Tired of Being Nice

I’ve been mulling over a rather strange concept recently. The other day, I was helping someone, and I heard myself think, “I’m tired of being nice.” That rather shocked me because I don’t often have stray thoughts hijacking my mind, and besides, being nice is sort of my defining characteristic. I am unfailingly pleasant and agreeable, not overly effusive or extravagantly generous, just . . . nice.

I wouldn’t even know how to be not nice, assuming I could figure out what that would be. Rude? Selfish? Unpleasant? Disagreeable? I couldn’t be those things — I am too empathic, too aware of other people’s feelings to purposely upset anyone even if they don’t deserve my consideration. (Like people who are rude to me.)

Even when I border on being not nice, I am still nice. For example, a few weeks ago I had to visit the house I’m taking care for an absent friend and fire the fellow who was working for him because the friend needed the money for an emergency. The fellow was distraught, pulling his hair, wandering in circles, frantic about what he was going to do because they had no food to eat and he wouldn’t be able to buy the phone card he needed.

I felt bad for him, but I also got tired of listening to his problems, so I gave him money for his phone card and some food. I also gave him ten dollars to do a couple of small jobs for me (paint a doorframe and a part of the railing leading up to the house). It does sound like much pay for the jobs, but they should only have taken him about fifteen minutes. I know because he never showed up and I had to do the work myself, and that’s how long it took: fifteen minutes.

The point of the story is that yes, I was nice, but not for a particularly nice reason. Still, he got his phone card and some groceries, so that was good. Unfortunately, it didn’t solve any of his problems. I saw him a few days ago, and he had another slew of problems to lay on me. This time, I just listened and said I was sorry for his troubles. When he said he intended to pay me back, I told him to forget the money and went about my business. There was nothing else I could do; his problems went way beyond anything my niceness could solve.

After cogitating about this whole “tired of being nice thing,” I still have no clue what I meant, except to pay attention to the first three words. “I am tired.” I’d read once a long time ago that when people said they were tired of such and such, it often simply meant they were tired, and I think that’s true in this case because I fell asleep reading and slept most of this afternoon.

Some part of me might still be tired of being nice, but at least I’m not tired.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Left-Behind Secrets

A common storyline for mysteries and thrillers is the secrets one finds after the death of one’s husband. Sometimes the husband is not really dead, but faked his demise for nefarious reasons. Sometimes the husband had a secret life, such as a second wife and family. Sometimes the husband was murdered, which eventually uncovers a whole slew of secrets, including whatever he did — sometimes innocently, sometimes with malice — to make someone want him dead.

All these left-behind secrets, of course, add to the grief of the widow because not only does she grieve for her husband, cad that he might have been, but she also grieves for the illusory life she’d taken to be real.

I’ve used this storyline myself for my novel Unfinished, though the secret didn’t really have that much of an impact on my character except for the awful realization that her husband had never trusted her enough to tell her about his past.

This is a popular storyline for a reason. Often, in real life, when clearing out a loved one’s effects, secrets do come to light. Sometimes it’s a stash of love letters, relics of an affair the husband had that the widow never knew about. Sometimes it’s a financial mess that was left behind, though in rare circumstances, it’s a trove of much-needed cash that the widow never knew about.

People are always shocked to find out these secrets because they were sure they knew everything there was to know about their spouse. In a way it makes sense that there are secrets — both the husband and wife generally lead separate lives for most of the day, he with his job, she with hers. Even more than that, though, our brains tend to fill in the gaps. For example, we all have blind spots — literally blind spots in our vision — but our brains fill in the missing information so most of us don’t realize we have a blind spot. It’s the same thing with knowledge. We can only know what we know, so our brains create some sort of boundary that excludes what we don’t know when forming a concept, so we assume that what we know is all there is to know, especially when it comes to a person we’ve lived with for many years and think we know well.

Chances are, we do know that loved one as well as anyone can know another person, but I don’t know how accurate that knowing is. For example, I lived with Jeff for more than three decades, most of which we spent in each other’s company. We worked together, lived together, watched movies together, and talked for hours on end. And yet, there’s no way I would ever assume that what I knew of him is all there was to know. Despite our almost mystical connection, he was his own person. I tend to think that in all the talking we did over the years, I learned most of his life, but there’s no way I could ever know if there were things I didn’t know.

