Hope

If there’s anything more symbolic of hope than a spring flower, it has to be a flower that has not yet opened.

The miracle patch of bulbs that came up all on their own (miracle because I dug them up last fall and planted them elsewhere turn out to be daffodils! I can hardly wait to see this beauty open.

And maybe, more will come up!

Meantime, the dwarf iris are springing up all over. Well, considering that I only had ten of the little bulbs, “all over” is perhaps a misnomer. A few tiny flowers spread out on a good-size yard are not exactly a spread, but each is loved and valued for itself rather than what it would contribute to a lush garden.

And if by chance the lush garden ever happens? That will be wonderful — and hopeful — too.

***

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.

Living in my Own Story

I am feeling very déjà-vu-ish these days, as if I’m living in the pages of one of my books. (A Spark of Heavenly Fire is the story of a quarantine in Colorado where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death. Insomniac Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay. This is a story of survival in the face of brutality, government cover-up, and public hysteria. It is also a story of love: lost, found and fulfilled. And is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1630663662/)

Now that was a real pandemic, my red death. What we’re going through now is . . . I don’t know what it is, but it seems more fictional than my fictional disease. Truly, this panic over a rather tepid pandemic has me mystified. Maybe young folks would have an excuse because they haven’t lived through any of the previous named flus (Russian, Swine, etc.) , but most of them seem to be blasé since they are not being hit hard. But for the rest of us? I really don’t get it.

The Russian Flu killed 1 million from 1889 to 1890

The Spanish Flu killed 40-50 million from 1918-1919 (20% of the world’s population)

The Asian Flu killed 1.1 million from 1957 to 1958

The Hong Kong Flu killed 1 million between 1968-1970

The Swine Flu killed 200,000 between 2009 to 2010

Seasonal Flu (the various flus that hit us every year) kill between 300,000 to 600,000 every year.

The Coronavirus has killed 6,500 from Nov 2019 to March 15. 2020, which means we’re almost halfway through the typical period it takes for one of these named flus to run its course. People keep citing statistics, such as the rapid spread rate, the extreme potency of the organism to prove how important the hype is. And yet it is nowhere near as potent or rapid spreading as all the previous flus no one cared about.

The closest thing to this particular reaction that I have seen was the swine flu of 1976. There was a panic to create a vaccine with the ultimate goal of vaccinating 80% of the citizens of the USA. They reached 25%. And all that panic came from a single death. One death. That’s it. The vaccine caused more deaths than that, along with major problems for a lot of the vaccinated people, including an increase in reports of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Because of that ridiculous mess, and because of being forced to get such a dangerous vaccine or risk losing my job, I will never follow the party line (either party line) when it comes to any sort of flu, epidemic, or pandemic, no matter how wild or how tepid.

Yes, I know. People are dying. For them and those who care about them, it’s a sad and terrible thing, but going by strictly by the numbers, it’s not that big of a thing. And it might never be. I’m not saying taking precautions is wrong, because it isn’t. In fact, most of the precautions, such as washing one’s hands, staying home when sick, and distancing oneself from those who are ill are things we should have all been doing anyway. If we had, there’s a good chance the deaths from seasonal flu would not be nearly as great.

Even if it turns out there are 200,000 to a million deaths from this thing, it’s still pretty much status quo for a virus, whether novel or known.

The main difference between this and previous outbreaks is, as one friend pointed out, an overactive media and an even more overactive social media, both of which seem to revel in riling people because riled people are involved people. (Involved in the story, that is, not necessarily involved in finding solutions to the story.)

I love the internet. I love interacting with people all over the world. But this current reaction has me wanting to hunker down and quarantine myself from all the hype.

Luckily, a friend is coming to stay for a couple of days, so I’ll have other things to think about than living in my own story.

***

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.

Social Distancing

How odd to be told to do what I have always had a tendency to do — practice social distancing. For others, this might be a bad thing, but it plays right into my psyche. For the past year, I have been attending many social activities, meeting people, enjoying having friends and being part of a community, which has been great, but I like this lifestyle, too. It fits well.

