The Joy of Discussion

I talked to a long-time friend yesterday. It was truly wonderful to be able discuss all the topics that confound me about today’s world without either of us once raising our voices. (Though I’m ashamed to admit, I did interrupt her more than a time or two.) We didn’t always agree, but we didn’t need to agree to disagree, either. That went with the respect and intelligence we both brought to the discussion.

One thing we both find shocking and appalling is that many of the issues concerning people today, such as the whole systematic racist thing, we thought had been settled long ago. And it had been. In our laws (though perhaps not always in individual cases), all people have equal rights, except when they don’t. Any equality in law (again, not always in action), tends to favor minorities with the various programs aimed at giving people equal representation in government and business.

And yet, here we are — decades after the war on poverty, decades after affirmative action, decades after billions of dollars have been spent to mend some of the discrepancies in our society — and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who should have inherited the benefits of these programs are worse off than their progenitors. Not all, of course. I’d be interested in knowing what’s the percentage of blacks who have been assimilated into the wider culture of the USA vs. those who have clung to the inner-city culture. I bet there’s a greater percentage than the rhetoric we are being fed would lead us to believe. (It must be appalling to these successful and law-abiding people to be lumped in with the rioters and law-breakers, to be constantly reminded of their victimhood when in fact they don’t believe they are victims of oppression.)

My friend and I didn’t just stick to this topic, of course. We swept through the whole gamut of issues. From MeToo (and the problems of both supporting the movement and yet worrying about how all this hatred toward men will affect boys today and the men they will grow into), the upcoming election, The Bob, and all sorts of other concerns.

But the main topic (at least for me) seemed to be the protests, the riots, and the destruction of lives. (If you destroy someone’s livelihood, if you burn down everything they hold dear, you destroy their life.)

I left the conversation wondering if any of the local rioters ask themselves what they are gaining. (I say local rioters because those coming into various cities to do damage know exactly what they are doing.) Do the local rioters truly want anarchy? Do they really want a city without a police force? Do they really want to bring down this country? Do they really think that destroying small businesses is advancing the cause of minority individuals rather than serving corporate interests? (People are starting to ask who is funding the riots, but that’s no big secret. All you have to do is run a quick search to find out what corporations are contributing to what cause.)

I also realized why all this confuses me — I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. For example, last night I read an article mentioning that a Duke University professor had been fired because (among other reasons), some students had complained about his handling of a discussion on race. The complaint? The professor had presented various points of view, which distressed those students who thought there was only one way to think about things.

How was I supposed to know problems such as this exist? I did know most people cling to their opinions without giving credence to anyone else’s. I did know there are those who try to manipulate people into believing that their side is the right side. What I didn’t know is that a certain segment of society simply cannot believe there is another side.

Which is why it was nice talking to my friend. We are both lifelong readers, so we have both lived myriad lives, experienced myriad points of view, cried over injustices. We see sides that others ignore, try to see through other people’s eyes (because that’s what reading does, shows us a different way of seeing). Unfortunately, neither one of us can see a peaceful resolution of this current mess.

But we were able to discuss, to question, to see perhaps a bit of order to the chaos. And that is a rare joy, indeed.

***

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 Shadow of Family Trees

I live in a small town where people tend to stay when they’re grown, or if they leave, they come back to retire. I thought there would be a problem, since the residents of many such towns tend to stick together and not welcome newcomers, but not here. Everyone (well, almost everyone — there’s always that one person who aggravates) has been kind and welcoming. Now that I’m sorting out the family trees just a bit, this welcome amazes me even more. It seems as if almost everyone is related within one or two degrees of separation.

For example, I met the grandson of the woman I am working for (with?) and today, talking to another friend, she mentioned her grandson of the same name. Turns out, it’s not a coincidence of names — the same boy is the grandson of both women. In another case, one friend’s grandfather is another friend’s uncle. I can’t even wrap my mind around that!

I may never get all these relationships straight, but it doesn’t matter. The shadow of their family trees doesn’t fall on me like it does with those who grew up here. I can take people are they are, rather than what limb they came from.

Another thing I discovered (that has nothing to do with family trees, though it does have to do with plants) is that at one time, 92% of all zinnia seeds came from this area. It must have been beautiful, driving down a highway lined with jewel-toned fields, all the colors mixed together in a riot of joy. It certainly explains why zinnias seem to like me — it’s not me so much as that they feel at home.

