You Are Not as Alone as You Thought

John Steinbeck wrote, “We are lonesome animals. We spend all our lives trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — ‘yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’”

In no other life experience is this need to share stories as vital as with grief. In other life transitions, such as graduating from school, falling in love, having a baby, there are other people around to share the experience, to tell their stories. In the case of graduation, there are your classmates, and hopefully, at least one of them is your confidant. When falling in love, there is the lover with whom to share the experience. When becoming a parent, there is the other parent, and if not that, maybe a mother, grandmother, midwife, sister, friend, someone who knows the same trials and terrors and awe and sheer love you are experiencing.

But when it comes to grief over the death of a spouse, life mate, soul mate, we are alone. Often, we are the only person in our circle of acquaintances who have had to deal with such a loss, so the loneliness is exacerbated beyond our ability to cope. Our friends and family don’t understand, can’t understand. Everyone has grief in their lives, but the all-consuming grief after the death of the one person who meant life and meaning and connection is simply not understood or even understandable by the uninitiated. We grievers don’t even understand. It doesn’t seem possible that one heart/soul/mind can be in such turmoil, and survive.

Yet we do survive, often by seeking out the stories of those who have been where we are.

The responses to a recent grief post, Note to My Grieving Blog Visitors, illustrates the need to share our experiences. I went to a grief support group until I got kicked out because they didn’t think I was grieving enough. Despite the ignominious end, it was an important time for me. I heard other people’s stories, both from the newly bereaved and those who have lived for months without their mates. I have often written about grief over the years, and people have shared their stories with me. They found comfort and inspiration in my words, I have found comfort in their telling me, “Yes, that’s the way it is. That’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.”

I often think of the blog reader who told me at the beginning that she’d lost her husband ten years previously, and though she was happily remarried, she still grieved for him. It helps knowing that we don’t forget, because yes, that is a fear. We hold tightly to our grief because it is the only thing we have still connecting us to our deceased beloved. If we loosen the hold, will we forget? The truth is, there are days I forget, but there is in me a void remaining where he once resided in my heart and soul, and even if I forget that I once loved, once was so connected to another human being that he almost pulled into the abyss with him when he died the void holds the memory.

I’m glad there is a growing trend toward blogging about grief. Grief is one of those things that no one wants to acknowledge. They have to believe we did something wrong, that we purposely lost or misplaced our loved one, otherwise the thought that the same thing could happen to them would be more than they could bear. They urge us to move on, not just for our comfort, but for theirs. They don’t like the reminder of death and mortality that hangs on our shoulders like a mantle, so they want us to shrug off the mantle of grief and get on with the business of living, without ever realizing that grief is how we are going about the business of grieving.

The metaphor of the cloak of grief does not originate with me. After about three months of writing about grief, a fellow writer, a widower, told me it was time for me to drop the mantle of grief. I didn’t, of course. It might have been important for him to pretend his life was the same, but I couldn’t. I felt the need to tell the truth. My intense grief shocked me to my core. It seemed astonishing that even though I’d read tens of thousands of books, seen thousands of movies, read copious article, that never once did I come across talk of such intensity. Oh, there is always that one old woman in widow’s weeds in mafia movies falling on the coffin of her son and screaming her anguish. This scene always seems so over the top and is played up for the almost comic melodrama, but comes closest to how grief for a spouse or child feels. (In fact, the death of my younger brother killed my mother; she died exactly a year later.) But mostly, there was silence when it came to grief such as I’d experienced.

So yes, it’s important to tell our stories. We need to know that whatever we feel, others have felt the way we do. We need to know that despite the belief we can’t survive either the death of our loved one or our grief, we will. We need to know that we will never forget. We need to know that life goes on. We need to know that we are not as alone as we think we 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

Good Girls

I’m reading a book about a dying rapist/killer who is remorseful for what he did and wants to atone before the end. Is this plausible? Or are such folk unable to see that they did anything wrong? Could they change so much at the end? I suppose anything is possible, but mostly I’m looking at this from my life and so the truth of the character doesn’t really matter.

I am very glad I didn’t do anything terrible in my life, at least, not that I know. We all do things that affect others, and somewhere down the line, our innocent actions might have dire consequences, but since we don’t know what those consequences might be, we have no reason to feel remorse.

I was always the “good girl,” though I didn’t want to wear a halo. I just didn’t want to be punished. I remember as a teenager and how some of the kids got into trouble with drinks or drugs or sex, but I never did. Even then, I understood the long-term effects of alcoholism, drug addiction, and teenage pregnancy, and could see no viable reason for flirting with disaster.

