight hike (I can’t really call it a backpacking trip, though technically I suppose it was since I did carry a backpack, and I did spend the night in the wilderness), I got so absolutely wiped out I could not take another step.

Although I’d planned to spend three nights on the trail, I managed only one night. I can’t feel bad about that — I did get to sleep alone far from civilization, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And though I gave up, I didn’t give up. I mean I did halt my trek, but not because I couldn’t handle it mentally or emotionally. My body simply stopped working, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.

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Because of this experience, I figured the impossible truly is impossible, and I was too tired when I returned to care other than feeling a brief sadness for the death of a dream. The dream originally was to hike the whole Pacific Crest Trail, but I’ve been whittling away at the dream, downsizing it to fit new realities as I discovered them (or as they discovered me). So, if the dream came down to that one night on the trail, well, that’s better than no night.

But here I am, already planning the next backpacking venture, trying to utilize what I learned on this first trek to make a second overnight trip feasible.

The section I want to do is only about eleven or twelve miles long, which just a couple of weeks ago I laughingly thought was too short, but it turns out that the last eight or more miles have to be done in one day because no dispersed camping is allowed in that area, and considering that I can only do about three miles a day, it’s just too much for me. But . . . I can do the first few miles, and if I turn around and head back the way I came, it would make for a respectable overnight trek.

I’ve done most of this section as a day hike, and don’t remember it being particularly difficult despite its uphill nature, but then, I wasn’t carrying much of anything except a small bottle of water and a few nuts for a snack.

(I bought a guide book to the Southern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and it’s been fun going through the book and piecing together all the day hikes I’ve done. At the time of the hikes, we carpooled and I never had any idea where I was. Carrying a heavy pack must make a vast difference. Those four miles on my overnight trek were almost impossible, and yet the day hikes I did were all about three or four miles, and I don’t remember any of them being inordinately difficult or exhausting.

One impetus to do this particular hike is that a massive development (16,000 houses, ten schools, two major shopping centers) will soon be built on an erstwhile ranch within sight of the Pacific Crest Trail. Not only will the site be an unsightly sight for hikers, but its 48,000 residents will certainly have an impact on the trail.

For sure, though, I will have to do a lot more backpacking practice to get strong enough. When you are walking on the side of a mountain, with slopes above and below, there are few places to stop and relax, so there really is not much to do on the trail except walk, pause to take in the views, and walk some more. And then there is the problem of carrying all that water, but since the section of the trail I want to do is easily accessible, I might be able to stash some water ahead of time so I don’t have to carry it all.

I also have to figure out what to do about food. I brought plenty, but although I did snack along the way, I could not force myself to eat more than a few bites at the end of the day. Part of the problem, I think, was no place and no way to sit except cross-legged, and that’s hard to do for any length of time. I’ve been researching backpacking chairs, but I’m not sure they are worth their weight, especially since weight is such an issue with me.

And I need to find a way to keep insects from me. I’d sprayed my pants with the insect repellent permethrin, but I still got a couple of sharp stings — from wasps, I think. And nothing kept away the gnats.

So, lots to think about (and do!) if I want to continue being a wander woman.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

No Resfeber for the Weary

I must admit, I am completely bewildered by my backpacking trip, a bewilderment that began the night before I left. For one thing, I didn’t feel any resfeber. (Resfeber is a fabulous Swedish word meaning the mingled excitement and dread a traveler feels just before the journey begins.) I just felt . . . ho hum. As if it were the night before an ordinary day. At least it felt that way until I finished packing my backpack. When I added food and water for four days (there are many places on the Pacific Crest Trail a person can hike and not need to carry more than a liter of water because water sources are ubiquitous, but not around here), what had been a moderately light pack turned into a monstrous load. Water is heavy. Sixteen ounces of water weighs a pound. The proverbial eight glasses of water a day weighs four pounds. Four pounds times four days. Eek.

I sat on the bed to put the pack on because it was too heavy to sling onto my shoulders any other way, and walked around the room for a bit. I moved okay, and it didn’t seem that much heavier than my backpack practicing weight, though I’m sure it was about ten pounds more than I’d ever tried carrying. (Did I mention that water is heavy?)

I worried about the long, steep climb up the Acorn trail to the Pacific Crest Trail, but decided I’d take things as they came. If it took me all day to climb those three miles, well, then, it would take all day. It’s a good thing I didn’t spend much time worrying about that climb because I ended up experiencing some trail magic. The fellow who let me park in his driveway drove me to a different trail head right off the road, where two easy steps took me onto the trail.