Odder, too, to think that the whole country is now living my life. Staying away from people who are sick. Staying home when I am sick or even just have the faintest tickle in my throat or even just because. Washing my hands. Oh, and stocking up and hoarding. I bought eight cans of tuna!!! I was only going to get one package of four cans, but I like two kinds — the white albacore and the chunk light — so I got both. But that was about it. I didn’t need anything else, and anyway, I have no place to store it. (I’ve designated one very narrow cupboard in my kitchen for a “pantry.”)

Normally, I’d be doing a lot of walking since that’s a good solitary activity, but it’s been cold and gloomy here, which doesn’t do much to motivate me, but oddly, the bulbs in my yard seem to like it. Several of them are popping up, which makes me feel good. I should walk anyway, despite the gloom, but I tweaked my knee when I was sleeping so I’ve been babying it. (Isn’t that the silliest thing? I fell splat on the ground, and didn’t even get a bruise. I turn over in bed and hurt my knee. Sheesh. That’s the part of growing older — or one of the parts — I can do without.)

So, what am I doing in my exile? What I always do. Fix what needs fixing — in this case, replacing the cord in one of my Roman shades. Read what is available to read. If I get bored, I have hundreds of movies to watch, but mostly, I’ve been playing on the internet.

I’ve been staying away from FB — there’s not much good that can come of all the virus talk, and there’s not much else going on except for the usual political outrage — which gives me plenty of time for other things, like making mandalas with the online mandala maker I found. Since the purpose of mandalas (besides beauty and symmetry) are to transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and to aid in healing, it seems the perfect pursuit for this particular time. I wouldn’t mind being more enlightened, and the world can use some healing.

I hope you’re taking care of yourself and that you’re enjoying a quieter time.

***

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.

Looking for Book Recommendations

The library here is closed until further notice, but luckily for me, they will take orders for books, and I can pick them up at a designated time. (This is so cloak and daggerish, it really tickles my funny bone.)

I do have an emergency stash of books (and an emergency e-stash for when my paper books are gone), but this cloak and dagger service might not be available for long, so I want to make use of it while I can and save my stash. The problem is there are only a few specific novels I want to read, so normally, I just peruse the shelves, grabbing any book with a title that catches my eye and a blurb that sounds interesting.

With the library closed, I cannot do that. Nor can I order any of the novels on my short list since all those would need to come from another library, and I’m not sure if inter-library loan is available during this time.

So, do you have any suggestions of books for me to order from the library? Or an author to research? They have to be traditionally published books (and authors) since for the most part, those are the sorts of books this library has.

Thanks for your help!

And no, this isn’t my library. Would that it were! It’s the library in a monastery in Prague.

***

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.

Treasure Hunt

I’ve been going on a treasure hunt every day, looking for signs of spring. A few leaves from the bulbs I planted have started peeking through the soil, which has been fun to see.

Even better, as a special surprise, I found one dwarf iris blooming in a far corner of the yard.

I suppose it’s just as well most of the bulbs haven’t yet broken ground — it’s snowing right now, and I’m not sure how hardy the poor things are. It’s not that cold, though, so they should be okay. (I’m okay too, sitting here at my warm computer, thinking of the flowers to come, and drinking a cup of blueberry tea.)

The most interesting aspect of the bulbs so far are the ones I didn’t plant. Last year, I noticed there were a few flowers by the garage — a crocus, an allium or two, and a couple of daffodils.

We thought it was the watering of that small garden plot that caused the problems with the garage’s foundation, so I tried to move as many bulbs as I could. I dug deep and sifted through the soil several times, and thought I’d gotten them all, but this year, there is an expanse of growing bulbs — several dozen at least. Considering my efforts to dig up the bulbs, the disturbance of the soil when the garage was torn down, and the additional digging when the sidewalk was pried up, there really shouldn’t have been any bulbs left. But there they are — if they survive the snow.

***

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.