When you’re young, being considered a goody-two-shoes or whatever the current phrase might be, is a terrible fate, and although I railed against such names, I never gave in. My logical mind always stood in the way of peer pressure. Of course, as time went on, people just crossed me off without hassling me, but the name stuck.

Now that I am far beyond those younger years, I can be glad for that lack of “bad girl” behavior. I have a hard enough time with remorse for my small unkindnesses, petty transgressions, and lapses in generosity of spirit. I can’t imagine trying to deal with the crushing remorse of actually having done something that got someone killed or maimed or sent to prison.

I don’t even have to worry about my lungs, or at least not much. Like me, my mother never smoked, yet she died of lung cancer, and her death certificate erroneously called her a life-long smoker. So, I might not have smoke-damaged lungs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have damaged lungs from other causes, like breathing, perhaps.

I do find it interesting that people who started smoking after the sixties can still blame their habit on ignorance. The information was available when I was a kid, which is why I stayed away from such things. Well, that, and a distaste for the activity as well as an allergy to smoke.

I don’t mean to sound smug and judgmental, especially since some of you might have succumbed to some habit or other. I’m just glad I never got talked into being a getaway driver, or heard voices telling me to kill someone, or became so angry, I fatally lashed out. It makes these last years so much more peaceful than they could have been if I had been other than that scorned “good girl.”

***

“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Connecting to the Past

I grew up with a hand-me-down life — most of the clothes I wore were hand-me-downs from a much older, much shorter, and much thinner cousin, which, as you can imagine, gave me a bad body image way before such things were fashionable. (It’s funny to think that people don’t do that anymore — hand down clothes — except perhaps for baby clothes. Instead, we donate garments that no longer please us to the various world-wide thrift stores, and end up destroying the cloth and clothing industries in the very areas that need such industry.) I probably sound ungrateful, but truly, back then I was glad for such “new” clothes, even if they had to be altered to fit me.

I also got my cousin’s outgrown books, which did a lot to counter whatever harmful connotations her clothes might have had. Then, as now, I read in the same way I breathe — inhaling without thinking. It’s just what I do, what I have done from the moment I learned how to read. (I know there must have been a time when I didn’t know how to read, but I don’t remember such a time, nor do I remember learning to read. It’s as if I truly have always read.)

Those books from my cousin were the staple of my early life. I went to the library often during the winter and every day during the summer, but during the times I couldn’t get library books, such as when I was sick, I reread my hand-me-down books. I also read my parents’ books they kept on the bookhselves in the room we called the library. This library was a separate room from the living room, and had shelves for books, my mother’s desk, and the chiming clock that formed part of the soundtrack of my early life. (I even read some of my mother’s old nursing textbooks, and will never forget the garish photos of various organs and diseases. I still have nightmares about the smallpox picture.)

I had most of the Judy Bolton series back then. I don’t remember getting rid of them, but I must have cleared them out during a move at some point. Still, I remember those books with the mottled pink cover (the Nancy Drew covers were the same, only they were blue) as if I’d seen them just the other day.

The point of all this nostalgia is that I found a few of the books on the Gutenberg Project website. I certainly hope the site is as they claim, that these books are in the public domain, because I downloaded the few Judy Bolton’s that I could. And now I am reading them.

I’ve always known that books connect us to the others who have read them, a much deeper connection than from writer to reader. I’ve known that certain books connect us to the ages — to the people long dead who also read those very stories.

What I didn’t realize until rereading these Judy Bolton books is how books can connect us to our past selves.

Although I don’t remember the stories so much, I remember the characters, the feel of the stories, and the feel of the books themselves. And I remember reading them.

I’m holding a Nook in my hand instead of the hard back book, but the words are the same. And I feel . . . timeless. The person I am today is reading the same book I last read fifty years ago. It seems miraculous. The older person who lived so much during the intervening years — loving, sharing, grieving — is, through these familiar words, connected to that girl child who could only dream and hope of a life that was to come.

I imagine there will come a time, perhaps fifteen to twenty years from now when I am elderly and frail and rereading these books, that I will look back to me on this day and think the same of this me as I think of that little girl me — that I was young and still full of hopes and dreams.

I imagine I will think back to all that has connected me to myself through the years, and I will be grateful for all breaths I took and all the books I have inhaled.

***

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 the Feelings

Sometimes when I speak or write, a truth comes out that I didn’t know I knew, but I’ve come to trust those words as if they were . . . well, true.

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend about emotions that are considered negative, such as sorrow and anger and loneliness. She said she didn’t have anyone but me to talk about such things with because other people want her to feel more positive.