At this point in my life, of course, it doesn’t matter. He was who was, and a big part of dealing with grief is understanding that despite all the love and experiences two people share in a lifetime, in the end, they are two separate people. He had to go his way (to death and beyond, assuming there is a beyond), and I had to go my way. If I were to find out now he had some sort of secret life (secret from me, that is), it wouldn’t seem the betrayal it would have been when he was alive or in the first years of my grief because grief did its work, and I let him go. I still miss him and I still talk to his picture, but that is in no way talking to him. I don’t expect him — the “him” that was once my life mate — to listen to my mutterings, nor do I expect a response. It’s just a way of ending my day, enumerating the highs and lows of the long hours spent mostly alone.

As you’ve probably guessed, the book I am currently reading is about a husband who was murdered and whatever he did to get someone angry enough to beat him to death. (I think it was something innocent, perhaps giving evidence of a crime, but I don’t know yet because I am only halfway through the story.)

One thing I do find interesting is that unlike most books of this ilk, the widow is still grieving a year later. Intensely grieving. Most books have the widow cry a few tears then shrug off their grief and go about their life as if nothing had happened, as if the death was merely a springboard for a change. But this author knows that grief is not simply an emotional upset but is a neurological condition that overloads the brain, changes the chemistry, and affects the neurological system in ways still not understood.

I was impressed with the author’s insight on grief if nothing else.

***

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.

Truth and Secrets

I came across an interesting quote today: The truth of a person is in her secrets. I know this is true of fiction, especially mysteries and suspense. You learn about a character from what they are willing to do to protect their secrets, and what you think they are willing to do. For example, a reader could think a particular character might be willing to kill to protect that secret, but the character would not take a life under any circumstances.

But is this true in real life? Oh, not the killing part, but the bit about the truth of a person being in her secrets. If so, I have no truth because I have no secrets. I have habits I would prefer people didn’t know about, such as an unconscious tendency to bite off hangnails, and while that might tell you more about me than I would like you to know, it’s not exactly a secret except perhaps from me. If I knew I were doing it, I wouldn’t.

I paused here to look up the definition of secret to see if there is a secret to “secret” I didn’t know that would further explain the quote, but no . . . it’s as I thought. A secret is something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others.

Although I might prefer the people I see regularly to know less about me than I disclose here (though surprisingly, it isn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be, and in fact, it’s rather nice not having to talk about the minutiae of my life since they already know it from reading my blog), nothing I write about is a secret. When I was writing about my grief, people offline did not see the same sort of grief in me that I wrote about online, but that’s just the way things were. Even if I was hurting, I generally didn’t show it when I was around people. Like every other griever, I soon learned to hide was I was feeling to protect others from having to deal with my pain as well as to protect myself from their well-meaning (and sometimes not well-meaning) platitudes, such as “You have to move on,” and “You need to get over it.”

But as for secrets? Nope. None.

Some people have accused me of being secretive, confusing secretive with reticent, but the truth is that not everyone deserves to know everything about anyone. There needs to be boundaries, and people who try to look beyond the boundaries aren’t necessarily looking for the truth but are simply being nosy.

I do generally answer direct questions, mostly because I am not as devious as I should be and so don’t lie, nor have I ever learned to graciously deflect questions, but I tend to resent probing questions, and it shows. I don’t ask such questions, either, which becomes a problem when I am talking with someone who thinks that probing questions is how one converses. These people generally don’t want to wait until I volunteer information, which I will when it come up naturally in a conversation without the resentment I feel in an “interrogation.” And they feel belittled because they think I don’t care enough about them to ask them questions.

(Jeff and I were both of the “ask no personal questions” school, and yet over the years, we learned almost everything there was to know about each other, the information coming out in myriad conversations.}

This essay has devolved into a discussion of various means of conversing rather than the topic of the truth being in the secrets, but I suppose the two are opposites sides of the same coin. If you don’t divulge personal information, the other person sees secrets rather than reticence.

But it still doesn’t answer the question about the validity of the quote: the truth of a person in is her secrets. I don’t think it can be true except in the case of someone who is nosy enough to want to invade a person’s privacy. The truth of us might be in our most secret self, but that self is for us to know, not for general consumption.

***

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.

A Toast to Mother

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of my mother’s death. I have thought about her more since I moved here to my new home than in all the years since she died. Sometimes the memories come from nowhere, just the odd thought that I haven’t talked to her for a while and should call to see how she is doing.