It would be nice to think that the zinnias I found growing in my yard were descendants of the original flowers, but I doubt it. Although I was surprised to find the zinnias, it’s only because I forgot that I planted them. Well, in a way, I planted them. I had some old seeds that I threw out into the yard instead of tossing the unopened packet in the trash. Most of the seeds did nothing, but the zinnias decided to grow. So nice of them!

I’ve never really had any special feeling for zinnias, but after this summer, seeing the cheerful blooms and knowing they belong in the area, might even belong to the same family tree as those original zinnia fields, I’m considering planting a yardful of them next year.

One of my new friends (one of the grandmothers) told me about a seed store in a town up the road a piece. They might even have seeds grown around here, which would be nice.

What is also nice is being able to plan for next year, knowing that unless something traumatic happens, I’ll still be here in this small town. And probably still trying to sort out the shadows of all those family trees.

***

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

Grist for My Mill

When I accepted the job of part-time caregiver, I thought both women — the fulltime caregiver who interviewed me and the woman I would be caring for — were total strangers.

As we learned a couple of days ago, all three of us had attended the same function last year — Thanksgiving dinner at the senior center. I didn’t talk to either of these women at the time, though in retrospect, I remember the director of the center pointing them out and telling me who they were.

It seems odd that the two people I see most in my life now, who in some ways are the most significant, were so insignificant to my life back then, that I didn’t even remember the encounter. Admittedly, this is a small town, so such coincidences would not be uncommon, and yet, I do sometimes wonder how often two lives cross before the two people finally connect.

A lot of times when people meet, not just friends, but soon-to-be marriage partners, they trace their lives and find many points of intersection, and yet, they didn’t make the all-important connection during those earlier near-encounters.

Jeff and I didn’t find many such points of intersection, though we spent our lives within a couple miles of each other. We did find that we had been in many of the same places, though not necessarily at the same time.

Not that it matters. Or maybe it does. Maybe it’s not the crossing lines themselves that matter but the time of the actual connection. If we had met before we met, would we have connected? Would we have even liked each other? So many things happened in the years immediately preceding our connection that primed us for that ultimate encounter, a previous meeting might have passed unnoticed.

It’s sort of the same thing with these women. If we had talked at Thanksgiving, would things have been different? Would they not have wanted me to work with them? Would the job be working out as well as it is? One of the things that helps all of us, I think, is the novelty. Those two spend so much time together, that a third person adds a bit of spice (or at least a bit of a change), especially now, when the vulnerable are still mostly isolated. If we’d met before, perhaps we would have lost the novelty factor.

Obviously, despite my new job, I am still spending too much time alone, too much time in my head thinking thoughts that have no value other than to keep my mental mill working.

Luckily, I am meeting some friends for a picnic in a little while, which will give me more — and different — grist for my mill. All social distancing and mask wearing guidelines are supposed to be followed, of course, though how one eats wearing a mask, I don’t know. See? Already something new to think about!

***

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

Men’s Romance Novels

Sometimes I think best-selling authors have no idea what makes their books sellable. I’m sure they figure they can throw anything out there, and their name will do the rest, which, truthfully, is often the case. But until they get to where their name is the selling point? Not a clue.

I’m reading a whole library’s worth of books by a guy who wrote adventure novels. The adventures are all thrilling, of course, and there is always a matter of heroics — generally a last-minute saving of the world from some calamity that will wipe us all out. The glue that holds all these books together is the romance. Not the male/female sexual romance, but the male bonding sort of romance. I understand that men — and men writers — don’t think this bonding has anything to do with romance, but it is a special sort of romance, often deeper and more meaningful than the romances conceived by women. The relationships in women’s books so often revolve around passion, feelings, family, while the relationships in men’s books revolve around loyalty, commitment, connection. Men might call it bonding, but it’s really a sort of romance.

These men characters respect each other, rely on each other, save each other’s lives and are more involved with their quest (and hence each other) than with the women they meet. I used to think the dismissal of women as secondary characters was a sort of dismissiveness of women in general, when in fact, it’s all about the romance of the men. The bonding. The adventures they share.

It’s this romance — not just the romance of the adventure, but the romance of the shared bonds — that make such books enduring (and perhaps even endearing).

