Plots and Plats

During the past few days, I’ve seen movie trailers on Facebook that are all about guns and killing, seen ads for games focused on killing one’s opponents (both human and cartoonish monsters), started a movie that began with a cyborg war, and I read a so-called romance that was nothing but a guy manipulating/abusing a woman because even though she repeatedly said no, he knew she really loved him and keeping after her was the only way to get through to her.

At the same time, whenever I’ve gone on Facebook, I’ve seen many anti-gun rants, anti-men rants, anti-everything rants. Well, anti everything but violent movies and books and games. Those seem entirely acceptable.

And yet people blame guns alone for real-life killings. And yet they say the violence people see every day, the violence their lives are steeped in have no affect on what they do.

How can it not have an effect? If an impressionable youngster (or oldster) sees how easy it is to get rid of a problem by blowing it away, why wouldn’t they attempt it? Especially since, in the violent fictional world, those blown away never truly die. They are resurrected for movie after movie, or game after game.

And how can young folk believe they have the power to say no (and that others have the need to heed the “no”) when they so often see that no means yes?

There is a growing movement in our culture today toward all dark and light without shades of gray, though one person’s dark is another’s light and vice versa. (This sentence is a graphic example of the dichotomy I am talking about. I originally wrote our world today is “all black and white,” but I feared some would see in this rant a racial slant that wasn’t intended, so I had to change my wording.)

It used to be that the two sides of a political or cultural discussion were more about ways to achieve the shared goal both sides wanted, but today, the goal itself is up for grabs. Making things more confusing, many of the folk (for example) who are attempting to make guns illegal are the very ones who are cashing in on the gun-ridden movie business.

I’m not sure I would even have noticed how truly bizarre and confusing all this is if I hadn’t been spending way more time off line than on. Maybe my life, my world, is so much less confusing than it’s been for the past decade that I am more aware of the confusion in the not-me world. Maybe I’m seeing a bigger picture and am not so swayed by those who wish me to focus on a single aspect of a situation. Maybe . . .

Maybe I should go back to talking about my house — which is still a sheer joy — and ignore the confused signals being blasted into the ether.

My neighbors and I have been trying for the past two months to figure out where our property lines are. (Apparently, the county assessor’s office knows how big the various properties are, but have no indication of property lines.) It wasn’t a big issue because we are all rather easy-going, but still, I needed to know where to put a fence. So I had my property surveyed. When I got the finished plat, all confusion was gone. We now know exactly where we stand. (Two feet to the north of where we thought we stood.)

I find the plat fascinating. At a glance, I can see every aspect of my property and how it fits in the whole, which made me think how nice if every confusion or dilemma were resolved so easily — if instead of political and cultural plots, we had plats.

***

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.

Feeling Like I’m Back in Kindergarten

I haven’t even been in town two months, and already I’ve started a brouhaha. It was an accident, but still . . .

I went to the senior center a couple of days ago for an exercise class, played dirty marbles (which is not at all what you gutter-minded folk think it is), and stayed for lunch. Since I walked, I had a hat and jacket, which I had placed on the table where I intended to eat. When lunch came around, that table was mostly full, and someone had shoved my stuff to the end where there was no chair. I asked if anyone minded if I moved a chair there so I could join them, and they all just stared at me as if they’d never seen me before, even though I had previously talked with most of them.

Refusing to give in to a childhood flashback, where no one wanted to sit with me, I just laughed and moved to another table where the occupants were waving me over. “You always have a place with us,” one of my dirty marbles friends said. “Good,” I said with a smile, “because that’s the second time they refused to let me sit at that table.”

It was a nothing sort of comment, but next thing I know, my dirty marbles friend and a woman from the other table were arguing, and the woman was slinging insults. By this time, I was thoroughly embarrassed. It hadn’t been that big a deal. Apparently, those women didn’t want a newcomer to sit with them (it couldn’t have been any reason but that, certainly nothing personal, because I have been all charm and smiles since I moved here!). Except for feeling a moment of discomfort, it didn’t really matter where I sat.