Sometimes the memory comes from something of hers I have and use. She used to have a cupboard full of unmatched stemware. I kept those goblets when I cleaned out the house after my father died, and so now I, too, have a cupboard of unmatched stemware.

Sometimes an old memory arises, and I’d like to ask her what that was about. For example, decades ago she told me that when I was a baby, I had casts on my legs. I was under the impression that the casts were to correct leg or hip alignment, though why casts, I don’t know, since my siblings all had braces (a curved metal piece connected to shoes). I read that the current research shows that babies’ legs adjust on their own, so I don’t even know if they use such devices anymore. But I never heard of using casts for that problem, and now I will never know what they were for. It never really mattered, but now my feet seem to be turning in more than they used to, and I wonder if age and use is undoing what the casts did. I’ll never know that now, either.

When I got my first apartment, I asked her for the recipes that I especially liked — things like pierogis, tuna roll with cheese sauce, and hamburger rolls (known to others as Runzas or bierocks). I found it interesting that I was the only one of my siblings who had those recipes, so several years ago, I made each of my siblings a recipe book, which included those recipes as well as a Friday staple of our youth: creamed tuna and peas on toast. (Sounds disgusting but was actually quite tasty.)

I didn’t copy all of her cookie recipes. Neither cherry winks nor date nut pinwheels were favorites of mine when I was young, but a couple of years ago when I suddenly got a taste for those cookies, I thought of calling her and asking for the recipes. Luckily, my sister kept them, thinking that mother’s treat recipes shouldn’t be thrown away so now I’ve collected some of the recipes I didn’t back then. Also, I imagine that at the time I got that first bunch of recipes, I wasn’t considering the distant future when she’d be gone.

Well now, she is.

She wasn’t much of a drinker, though she did love Bailey’s Irish Cream, so in honor of her this day, I offer a toast — Baileys in a Baileys glass that once belonged to her!

Here’s to you, Mom. I hope your new life is what you’ve prayed it would be.

***

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

Books and Blogs

I seem to be doing my blogging later and later as time goes on. Unfortunately, inspiration is hard to come by when one spends most of one’s time alone. And then there is the matter of laziness, perhaps, or simply a tendency toward procrastination. Either way, here I am with my lights on since it’s dark outside, trying to think of something interesting to say. One of these days, I will give in to the temptation to let a day or two slide, but for now, I’ve committed to daily blogging for the rest of the year.

Just about the only thing I’ve been thinking about (other than that it will be another six months before I can get back into gardening) is the awful book I just finished reading. I could have put it aside at any time, of course, but then the uneasiness fostered by the story would have lingered much longer than it would by finishing it. Normally I don’t read contemporary women’s lit, but I needed a break from my usual diet of murder and suspense, which is a mistake I won’t be making again soon.

There seem to be two types of books that are targeted specifically for women — happily-ever-after stories (romances that tell the beginning of a relationship), and unhappily-ever-after stories, (novels that tell what happens to the loving couple after many years of being together).

This particular book was of the second variety. The main theme was about communication; none of the characters every told their partner what they were thinking. They expected the other person to know what was going on in their minds without their having to say a single word, and each character interpreted their partner’s actions in light of their own insecurities rather than the partner’s.

Even worse, the novel told three very loosely connected stories. The only connecting element was a house that none of them end up with; otherwise, the three stories had nothing to do with one another. Worst of all, there was nothing in any of the stories to offset the growing sense of dread and dreariness as the couples all drifted further apart. Just misunderstanding built on misunderstanding built on misunderstanding.

Simple discussions at the beginning of the book would have swept away all those misunderstandings. But then, there would have been no book for me to suffer through. Nor would I have had anything to write about today.

One of the stories was about a couple who were divorced from their original partners, and who ended up getting married. Since each had children from the prior marriage, and each child brought their own insecurities to the new home, dread was piled on dread. Some of that dread, I am sure, has to do with my own situation. I am at the age where, if I ever ended up in another relationship, it would be complicated by his children and grandchildren and perhaps even a great-grandbaby or two. (Unless, of course, he’s the type to eschew all family, in which case he wouldn’t be worth having.) The mere thought of having to sort out and find a way to combine the baggage of two lifetimes wearies me.