 

Town Character

When I moved here, one of the first people I met was the town character, an old woman who almost always wears red, white, and blue, like a female Uncle Sam. She apparently has some issues, including no “off” button, but other than that, she strides around town like a woman half her age, and doesn’t seem to cause too many problems.

But she is notorious, sometimes spoken about indulgently, sometimes dismissively, but notorious for all that.

I worried that I would become like her since I too walk everywhere (though I have to admit, I definitely walk like a woman my age) and I too have a quirk — my hats. I need to wear a hat because of the strong sun, and the fanciness and fancifulness of the hats has grown over the years, starting from a desire to reuse expensive bows and ribbons from gifts.

Now, the same people who once reassured me that I could never be like the red, white, and blue lady admit that I too have become a town character. One friend says that sometimes when she mentions me, people will say they don’t know me, but after she tells them I’m the Pat in the hat, suddenly they all say, “Oh, yes! I know her.”

Since I’m rather a self-effacing person, being a town character is not something I have ever aspired to being. And yet, perhaps it was inevitable.

When I was young, our town character was a woman in jeans and a halter top (before either garment was fashionable), her grey hair escaping from the bun she always wore. She drove around in an old jalopy with a rumble seat, looking for lost dogs. We marveled at that ancient car, but the fact is, my car is twice as old as hers was. (Mine just turned 48 years old.)

So, to recap — someone who walks around town when she isn’t driving her old jalopy, who sports unfashionable fashions and is known by more people than she has ever met. Yep. Town character. Inevitable.

I suppose I could stop wearing such eye-catching hats, but what’s the fun of that? And anyway, I’d still be driving a recognizable old car when I wasn’t on foot, so there’s really no way I can become invisible in such a small town.

Oh, well. I guess there are worse things than being a town character, but for an introvert, I’m not sure what they would be.

***

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

 

The Pat

I spent yesterday with a friend who was recovering from an operation. Her husband had to work and didn’t want to leave her alone, and since they’re like me, with no extended family in the area, we’ve adopted each other. So of course, because I’m family, he was able to go against his usual independent nature and ask me to stay with her. (Not a hardship, believe me. She is truly a delightful woman.)

While I was there, a friend of theirs stopped by to check on her. As our mutual friend slept, the woman and I got to talking. She mentioned that she’d lost her husband a year ago, and I commiserated with her. She seemed surprised that I understood, so I told her Jeff had died ten years ago.

Her eyes got big, and she exclaimed, “You’re the Pat! I have your book! As soon as you mentioned Jeff, I knew who you were.”

As astonishing as that encounter seemed (and yes, despite this being a small town, and despite the simple explanation that follows, it was astonishing), we quickly sorted out the coincidence.

Soon after I moved here, a new acquaintance mentioned that a friend of hers had recently lost her husband and was feeling bereft and alone. I gave the acquaintance my book Grief: The Great Yearning to give to the new widow. The widow called to thank me, and we talked for a while, but then I never heard from her again. I suppose I should have called her, but since I didn’t know her, I didn’t want to come across as a crazy stalker author, and eventually, her number disappeared from my phone.

Yesterday, we met again as old friends.

Life is truly a marvel at times. There we were, three women, now three friends, from three different countries. The United States. Thailand. Malaysia. (Before I knew where she was from, I’d asked the widow if she was from Singapore. It surprised her that I came so close geographically, but her accent was the same as a woman from Singapore I once knew. The widow acknowledged that the accents were very similar.)

Just think of all the living, all the stories, all the convoluted paths and journeys, all the intertwining fates and destinies, it took to get the three of us together in the same room.

Once, I craved adventure, but now, it seems, being “The Pat,” is itself a great adventure.

***

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.

Closure and Acceptance

In a book I read the other day, the character mentioned that he found closure after the death of his wife, which led me to believe that the writer had not himself experienced such a loss because, when it comes to death, especially the death of a spouse or child, there is no closure. There can’t be. The circle of grief never closes because the loved one is always dead. They are always missing from our earthly life, and the void they leave behind is never filled. There is no time when we can say, “Okay, that’s done. Let’s move along.”

