Interview: Talking about Grief and Being an Author

What inspired you to write Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One?

When Jeff, my life mate/soul mate died, I was completely unprepared for the depth and breadth of my grief. I had never felt such pain, pain that escalated by the minute. I never even knew such pain existed. How could I? I’d grieved the deaths of my mother and my younger brother, but what I felt after Jeff died in no way resembled those earlier bouts of grief.

I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs. There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft, who already feel isolated, totally alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the façade of our relentlessly glass-half-full society.

People who are grieving often find comfort in the truth about grief and how long it takes because it matches what they feel and it makes them feel not so alone. And so, after years of dealing with my own grief and that of my widowed blog readers, I wrote the book “Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One” to help explain the grief process both to grievers and those who want to understand what their grieving friends are going through.

The earliest incidents you recall from your life where you first felt you had a writer in you?

I loved books from the moment I learned to read, and I often wrote stories and poems, so I always thought I would be a writer. When I quit a job in my early twenties to start my first book. . . [Click here: to read the entire interview]

Searching for Color

I had a bit of a shock today. In my continued studies into the meaning of the tarot, I decided to dig out the research on color I did for Light Bringer. Color was an important part of the story, adding what I hoped would be a different layer of meaning and “feel” to the characters and their interactions. I also wanted these meanings to resound within the reader even if they didn’t know specifically what a color meant, in the way that archetypal characters do. So, lots of research.

I found the notebook labeled “colors” and all that pertained to color in that notebook were lists of colors. In my novels, I try to stay away from the basic red, yellow, blue, etc. and use less obvious color names such as carmine and vermillion, primrose and mustard, lapis and indigo, and the list made it easier to find the proper color name. But that’s all I found. No notes from all those books I used in my color research.

Panic!

I had thrown away some writing notes. When I began writing fiction, I also studied the craft, reading and taking notes from myriad books. When I packed to move, I needed to get rid of stuff, and since I am beyond the writing basics, I figured I didn’t need all that extra weight, though I did keep some notes as reminders to go beyond the obvious and cultivate subtlety. I couldn’t have thrown away those valuable color notes, could I? It didn’t seem possible, but they weren’t where I thought they should have been.

I had written some articles for this blog and other sites pertaining to color, so I went searching for them, but apparently, most of those articles disappeared into the dead website graveyard, without even a ghost remaining. There are a few brief articles about color on this blog, but that’s it.

Unbelievable. All that research  . . . gone.

But no. I finally went through the stack of my research notebooks and found the color notes in the middle of a book labeled, “technical.” (As opposed to alternate technologies, religious studies, general notes, quotes, etc.)

It might not have mattered (from a tarot standpoint) if I hadn’t found the notes because I remember the basic meanings. The basics might be all that’s necessary to help get a feel for the various tarot cards, but only if the artist bothered to use the proper color symbolism. Or maybe it doesn’t matter? Perhaps it’s better to take each card as is, and not worry too much about what the artist intended. After all, the reader is supposed to gain a feeling for the card itself, and color helps intensify that feeling.

See also:
Coloring Your World
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Green and More

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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.

Fool’s Journey and Hero’s Journey

I’m still playing around with the tarot decks I inherited from my brother, which seems an appropriate way of counting down the days to the second anniversary of his death. I haven’t been learning anything about him from the cards, though it still interests me that he collected them — not just one deck (which would indicative of curiosity), but so many of them. There are about four dozen different decks, another dozen or so duplicates, plus the triplicates I sent to a sister who also found the fact of the collection fascinating.

I have learned some things about the tarot itself, though. The most obvious lesson is that there’s no consensus on what the individual cards mean since the creators of each deck put their own slant on the cards to match their vision and their artwork. The instructions on how to learn the tarot invariably say to study the picture on the card, to figure out what the card means to you, but if every “sun” card, for example, is different from every other sun card, if the artists have added their own embellishments, then the images become simply pretty pictures to illustrate the simple idea of “sun.”