But what is foremost in the author’s mind, and maybe even readers’ is the thrill of the adventure, and though they might feel the “glue” of romance that holds the story together, they don’t stop to dwell on it. (Unless you’re a person who’s isolated from the world because of a pandemic, and the library is closed, and all the person has to read are these books borrowed from another reader.)

So, moving on to a new adventure series by the same author, an adventure that should be romantic, involving as it does a loving married couple, but falls short of romance and adventure. The deep loyalty is missing. The unswerving trust is gone. (The husband always tells the wife to “wait here,” and after a bit of back and forth, he gives in. You’d think after years together, the automatic trust, commitment, and wordless communication would be there.) Even worse, the underlying importance of the adventure is gone.

In the first series, as I said, the adventurers were always on a quest to save the world from some enormity, and so any shenanigans, such as burglary and abduction and murder are minor infractions by comparison, and are usually done as a reaction to what the evildoers have done to them. But in the second series, the couple are merely curious. There’s no reason for them to burgle or kill except for their own ends. Nor is there any reason for them to be the instigators of such crimes. It helps no one, saves no one, and is only justified in the story because the victim is even worse than they are. (Though any money made from the treasures is donated to a worthy cause.)

The second series might sell well — after all, there is that famous name, even though it seems that most of the books were written by someone else — but they fall flat. Luckily, I have only two of these books and am almost through with the second. Whew!

I keep calling this the second series, though it might be the third or fourth. Apparently, the author, although now deceased, has a whole industry going with all sorts of people writing his books. But none seem to have the power and romance of the first series. Does anyone else notice? Probably not.

Would anyone else call them men’s romance novels? I doubt it. But that’s what they are.

***

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

Cheering Up a Griever

I belong to an online site where people ask questions of self-professed experts. I’m often asked questions about grief, most of which I have already answered, but every once in a while, I’m asked a new question that flabbergasts me.

Today someone mentioned a friend who had lost their mother, and asked, “What can I tell them to ‘cheer them up’ and express how proud I am for them and the way they’re handling it?”

What the heck kind of question is that? And how smug and ignorant and insensitive does someone have to be to ask it?

The truth is, grief belongs to the griever. It has nothing to do with anyone else, no matter how close that anyone might be to the griever. What an onlooker sees might not show the bereaved person’s real feelings, and anything anyone says in that regard might make the bereaved feel even more alone than they already do because it will show that the “friend” doesn’t understand.

People need their grief, need to feel what they are feeling way more than they need to be “cheered up.” Cripes, if the questioner can’t stand to see the friend’s grief, think how much worse the griever feels at the loss. Wanting to cheer up a griever might be understandable, because grief is one of those things the uninitiated shy away from, but it’s a totally selfish desire. No one wants to have to confront the fact of death — it’s the great unknowable and puts the lie to our cozy existence.

And what the heck did the questioner mean by being proud of the way the friend handle “their” grief? Because they’re not crying in public? Because they’re continuing on with their life? Does that mean that if they were crying or showing their grief in some other way, the questioner would be upset with the bereaved person? Again, how a person handles grief has nothing to do with anyone but the griever. Each griever handles things the best they know how, though most grievers quickly learn to hide their grief so that others aren’t judging them, and letting someone know you are proud of them for how they are handling their grief is definitely a judgement.

Instead of cheering up a griever or voicing a judgement, you can hug the person if you are close friends. You can invite the person to lunch or provide a meal at their house. If you knew the mother, you can tell stories about the mother and say how much you liked her or miss her or whatever. If you didn’t know her, ask about her. People who are grieving sometimes need to talk about the deceased, but most people don’t want to mention the deceased for fear of making the bereaved person sad. They don’t understand that nothing will make the griever sadder. Sadness comes with the loss. There’s nothing you can do to “cheer up” a griever, but you can suspend all judgement. And you can be there for them.

That’s what counts. Simply being there.

***

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

That’s My Story

In recent months, I’ve learned the backstories of some of my new friends, stories that are both horrifying and heartbreaking. That these people are leading normal lives, or what seem to be normal lives, make their stories all the more shocking. And they make me realize, that despite everything I have gone through, I have lived a rather privileged life. At least so far as I know. (One of the stories I was told rivals my book More Deaths Than One for mind control, manipulation, and abuse, which would make anyone question themselves and what they think they know. But I tend to think I do know what I think I know.)