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As I started walking, I could feel a big smile on my face. The day was lovely, the pack seemed doable, the trail (and a sense of freedom) stretched ahead of me.

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After a less than a mile, I paused to get a silk scarf from my belly pack to put around my ears to protect them from the wind. A young fellow stopped just in front of me to remove something from his pack, and we talked a bit. He was thru hiking the PCT, had spent the night in town to do some work on the computer, and was now hurrying to catch up to his hiking buddies.

He apologized for speeding ahead, and then he sped ahead. Within a few seconds he had disappeared around a bend. Watching him practically run with his pack, I thought how nice it must be to be a young male, so strong and full of vigor and testosterone. And then I looked around and thought it wasn’t so bad being an old (well, older) woman, either.

I didn’t see another person on the trail, so I got my solo wilderness experience, except it didn’t feel any different from any other hike I took alone. Just a hike.

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But it wasn’t just another hike. I’d never before carried much more than a bottle of water, even on the long hikes I took a couple of years ago in the redwood forests and on the beaches in northern California.

At one point, I had to stop to retie my shoe laces to keep my feet from sliding forward on the downhill slopes. Since I couldn’t bend over, I perched on a low tree stump, tied the shoes, drank some water, and then tried to get up. Absolutely could not. I ended up having to take off the pack, stand up, drag the pack to a higher stump, heft it onto the hump, and reposition it on my back. Not elegant, but it worked.

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I hiked most of the day — one slow step after another, picking my way up (and down) a narrow, dusty, and sometimes gravelly trail. Then I hit a section of steep down slope, and after about a half mile, my legs stopped working. I simply could not take another step. Luckily, I’d arrived at about the only flat place I’d seen all day. I collapsed, rested, then hauled myself to my feet and set up camp. I went inside the tent and lay there. It was only about five o’clock, way too early to go to sleep, but I had no energy to do anything else. I just lay there listening to the wind howling through the trees above me. I was totally alone, the closest road a thousand feet beneath me, and it felt like . . . nothing out of the ordinary.

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The ordinariness, actually, was not bewildering. I’d experienced that sort of thing before, where I thought something would be life changing, but when it came time to do the thing, it turned out that the change had happened before the actual event. (Or maybe living in the moment makes every moment feel ordinary because it is the only moment that exists.)

What did bewilder me was that I didn’t feel any soreness after carrying the pack all that time. I just got exceedingly wobbly, then I hit a wall. What bewildered me even more is that the trail seemed to consist of steep ups and downs, but on an elevation map, it looked fairly straight. What bewildered me most of all is that it took me five hours to hike a mere four miles. Four miles??? That’s nothing. It’s what I normally walk, though admittedly, the desert paths I frequent are wide and packed solidly enough that even with a pack, I can stride along without having to carefully settle one foot before lifting the other. And I have never carried such a heavy pack. But still, five hours to walk four miles? Apparently, I am not as strong as I think I am.

The next day, I broke camp early and was back on the downward trail with steep switchbacks.

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By the time I got to the end of that section, I was almost done for. Couldn’t go up the next steep slope, couldn’t go back up the steep slope I’d just descended to return the way I had come. So I headed up the highway. After a couple of miles, a fellow stopped to offer me a ride. He moved his pack off the seat to make way for me. I tossed my pack in the back of the truck (well, pushed it up as far as I could and then tipped it over into the truck bed) and we took off. Turned out he’d been going in the opposite direction, on his way for a day of hiking when he saw me and took pity on me. (He said he turned around because he could tell I was at the end of my strength, but I think he was magicked into it.) He asked where I was going, and when I told him, he went silent as if he didn’t really want to drive that far, but the silence only lasted a second as he made the mental readjustment. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to drive me all the way back to my car. Not only would it give him a late start for his hike, but he’d end up where he started. Turned out my car was parked a block from his house.

Very nice fellow. He understood about the heavy pack. Apparently, he and the friends he goes on backpacking trips with are all about my age, and even though they are all lifelong hikers, they don’t do dry sections anymore because they can’t handle carrying all that water. (That made me feel not quite so weak and inept.)