There’s no consensus on what the various suits of the minor arcana are, either. Normally, they are wands, swords, cups and coins or pentacles, but in the Robot Tarot, the suits are laser, light, void, and scarab; and in the Servants of the Light Tarot, the suits are weapons, spheres, crescents, staves. Even more confusing, there’s no consensus on what constitutes a tarot. Most decks are composed of 78 cards, but some tarot decks comprise only the 22 cards of the major arcana. Or less. Or more. The Deva Tarot has five suits instead of the normal four (the fifth is a suit called Triax and is supposed to represent the ether or the spirit). If the Deva Tarot is a deck that’s beyond the realm of a tarot, does it become a tarot if you remove the additional cards?

In other words, the tarot seems a rather arbitrary tool depending on what deck you use, what system of meaning you apply, what you read into the cards, and your own inclinations.

(This kind of reminds me of when I decided to learn the names of birds. After a while it began to seem laborious and arbitrary, especially when it dawned on me these were simply names humans gave the birds, not what the birds called themselves, and in no way imparted a sense of “birdness.” To this day, I only know a few common names, though I do have a bird book if I want to know more.)

However, there is one underlying, non-arbitrary aspect of the tarot: as story-telling cards. I was reading about the Major Arcana (the twenty-two trump cards) and discovered that they tell a story — the fool’s journey, from naivete to wisdom. And suddenly I understood — the fool’s journey is nothing more than the hero’s journey. See? Story!!

More than that, how the cards are laid out tell a story — the story of a person’s future; the story of their past, perhaps; maybe even a deeper story of their self. And since there are infinite possible layouts (and infinity squared when you take into consideration all the various types of cards and decks and meanings), there are an infinite number of stories.

So my idea of using the cards to write a story is not at all farfetched. I used the hero’s journey to tell the story of Daughter Am I, and I could use the fool’s journey to write a completely different sort of story. Each character could be assigned a role based on the Major Arcana, or I could do a reading for each character to see what their particular needs are. Or both.

Meantime, I’m on my own fool’s journey when it comes to the tarot. I’ve been doing a one-card reading for myself every day to get familiar with the cards. My question is always, “What do I need to know today?”

So far, the cards aren’t letting me in on any secrets, but the cards do seem to reflect my reflections. For example, today’s card was the sun card, which, according to the particular deck I used, means enlightenment, especially artistic enlightenment. Although card didn’t answer my question, simply reflected it, the card did answer my unasked question: Why should I blog about today?

So, arbitrary or not, the tarot, even in the simplest practice, has meaning.

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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.

Letter to Facebook

I’m not sure it’s worth continuing to fight Facebook over their blocking this blog from their site, but people I respect have urged me to write them a letter and send it by USPS. So, here is the letter I came up with. What do you think?

Facebook Customer Service
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

To Whom it May Concern:

On April 29, Facebook erroneously blocked my blog from the networking site. They said the blog goes against community standards for spam, but it didn’t go against any such standards when I was paying to boost various posts.

Because of the block, all links to my blog posts, included the boosted posts, have disappeared as well as the comments and discussions the posts generated. I have left messages via the onsite support center concerning this matter, but all such messages have been ignored.

Please, a thirty-second perusal of bertramsblog.com will tell you that the blog is not spam. It’s a personal blog, a diary of sorts, telling about my grief after the death of my husband and how I learned to survive the loss. These posts have helped tens of thousands of people deal with their own grief and were often shared on FB. Although I don’t talk about grief much anymore, writing instead about being a new homeowner, people still find my posts inspirational since the posts tell them that there is life and maybe even happiness after grief.

If you won’t unblock my blog, please refund the $355 I spend boosting articles that you have since removed from your site. You have also removed all mention of these ads, but I can send you documentation of these payments on Paypal.

Thank you for your consideration.

Pat Bertram
https://www.facebook.com/PatBertramAuthor/
https://www.facebook.com/patbertram
https://bertramsblog.com/

The Wheel of Time

Since I finished reading all my emergency books, I’m reduced to reading the books in my Nook, books I’ve already read. Although I don’t generally like rereading books, Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series seems to be the perfect place to go to hide from The Bob.