Luckily, I have no interest in another relationship. I have a house (and this blog), and that’s about as much responsibility as I want in my life.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

“The Loved One Becomes Your Inner Energy”

An email correspondent sent me this French quote: “L’être aimé devient votre énergie intérieure” meaning “The loved one becomes your inner energy.” I don’t know if the quote originally was about a deceased loved one or any loved one, but it does seem to fit those of us whose mates have died. At least, it seems to fit me.

Jeff was the first person to accept me as I was, who actually seemed to enjoy my stray and strange thoughts, and who often could do me one better. Until I met him, the best I could hope for from my friends was a bewildered look as they listened to whatever I had to say before they changed the subject to something more mundane. I was stunned on the day I met Jeff when he threw the conversational ball back at me. That truly had never happened before. It was intoxicating, having a back and forth and up and down and all around conversation dealing with things I was thinking about.

Being with Jeff allowed me to be myself in a way I had never been before. The world does not treat its unwitting and naïve noncomformists well, and I was both. I had no idea why people thought I was different, and obviously, I had no idea how to be like them, because whenever I tried, I became even more different.

With Jeff, I wasn’t different. I just . . . was.

Now that the pain of his being gone has dissipated, and now that I am used to living on my own without my special friend — the one with whom I could do everything, the one with whom I could do nothing (finding people to do something with is fairly easy, but finding someone to do nothing with is special indeed) I notice that whatever energy we generated between us that allowed me the freedom of self is still with me.

I don’t in anyway think that he himself is actually with me — I have no idea if he still exists anywhere in any form — but I do feel that energy. It could be why I talk to him (or rather to his picture on my bedside table). Even though I still feel the void where he once was, I also feel that somehow he is still part of my life. This energy could simply be generated by memories of him, though despite the fact that I draw comfort from thinking of him in general, specific memories tend to make me sad because so many of those memories are tinted by his ill health. (For example, if I have a sweet memory of us sitting on the living room floor playing a board game, then it is followed by the memory that the time came too soon when he could no longer concentrate to play.)

When I was new to grief, a woman told me something her widowed mother said, that the loved one’s absence comes to mean what their presence once did. This is sort of the same thing as the French saying. In both cases, I draw strength from having known him, from being with him, from steeping in the courage with which he met his end.

Part of the eventual acceptance of my new life and my new/old self came from a belief — possibly a nonsensical belief — that he wouldn’t have left me if I wasn’t going to be okay. It’s what kept me going for years when I was so bewildered by all that grief threw at me. And it’s given me the inner energy to fuel all the changes in me and my life that have happened since he died.

It truly is odd to think that though he has been gone almost twelve years, he is still so important to me and influential to my life. But then, it’s no odder than any other weirdness encompassed in the experience we call grief.

***

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.

Taking a Break

I don’t know when I last took a break from working out in the yard — from what I remember, I’ve been out there every day for months — so today was a rare treat.

I had considered pre-digging some holes for the bulbs that are due to arrive today and tomorrow, and I should have watered the grass (it’s still so new that it needs to be watered at least once a day, though I only managed a double watering once) but when a friend asked if I’d like to go to the “big” town (7,000 people!) for a shopping trip, I dropped everything and went with her.

I doubt it will hurt the grass any to be neglected one day. I gave it a good soaking yesterday, and will do so again tomorrow. Nor will I miss out on the sunshine. Tomorrow will be warm — perhaps the last warm day until next year — so I will be out for longer than is probably practical trying to plant as many of those bulbs as possible.

Besides, it was good to be able to fill up my refrigerator, which had been almost empty. And I had the opportunity to shop for Thanksgiving dinner since I doubt I’ll be going back there until December sometime.

I got a turkey breast, and to be honest, I’m not expecting it to be very good since the additives are about 20% of the weight. It might make for easy cooking, especially since it’s a freezer-to-oven product, but I also bet it will have a plastic feel as such highly processed meats often do. But in this case, it truly is the thought that counts. Neither my friend nor I want to be included in other people’s family plans, so we’re going to celebrate on our own. We really don’t have to fix a traditional meal, I mean, it’s not a requirement, but at least this way we won’t waste time trying to figure out an alternative menu. And anyway, who knows — the turkey might be excellent after all. One thing I know, we won’t have to worry about the grief upsurges that are so often brought about by being with couples. After all this time, it’s still hard for me, and she’s coming up on her third anniversary, which would make it doubly hard for her.