I heard myself saying, “There are no positive or negative feelings. There are simply feelings.” And I realized that’s true. What we do with those feelings — such as take out our anger on our families — could be construed as negative, but the feelings themselves have no positive or negative connotations. Like in physics. Protons have what is called positive charge while electrons have what is called a negative charge, but there is no good/bad connotation for those names. As far as I can understand, they are more about push/pull than what we think of as positive and negative. Batteries have a positive and negative side, but again, but sides work together as a whole rather than one side being good and the bad, or one being right and the other wrong.

It’s the yin/yang of life — the cosmic duality, the two opposing and complementing principles that guide the universe and all things in it.

And so it is with feelings. We feel happiness and sadness, anger and fear, pride and shame — sometimes both sides of the feeling at the same time. Other humans are always trying to categorize us in some way, not just by our vocation or avocation (writer, scientist, teacher, parent) but also what sort of personality we have (optimistic, pessimistic, melancholic) as well as our political and religious beliefs, but we are not any one thing.

The truth is, we are not one-dimensional creatures; we are each a universe unto ourselves and have an infinite number of sides. We aren’t limited to the so-called “positive” feelings; we have a wide-range of feelings that we can — and should — feel.

It’s not important what we feel at any given moment. It’s only important that we feel. (Even if we’re not actively feeling anything, we’re feeling something — serenity, perhaps.)

Even the less compelling emotions, the less admirable ones such as envy or loathing are important to feel if we’re feeling them, if for no other reason than to figure out why we feel such things. Do we want to be more like those people we envy or loathe? Do we see ourselves in them? It’s only after identifying the reason for the feeling that we can take action to neutralize the effect of the feeling. But the feeling itself is merely a feeling. It is not a judgement call.

On a more personal level, grief for a life mate/soul mate might be uncomfortable for others to witness, but that grief belongs to us. We need to feel it; it’s how we become what we need to become to continue living in this world without our mates. We don’t need to figure out why we are feeling the chaotic mix of emotions that comprise grief. We know what caused it — the death of a person dear to us. We just need to feel what it is we are feeling.

Feeling a whole range of emotions teaches us to be compassionate and understanding of others. It allows us to accept compassion and understanding from others. It helps us understand (and perhaps even create) ourselves. It help us take action when necessary. It helps us survive in the wilderness of human interactions.

So, whatever I am feeling, I let myself feel it. Whatever you are feeling, just feel it. Don’t let anyone try to squelch your feelings.

Feeling the feelings is better for all of us in the long run.

***

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

Breaking Bread

I’m feeling proud of myself lately, and for a rather trivial reason. I try to eat right, or at least not to eat too many things I know are bad for me (not necessarily bad for you, but definitely for me), but it’s always hard for me to say no to gifts of food, to invitations to meals, to social occasions that involve food (and they almost always do).

Some people can sit with a group and not eat anything if they are on a voluntarily restrictive diet, but I’ve never been able to do that. It always seemed . . . I don’t know . . . unsociable or even self-righteous, as if I were subconsciously condemning them for eating less than healthy foods. At the very least, it makes people uncomfortable to eat if they are the only one eating, and I am always cognizant of trying to make people around me feel comfortable. Beyond that, though, so much of being with friends is “breaking bread together,” a simple phrase that used to literally mean sharing a loaf of bread, but is now mostly used as the name of religious rite. Even when the phrase is used in a secular manner, to mean sharing a meaningful connection over a meal, it’s still a spiritual rite. I’ve always intuitively understood the need of sharing a meal (one friend and I literally used to share a meal — every time we went out, we’d get one order of whatever and split it) and all that went along with the meal. Because of course, you don’t just share a meal, you share a space, an exchange of energy, a sense of camaraderie — a connection, in other words.

A shared meal feeds the soul, so this ritual of breaking bread has always been more important to me than the need to stick to my self-imposed food restrictions (sugar-filled desserts, baked goods, fried foods to name a few), so it was always a struggle to maintain any sort of food routine. I’m one of those who does well as long as I don’t ingest any of my verboten foods, but one reason I try to stay away from them is that they set up cravings for more of the same. My only hope of not gaining weight (I seldom lose, but I gain easily) is to remain true to my diet.

The first year I was here, I gained a lot of weight because of all the sociability. Every time I got together with people, it was over food. And there always seemed to be such occasions. And the food was always on my proscribed list. Still, I broke bread with my new friends.

Even before The Bob, I’d started backing away from social occasions. Although I enjoyed being with people, I didn’t particularly enjoy the meals, and didn’t like the way I felt after eating them. The isolation because of The Bob has helped me get into my “groove,” so now I don’t even want any of the foods I shouldn’t eat. And because of it, I can finally say “no” when it comes to eating with people.