Today, I am sore, but bewilderingly, I ache in places I’ve never even felt before. My knees didn’t hurt at all on the hike, but the muscles behind the knees are now sore. And my upper midriff is so stiff I had a hard time lifting myself out of a reclining position this morning.

So what does all this tell me? Not much. As I said, the whole experience bewildered me.

But it was an experience, which is what I wanted. And, although I wasn’t out there for as long as I’d planned, I did it! I spent a night on the Pacific Crest Trail.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Proposal for a Book About Grief

The time has come to talk of many things . . . well, one thing anyway. Grief. I need to get going on the proposal for a grief book about the second year and beyond, so I would appreciate any suggestions of topics that you think should be included.

Some topics are obvious, such as The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief and Meeting the Challenges of the Third Year of Grief.

Although I’ve never heard anyone but me and subsequently my blog readers talk about it, apparently there is another massive grief upsurge at the eighteen month mark, which probably should be mentioned.

Also, a few theories I came up with on my own, such as The Half-Life of Grief and Grief and Our Lizard Brain should be included because they are important insights into the grieving process and why it takes so long to come to an accommodation with grief.

During the course of the book, I need to assure people that they are not crazy, that it is normal to still be having upsurges of grief into the fourth year and well beyond when they have lost a fundamental part of their life, such as a spouse or a child. I think it’s important to somehow let the bereft know that it is not their family and friends’ responsibility to keep track of their grieving process. It is theirs alone.

Should I include a chapter geared toward those who haven’t experienced such a great loss to help them understand what their bereft friends and family are going through? Or would this be outside of the scope of this book? Even if the folks the chapter would be intended for didn’t read it, perhaps it would give the bereft one the confidence to speak up rather than wondering if in fact their family and friends are right about them?

Mostly, I want to tell people the truth about grief (my truth anyway), not try to comfort them or offer the typical platitudes such as “grief takes as long as it takes” (because really, when you think about it, that doesn’t say anything at all while giving people the idea that maybe they aren’t doing grief right if it is taking them so long). By the second year, the bereft know grieving is hard, and I think more than anything else, they want that hardship to be recognized and not disregarded as if it were something akin to a self-willed temper tantrum. (Well, more than anything else, what the bereft really want is their loved one back, but giving them this would be beyond the scope of my book.)

At the end of the book, there should be an explicit or implicit promise that yes, as hard as grief is, they can find a renewed interest in life.

Is there anything else you can think of? Anything you would like to see addressed? Any part of the grief process that seems to be overlooked by grief professionals? Anything that I’ve written over the years that should be emphasized?

Thank you for your help. And thank you, from the very depths of my being, for all the support you have given me (and my writing) over the years.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Why Do You Want to Do This?

In response to my post, Date With a Driveway, a reader very respectfully asked, “Why do you want to do this?”

If by “this” she means the short backpacking trip I’ve planned for the coming weekend, the answer is easy: I need to know if I can do it. There is no dance class on Thursday, so I will have a few days up in the hills (including a punishing hike up to the Pacific Crest Trail) to see what I can do. There is a campground close to the connecting trail, so that if those three uphill miles are all I can do that first day, I’ll have a place to hang out and recuperate. And shortly beyond that, there is another campground if I am too exhausted to hike very far. Besides which, it’s a fairly well-traveled part of the PCT so that I won’t be completely isolated my first time out.

If by “this” she means hiking the Pacific Crest Trail itself, that’s a more complicated question, though oddly, one I haven’t asked myself recently. It’s just something that’s been in and out of my head for a long time.

Many years ago, when Jeff first got really sick and I realized how devastating his death would be for me, I read about the Pacific Crest Trail and I figured hiking the whole thing would be a great way to lose myself after he was gone. After he died, I was too busy and too distraught (such a mild word for the tsunamis of grief I experienced!) to think of anything at all.

During those first months (and years!) of grief, I used to walk for hours in the desert. I always had to make sure I had enough energy to get back to the house, and so I wondered what it would be like to walk and just keep on walking without having to return to the starting place. It seemed as if it would be so freeing — just walking forever without a thought in my head or a care of any kind except to walk. And oh, did I want that freedom!

Then one day, I went on a search for the San Andreas Fault, and came across a marker for the Pacific Crest Trail.

I took a few steps up the trail, in awe at being on such a legendary path. It surprised me that the trail was so far inland — somehow, never before having been to any Pacific coast state, I figured any such long distance trail would follow the coastline. (The California Coast Trail is something completely different, and isn’t really a trail so much as an partially connected bunch of trails, paths, sidewalks, beaches and boardwalks with very few places to camp.)

