The Best of Social Networking

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

And yet . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Being Herded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just another very confusing aspect of this Bob situation.

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

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

***

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

Viruses and the Human Organism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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.

Repercussions

There is much talk about the financial fallout from the stay-at-home orders and the quarantine, but there are other possible repercussions no one is mentioning. For example, with families being forced into a closed environment, any issues or potential problems could be exacerbated. Problems like abuse. Problems like incest.

Shortly after my first two novels were published, I had a text conversation with my sister, who had just finished reading the books. I asked her if it was strange reading a $&X scene written by her sister. (Just so you know, I am not averse to using the word, I’m just trying to hide it from google.) I posted the conversation here on my blog because I was so tickled with her observations.

A couple of months later, on the list of search engine terms people use to find my blog, I noticed a lot of incestual queries. There was no mistaking the meaning of the terms. They were explicit: how to F*** my sister, tips to have $&X with my sister.

Not one to sneer at a gift from the writing gods, even such a sleezy gift as this, I wrote a blog: $&X With Sister Tips — Writing Tips, That Is. (The more views a site gets, the higher it’s ranked by search engines, and so the more views it gets.) It is by far the most viewed blog I have ever written, but in the past couple of weeks, with so many people staying at home, the views have more than quintupled. People don’t want to know how to write about it. They want to do it. The terms people used today include: how to f*** your sister; how to make $&X sister tips; how to do $&X with my sister; how can i have $&X with my sister.

Even worse, people are leaving comments such as: “I really love my sister she is so cute and gorgeous but how do i ask her to have $&X with me? I want it really bad with her like right now.”

All those poor girls. Do they know what creeps their siblings are?

I wonder how many people are huddling fearfully in their rooms now that they can’t go to school or work or the mall to get away from abuse or potential abuse. And why aren’t we hearing any of these stories? You can’t tell me the stories aren’t out there. You can’t tell me people aren’t suffering. But then, such stories are almost always kept quiet to keep from destroying the family.

I considered deleting the articles I mentioned above, and yet, there are writers who use incest as a theme. Besides, it’s not going to stop people from wanting what they can’t have, and it’s not going to stop them from trying even if they weren’t forced to stay at home. But it does give the saying, “There’s no place like home,” a different meaning.

***

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.

I am a Ten-Year Grief Survivor

Today is the tenth anniversary of the day Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, died and to be honest, I don’t really know what to think of it. It seems such a very long time and yet no time at all. Has it really been ten years? It must be. I no longer feel that if I could just reach far enough I could touch him. I no longer expect him to call and tell me I can come home. I am home. For so long, my home was wherever he was, and now my home is where I am.

My life is so different now from what it was with him that it seems as if the loss happened to someone else. I miss him, of course, think about him almost every day, still feel a hole in my heart/life/soul where he once was, but there has been no real upsurge of grief this year. It could be that too many years have passed, but I think it has more to do with my current situation.

Physical pain somehow has a way of overriding any emotional pain, which is why so often, when new grievers get sick or injured, they get a respite from the effects of grief. I know I did. I’ve always hated being sick, hated colds especially since they linger so long in my system, and yet, those first few years after Jeff died, I welcomed those illnesses because it gave me a break from the worst of my grief.

When I was doing the research for my book, Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One, I discovered that the answer to this anomaly has to do with brain fog and the role the brain plays in grief.

Those of us who have lost our mates know that grief is not merely emotional, but also spiritual, physical, and especially mental. The whole brain is involved in the grief process, but the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that seems to contribute the most to brain fog, the grief-induced amnesia, dazedness, and fogginess that shroud us after the death of a life mate — the prefrontal cortex is considered the executive branch of the brain and is associated with rational thinking and making sense of emotions, developing and pursuing goals as well as coordinating the brain’s activities. Because we grievers are on total emotional overload, our prefrontal cortex is unable to process all the information it is being fed from all parts of the brain. The more we try to suppress our emotions and try to think our way out of grief, the more overloaded the brain becomes.