For example, I always fix a snack for the woman I sit with a few hours a week, and she wants me to eat with her. So I scrounge, and if there is something in her refrigerator I can eat, I will. If not, I just smile at her, then turn aside to give her privacy so she doesn’t feel like a prize exhibit in a one-person eating contest.

When it comes time to socialize again — if it ever comes time — I hope I remember this and remain firm to my own self-interest. I know I will be giving up something by not being able to break bread with people, but I gain, too. The last time I decided it was okay to eat anything put in front of me (actually, I didn’t decide, I just did it), it took years to get back on my regime. Suffice to say that at the moment, I am feel good about being able to stick to doing what is right for my body.

And that is what I am proud about. See? A trivial thing, but important to me.

***

If you haven’t yet read A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my novel of a quarantine that inspired me to call this current disease The Bob, you can read the first chapter online here:  http://patbertram.com/A_Spark_of_Heavenly_Fire.html

Buy it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0024FB5H6/

Download the first 30% free on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842

Betrayal?

Jeff and I had such a deep, seemingly cosmic connection that for many years, I thought I’d be pulled into death when he died. It didn’t seem fair because he was five years older than me, and I thought I’d be cheated out of five years of my life.

About a year before he died, I hugged him and accidentally touched his left ear. I know now cancer had metastasized all the way up his left side and into his brain, but at the time, all I knew was that he pushed me away, wincing in agony. Some part of me closed down at that moment, and a voice deep inside me said, “He might dying, but I have to live.” During that year, we went our separate ways, he to dying, me to living. Then, six weeks before he died, he made the connection with me again. He needed to talk about what was happening to him so he could gather courage to face what was coming, and during that daylong conversation, I remembered why I’d fallen in love with him all those years ago.

Because of the disconnect during our final year, a year where I felt dissociated from him and our life, I didn’t expect to grieve, so the depth of my pain stunned me. I struggled for many years to deal with the wreckage of our shared life. Although he did not pull all of me into death with him, apparently he did pull part of me into the abyss, and that hole — that amputation — will always be a part of me.

During my grief struggles, I felt at times as if I’d betrayed our love because in the end, our connection wasn’t strong enough to keep us together, not in life and not in death. I did get my five years. And more. I continued to grow older than Jeff ever would, to develop my own unshared and solitary life.

As of today, I have lived exactly six years longer than he did. It doesn’t seem right, not that I have lived all these years, but that he didn’t have the choice. Well, neither of us had a choice. That voice inside me didn’t say “I want to live.” It said, “I have to live.’

I no longer feel any sense of betrayal. We each did what we needed to do, both when we were together and when death ripped us apart.

During those last weeks after we reconnected, we tried to support each other, each of us thinking the other was getting the worse of the deal. I thought he had it worse because he had to die in pain; he thought I had it worse because I had to live and suffer through life — and grief — alone. I still don’t know who got the better deal. I had these years, but I will also have to deal with dying one of these days.

But not today. Today I am honoring the six years of life that were given to me, years that were denied to him. It’s not exactly a celebration, but it is something worth reflecting on.

Or not. In the end, we each live our allotted years the best we can, and hope we can meet the end with courage.

***

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

Make-Believe Worlds

I’m seceding from the world at large and planning on disappearing into make-believe worlds. There are simply too many horrible or stupid or insulting conversations about the election in the real world, the seemingly most innocuous being one of the worst, for me. People are saying that this was a contest between two men and should not be affecting our relationships with one another. While I might agree with the second part (to the extent that people keep their insults and aggressiveness to themselves), I definitely do not agree with the first part. To say it’s a contest between two men makes it seem like a high school presidential election where the most popular person wins. Many of our national elections have been like that, with nothing at stake, but this election is historic. It was not a choice between two men, but between two entirely different directions for the country to take — between freedom and subjugation, between choice and control, between more government and less government.

People on both sides are appalled that so many people voted for the other side, which means, again, that it was not about two men but about all of us.

So, I’m seceding. Or maybe it’s more that I receding. Either way, I’m finding comfort in make believe worlds.

I’ve got books, my yard (though I had to give up on digging up the grass in my garden because the tops of my feet hurt from all that unfamiliar work), and I’m immersing myself in one of those silly hidden objects game where you search for . . . you guessed it . . . hidden objects. I play my own game (which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about me). The game itself is free, but you are expected to buy “energy” (the coin of the realm) with real money as well as various other artifacts, but my game is to find ways of playing free. For example, if players agree to watch a commercial, they get gifts of energy and other e-delights, and I always agree — it gives me a chance to rest my eyes. They also occasionally have a side game that can be played free, as well as “happy hours.”