I never felt as if my life was especially blessed — there was too much trauma and poverty, depression and some sort of instability in almost all the characters of my youth. And yet, I grew up, enjoyed mostly good health (meaning that I wasn’t often tormented by terrible pain, trauma, or illness). I loved and was loved in return. I’m settling into what might be a rather benign old age, and even with my extremely limited income, I doubt I will go hungry. Although I’ve never been strong physically, I’ve been strong enough to do what I needed to do. And I’ve been strong enough mentally to get through what I needed to get through.

Those are my realities right now. My privileges. Not everyone has those same privileges. Some people have different blessings — wealth, beauty, acclaim, athletic ability, robust health, great happiness, a fulfilling career, a living — and loving — spouse, cherished offspring.

And some people seem to have very little going for them, often through no fault of their own. Abuse. Disfiguration. Disability. Unending pain. Troubles that seem to multiply. Acute loneliness.

Nothing I can do will ever make a difference to those lives. I can be kind to people I meet, of course, because who knows what pain and horror they are hiding behind smiles or stoic expressions or even scowls. But that’s about all. Being miserable won’t offset their misery. Bleeding for them won’t erase a single moment of suffering. Making allowances for life’s injustices or trying to shoulder another’s mental or physical burdens only goes so far — we each have to live the life we are given.

There’s no way ever to truly understand another person’s point of view, and people who expect that are being unrealistic. We can always only see life through our own eyes, and that’s not a privilege but a reality.

Actually, now that I think of it, my greatest blessing is to be able to turn, in retrospect, a rather messy and traumatic life into one of privilege and good fortune. A nice bit of legerdemain, that.

But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

***

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

Elusive Knowledge

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a term for our inability to step back and objectively look at our aptitudes and behaviors. This is especially obvious when it comes to bombastic folk who act as if they know it all. These windbags talk incessantly about their own world view, but refuse to acknowledge the validity of any other. It makes sense, of course, because they’ve boxed themselves in with their pomposity, so that whatever is in the box is all that is real, and they know everything in their box.

Many people are touched by this effect in a small way, so that even if they are open-minded about some things, other ideas are boxed off, and they simply will not entertain different possibilities, especially in areas such as politics, current issues, religion. Which is why I try to stay away from such topics. I don’t mind people disagreeing with my own views if they extend to me the same courtesy I extend to them of listening to what they have to say, but too often, they have to have the last word. Or rather, the only word. And so I’ve learned to let them have that word early on to save a whole lot of aggravation later.

I hope I’m not one of those who are closed off without being aware of it. I do have pet ideas, of course — we all do — but I tend to think the way this Dunning-Kruger effect rules my life lies in a different direction, either by my underestimating my intellectual capability (some people think I’m smarter and more knowledgeable than I feel I am) or, as I so often fear, by my overestimating my capability and thinking I’m smarter than I really am. I have no way of knowing which is the truth because of the above stated inability for us to observe ourselves objectively.

I don’t think I have locked myself into a narrow box, though. I’ve always been aware that there is so much more out there than what I know. (Which is perhaps why I sometimes think I’m not all that smart or knowledgeable — I can sense how little I know, how little I can know.)

From what my mother told me, as a baby and as a toddler, and even into my early schoolgirl days, I idolized my older brother. It seemed to me he could do anything, and that year of life experience he had over me made him seem . . . omniscient. Each year, I could hardly wait until my birthday so I could catch up to him, and it always came as a shock that he was still a year older, still a year wiser.

Having bad eyesight at an early age added to the awareness of all that I didn’t know. It also created a sort of cognitive dissonance where I knew I was smart enough to get good grades but was too ignorant to know what everyone else seemed to know intuitively, such as what the names of streets were and how to tell the different trees apart. Even when I got my glasses and realized how everyone knew such things — they could see street signs! They could see individual leaves! — the dissonance remained.

My father didn’t believe in television for children. He wanted to raise his kids to be independent thinkers (as long as we thought the way he did), and that lack of cultural conditioning added to the feeling of not knowing. I remember a group of girls giggling about double-barreled slingshots, and they laughed at me when I asked what those were. It wasn’t until many years later when I happened to see a Beverly Hillbillies show that I got the joke. Way too little, way too late!