The books in the series are not stand alone books — you cannot understand one book without the previous books — which means that in effect the WOT series is single novel of over four million words broken up into fifteen parts. In fact, the series itself is not stand alone — there are all sorts of books, blogs, discussion forums comprising billions of words where readers try to figure out the truth of the story.

Not only is the scope of WOT almost impossible to fathom, but Jordan had a bad habit of putting in bits of deus ex machina that he refused to elucidate in the work itself, companion books, or even interviews. Perhaps he himself did not know what those bits meant or maybe he simply wanted to be mysterious for mysterious’s sake, to create a legacy of people debating worthless points. Which they do. Ad infinitum. Jordan also refused to explain what to him were obvious story points, such as who killed a certain bad-guy-turned-maybe-good-guy, but again, dozens of forums present various theories because that obvious point was obvious only to he who created it. At least in this particular case, the murderer was revealed in an appendix several books after the fact. Jordan also spent thousands upon thousands of words on red herrings and subplots that go nowhere, but sometimes used a single sentence buried in huge blocks of description to bring out a major point. Yikes.

And wow, is there description. Tons of description. Whenever food is mentioned, I find myself skipping a paragraph or two. When clothes are mentioned, I skip a couple of pages. And sometimes, when there is zero action or character development, such as in a few very clean bathing scenes, I skip the whole dang chapter.

I also tend to skip over some of the women’s parts. Although Jordan mostly develops his three main male characters into individual heroes, each with his own mythic journey, he turns his three main women characters into insufferable caricatures, indistinguishable from one another except for a few annoying character tics. At first I thought he had a problem with women, but his secondary and tertiary female characters are often well-defined or at least not brats and prigs who believe, without giving a single shred of thought to the forces the other characters face, that they know the best for everyone.

Even after investing so much time in reading and rereading the books, I’m still not sure I like the series — although the theme seems to be about the importance of having choices, most of the characters, both good and evil, go out of their way to force others to their will. Too much torture and punishment for my taste. It seems to me that in a world where everyone is free to choose (or at least what the pattern created by the wheel of time allows them to choose), it’s just as easy to find someone to willingly do your bidding as to waste the effort forcing someone to do it. (Oddly, the three main males do turn others to their will, but without wanting to or without even trying.)

But despite my ambivalence, I keep rereading. The scope of the story is utterly astounding. In the story, during the so-called age of legends, people wielding the power that turns the wheel of time, broke the world. Mountains grew where no mountains had been, waters flooded lands, green spaces became deserts. And humans started over. Again.

Interestingly, breaking the world is exactly what Robert Jordon did when he wrote his series — he smashed our world into bits, mixed it all up — legends and traditions; countries and races, clothes and customs; myths and mysteries, religions and philosophies — and put it all back together into his own creation.

I wonder what it would be like to create such a massive fiction world, a world that reflects our world but not. A world that reflects our values but not. A world that exists only in our minds but not. Or, rather, maybe not. If it exists in our minds, it’s possible Jordan’s world exists for real, sort of dream world we all created together, just as philosophers and physicists say we do with the real world.

Assuming there is a real world.

Maybe we’re all writing the story of our world as we live it, creating with our hive mind the very fact of our existence. If we all stopped believing in it, would it disappear as if we were closing the cover of a novel? Would we disappear if we stopped believing all the things we see and hear except with our own eyes or ears? Would we be different if we simply refused to accept the role that has been forced on us?

Maybe, as I study Jordan’s world, I’ll learn how to help build a better version of our own — how to write it or right it, either one.

Meanwhile, the wheels of time keeps turning . . .

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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.

Why Am I Doing This?

Lately, I’ve been getting some rather hostile comments. I used to let such comments remain published, thinking it was cheating to only keep comments from people who more or less agreed with me or who disagreed with me in an agreeable manner, but I see no reason to accept all comments anymore. After all, it is my blog.

