Unsettled

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

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

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

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

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

Because he is gone.

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

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

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

***

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

Buyer’s Remorse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such an adventure!

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Comforting Strangers

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Being There For a Bereaved Friend

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

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

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

***

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

Continuing My Lonely March Into the Future

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

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

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

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

***

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

Preparing for a Life Mate’s Death

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 9

I recently read that Nietzsche said people tended to exaggerate their traumas. I don’t know whether Nietzsche actually said it since I couldn’t find such a quote from him, but I do think the sentiment is true, at least to a certain extent.

It’s this tendency to exaggerate our traumas that leads others to downplay the role that grief plays in our lives. If we tell the truth, they assume exaggeration, and so they shrug off as hyperbole what is very real to us. Since most people have experienced some sort of grief in their lives, they assume they know what grief is. If we try to explain what we are feeling when we lose someone intrinsic to our lives, someone to whom we are profoundly connected, it doesn’t match with what they feel, so they think we are over dramatizing ourselves.

It’s not surprising people can’t imagine what we feel. Most of us who lost our mates couldn’t believe what was happening to us — couldn’t even imagine it though we were living it. Because of this all-consuming feeling, there is no way we could ever have imagined grief exaggerated beyond what we experienced.

The truth is, there is no way to exaggerate profound grief. Profound grief is exaggeration — an immense magnification of emotion. An amplification of loss. An excess of pain. A trauma that affects every part of us and our lives. A process that changes us and our relation to ourselves and all that surrounds us.

This blog post itself seems an exaggeration, especially in the bright sun of this day so many years after Jeff died, and yet, I know the truth.

My message is as it always is — if you are experiencing what seems to be an insane level of grief, it is normal. Horrendously painful, but normal. Know that one day, you will find peace.

If you haven’t experienced such grief, be kind to those who are dealing with a profound loss. If you think someone is exaggerating grief years after the death of a child or soul mate, give them the benefit of their own truth. Don’t dismiss their feelings or downplay their grief as self-dramatization. I’m sure they wish that’s all it was — a bit of melodrama — but be assured they still feel the loss in every cell of their being.

Wishing you all a peaceful — and kinder — day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 8

Marrying again after the loss of a life mate can be a tricky business because a new love does not negate previous loves. Nor does a new love negate grief.

I’ve met people who started dating quickly after the death of their spouse because they couldn’t stand the pain and loneliness of their grief any longer. To their shock, and to the shock of their new mate, grief did not abate. In at least one case, the new spouse felt betrayed by his wife’s continued grief, thinking his love should have made a difference to her grief, and she felt isolated — and unloved — because he didn’t have compassion for her bouts of sorrow.

Whether we remarry, embark on a long-term relationship without remarrying, or never find anyone else to love, the emotional attachment for the first partner remains a part of us. Despite continued grief for one partner, both men and women are able to form new attachments that can be just as strong as the previous one. The key is to understand the nature of grief and love and to let grief continue to happen, which is why the strongest remarriages are often between widows and widowers.

This concept — that remarrying does not negate grief — is important for both grievers and their friends and family to understand. Sometimes friends and family us urge us to “move on” (meaning to find someone else), and as well-meaning as this might be, it ignores the intrinsic nature of grief — that grief is how we move on after the death of our beloved mate. A new love will not change that. Occasionally, friends or family will feel conned if a widow or widower “moves on” too quickly, thinking that perhaps the grief was a sham or that the griever hadn’t really loved their first partner.

Many of us never find anyone else to love. This doesn’t mean we are holding on to our grief, are not “moving on,” or are refusing to accept a new love. We can’t control what happens to us, and love doesn’t always happen again. We do the best we can with what life (and death) deals us and all we can do is hope that our loved ones will support us even if they can’t understand what we are feeling.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 6

People who haven’t experienced the profound grief for a life mate or a child presume grief is simply an emotional and psychological response to the death, so they tell us not to think about our loss, as if that will make the pain go away. (And yet, oddly, at the same time, they try to make us feel as if it’s okay the person died by saying the deceased will always live in memory.)