This idea of elusive knowledge, of knowledge waiting for me made me excited about school every year. For a week or two. Then I realized that whatever knowledge I wanted was still out of reach (I was one of those kids who read the school books during the first days of school, so I knew exactly what I would and wouldn’t be taught). I especially remember senior year in high school. “This is the year I will get to learn,” I thought. I was going to finally have a great teacher. (At least that’s what her previous students said.) On the first day of class, the teacher gave us an assignment: “Write an essay about what you expect to get from your senior year, and don’t give me any sycophantic nonsense about wanting to learn.” I just stared at her. This was the teacher who would finally teach me? As it turned out, no. Too many seniors wanted to take her class, and even though I had been one of the first to sign up, I was kicked out. (The only time my name was ever drawn out of a hat.)

Luckily, there were books. A lifetime of books. And just when I got to thinking I had a grip on some of what life had to teach, Jeff died, and the realization of how little I knew started all over again. If something as immense as grief had been hiding from me all my life, what else has been hidden? That question haunted me for many years, and in fact helped drive me through the worst of my pain. I thought perhaps something wonderful was waiting for me on the other side, but the only thing wonderful that happened was that I survived. And I gained a lot of knowledge about grief that has been of benefit to many people.

The sense of impending . . . something . . . has pretty much dissipated over the years since Jeff died, and I now let life offer me what it will.

Well, except for bombastic folks. Those I walk away from whenever I can.

***

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 Best of Social Networking

Although I have always been a fan of social networking on a personal basis — getting to know people, making friends, feeling connected even when I am alone — I am also aware that it is a platform for the dissemination of a particular brand of ideas. Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative of that brand is labeled “fake news.” That most people don’t see they are being herded by this one-sidedness shows the efficacy of the brand. That those same people heap shame on those who don’t agree with the stated beliefs shows how deeply entrenched the brand is.

And yet . . .

During this past week, I have been enormously pleased to see so many posts by black people decrying the current narrative, ie: downtrodden blacks, liberal saviors, white racists (and according to this narrative, all whites are by definition racists).

I understand that the black/immigrant/minority experience is different from mine, but that does not negate my life. Does not make me better. Does not make me a racist. It makes me . . . me.

Whatever anyone experiences makes them who they are. The current narrative defines certain people by their race, not who they are individually. The posts I’ve been reading and the videos I’ve been seeing are not from blacks living the “black experience,” whatever that might be. They are individuals living their lives, refusing to claim the victimhood the narrative foists on them, refusing to be seen as anything other than as themselves, as a member of the human race, as an American.

These people don’t want reparations, don’t want to be identified with the rioters and looters, don’t want to be limited by what other people are doing and saying. They want to grab whatever opportunity (legal opportunity) they can to create good lives for themselves. They want to take responsibility for what they do without the mitigating (and oh, so paternalistic) factor of needing special compensations because of their skin color.

Normally, we don’t get to hear what these people have to say because it doesn’t fit with the point of view the media forces down our throats. And we need to hear their voices. We need to see these folks as they see themselves — not victims, not un-“privileged.” But people dealing with life as best as they can.

This — getting to hear different voices, getting to listen to people tell a different story than what we expect — this is the best of social networking.

***

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 Herded

Social and cultural conditioning are processes where members of society consciously or unconsciously herd the other members into behaviors and thoughts that are acceptable to the group as a whole. This form of herding one another is a great survival tool out in the wild where cooperation is necessary, but now seems to only stifle those who can’t be or won’t be herded. Conditioning is one reason it’s so hard for others to grasp the scope of grief. Not only can non-grievers not understand grief, they can’t accept it. Their every interaction with the bereft is geared toward herding grievers back into the fold of societal norms.

The jargon of grief is that of illness, of negativity, of . . . fault, as if somehow we who are grieving chose our state and now we have to overcome, heal, recover, move on, get over, return to normal. By blaming us for grieving too long, by refusing to admit that our grief is normal, by assuming our inability to respond to their herding instincts is due to our stubbornness or damaging behavior, onlookers to our grief can more comfortably return to their own lives, and leave us alone with our sorrow.

This herding is called behavior priming and is prevalent in almost all group interactions. I was painfully aware of the process after Jeff died, and I’m particularly aware of it now, when certain phrases are bandied about with no objective, it seems, other than to force us into groupthink. For example, “We’re in this together.” No, we’re not. As I’ve mentioned before, everyone is coming at this situation from their own unique point of view. A person who lives alone, who has been laid off, who is in danger of losing their home or business is not living through the same crisis as a person who still has a secure job and comes home to a loving family.