This day does show that there is life after gardening when it gets too cold to be out working, though today was a bit of a cheat because of the companionship and the shopping expedition. But as with all other changes I’ve dealt with, I’ll survive the coming winter.

And anyway, there’s always next spring to look forward to.

***

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.

Confusing Thoughts For A Confusing Day

During the last year of Jeff’s life, we sometimes talked about what I was going to do after he was gone. We knew I couldn’t stay in that house for very long — there was nowhere around there for me to work, and I couldn’t pay the expenses on my own — so we knew a move was necessary. (We couldn’t have known how short a time I’d have afterward to figure things out, but it turns out I was evicted almost immediately. I have no idea why except that the landlady seemed to think I had designs on her husband. For some reason, widows get a bad rap; she’s not the only one to think we are a rapacious lot, looking to replace what we lost with someone else’s husband.)

Jeff wanted me to go stay with my father because he said I’d have a place to stay where I’d be safe, but I absolutely refused to even consider the matter. My parents and perhaps even my brothers had always taken for granted that I would be the “designated daughter,” the one who would take care of her parents when they couldn’t take care of themselves, and having had to cater to my father at various times in my life, I truly dreaded the possibility of doing it for the rest of his life. As long as Jeff was alive, I was safe from what I thought would be a hell, but when his life drew to an end, the dread returned. (Strangely, I never considered that I would grieve. I figured I’d be sad for a while, but would continue on without a blip. What a shock it was to find out what grief really was!)

Even after Jeff pointed out that taking care of my father wouldn’t be forever, I still refused to consider the matter. It wasn’t until the end, when Jeff was comatose, that I changed my mind and told him I would go stay with my father. A few hours later, Jeff died. Apparently, even unconscious, he was worried about what would happen to me and couldn’t leave until he knew I’d be okay.

My father was 93 at the time, and though he was doing well, he really did need someone to stay with him. He was terrified of the night terrors he sometimes got as well the sundowners hallucinations he’d experienced during a hospital stay. The two of us worked things out. Although he would have liked me to wait on him, I wanted him to be as self-sufficient as possible, so I talked him into continuing the routine he’d adopted after my mother died. And he did keep it up until he couldn’t any longer.

Those years seemed interminable at the time, made worse by the arrival of my dysfunctional older brother, but as Jeff had said, the stay with my father wasn’t forever. He died four and a half years after my arrival.

Today is the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, and it perplexes me to think he’s been gone more years than I stayed with him. How did all those years slip by? The hardship of my time with him (though admittedly, it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be) now seems like a hiccup in my years of grief over Jeff.

It’s odd to think that those men — Jeff, my father, my older brother — who were so significant to my life are now gone. Odd, too, to think of how each of those deaths has contributed to my current well-being.

Confusing thoughts for a confusing day.

***

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 Long and Short of Grief

A therapist friend wanted to know the difference in grieving between someone who lost their life mate/soul mate at the beginning of their relationship and someone who had many years with their mate.

I hesitate to compare grief because we all grieve in many ways for many things, but after a grievous loss, such as that of a spouse, there is a general pattern to grief that one’s mind and body seem to follow. If there weren’t similarities, then no one’s story would have any relevance to any one else, and I do know that what I have written about my experiences with grief resonates with many people. So my answer doesn’t have to do with the depth of grief. There is no way to measure that. I’m mostly discussing the two cases on the base of the patterns of grief.

A long life with a loved one and a short life that was cut off before the relationship could deepen aren’t the same — can’t be the same — and yet, in some respects they are similar. We grieve the loss of an entire lifespan of a person and a relationship. I grieved for both the time I had with Jeff and the time I didn’t have. The fiancé of an acquaintance died right before their wedding. She didn’t have the same amount of time with her fiancé that I did with Jeff, but she will still grieve for the time she had and the time she didn’t have. I had more loss looking back, perhaps, but she has more loss looking forward. For both of us, too many plans and hopes didn’t come to fruition, but especially in the case of the woman who went to a funeral instead of to her wedding.

Losing a loved one to death is always hard. It’s possible in the long run, the fiancé will have it a bit easier in that she won’t have as many habits that are abruptly cut off. When you spend a lifetime with someone, you develop habits to enable to you to cohabit, and then when the habits come to an end because of the loss, your brain goes into overdrive. We do so much by habit, and then suddenly, after the death of a spouse, you have to think how to do everything. (It’s like trying to remember how to walk instead of simply walking.)