Still, when I get too much negative feedback, I wonder why the heck I’m doing this. I certainly don’t need any more unpleasantness in my life — there is enough coming my way without opening the door for more. But writing this blog has always been about me, my thoughts, my struggles to get through grief, my struggles to create a new life for myself, my times of joy and sorrow. Even more than that, though, writing is a way of getting thoughts out of my head when I can’t get rid of them any other way.

And this current situation has certainly made the thoughts go round and round, so much so that I get dizzy from trying to make sense of it all.

Yesterday, someone left the following comment on my Lockdown Protests post:

Please stop promoting your uninformed and harmful opinions. Yes, speech is free but death is not. Stop pretending to be a medical professional and stick to whatever it is you imagine to be your area of expertise. I, for one, wouldn’t take your advice about anything. Keep quiet and stick to whatever you know, which seems to be nothing at this point. Maybe your fictional work is more up your fictional alley.

The comment would have upset me more except for the erroneous assumptions — I don’t pretend to be a medical professional, I don’t offer advice, and I admitted I didn’t know the truth of what is going on, though I did give a brief synopsis of some of the things people are protesting about.

In fact, I came across a couple of articles today that said the very same thing I did: Instead Of ‘Flattening The Curve,’ We Flattened Hospitals, Doctors, And The U.S. Health Care System. And: If Half the Country’s Deaths Were in Montana, Would New York Shut Down?

I shouldn’t be sitting here explaining myself — what and why I write is no one’s business but my own. Still, these thoughts are in my head, and I need to get them out so I can enjoy the rest of this warm, sunshiny day.

So now they are in your head! Lucky you.

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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.

Free E-Book!

For the next month, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available as a free download from Smashwords in all ebook formats. You can find the book here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842. Be sure to use the coupon code WN85X when purchasing.

I figure that by the time the world gets back to normal — or as normal as it will ever get — people will be sick of the very word “quarantine,” and won’t want to have anything to do with novel diseases or diseases in a novel, which is why I giving it away now. I hope I’m wrong about people not wanting to read about devastating diseases after this is all through because A Spark of Heavenly Fire is more than a story about a pandemic — it’s the story of survival in the face of brutality, government cover-up, and public hysteria. It is also a story of love: lost, found and fulfilled.

Washington Irving wrote: “There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” As I read these words several years ago, I could see her, a drab woman, defeated by life, dragging herself through her days in the normal world, but in an abnormal world of strife and danger, she would come alive and inspire others. And so Kate Cummings, the hero of my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire was born. But born into what world?

I didn’t want to write a book about war, which is a common setting for such a character-driven story, so I created the red death, an unstoppable, bio-engineered disease that ravages the world, but mostly Colorado where the disease originated. Martial law is declared, rationing is put into effect, and the entire state is quarantined. During this time when so many are dying, Kate comes alive and gradually pulls others into her sphere of kindness and generosity. First enters Dee Allenby, another woman defeated by normal life, then enter the homeless — the group hardest hit by the militated restrictions. Finally, enters Greg Pullman, a movie-star-handsome reporter who is determined to find out who created the red death and why they did it.

Kate and her friends build a new world, a new normal, to help one another survive, but other characters, such as Jeremy King, a world-class actor who gets caught in the quarantine, and Pippi O’Brien, a local weather girl, think of only of their own survival, and they are determined to leave the state even if it kills them.

The world of the red death brings out the worst in some characters while bringing out the best in others. Most of all, the prism of death and survival reflects what each values most. Kate values love. Dee values purpose. Greg values truth. Jeremy values freedom. Pippi, who values nothing, learns to value herself.

It sounds like us, today — the crisis crystalizing our lives and showing us what we value most.

Click here to get your free ebook: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842. Be sure to use the coupon code WN85X when purchasing.

Below is the video trailer for A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

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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.

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.

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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.

