Steeped in Symbols

I have never paid much attention to iconography since I have no real feel for art or imagery. I think in words, process emotions in words, and come to terms with life and the world by way of words. In fact, until this very moment, I’d never even used the word “iconography.” I do know what it means, of course — the interpretation of the symbols in art, images that tell a story, especially religious symbols. It comes from eikon a Greek word meaning “image,” and graphe a Greek word meaning “writing.” Such “image writing” was the earliest form of writing. From what I’ve managed to glean, a pictograph is a simpler version of a icon, something with a single, specific meaning, whereas an icon is a symbol with a broader, more artistic meaning that generally needs to be interpreted in cultural context. (Oddly — odd to me, anyway — iconography is not the study of iconographs — iconographs are pictures formed of words.)

Not only had I never paid much attention to iconography, I’d never really paid much attention to the symbols and images that we are all familiar with until recently. I play one of those hidden images games, though for some reason I’m embarrassed to admit it. Still, I do spend time on the game, going from location to location to find the objects.

These locations are completely different from one another, and each is instantly recognizable. For example, a Christmas scene is obviously Christmas themed, a Chinese New Year scene is obviously Chinese themed, a haunted house is obviously Halloween themed. There are a vast array of images that evoke Christmas — stockings, trees, reindeer, cookies, wreaths, stars, snowflakes, candy, the colors red and green. (There are just as many images of a religious nature, such as nativity scenes, but those aren’t used in the Christmas scenes in this game.) Many recognizable Chinese images, such as lanterns, storks, conical hats, fans, and dragons. And many images that evoke a spooky feel — bats, gargoyles, brooms, witch’s hats, toads, tarot cards, wands.

The locations in the game don’t all revolve around holiday themes. For example, there is a laboratory, with images such as telescopes, magnets, funnels, bellows, oil lamp, and a medical mask; a train station with luggage, cameras, books, pigeons, and pith helmet; a seaside bungalow with mermaids, pirate hat, barometer, boat, toucan, books, and sandcastle.

None of these locations can be confused with any other, which has led to me to this reflection upon the images of our lives. We are steeped in symbols, way more than I ever imagined. This game reflects many of the cultural symbols of our lives, but there are all sorts of symbols. Religious symbols. Musical symbols. Occult symbols. Political symbols. And each of these symbols calls forth some sort of emotion. The news media in particular uses images to convey messages, and many of those images have become part of our heritage, such as Kennedy’s Texas motorcade, Nixon’s outstretched arms, the little Napalm girl.

I don’t know what any of this means — it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. But it does show me that as sophisticated and advanced as we think we are, our basic form of communication still seems to be the pictograph just as it was so many thousands of years ago.


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.


Yesterday I planned to write about all the things I’ve been thinking about that aren’t worth writing about. Aren’t worth thinking about, either.

I got as far as talking about my homeowner’s insurance before I’d used up my word allotment. Actually, there isn’t a word allotment, but few people want to slog through a long, boring piece about things that don’t really mean much.

Anyway, another thing I planned to mention was pork. Not pork as in pork barrel politics (politicians slipping funding for local projects into larger appropriations bills), but pork as in . . . pig.

A butcher friend sold me a portion of a pig that turned out to be tough. It was supposed to be a young pig, but he unknowingly (at least I hope it was unknowingly) ended up with a senior pig. In a way, that makes me feel better about eating the poor thing since its life was nearing an end anyway, but it sure makes for tough meat. The bacon, for example, tasted great, but it was truly as tough as shoe leather. Not that I’ve ever actually chewed on shoe leather, you understand, but in this case, the trite simile is apt. The stuff was inedible and unchewable. I gave the bacon back to the butcher, and for the rest of it, I’ve been trying to find ways to cook tough pork.

Normally, when I eat meat, which isn’t that often, I simply throw it into a pan and cook it, but that’s not possible in this case, so I’ve been researching ways of adding flavor back to slow-cooked chops and such. (I figure by the time I learn the various ways of tenderizing and seasoning this poor pig, it will be used up.) Normally, I write about the things I research, but recipes aren’t my favorite thing to write about. Still, I did manage to come up with some good flavors, such as an apple cider vinegar-based barbecue sauce that was truly tasty.