Also, when you spend a lifetime with someone, you have the whole problem of your lizard brain going haywire because the other half of your survival unit is gone and when it doesn’t return, your lizard brain suddenly realizes that it too will someday die, and what a horror show of chemical and hormonal imbalances that part of your brain can foment! She won’t have that, but she might have other issues I don’t know about, such as a feeling of unfairness. We all feel the unfairness, of course. My parents had 60 years together. Jeff and I had half that. And oh, did that seem so unfair to me! I imagine the sense of unfairness the fiancé felt was off the charts, because it was incredibly unfair. She didn’t have even one year with her mate, and I got 34. For those of us who have spent many years with our loved one, eventually we are left with a feeling of gratitude for the years we did have to balance the unfairness, and I’m not sure there is much to balance the unfairness of what the fiancé experienced. She’s happy now, married to a widower, and has children, but still, there is always that grief for a love cut short, regret for a life that might been.

There is the terrible shock of death we all feel. There is also a sense of waiting. In my case, I kept waiting for Jeff to call and tell me I could come home, and the fiancé had that, too. Waiting. Always waiting to hear from someone who is so utterly gone from this earth.

And confusion, of course. As confused as I was after Jeff died over where he was and how he was doing, it must have been even greater for the fiancé. Even thinking about it, I feel confused. How is it possible that such things happen? So unfair.

A major factor in the loss of a mate, long-standing or not, is the nearness of death. When you are deeply connected to someone who has died, you feel as if you are standing on the edge of the abyss, as if any loss of balance will pull you into eternity.

That feeling of being able to reach out and touch the love one depends on your level of connection. Some people who have been together many years never had (or have lost) such a deep connection, while some new couples feel it immediately. Still, the presence of death is never easy to handle.

I’m not sure I helped my therapist friend with this analysis, but it was the best I could come up with. All I know for sure is that the death of a person intrinsic to our live dims the light of the world and it takes many years before we adapt to that dimming.

***

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.

A Place That’s Uniquely My Own

It’s hard for people to understand one another because each of us come with particular problems, needs, and perhaps even assets that help define who we are. If we don’t take all that background information into consideration, we can never truly understand another person’s point of view. That’s a good thing for me to remember as a writer because it might make for a deeper character portrayal or put the story in a different light, but in real life, it’s not so interesting.

I talked to someone yesterday who harangued me for quite a while about my keeping the same contractor. The word “sucker” was even bandied about. To be honest, most people don’t approve of this particular choice, but they tend to keep their opinions to themselves. And admittedly, they do have a point since the contractor is way behind on the work he’s promised to do, but that’s not the issue here.

The person I talked to is young (well, younger), married, strong, has an extended family in the vicinity, has lived in the same area his whole life so he has a solid place in the community and knows where to go and who to call to get things done that he can’t do himself. He probably also has people who owe him favors from years back.

Then there’s me. Old. Alone. No family in the area. No ties to the community except those I’ve managed to secure in the past couple of years. No idea how to take care of a house or where to find honorable people who will get things done.

Not surprisingly, the only person who agrees with me about sticking with the same contractor is also an older widow with a house to take care of and no family nearby. She knows, because she’s been there, how almost impossible it is to find someone who will do all that is necessary, and who will respond to calls and concerns, and who will show up in an emergency. All of that is as important as the work getting done.

I do get frustrated at times, but the truth is, in some odd way, it doesn’t really matter. The work will get done. Or it won’t. Someone told me that the Chinese have a proverb that when your house is done, you will die. At the rate I’m going, I will live forever. (And, since I’m paraphrasing proverbs, the Irish have one they’ve used since the 1300s about better the devil you know.)

The other thing that’s hard to admit to anyone but myself is that I’m not sure I want the work to be finished. Certainly, I want the jobs that are started to be completed because I get tired of tripping over things that are in the way, but there is an excitement to having people come and work on my place and even offer suggestions. (Some of the unfinished projects are ideas they’ve come up with that I would never have thought of and that will vastly improve the accessibility of the property as I age.) It’s almost . . . familial . . . having someone else care about and get invested in creating a safe and attractive place for me to live out my final years.

And when the work is all done, that part of my life will be finished.

Perhaps these are simply excuses for keeping the status quo, but they’re my excuses, coming from a place and a point of view and a set of requirements that’s uniquely my own.

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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