When one is assaulted with some sort of physical trauma, such as an illness, the brain seems to heave a huge sigh of relief, as if to say, “This I understand!” No more scurrying around in the far recesses of our minds, looking for the truth of death . . . and life. No more lizard brain screaming for the loss of its survival unit. (We humans are essentially pack animals, and our very survival depends on the strength of this unit, one of the many reasons we are so deeply connected to our life mates.) No more conflicts between fight or flight hormones.

All the brain does is hunker down and send all its resources to getting the body well. And once that’s finished, grief again takes hold.

So what is my situation? A couple of weeks ago, I must have tweaked my knee while asleep because I woke up with a pain that wasn’t too severe, but kept me from doing things I normally would. I could still walk, and so I did. But the knee never got better. And yesterday, when I took a wrong step, my poor knee gave a loud crack (the kind of crack like knuckles cracking not like a bone cracking) and I felt a horrible pain. So not fun! (I now know that trekking poles make good canes.)

So today most of my energy is going toward taking care of my knee. And no, I’m not going to urgent care. (The last I heard, the closest urgent care was closed because of a case of The Bob.) And no, I’m not going to the emergency room. Considering I am in the high-risk group, I’d have to have a bone poking out of my skin before I’d take a chance on being around sick folks. And no, I don’t have a doctor. Even though I’ve been here a year, there was no reason to find one.

So here I am, taking care of my knee, doing the best I can to take care of myself even though I can barely walk. And the tenth anniversary is passing.

I miss not feeling the connection with Jeff — even though it’s only a connection of sorrow and loss — that I generally feel on the anniversaries. It’s the one time I can still feel him in my life, and I miss that. I miss him. I miss us. I miss who I was when I was with him.

The person I am today is a direct result of both my life with him and my grief after him. Is this a good thing? Am I a better person? I don’t know. I do know that, despite the constant barrage of news, all that’s going on in the world seems like . . . life as usual. When you’ve experienced one of the worst things a person can experience, all else seems rather tame.

Despite this almost blasé attitude, you can see that I still do not put myself in harm’s way if at all possible. I owe it to Jeff to live the best life I can, to savor the freedom his death gave to me. It was an inadvertent gift — his dying — but it has given me ten years of learning and experiencing and new beginnings rather than ten years of being worn down taking care of him.

Would I wish it were otherwise? I don’t know because I don’t know that woman any more. All I know is today.

And today, I am forcibly alone, missing Jeff, wondering about that road we could not take together. Would he be proud of the roads I did take? Would he be proud of me? Silly questions, I suppose. Considering the itinerary life handed me, I can’t be other than who I am today.

And today, I am a ten-year grief survivor.

And today, like every day, I miss him.

***

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.

 

Six Months

Six months ago I embarked on a challenge to blog every day for 100 days, and I am still going, but the world sure is different today than it was back then. The weather, of course, is not the same; then it was winter, now it is spring. Back then, people seemed almost innocent in their ability to block out anything that did not touch them personally, and now everyone is hunkered down over something that may or may not have a devastating effect on the total population.

But it doesn’t feel as if anything is different. With a few small exceptions, the local grocery store is fully stocked.

The library is still lending books, though patrons have to call or email their selections ahead of time, and a librarian will meet them at the locked door to hand over the books. (I can’t help it, but this is such a clandestine, spy-ish sort of thing, that it tickles me. And oh — what a dream job! A library full of books and no annoying customers.)

And people are still struggling with devastating diseases.

I spent the morning with a dear friend who is suffering through chemo. I’m sure she’s only one of many people coping with serious illnesses while the whole world is focused on something about which there is no clear consensus and the draconian measures that may or may not be needed.

I don’t know the truth of the matter. I only know my small corner of the world (though I did face time with a woman in Bangkok today who told me about the steps Thailand is taking to keep people inside, such as closing the malls and dine-in restaurants.) And in my corner of the world, my friend is battling cancer.

It’s amazing to me how many people develop or die of various illnesses every year, including hundreds of thousand dying of the seasonal flu, and yet no one cares. But now, with this particular virus, suddenly the whole world cares.

Except me. I’m more concerned about my friend than those I only know through the various media.

During the next six months, things will change again. The virus will have passed on, will have killed us all, or will become just another disease no one cares about it until it hits home.