It’s amazing how much time it takes to research as well as think about flavors and ingredients for cooking. My latest project is to figure out good marinades and sauces for ham since the necessary long simmer leaches all the flavor out of the meat. One thought is to simmer the ham in green chai tea. Another is to marinade it in a vinegar and spice blend.

It’s a challenge, that’s for sure, and it does give me different flavors to sample as well as giving me something different to think about.


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.

Sluggish Thinking

I had no idea it’s been so long since I wrote anything. Generally, I write to make sense of what I’ve been thinking, and there’s really no sense to make of many of my recent thoughts. My homeowner’s insurance increased by more than 50%, which stunned me. For most of my life — until just a few years ago, actually — I never wanted to own a house because of all the unforeseen expenses. Obviously, the insurance was not an unforeseen expense — I’d budgeted for it, and even budgeted for what I thought was a whopping increase, but the increase turned out to be more than I ever imagined, more than I can afford in the long run, even without increases in the coming years. (I’m fine for now, but yikes!) For the first time, I wondered if I had done the right thing by buying the house, but I do not want to even think about that. I know I did the right thing. So I’ve been trying to find a different insurance company.

One of the big issues in my case is that I have no credit rating, and insurance companies base their rates on your credit rating, which makes no sense to me. If a person doesn’t pay the insurance bill, the insurance is cancelled. Very simple. So what does my lack of credit have to do with insurance? I have no idea. They explained that people with a poor credit rating file more claims, but again, I don’t see what the problem is. If the claim is justified, they need to pay it. If not justified, turn it down.

One agent tried to explain to me that people with no credit are a poor risk because they don’t pay their bills, and she refused to listen when I explained I have no credit because I do pay my bills. I pay them as soon as I get them. No debts. Hence no credit. She didn’t care, and I can understand because it’s the company’s policy, not hers.

The company I’ve been dealing with used to be one that didn’t exorbitantly penalize people who had no credit, but I have a hunch the reason my bill went up so high is that they rethought that position. If I had a good credit rating, my insurance bill would be $1000 less a year.

(I did finally manage to get a credit card, but it will take years to build up any credit since I don’t buy much.)

My other issue with the original company is that although I have full coverage for rebuilding the house if anything were to happen, they lowballed the construction costs to keep the policy competitive. They were willing, however, to offer additional coverage for up to 25% more than costs indicated in the policy. So that means that total replacement coverage isn’t total replacement coverage.

As you can see, my thoughts have not been worth writing about. Truly, they haven’t even been worth thinking about. With any luck, I’ll be able to put this matter to rest for another year. I found a different company with much better coverage, but alas, only a few dollars cheaper. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the new insurance people to come look at the place, take photos for their files, and tell me if there’s anything I need to do around the property. I do know they will say I need a railing on my back ramp, but that’s already been paid for; it’s just a matter of having the weather clear enough so that the workers can get it installed.

As for weather: just when the snow melted and I began to look for signs of spring, we got dumped on. It was pretty — huge flakes filling the air — but so very cold! Cold enough, in fact, to make thinking a sluggish business.

It’s a good thing, then, that I’ve finished thinking — finished thinking about insurance, 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.

Just For Fun

Today’s blog prompt: List five things you do for fun.

Knowing me as well as you do, I’m sure you’ve figured out what the first thing I did was. Yep, I Googled, “What is fun?”

I had to research the word because the truth is, I don’t really know what “fun” is. To me it’s about doing something with pleasure or joy or playfulness or laughter or silliness, and very little of what I do includes those feelings. That kind of fun connotes fellowship of some sort, going outside of oneself. I mean, it’s hard to be silly and laugh when one is alone, especially someone like me who spends so much time inside herself. Admittedly, I do a lot of things to “spend” time, such as reading or blogging or playing a game on the computer, but there’s no real element of what I’d consider “fun” to any of those things. I just do them. Especially reading. Reading is as necessary to me as breathing, and I don’t consider breathing to be “fun.” It’s just something I do, something I need to do.

I enjoy the company of others (though preferably just one or two at a time). We talk and we often laugh, but despite the lightheartedness of many of our conversations, I don’t consider them “fun.” Being with people is about connecting, about creating a space for friendship, about feeding the soul, an experience that goes so much deeper than the easy entertainment and party atmosphere that “fun” connotes. If reading is akin to breathing, then friendship is akin to food, and while food can be considered “fun” at times, it’s too necessary to ever fall strictly into the category of “fun.”