When the director came out to lecture everyone on being kind and welcoming to new faces, I wanted to sink into the floor. And afterward, she hugged me, and told me she hoped I would come again.

Well, I did go again. The next day, there was a meeting at the center about a planned outing to the Royal Gorge. I went to the meeting with a friend. She plopped her stuff down at the same table to which I had been welcomed and asked if there was room for one more. When the women noticed who the “one more” was, they laughed and said, “Pat is always welcome here.”

Then, of course, all the people at the table who hadn’t been privy to the episode had to be told the joke. And during the meeting, there was more talk from the director about being kind to new faces.

Sheesh.

I felt like I was back in kindergarten. Recess (exercise), cookies and milk, games, and being told to play nice.

At least this time, I am aware that the contretemps had nothing to do with me. The tensions had been in play long before I got there. My oh so innocent remark was simply the incendiary device that sparked long-standing animosities.

Perhaps the people who are nice to me have nothing to do with me, either, but are simply nice people. Still, I have already made a couple of lifelong friends, women with whom I instantly connected.

Life is good, and an occasional shark in the water merely brings out that goodness.

***

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.

 

Where Generations Overlap

A few years ago, I lived for a short time in a gated modular home community for older adults. It wasn’t a good experience — I was renting a room in the house along with a fellow who spoke not a word of English and had mental problems of an undisclosed nature. Even worse, a key was necessary to leave the park on foot, and since the owners didn’t see fit to give me a key to the gate, I felt trapped. Worst of all, there was a high school outside the gates, which made me feel as if I were living in some sort of apocalyptic science fiction story where people were forcibly segregated by age.

I didn’t live there long — just a few months. Then the park manager evicted me. Apparently, although I was there to house sit, I couldn’t live in the house without the owners being present. (I don’t think the manager understood the concept of house sitting.)

That whole experience creeped me out. I can still see that place — the old folks walking around inside the walls, the teenagers milling around outside. It’s not something I ever wanted for myself, and luckily, I didn’t end up in such a situation. Many of my new neighbors seem to be around my age, but there are a few younger folks with children.

One neighbor (who happens to be the son-in-law of the people I bought the house from) planted my mailbox for me. Most people in town have their mail delivered to their door, but there are now separate rules for newcomers, and though this guy is a friend of the postmaster and tried to get me a dispensation, the postmaster stuck to the rule. So my pretty new mailbox is sitting out on the curb without any of its ilk to keep it company.

Another neighbor is a lovely young woman who wanted a job, so I’ve been letting her take care of my weeds that for now form what is laughingly called a lawn. Generation-gap relationships offer new challenges for me. The girl told me she thought my house was cute and that she liked the woman who’d moved into it. I gave her a spontaneous hug, and then later realized I probably shouldn’t have since kids today are being taught not to let anyone touch them without permission.

The next time I saw her, I apologized. She said she was glad for the hug, that it had made her day, but still, the incident reminded me to be careful.

Most of my socializing (to the extent I do any socializing) is among women about my own age, but still, it’s nice to be in a place where generations aren’t segregated.

***

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.

GRIEF: THE INSIDE STORY is now available!

Coping with the death of a loved one can be the most traumatic and stressful situation most people ever deal with. As the bereaved struggle to make sense of their new situation, they often find that the advice they receive is produced by medical professionals who have never personally experienced grief, is filled with platitudes and clichés, and is of very little practical help.

How long does grief last? What can I do to help myself? Are there really five stages of grief? Why can’t other people understand how I feel? Will I ever be happy again? Grief: The Inside Story answers such questions while debunking many established beliefs about what grief is, how it affects those left behind, and how to adjust to a world that no longer contains your loved one.

Although the subtitle is “A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One,” the book is written especially for those who have lost someone intrinsic to their lives, such as a spouse or life mate, and who now struggle to cope with their new realities. People always want grievers to “get back to normal,” but as Grief: The Inside Story shows, there is no “normal” to get back to back to, but grievers can eventually find renewal in their lives.

Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Inside-Story-Guide-Surviving/dp/0368039668/

If you have read the book and it proved valuable, please leave a review. The more reviews, the more visible this necessary book will become. Thank you.

***

Pat Bertram is the 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 Twitter. (@PatBertram) Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Unsettled

I’ve been feeling a bit down the past couple of days. My nest building has come to a standstill because I can’t do any more unpacking until the foundation of the enclosed back porch (soon-to-be exercise and storage room) is fixed, and the guy who promised to fix it has so far been too busy to do the work. It’s always “next week” and apparently, next week never comes.

That’s not really a major issue, though, just a bit of frustration that adds to my overall feeling of being unsettled.

My meeting people has also come to a standstill. Although people I encounter have been nice to me, I spend most of my time alone, which isn’t a new development, of course, but that aloneness, too, adds to my feeling of being unsettled.

What isn’t coming to a standstill are all the small things that demand attention, such as a breaker box that was stuck (it took a guy from the electric company two hours to dismantle it and put it back together), smoke alarms that need to be replaced, scammers sorted out from the official folks I need to deal with. All these things make me wonder if I’m in over my head, which contribute to my feeling unsettled.

Mostly, though, it’s the date. I’d forgotten tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of Jeff’s death, but a tightness in my chest and stinging eyes have reminded me of why I am here in this place, this house.

Because he is gone.

My sadness this anniversary is more nostalgic than painful. My missing him doesn’t feel as personal as it used to. For most of my years of grief I lamented that I never felt any different. Lamented that I hadn’t changed. But being here in this house, trying to create a new life for myself, tells me the truth. I am not at all the same person who struggled to live while her soul mate struggled to die. Not at all the same person who witnessed the death of the one person who anchored her to life. Not at all the same person who screamed her angst to the uncaring desert skies. That woman, I am sure, is still feeling the agony of his absence, but she is not me. She could never do the things I am doing.

Despite all the changes, I still worry about stagnating — becoming the crazy cat lady sans cats — and so far, there is nothing in my new life that precludes this from happening.

I tell myself to be patient, that my new life will be revealed (will unfold?) in the years ahead, but for now, I’m feeling . . . unsettled.

***

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.

Buyer’s Remorse

I’d forgotten about buyer’s remorse. Not that I ever had reason to remember the concept because until last week, I’d never owned a house. (Until a couple of months ago, I’d never even considered owning a house!) It’s come as something of a surprise that I am now not just a homeowner, but a house owner.

So far, though, it’s been great. No remorse!

There have been a few frustrating episodes, such as trying to get set up with the internet. What a chain of errors, lies, and miscommunications! But I’m set up now, so that’s good. There’s so much work to do to get unpacked and settled that I didn’t really miss the internet, but it does help to be back online. It feels normal and familiar in a world where little is familiar. New house. New (to me) furniture. New town. New folks to meet. New chores. (I’ve never been obsessed with neatness, but I have discovered how lovely it is to wake in the morning and see my beautiful living room, so I make sure I do a quick clean before I go to bed.)

And then there was “that” day. For the most part, the weather has been ideal, but shortly after I got here, a bomb cyclone hit. We didn’t get the blizzards that Denver and other areas got. We just had a bit of rain and insanely high winds. Being in town helped moderate the winds because other houses provided a bit of a wind break, but even though we didn’t get the 80-mile-an-hour gusts that were recorded at the local airport, the wind was still severe.

Luckily, this house really is solid. No drafts, no whistling or rattling windows. The electricity, however, did go off for a couple of hours. After about an hour, the smoke alarms started screeching. To be honest, I don’t see any reason for smoke alarms to be wired into the electric system — individual alarms seem to work just as well — but that’s what I have here: inter-wired alarms. When one goes off, they all go off.

Which is overkill. A beep from cell phone can wake me. Why would I even need four alarms screeching at me all at once? I dismantled all the alarms, but they still continued to screech. It wasn’t until I took out the batteries that silence finally prevailed. When the electricity came back on, I reattached the alarms. Or tried to. Two did fine, but one chirped and one screeched. Thinking it might be a circuit problem, I ran outside in my stocking feet for just a second to check the breaker box, but couldn’t figure out how to open it. I ran back to the door, but the screen door had latched. (I think the wind banged the door shut with such force that the latch latched.)