The game amuses me. It keeps my attention and provides exercise for my not-as-sharp-as-it-once-was memory, but it’s also an excellent example of an inflationary world. The more you play, the more energy you can accumulate, but the more energy you accumulate, the more each phase of the game costs. But, unlike in the real world, I can find ways around the inflation, such as playing the most “expensive” games during happy hour, and only playing the “cheap” games with my accumulated energy.

For now, I’d rather live in the make-believe worlds in games, in novels, and even inside my own head. At least, I don’t have to listen to lies and comments that irk me.

To set the record straight, none of the comments left here have ever irked me in any way. I appreciate every one of you and your comments. But then, this blog, in its own way, is also a make-believe world.

***

Speaking of make believe worlds, my latest novel Bob, The Right Hand of God is now published! Click here to order the print version of Bob, The Right Hand of God. Or you can buy the Kindle version by clicking here: Kindle version of Bob, The Right Hand of God.

What if God decided to re-create the world and turn it into a galactic theme park for galactic tourists? What then?

After We Said Good-bye

I was looking through some of my old poems to see if I could find inspiration for a peace blog for November 4th, the day thousands people all over the world blog for peace, when I came across a poem I had written shortly after I met Jeff.

you turned around
and waved to me
after we said good-bye
a small gesture
that told me more
than all the words
we had spoken

And suddenly, I remembered that wave as if it were just the other day.

One day in August, forty-four years ago, I stopped by a neighborhood health food store, and there he was. My first reaction wasn’t particularly overwhelming, but my second reaction, which followed less than a minute later, was an internal ping, then a tiny voice inside of me wailed, “But I don’t even like men with blond hair and brown eyes.” Not exactly love at first sight. More like recognition. But recognition of what? I never did know.

I soon became an aficionado not just of natural foods but also of vitamin supplements, because obviously, the more supplements I took, the more excuses I would have to visit him.

I almost stopped going to his store when I encountered a woman talking to him I knew through the fabric store I managed. All of us young women were enthralled with her — she seemed so dramatic, with erect posture, white hair, dark sunglasses, and silence. She almost never talked. Once she realized we shopped at the same health food store, however, she would come into the fabric store and yammer on and on about Jeff and how wonderful he was. I felt foolish, thinking I was just another groupie (he did seem to have an inordinate number of women who shopped at that store) and I decided not to return.

But I had enjoyed talking with him. He was the only person I’d ever met who was interested in the same wide range of subjects I was, and so I ventured back to the store. One day shortly afterward, I stopped by in the morning, and we got to talking as we always did. A little later, when it was time for me to leave, he walked me outside. The two of us were stunned at how dark it was. We’d talked the entire day and far into the night. I started walking away, and then turned back for one last look. He also had turned back. And he waved.

How is it possible that so many years — and tears — have passed since that day? Back then, we were so new, we didn’t even know we would have a relationship. let alone one that would span decades.

But now I know what will happen to those two people. The end to our story has been written. The romance is finished. And I am left alone with only fading memories to tell me that I once loved, that I once was loved.

I don’t know what will happen to me. If I learned anything that far away August, it’s that life can change in an eyeblink. It’s the same lesson that his death taught me — you’re alive, and then, before you can blink, you’re not.

Still, the way things look now, I’ll be living out my life alone. Becoming that pathetic old woman I fear to be — the cat lady sans cats. (Though who’s to say if that cat lady really is pathetic. Maybe she’s living life on her terms the best she knows how.) Even if I — or my life —doesn’t end up being pathetic, I will be an old woman in an ever alien world. The world is already so different from the one Jeff and I lived in that I doubt he’d recognize it. (And if he is at all cognizant of what is going on in this country, I’m sure he’s glad to be done with it since all the things he feared would happen are happening.)

I was lucky for all those years that we were together. That day at this store set the tone for our relationship, and we always talked — about our lives, books, music, history, and oh, too many subjects to list. When the conversations died, I should have realized it was a sign that he, too, would die. (As people near death, they tend to pull away from their loved ones. I don’t know if this is a conscious decision, an unconscious reaction, or simply part of the flow of life and death.)

His voice seemed to have been the soundtrack of my life, and now his voice is silenced forever.

It still doesn’t seem possible that he’s been gone more than ten years. I remember being at his store just the other day. And he waved at me after we said good-bye.

But it wasn’t just the other day. It was decades ago. And that doesn’t seem possible either.

***

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 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