Things like hiking and traveling weren’t strictly for fun, either. There was a deeper intent there — sort of a vision quest, or maybe even just a quest (though I was never sure for what I was “questing”).

Writing certainly isn’t fun for me — despite a playfulness that sometimes shows up in my books, writing is way too hard for me to classify it as fun. (And it goes back to the idea mentioned above of spending time within myself.) Gardening is the same — too hard to be fun, as well as serving to pull me deeper into myself.

As it turns out, my idea of fun (the word “fun,” that is) is pretty close to the mark. Various online definitions of fun include: “pleasure without purpose;” “lively, joyous play or playfulness;” “light-hearted pleasure, enjoyment, or amusement;” “boisterous joviality or merrymaking;” “hedonic engagement and a sense of liberation;” “diversion, amusement, mirthful sport;” “a cheat, trick, or hoax;” “foolishness, silliness.” Also “any activity on the positive side of valence” (whatever that means).

So what do I do for fun? I’ll have to get back to you on that — when and if I ever manage to think of something to do just for the fun of it.


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 Is Your Spirit Animal?

Do you have a spirit animal? That’s the blog prompt for today: “What is your spirit animal?” I have no idea how to figure out what mine is. Aboriginal Americans found their spirit animal through a vision quest, some spiritualists find theirs through a dream, other people are lucky enough to have their spirit animal find them.

Me? As far as I know, I don’t have such a guide, and if I do, it hasn’t made itself known to me. At one time I wanted to do a long-trail hike, thinking it would also work as a vision quest, but that didn’t work out. I did try to do some of those quizzes that supposedly introduce you to your spirit animal, but the very first question on a few of them stymied me: “What is your favorite element — water, earth, air, fire, wood, space?” How the heck does one answer that? I mean, you need those to live. Without wood (trees) there would be no breathable air. Without space, there would be no Earth. Without water, earth, air, fire (energy) there would be no life.

I did manage to find one quiz that asked different questions, but most of the questions did not pertain to me, such as what sort of television programs I watch — news, reality TV, documentaries, and a few others. Since I don’t watch television, it was a bogus question, as were several others. Still I did stumble through the quiz, and according to them, my spirit animal is a raccoon. Supposedly, the racoon embodies creativity, discretion, and keeping your ideas close to your chest until you’re ready to unveil them. Sounds feeble enough to apply to almost anyone.

I also found a site that linked spirit animals to one’s birthday, so depending on what culture I espouse — Western, Chinese, Native American, Celtic — my various spirit animals are fish, rabbit, wolf, snake. Not exactly a unanimous consensus, or even a general consensus!

The only dreams I ever had that could possibly be considered a vision quest or a way for my spirit animal to make itself known were both white dreams. In the first, I was walking in the white sands of the desert, with a white sky above me and a white path stretching before me. As I walked, three white horses sped across my path, then four white bunnies in a bunch, then two small white squarish creatures I could not identify, and finally, one immense white owl. For sure a mystical dream! All of those creatures are powerful totem animals, except perhaps for the small squarish animals. Another time I dreamt of a white tiger, a spirit animal that is drawn to a soul with inner strength.

So there you have it — all I know about me and my spirit animals. Since there is such a plethora of them, it could mean I need a whole lot of help. It could also mean that at different times, I was influenced by different manifestations of spirit. Or it could mean nothing at all, which, to be honest, is what I tend to believe.


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.

Where to Go from Here?

Lately I’ve been wondering where to go from here. I don’t mean geographically — I’m settled here in my house for the duration. It’s more about wondering what to do next with my life, if I want to keep doing what I’m doing, and if I need to do something more satisfying.

I am still blessed with a job that adds some structure to my life, and come spring and summer, of course, I’ll be spending a lot of time on my yard, an activity that makes me too tired to wonder if there is anything else for me.

But now, in the dead of winter, when I probably spend more time than is healthy inside — reading, playing games on the computer, and blogging a bit — I can’t help but question my life.