At some point we begin to find the road to life again, but we will always miss our loved one and will never forget. As time goes by it gets easier and we learn to cope with the necessary changes, but there will not be closure.

Another word that is often bandied about when it comes to grief is “acceptance.” Finding closure implies an acceptance of what happened, and yet, there is not way to ever “accept” the death of a loved one. It’s not our death to accept but theirs.

Acceptance is supposed to be one of the stages of grief, but I’ve never actually gone through that stage (nor did I experience most of the supposed stages of grief for the simple reason that they do not adequately reflect the reality of grief for a life mate, soul mate, spouse or child). I cannot accept that he is dead for the simple reason that it’s not my place to accept it. Acceptance to me suggests that it is okay, and I will never believe that it is okay for him to be dead (even though I do understand the necessity of it).

If “acceptance” means accepting the reality of our loss and understanding that they are gone, then there can be no acceptance “stage.” The truth is that we “accept” the reality from the beginning, and therein lies the problem. If we didn’t understand that they were gone, we wouldn’t feel so bad. But we do understand they are gone. We feel the loss in our bones, our souls, our very beings. We feel it with every breath we take. We feel it in the emptiness of our hearts and our homes. We have no choice but to face the reality.

The only way “acceptance” works in the grief equation is to accept that we have no control over the situation. Accept that we will always miss them. Accept that we will always grieve to some extent. Accept that we’ll never be the same as we were. Accept, too, that grief is not a negative. Grief is an important adjunct to a profound loss, a way to process the unacceptable and unfathomable, a means of moving from being part of a couple to being alone.

As a friend wrote me, ‘Acceptance needs to be viewed as a continuum. Acceptance does not mean “one and done”.’

Many people who have undergone such a loss have a need for adventure, as I did. I never understood this need, but seen in the light of “acceptance” or “non-acceptance,” it begins to make sense. We feel the changes, know we need to go along with the flow of our new life, but we don’t want to accept the new status quo. We didn’t want this new life, didn’t choose it. Even more, it seems such a betrayal of what we once were, what we once had. And so we are unsettled.

To a great extent I have let Jeff go. Somewhere during the past years, I realized that no matter how connected we were when he was alive, we are two distinct people, each on a special journey. For a while, our paths entwined, but now our roads have swung into two different directions. No matter how much I miss him, miss the me I was when I was with him, miss our shared dreams and goals, there is no turning back. The future beckons, and I must go where it leads me.

Perhaps that’s acceptance of a sort. It might even be considered closure of a sort. All I know is that, like the so-called stages of grief, any jargon that is associated with grief falls short of the reality.

***

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.

Celebrating

Continuing my celebration! Today is the first anniversary of when I met my house; the first anniversary of moving to my new town.

All of a sudden yesterday, it struck me odd that I have turned into someone who celebrates such events, or even one who marks them. I never used to do things like that. Never kept track. I did know when my birthday was and how old I am, of course, but any other anniversaries just passed me by. To be honest, my birthday did too. Jeff and I didn’t make a big deal about birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays except by default. Since stores were closed and nothing much was happening on Christmas or Thanksgiving, for example, we’d hunker down and watch movies with plates of snacks, but other than that, one day was just like any other.

Until he died.

When we lose a significant person in our life, one whose death rocks us to the very depths of our being and changes us forever, it’s as if we are born into a world of grief, and our internal clocks reset themselves to that moment of birth.

At first, we count the minutes and hours we’ve lived, then, after we’ve survived twenty-four or forty-eight interminable and interminably painful hours, we being counting the days. Eventually we move on to counting weeks, months, years, and even decades. To the uninitiated, this counting seems as if we’re dwelling on the past, constantly reminding ourselves of our sorrow, but the truth is, counting is a way of helping us survive this new, alien world.