Small Town Encounters

When I was at the post office yesterday, I noticed my mail deliverer working the window. “So this is why my mail is always late,” I quipped. She explained they were shorthanded, so she was basically working two jobs, but that she’d be by later with my mail. We chatted a few minutes, then, as I headed out the door, a woman I didn’t recognize walked in and said,  “Hi, Pat.” I stopped and studied her for a second. Before I could come across as rude, I said hastily, “I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name.”

She smiled. “I only remember your name because of the hat.” She then told me her name, which didn’t ring a bell, but when she mentioned her affiliation with a local church, I finally remembered meeting her. At a pie auction at a local church, she’d stopped me and asked, “Why do they call you Pat in the Hat?”

“Because I always wear a hat,” was my answer. So apparently, not only am I easy to remember because of my hats, so is my name easy to remember.

Although I make is seem as if this is an ideal small town, it isn’t, though some things truly are ideal. A library within walking distance? Priceless!

Other things, not so much. Although I still have no problem with walking to do errands, I’ve developed an inexplicable aversion to walking just to be walking, Well, today I had a few graphic examples that helped explain why I don’t enjoy walking as much as I once did. For one, dogs run loose — not all of them, and not all the time, but enough to be a problem, and I definitely do not like encountering strange and hostile dogs. There is a leash law here, but apparently, the sheriff’s department doesn’t care, and neither do the owners. As one woman told me, “If I were a dog, I would prefer to run loose, even if I end up getting run over.” And, since the dog disappeared shortly after she told me that, I’m sure she, if not her dog, got her preference.

Another issue is the cars. I don’t think people here are used to pedestrians. Too often, if I’m crossing a street or cutting through a parking lot to a store, drivers will simply ignore me or mow me down as if I weren’t even there. I have to be extra vigilant because of those who aren’t at all vigilant.

And then there are all the young men of working age who apparently don’t work. I detoured to avoid encountering a couple of small groups of men and several single wanderers. Good thing I haven’t lost my big city wariness.

I sure do miss having a wilderness area to wander around without all the unpleasant encounters. (Well, there were a coyote or two, and an occasional snake, but I could handle those.) I suppose I could drive somewhere to walk, but really, where’s the sense in that?

Once the garage is finished and I can get my storage items out of my exercise room, I’ll be able to use my elliptical again, but that’s only for a few minutes at a time and doesn’t at all take the place of walking. I have been adding more time to my dance workouts, but even that doesn’t take the place of walking.

I often encounter neighbors walking around the block across the street, and I might have to do that, too. And there is a fairly safe, though rather short street I sometimes walk. Meantime, I try to do a lot of errands!

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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

Rebar

The construction workers were here today to put the rebars in the garage foundation. I’ve heard of rebars, and I even know what they do, but I didn’t know what the difference between a bar and a rebar is, so I did a bit of research.

You probably already know, but the bar in “rebar” is a bar, as in a rod rather than as in a tavern (though in the case of a tavern, I suppose you could still re-bar, as in bar-hopping and re-bar-hopping). The “re” part in rebar is short for “reinforcing” or “reinforcement.” Aha! So a rebar is simply a reinforcing bar. That part I get. The explanation for why a rebar is necessary is what strains my brain.

The forces of compression and tension always work together within an object. The force of compression squeezes things together, while the force of tension pulls things apart. Concrete has a high compression strength, but it has weak tension. (Apparently, concrete can stand up to compression, as when a building is built on a concrete foundation, but it can’t stand up to forces of tension, which is why the walls of my old garage kept sliding apart and cracking the floor. Even though the foundation was shallow, the garage might have held up if rebars had been used in the construction. Or so I understand.)

Although I have never specifically heard of the forces of compression and tension (or if I had heard, I’ve long forgotten) and don’t really understand how they work, I am familiar with the concept of opposing universal forces. Yin and yang, which is the ultimate example of forces that work together to make a whole. The nuclear force, which keeps nucleons in the atom’s nucleus together at the same time it keeps them apart to prevent an implosion. The push and pull of orbits that keep the solar system and galaxy in order. The give and take of relationships.

It’s not really important to understand the concept of rebars as long as the workers do, and as long as the work passes inspection, which it did. So, next step — concrete!

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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