“Safer in place” is another example of a phrase used to herd folks, but again, they are simply words without any real meaning. Sure, a person who lives alone and never sees anyone is safe, but what if that “place” is a nursing home? Definitely not safe, considering that in Colorado, as in many states, the majority of deaths have taken place in nursing homes.

Which brings me to the point of this particular discourse. The most common priming comments from people who disagree with those who urge the reopening of the economy are “You don’t value life,” “You’re trying to kill people,” “You want your grandmother to die,” or variations of the same, all herding people toward a certain ideology without taking into consideration the deaths and devastation that are already occurring because of the lockdown and will continue to occur when the strictures are lifted.

Besides, if the goal was to protect the elderly, then we failed abysmally, considering all the nursing home deaths.

This is what keeps going around and around in my head. If 80% of deaths from The Bob occur in those over 60, that means 20% of deaths occur in those under 60. If you subtract out the 60% of nursing home deaths from “free range” elderly, you also get 20%. So, it seems to me that if a person isn’t in a nursing home, there is no reason to protect the elderly more than the younger folks since the death rates are more or less the same.

Just another very confusing aspect of this Bob situation.

None of my cogitation will change anything, but it does help steer me away from being primed, keeps from reacting emotionally to those trying to herd me into the fold, and allows me to ponder the various ramifications of our current situation.

And that’s all to the good. My good, anyway.

***

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.

Viruses and the Human Organism

By now it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I have reservations about this whole quarantine situation. There are just too many repercussions that are being ignored, such as people who are in lockdown with their abusers and no way to escape, or rich people who are fleeing infested cities and bringing diseases to places that would normally be safe.

Another repercussion that few people are discussing is what will happen when people are once more free to mingle. Unless there were a significant number of cases of people who got The Bob and recovered (and no, there aren’t such cases because there simply is not a great enough percentage of people who are getting sick), there is still a chance of a second upsurge. Some epidemiologists say that flattening the curve will prolong the disease, but so far, no one is saying what will happen when people are again doing “nonessential” activities, such as getting together with family and friends.

Another thing that no one is talking about is the danger of isolating people.

Viruses are everywhere, in fact, they are perhaps the most common being on earth. There are an estimated 10 nonillion of them (10 to the 31st power.) Without viruses and their ability to move genetic material from one cell to another, life on Earth might never have evolved. Among those nonillions of viruses, only a small fraction, way less than 1%, are dangerous to humans. Most seem rather benign. Others are actually beneficial, and help our immune system. For example, some viruses infect and destroy dangerous bacteria in our bodies. Other viruses protect against harmful viruses. Some have actually become part of the human genome.

Even harmful viruses are good in that viral infections, especially at a young age, help develop the immune system. If children are prevented from getting sick, they are much more vulnerable to disease as they grow older.

It is the benign viruses that move from person to person, exchanging cell materials between people who are close, such as husband and wife, that makes grief for a spouse so hard. Not only does it feel as if we have been severed from our other half, we have, in actuality, been severed. Because of the visceral nature of grief, three to four years seems to be the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then at two years, most of our cells still bear the imprint of our deceased mate. At four years, less than half our cells bear their imprint. At seven years, we are solely ourselves.

Viral exchanges are a way of communication, body to body. It’s a way of keeping a community unified and healthy. You don’t always have to get sick to become immune to a disease — if someone close to you is immune, their immunity can be conferred on you via benign viruses. If you stop viral communication, what will happen? I don’t know. No one knows, though it’s possible that when people are allowed out among others again, not just The Bob will have an upsurge, but so will other diseases.

Although no one asked me, I would have suggested protecting the vulnerable and letting everyone else lead their lives. Some people would have gotten sick, but for most people, The Bob is relatively benign, no more than a cold, if that. Many people who are infected, show no symptoms at all.

The human aggregate is an organism. Are we damaging the organism by these draconian measures? Probably not, since the lockdowns won’t be that long, all things considered, but if it went on too long, groups who developed immunities to certain ailments could infect others who haven’t developed such immunities.

It’s hard finding out the truth in this time of “fake news” since any idea or research that goes against or beyond the party line are labeled fake, when in fact, what we are told is “truth” might be less than true.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if there would have been a better solution to this situation than by isolating everyone, not just the vulnerable.

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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.