Grief distorts time. Sometimes it feels as if time stops, but simultaneously it feels as if it speeds up. Seconds seem like hours. Hours can feel like days or can pass by in seconds. We lose track of what the date is. The past and future becomes so entwined that we can’t always be sure if we’re going forward or backward. A particularly strong flashback to the days before our loved one died can make it seem as they are still alive, in another room perhaps. An especially serene moment between grief upsurges can catapult us to a future world of possibility, a world without pain. Counting the days helps put time back into perspective.

Now, I am in the habit of counting, of keeping track, of living. Every anniversary is another year lived. Every year — every day — lived is another day that counts.

Although Jeff’s death devastated me, I was simultaneously aware that it set me free from a lifetime of taking care of someone who could no longer take care of himself. Although it was unwanted and unintended, this gift of freedom, I could not, cannot bring myself to waste it.

So I count the years and celebrate my life’s milestones.

And today I am celebrating friendship and neighbors and new beginnings.

***

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

The Neighborhood Feel

Once upon a time, I lived in a what now seems a mythical city. This city wasn’t respected, wasn’t really considered much of a city at all. It had the reputation for being a cow town, and in many ways, it was a town, or rather, a town of towns. Each neighborhood was self-sufficient with schools, stores, libraries, all within walking distance. Crime was negligible because people in each town knew one another. Kids roller skated on the sidewalks, rode bikes in the streets, ran errands for their parents. And from wherever you stood, the mountains were visible to the west.

Those mountains were a constant presence, a compass so we always knew where we were, and most of all, a benevolent guardian. Violent storm clouds dumped snow in the mountains, sailed serenely over Denver where they gathered more moisture to dump on the plains.

And then it all changed. Californians fleeing their bloated state “Californicated” Colorado (as the saying went), and a Texas boy, with political aspirations and no loyalty to the area, “imagined a great city.” And so the town of towns slowly died. Smog enveloped the newly named “great city.” The clean drinking water disappeared and what came out of the faucets tasted like chlorine. Crime became rampant. People locked themselves away from the neighbors they no longer knew. And a burgeoning skyline that grew ever taller changed the climate. (Apparently, the storms thought the upward-reaching mass of buildings an extension of the mountains, and so heavy snows — once a rarity — became the norm.)

Jeff and I escaped the growth, searching for what we once had — a quieter, slower, friendlier life. We never found it, except in the life we created with each other. The neighborhoods we had grown up in were more small-town ideal than any small town we ever found. No one walked anywhere. The people in the towns we lived seemed closed, not just to us, but to each other. Cliques focusing around church or school were the norm, and outsiders weren’t particularly welcome. (When I left the town we’d lived for twenty years, the only people I had to say good-bye to were the librarians.)

I realized the truth of our Denver, then: that neighborhoods had been our lifeblood, and the neighborhood way of life was disappearing. I’d gotten used to the way things had become, and had thought the life we wanted would be forever in the past, so it came as a surprise when I once again found the neighborhood spirit.

In many ways, where I live now is like the neighborhood of my childhood. I walk to the library, run errands on foot, have the next-door friend I never had growing up. (I always envied those who had a friend living next door, and now I do!). There is a friend who lives a couple blocks away that I sometimes go walking with, and adding to the charm and the memory of childhood, we take turns walking each other home.

Because of this childhood feel, this neighborhood feel, I am sometimes affronted by the reality of growing older. What lies in front of me is (eventually) “the end” rather than endless possibility. But I am not at the end yet, perhaps not for many years, and who knows — I might find a widening of possibilities despite any creeping decrepitude. After all, I did find my way here.

It seems odd — and a bit sad — to have found what Jeff and I were looking for (minus the mountains or other places to commune with nature; there is nary a mountain to be seen anywhere in town). Sometimes I worry how he will fit into this house and this lifestyle, and I have to remind myself that he is gone. Ironically, his death more or less led me here. If “need” brings certain changes to our lives, perhaps he and I didn’t need this sort of lifestyle, but now that I am alone, I do.

***

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.