So there I was, in the rain and mud, with winds that about blew me over, in my stocking feet, and no way to get inside. I had the keys, but the screen door didn’t have a keyhole. I ran down the street to where a handyman lived, but no one was home. Then I ran to my next-door neighbor, and asked if he knew how to jimmy a lock. He did. Took about a second. (But he couldn’t figure out how to open the circuit box, either.)

Such an adventure!

I’ve been trying to connect with people. I went to a spaghetti lunch put on by the historical museum and introduced myself to a few people, spent a day with the previous house owner, (she wants me to join their bowling league, but as much as I enjoyed being with her and her friends, I’m not a bowler, and don’t really see myself ever becoming one), and had tea with my next-door neighbor. When she saw me in my hat, she donned one, too. That was fun. I’d never lived next door to someone close to my own age and, as it turned out, I’m the answer to her prayers. (She prayed that someone nice and friendly would move into this house.)

And tomorrow, I’m going to a meeting of the art guild.

Not bad for being in town just a bit over a week!

I’m looking forward to new adventures, new people, new plants. I found some green poking up through the awakening soil, a couple of lilac bushes hiding behind the garage, and a few periwinkle plants.

So no remorse! Of course, I don’t know what the coming days, weeks, months will bring, but although I miss the friends I left behind, I’m interested to see what will happen next.

***

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.

Comforting Strangers

When I drove to Seattle last year, I unexpectedly found myself turning into a rest stop. I worry (unnecessarily, perhaps) about my car not starting up if I stop along the road, so I never visit rest areas when I drive. Although my Bug is reliable, it’s . . . not new. I figure it’s better to wait until the next fuel station in case there is a problem. But something seemed to pull me into that rest stop. I walked aimlessly around for a bit, not sure what I’d expected to find, and then returned to my car. When I got back to the parking lot, a big wind came up, and the door of the car next to mine flew open and dented and scraped the paint on the fender of my newly restored Bug. An old lady sat there, just staring at me, as if I were the one in the wrong. “It was the wind,” she said. And it probably was since she seemed too frail to have held the door, but I wanted more of an acknowledgement of the damage than that.

A younger woman came, entered the old woman’s car, and started it. I stood behind their vehicle so they couldn’t drive away. I’m not sure what I wanted, but I wanted . . . something. Soon the younger woman got out of the car and told her mother was sorry, that their insurance would pay for it. The old woman started to cry, which made me feel bad for being so stubborn about the situation. I told her it is was okay, that I didn’t expect them to pay for the damage. Then younger woman explained that the tears weren’t just about my car, but that her father (the old woman’s husband) had just died, and she was trying to give her mother a little vacation.

Oh, my, that broke my heart. I hugged both women, comforted them, and then, before I drove away, I told the daughter that her mother would mourn a lot longer than she would, and please be patient with her. I cautioned her not tell her mother to move on or get over it. She thanked me. I hugged both women again, refused to take their insurance information, and said that every time I saw the dent, I’d think of them. And I do.

I often think about these women, and not only when I see the dent. I’ve never known what to make of this incident. I’m not a big believer in fate, but it makes me wonder if sometimes things happen to benefit not us, but someone else. Maybe fate needed me to be there. Or maybe the woman’s grief called to me.

I don’t have the answer, but I still have the dent.

***

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 There For a Bereaved Friend

Many bereaved people find that it is difficult to explain the emotions they feel and even more difficult for their loved ones to understand what they are going through. Being a good friend to those who are bereaved involves showing patience, listening to them, and allowing them to grieve at their own pace without urging them to move on. (This is the big one — do not ever urge them to move on or tell them they need to get over their grief no matter how long it takes. Depending on the loss and the depth of their connection to the one who is gone, it can take years.)