Reading is becoming problematic — too many novels are way over the top. Years ago, I used to enjoy Lee Child’s books, probably because contrary me had read a review that said women wouldn’t like the books, but also because Jack Reacher reminded me of a harder and less focused Kwai Chang Caine from the 1970’s television series Kung Fu. Whatever it was that appealed to me about Child’s character has completely disappeared. I’d given up reading the series long ago, but out of curiosity, I picked up the most recent book, and yikes. There is absolutely no redeeming virtue to either the badly written story or the character. Reacher has become a thug, pure and simple, a villain as bad or worse than any of those he tries to vanquish. The next book I read (by a different author) was just as bad, though in a different way. The characters’ actions seemed quixotic, unmotivated. They just did things, flashed back to the past way too often for any sense of story continuity, and yapped endlessly. Still, there are plenty of books that have enough of a plot to keep me reading, but it’s possible there will come a time that I give up reading again. Although reading often seems to be as necessary to me as breathing — and as effortless — I have gone through periods where I don’t read at all, once when I was young and depressed and books made me even more depressed, and again after Jeff died.

I could, of course, go back to writing my own fiction, but that is anything but effortless. Besides, I have yet to think of any characters that would keep me interested in their plight for the year or more it would take me to write the story. Oddly, although I am a writer, I have no real yen to write another book, probably because blogging scratches the writing itch and keeps me satisfied.

As for the game I got addicted to — I’m becoming unaddicted. It’s not as compelling as it was in the beginning, but I still play because it gives me a break from reading. And from thinking.

My knees are doing well, but not quite well enough to allow me to do the hours of roaming I used to do. I still have hope that my roaming days will return, but only locally. I used to spend a lot of time hiking, traveling or at least thinking about where I want to go, but my wanderlust, like my writinglust, seems to be sated.

Where I am falling short is on the social front. When I moved here, I jumped feet first into the social scene such as it is — going to the senior center for games and an occasional lunch, attending community dinners, joining various groups. When The Bob put a stop to all that, I reverted quite happily to my natural quasi-hermit state. Eventually, I started back in with one of the groups, but although I know I need the social interaction, I’m not sure I want to continue. The group is growing, which is good for them, but not so much for me. I get claustrophobic around too many people, and it takes all my energy to keep from running away. (The only reason I don’t is that generally I get a ride when the meeting is out of town and so have to wait until the end before I can leave.)

I am aware that my life is already too restricted, yet I’m secretly thinking of restricting it even more. Even if I don’t voluntarily make changes to restrict my activities, age and circumstances will eventually change things. For now, I am quite content with my quiet days, but it’s certainly not surprising that I’m wondering what’s next.

Luckily, it’s only two months until spring (though almost four months until spring planting), and then I’ll be too tired and too busy gardening and taking care of my yard to wonder where to go from here.


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 hardly ever read a whole book anymore. Too many authors use too many point-of-view characters, which to me is sort of a cheat. I know it’s supposed to ramp up the suspense when the reader knows that the antagonist is doing but protagonist doesn’t. Knowing that doesn’t help since it works the opposite for me. It takes me out of the story and makes me forget why I am supposed to care about the hero. So what do I do? Follow along with the protagonist and skip the villain’s story. That way I don’t have to get in the mind of reprehensible characters, and I get to read a one-person story. In all the hundreds of books I’ve read this way, I think there might have been a single book where I had to go back and look for a point that I missed; in all other cases, I understood the entire story. Which means that most authors write a huge amount of redundancy.

I think the book I just finished was the worst — there were a couple of villains each with their own point of view, a couple of heroes each with their own point of view, and a couple undetermined characters. (One started out a villain and turned out to be a hero; the other started out a hero and turned out to be a villain.) After I got tired of the whiplash from changing points of view every couple of pages (short chapters!), I finally gave up and only read the series character’s point of view. (After all, that’s why I picked up the book — I wanted the series character’s story.) That made it a very short book, but way more interesting than all the flopping around. (The only good thing was that he flipped back to the past just a couple of times. Even more annoying that authors who switch frenetically between multiple POV are authors who keep taking the reader to earlier happenings when a sentence or two of flash back would have been sufficient. I don’t read those previous-time parts of books, either.)

As a novelist, if I can still call myself that after my long hiatus of not writing, I prefer writing from a single straightforward timeline and a single point of view, though I have written a couple of books from multiple points of views. In A Spark of Heavenly Fire, for example, I thought the story of the epidemic (which was the true antagonist of the book) needed to be seen through more than one pair of eyes. After having lived through The Bob, I’m sure you can understand that — everyone has had a different experience with the disease, from getting no vaccines and not getting ill to getting jabbed multiple times and getting sick multiple times despite the vaccine; from no problems to the worst problem of all — death; from “sheltering in place” with a house full of people to having to spend months at home alone with no one to talk to. If I told the story of The Bob from my point of view, nothing would ever happen. If I told the story from the point of view of people who are still fighting problems years after getting sick, that would be a completely different story. As would the tale told from the point of view of a doctor, nurse, hospital official, or politician.