And, in six months, my friend will be through with her chemo, and will finding her way back to health.

And I will still be blogging, maybe not every day, but one way or another, I’ll still keep plugging away.

***

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

The Pat

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, we met again as old friends.

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

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

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

***

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

Reflections of the Past

After Jeff died, I was sorry that I didn’t have a current photo of him. The one I do have had been taken ten years before, and it didn’t even look like him. Or at least not the “him” he was at the end. (It was a perfect image back when the photo was taken.) I refused to look at the photo, afraid I’d only remember him as the man in the photo, not the real person, but as the years went by, I realized that neither image — the one I had nor the one I didn’t have — told a greater truth. He was both. And neither.

Although we always feel like us, that “us” changes over the years. We adapt to how we feel, and it’s only later we get a glimpse of the changes we have gone through, whether physical or mental, spiritual or emotional. The person we are at the end isn’t more real than the person we were at the beginning. Each is a facet of the whole shimmering being we are.

Some people theorize that since time is mainly a construct of our minds, each of those people we were all exist at the same time, and it’s our brains that divide time into past and present.

Others theorize that time is a matter of distance. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so today we are a very long way from where we were 9 years 11 months and 18 days ago when Jeff died.

But whatever the truth of time, for the purposes of our life on earth, the past, whether near or far, is always the same distance from us. We can no more touch yesterday than we can touch a hundred years ago or a thousand. It’s all just out of reach. Gone. Past.

So does it matter that Jeff’s been gone one year or ten? It matters to me of course, since it’s been ten years since I’ve seen him, but he was just as gone the moment he died as he is today. So any photo of him, no matter what age he was, is an adequate image.

Although he and I weren’t picture takers, never liked having pictures of us (or anyone) hanging around, I am grateful for that photo on my bedside table. He might be gone, far out of reach, but I take comfort in having this reflection of the past.

***

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

Facing the Unfaceable

We who have lost our spouses, life mates, soul mates often have to show empathy and understanding to others rather than receiving it from them. We are the ones hurting, so why do we need to be understanding of their feelings? Because it is far easier for us to remember what it felt like to be in their situation, than it is for them to imagine what it must be like in ours.

Shortly after Jeff died, I had to let a man know of the death, though I don’t remember how I conveyed the information. It took months before I could actually say the words, “Jeff is dead.” But I do remember his response. “I know what you’re going through,” he said. “My dog just passed away.”

I stared at him, unable to process those words. To this day, his remark appalls me, though I have come to understand he was reaching out the only way he knew how.

Death is shrouded with an element of blank. It is the great unknown and unknowable, and our brains are not equipped to handle the immensity. While we are in the grip of our grief, the survival mechanisms of those around us are triggered. To avoid facing the unfaceable, people close to us will indulge in self-protective behaviors that shut us out.

Sometimes long-time friends, especially couples, draw away from us. The death of our spouse and the demise of our couplehood change the dynamics of our friendships. People fear we will now be uncomfortable in the company of couples. At the same time, they are uncomfortable with us because all unwittingly, we are a reminder of how fragile life really is.

This drawing away is often an unconscious reflex — they know we are hurting, know they feel helpless in the presence of our pain, but they don’t really know they are acting any different and certainly they don’t know why.

The jargon of grief is that of illness, of negativity, of . . . fault, as if somehow we who are grieving chose our state and now we have to overcome, heal, recover, move on, get over, return to normal. By blaming us for grieving too long, by refusing to admit that our grief is normal, onlookers to our grief can more comfortably return to their job of surviving, and leave us alone with our sorrow.

Even those who are kind to us bereft, even those who continue to be supportive, lose the urgency they had at the beginning. They cannot sustain that same level of support because grief takes way too long, and they need to focus on their own lives.

Despite these protective behaviors and the almost bumbling way people treat the bereaved, and despite my occasional acrid comment about the insensitive things people say to grievers, people do care, and they do want to say the right thing. In the last couple of days, more than 3,300 people landed on my blog post What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? after Googling such things as “how to say Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” “how to wish someone a Merry Christmas after a loss,” “Christmas greeting for grieving person,” “how to wish Merry Christmas to someone who is grieving.” In fact, since I posted that particular blog in 2011, more than 80,000 people have viewed the article.