I liked the idea of walking away from my life and my grief. Liked the idea of all the new experiences — perhaps even some sort of transcendental experience — such a long hike would bring, experiences that would buffer me from my now dead life and take me further into a new life. Liked the thought that maybe I wouldn’t be me at the end of all that, that maybe I would become strong and wise and able to handle growing old alone. Liked the idea of connecting with the universe. (Being disconnected from that one particular person left me feeling as if I had no connection to the earth or to anything, as if I were hovering uncomfortably to the side of life or even worse, eternally falling into the abyss.)

A couple of months after the San Andreas Fault hunt, I started walking in the evenings with a hiking group, and from that sprang a few day hikes on the PCT. It was during our evening walks that the topic of a thru hike first came up (thru hiking means hiking the whole thing from Mexico to Canada in one hiking season). Gradually I learned how difficult such an undertaking would be, not just the vast swaths of land one had to cover each day but also the lack of water in many places and the dearth of stores to buy food along the way. Every book/article/blog about hiking the PCT also talked about hitching a ride to this town or that, and the thought of hitching as much as anything else made the idea seem impossible.

So I gave up on the idea and instead went on a cross-country road trip.

A few months ago, I listened to the song, “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” Having an impossible dream seemed like such a wonderful thing, and then I realized I did have such a dream — to thru hike the PCT. (Such dreams seem to run in my family — though he never attempted it, I remember my father talking about wanting to walk up the coast of Portugal.)

So I started backpacking practice. I mean, a dream that goes nowhere, a dream that just sits in the back of your head seems like no dream at all. Thru hiking the PCT in a single season really is impossible for me. Multi-year thru hiking might also be impossible. But attempting any sort of hike on the trail seems worth taking a chance. It beats stagnation, right? Beats sitting alone in a rented room and reading about life. Beats fading away into loneliness and decrepitude.

And I still want the new experiences, want to see things up close at walking pace and not as they pass by outside my car window. I still want whatever changes such an experience will bring, especially physical and mental strength. I still want to walk away from my solitary life. I still want a deeper connection to . . . something. And I still want to be free.

An illusion? Perhaps.

An impossible dream? Probably.

And yet there the trail is. And here I am, at least for now. The twain must meet, wouldn’t you think?

On the other hand, all this could be bunk. It’s possible the whole PCT dream is my way of fleeing from the unthinkableness of the past decade and the even more unthinkableness of the coming decades.

Whatever . . .

I’m still heading out at the end of the week to see what I can see.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Date With a Driveway

Yes, you read the title right — I do have a date with a driveway.

After being sick for so long, and then my road trip, I am in no shape to do any sort of long distance trekking, so I need to get back into backpacking practice. And what is the best backpacking practice? Backpacking!

Although I went out hiking this morning in the nearby desert, I probably shouldn’t have. It is already too hot. So I decided to go up in the mountains next weekend and see what happens.

One of the biggest problems I have with hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in bits and pieces is the parking situation. Most trail heads around here are off major roadways, and there is no way I will ever be comfortable leaving my car by the side of the road for even a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days!

Luckily, a trail angel who lives near the Pacific Crest Trail is letting me park in his driveway. It will be a long, hot, very steep climb up the connecting trail from his house to the PCT, but what the heck. If it takes me all day to hike those three miles, well, it takes me all day.

It’s good to have the date with the driveway because otherwise I would keep putting off that first backpacking trip, looking for the perfect time to get my feet wet. I’m using the “feet wet” idiom facetiously because there is not a single water source on the trail where I am planning on hiking, and zero chance of any precipitation. I’ll have to haul all my own water, and because I don’t know for sure how much I will need for those days (and because there are limits to how much I can carry), I will do what I’ve always done — when I’ve used half of what I brought, I’ll head back.

Oddly, I’m neither excited nor worried. It just seems like a natural extension of what I’ve been doing all along. I am taking precautions, though. I printed out topographical maps of those miles with trail notes of where things are, and I’ll download a PCT hiking app that will tell me where I am and where I am going, an app that supposedly works in airplane mode.

So, maps, emergency supplies, water, food, shelter.

What else do I need? Oh, yes — strength and endurance. Let’s hope I remember to pack those two items!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.