If your bereaved friends cry, don’t tell them to stop. If they can’t cry, don’t urge them to try. If they want to talk, listen to them, but don’t urge them to talk about their grief if they don’t want to. Instead, ask about the person who died, what they were like, what was a favorite memory of them, which might be something bereaved will respond to. A lot of people hesitate to ask about the deceased loved one because they don’t want to make the griever sadder, but it’s nice to honor those who are gone by talking about them, and it’s even nicer to know that others haven’t forgotten the one who is gone.

If your bereaved friends don’t answer your questions, don’t push. If they pushes you away, don’t feel hurt or push back. Hug them if they will let you. When you are together, act normal. Don’t try to “feel their pain.” You can’t, and they will feel burdened by your empathy. Mostly, just be there for them.

***

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.

Continuing My Lonely March Into the Future

An older article Resuming My Lonely March Into the Future was inexplicably posted to Facebook yesterday as a new blog post. People have been responding with care and support, and at first I felt guilty that I was gathering sympathy for something that was long past, but when I re-read that five-year-old post, I realized that most of it reflected current feelings. I was particularly sad this Christmas season, more than I have been for a long time. I did shed a few tears, though to be honest they came more from self-pity than raw grief. I simply could not bear another minute of trying to move on with my life. The void of his absence is still there, though of course nowhere near as strong as it was five years ago, and I am tired of his being dead. It remains true that sometimes the hardest thing we have to do is keep marching into the future, especially when the person who connected us to the world lives in our past

More than that, though, the past year was a hard one. I often felt unwell (nothing serious, colds and allergies and the lethargy that results from them). I stopped going to dance class for a while because it was no longer a haven. I delved back into the depths of my sorrow so I could write an honest book about grief. (Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One) Despite all my efforts to fulfill my dreams, this year I finally had to let go of my two-decade-old dream of finding a major publisher, my three-decade-old dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, my forever dream of getting youthfully fit, and oh, so many things. I also had to deal with my older brother’s recent death, which has shaken up my life and made me realize I need to start finding ways to prepare for taking care of myself when I get old. (Like finding a place to settle down, perhaps.)

But, as I did five years ago, I let myself wallow in sadness and indolence, and now I’m steadfastly (and optimistically) resuming my solitary march into the future.

Wishing us all a year filled with wonderful new dreams and good surprises.

***

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.

Preparing for a Life Mate’s Death

People often ask me how they can prepare themselves to cope with the eventual death of their spouse, but there is no way to ever prepare yourself for such an eventuality. You cannot imagine how you will feel when they die — it truly is unimaginable — so the best thing you can do is spend time with them now, enjoy what you have together, and let the end take care of itself. If you prepare now for what you imagine you will feel then, you will miss the very things that will get you through the pain and loneliness — creating memories, knowing you did the best for your loved one that you could, having no regrets as to your actions.

The truth is, grief at the loss of a spouse is so great and so all-consuming, that it changes you into the person who will be able to live without your mate. Not at first, of course. There is no way to prepare for the pain you will feel. But as time goes on, you will become the person you need to be and you will learn to embrace life again. Even the loneliness will become bearable.

It is not our choice who lives and who dies, but we can choose to live despite their death. I have met many widows and widowers since I lost my life mate, and every one of them eventually found a way not only to survive, but to thrive.

While dealing with the horrendous loss of their mates, while still grieving well into their second and third year, women have traveled the world alone to honor their husband’s dream. By themselves, they have closed up the house they lived in for twenty years and moved halfway across the country. They have put in irrigation systems, have finished building a house, have written books, have taken up painting, have gone back to school, have started businesses, have blogged about their grief. They have made new friends. They have worked to support themselves and their families, and to pay the medical bills their husbands left behind. They have welcomed grown children back into their homes, helped take care of newborns and elderly parents. All while dealing with active grief.

Just as you cannot imagine how you will feel, you cannot imagine who you will become. So, try not to imagine the unimaginable. Celebrate what you still have, and if the day comes when you are left alone, you will be able to do whatever you need to 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.