Many thousands more have viewed What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving.

The true villain here is death. While the very idea of death drives non-grievers away, it draws us grievers in, forces us to face the unfaceable, makes us an accomplice. And yes, even allows us to show empathy to those who don’t understand but who try to show sympathy the only way they can.

***

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

Dreaming of Our Dead

A friend told me the other day that she reads my blog, and she agrees with all I say about grief, but that I never mention one thing: dreaming of our dead.

The truth is, I hate dreaming. I don’t like the feeling of weird and inexplicable things happening, I don’t like the feeling of being out of control, and mostly I don’t like being controlled by any nightmarishness. Researchers say that to aid in dream recall, one should take Vitamin B6 before bed. When I read that, I immediately stopped taking any B vitamins before bed, and that certainly aided in my ability not to recall dreams.

That being said, I have the impression I do dream of Jeff, though mostly as a reflection of my everyday thoughts. He is seldom far out of mind, so it makes sense that he would appear in my dreams as a nebulous character.

There were times, though, that I had specific dreams about him, and those were terribly upsetting. One dream, for example, seemed to be about the end of his life when he was so often disoriented. He was trying to cook something, and he continued pouring whatever it was into the pan after the pan was filled, getting the food all over the stove, him, the floor, even me. I tried to catch his attention so he’d stop, and when I couldn’t, I slapped him to bring him back to reality.

I woke feeling ashamed. I’d never raised a hand to him, never even raised my voice, and yet, in the dream, I did both, and I couldn’t bear it.

Dreams about the dead seem inordinately real. Sometimes they feel like a visitation. Once I dreamt that he came into my room, stood at the foot of the bed and touched my blanket-covered feet, then climbed onto the bed, on top of the covers, and cuddled up to me. He was in his underwear, and in the dream, I knew he’d come from where he’d been sleeping, though I had the impression he’d been with someone, as if he had another life. He said, “I miss you.”

When I woke, I felt as if he’d come to see me one last time, though I have no idea what is true when it comes to life, death, and especially dreams.

Even when we know it’s a dream, what happens in the dream affects our waking life. Once I dreamt we were going somewhere on foot, and I realized that it would be cold before we got back, so I went inside to get a coat. In my closet were two of his coats — a jacket and a trench coat, which I have in fact kept. As I was pulling the jacket off the hangar, I remembered that I had gotten rid of most of his things after he died, and I panicked, wondering how to tell him that his stuff was gone. I left the room, and met one of the moderators of the grief group I had attended. He asked how I was, so I explained the situation, then I added, “It’s a good thing this is a dream, otherwise he would be really angry.”

When I woke, I was still glad I didn’t have to tell him his things were gone even though I had done what he wanted me to do with his stuff. The reason I still have his coats is that he wanted me to keep them since coats are always a good thing to have.

The most powerful dream came at about six months. After a restless night, I finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, and I dreamt.

I dreamed that Jeff was dead, but I woke to find him alive and getting well. It was wonderful seeing him doing so much better. I could feel the tension of grief seep from my body, and a quiet joy seeped over me.

I started to wake. In the seconds before full consciousness hit, I continued to feel the joy of knowing he still lived. And then . . .

Wham!

The truth hit me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, like an aftershock, came the raw pain, the heartbreak of losing him . . . again.

I’d been feeling a bit smug that I was getting a grip on my grief so early in the process, and the dream caught me unaware. In the depths of my being, I believed that he hadn’t died.

It took me weeks to regain the equilibrium that the dream cost me.

When it comes to grief, it seems as the dreams are a facet of our reality. What we feel in the dream continues into our waking state. There is no separation. Even if in a dream we act a way we would never act, we still have to deal with the effects of those acts once we wake. If the deceased in the dream acts in a way they would never act, we are left to deal with that, too.

Although I would love to visit with Jeff once more, if only in a dream, I’m just as glad it never happens. Except for an occasional brief episode of grief, I am in an okay place, both physically and mentally, and any sort of visitation would upset that equilibrium.

Maybe that’s why he never visits me in my dreams. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s why I never dream of him.

***

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.