For some losses, such as an aged relative who lived a long and happy life, pushing aside grief might work. But when it comes to a child or life mate, not thinking about the loss in no way mitigates the grief because the grief is also in our bodies, not just our minds and hearts.

When we are profoundly connected to another person, when their well-being is as important to us as our own. when the two of us share the air we breathe, the electrical emanations from our hearts and brains, the atoms in the atmosphere, the cell information that gets passed back and forth via viruses, we grow so entwined that we become a unit—a survival unit. We humans are essentially pack animals, and our very survival depends on the strength of this pack unit.

After our beloved life mate dies and the unit is dissolved, our lizard brain goes into a panic. Danger! Danger! Something is wrong. Where is the rest of you? What happened? What do I do? Do I freeze you? Make you run? Make you fight? It sends so many chemical and electrical signals throughout our bodies, setting off a cascading series of hormonal reactions, that it leaves us feeling bewildered and traumatized. This is all in addition to our emotional grief.

To make things worse, our half of the survival bond remains strong, a constant reminder of our grief.

Yet people tell us just to forget our loss. To think of something else.

Even if it were that simple, even if we could put the deceased out of our minds, we’d still grieve because our bodies remember. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.

Jeff died early on a Saturday morning, and for a long time, I would hit emotional lows on Saturdays, even if I didn’t recall what day of the week it was. The effects of body memory were most potent as I neared the first anniversary of his death. For example, after a hiatus of a couple of weeks during the eleventh month where I was mostly at peace, I was so overcome with grief that I wanted to scream out in anguish. I couldn’t figure out what hit me or why, but when I tracked down the source of the pain, I realized it was the first anniversary of the last time we kissed. Apparently, my body thought it was an anniversary worth remembering.

For those witnessing our grief, our plight seems simple, but for us living the horror, as you can see, things are not simple at all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What Everyone Should Know About Grief – Part 5

Not long ago a woman wrote to Dear Abby expressing concern about her new friends, a couple who had lost their grown son six months previously. This so-called friend thought it creepy that the couple displayed photos of their son throughout the house.

Attitudes like this make me glad of my efforts to explain grief because the neighbor is so very wrong on so many levels. First, as we discussed in Part 1 of this series, the couple’s grief is not the neighbor’s responsibility. Grief belongs to the griever. Second, as we discussed in Part 3, grief for a life mate takes a long time, and from I have come to understand from fellow grievers, the only thing worse than losing a life mate is losing a child. Six months is barely a blip on the grief spectrum after such a devastating loss. At six months, that couple is still so new to grief that it’s amazing they managed to socialize at all, let alone make new friends.

And third, the subject of this discussion, is that whatever a person does to help get through the shock and horror of losing a life mate or a child is normal. Some behaviors aren’t as healthy as plastering your house with photos, but basically anything one does to get by is normal. When you are standing on the edge of the abyss with the tsunami of grief washing over you, anything you can do to keep from being blown into the abyss is normal.

Many people who have to deal with the onslaught of emotions and the whole chaotic mess of new grief feel as if they’ve gone crazy. They cannot imagine that such sheer breath-stealing agony is normal. And yet, it is.

What isn’t normal is for experts, friends, family, to categorize another’s grief as abnormal. What isn’t normal is for people to make someone else’s grief about them. If the friend thought all those photos depressing, imagine how depressing it must be for the couple who have only photos instead of a living son. Even if the couple removed the photos to satisfy the friend’s sensibilities, it would not change anything. The son would still be gone. And the couple would still be grieving.

So, if you are a griever, know that whatever you feel, others have felt. Whatever you have done to get through the days, others have done.

If you’re a witness to someone’s grief, be compassionate. Don’t judge. Know that your friends are doing the best they can. Whatever they are doing is not creepy. It’s normal.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.