As in the case of A Spark of Heavenly Fire, sometimes a story has so many sides it needs to be told by many characters, but there are very few such stories. Most of the horde of multiple point-of-view characters is simply author style and adds very little to the story.

Unfortunately, my reducing the length of any book I read to a single point-of-view character means that I go through more than one book a day. Which means more trips to the library. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that’s so unfortunate. It gives me a chance to sample the weather in all its variety, and gives me a chance to wander around the library and even speak a few words to a real person.

I suppose I should feel bad for reducing the author’s efforts to something akin to a novella or a pamphlet, but then, they should feel bad for subjecting me to their verbosity.


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 Coulda Been a Contender

I was cleaning off my desk yesterday when I found notes for a blog post, including the famous line from On the Waterfront, “I coulda been a contender”. At first, I couldn’t figure out what I’d planned to say about that famous line, but eventually I remembered the circumstances and what I’d been thinking. Nothing inspiring, that’s for sure. In fact, the complete opposite.

For the past year or so, almost every night as I get ready for bed, I get hit with a sudden pang of loneliness. On one particular night, along with the loneliness came the feeling that I was wasting my life, that I wasn’t living up to my potential, and the words “I could have been a contender” kept playing in my head.

And then I had an even worse thought — what if I am living up to my potential? What if this is all there is to me? It made me wonder which was worse, knowing you could have been a contender, could have been someone if things had been different or knowing you never could have been a contender, that it simply wasn’t in you.

I really do tend to believe that we all do the best we can at any given moment, and if we feel as if we are slacking, then perhaps there are other factors at work besides a disinclination to do what we think we should be doing. I’ve often thought I was lazy, even back when I was a child. I remember being sick once, and not wanting to go to school. I was out for a long time because I kept “playing hooky.” I stayed in bed and read, and was quite content. I don’t know what made me finally agree to go back to school; the only other part of that episode I remember was that I didn’t get a report card because I’d been out of school for so long. Years later, I mentioned this to my mother. She looked at me in astonishment and said, “You weren’t faking. You really were sick.” I don’t know what I had — maybe a cold. When I get sick, even with something minor, it tends to linger for weeks or even months, which is why I try to stay away from potential risks.

In a way, what I was feeling a couple of weeks ago is similar. Obviously, if I really had been sick when I was a kid, I couldn’t have gone to school even if I wanted to. And now, at my age and with my knees, there are a lot of things I couldn’t do even if I wanted to, like hiking great distances (or even short distances on treacherous ground). Even more unfortunately, I never could find a way to become a bestselling writer — I am not a salesperson, and despite my best attempts, I have never been successful at selling my books.

Looking back a few weeks to when I was feeling bad about being — or not being — a contender, I now realize it was in the middle of December during the bleak time of frigid temperatures and little sun. Because I didn’t really feel depressed (despite the depressing thoughts), it never occurred to me that I was having my usual winter bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Luckily for my peace of mind, the feeling of wasting my life passed. Oh, it’s possible I really am not making full use of my life, but the sun is out, and we are back to our usual winter temperatures (highs in the forties, lows in the high teens and twenties), so it no longer seems to matter.


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.

Through an Author’s Eye

In yesterday’s post, “Body Image vs. Self-Image,” I touched on some of the difficulties in describing characters realistically. For example, if you are writing about ordinary characters and mention that they are overweight and out of shape, you’ve already lost your audience. Even in non-romance genres, such as thrillers and suspense, readers want the fairy tale of beautiful heroine/princesses finding their hero/prince.

To that end, writers are limited in how they describe a character. Characteristics that in the real world have no meaning but are merely the luck of the genetic draw, become destiny in fiction. For example, a weak chin denotes a wimpy character, though in actual fact, it means nothing of the sort. Thin lips, while common in the real world and say nothing about the person, seem to denote a strait-laced character who looks at the world with disapproval. A receding hairline, which means nothing in real life except perhaps an excess of testosterone, makes a male character seem less than manly. Likewise, thin hair on women characters makes them seem ungenerous, though luxurious locks certainly don’t indicate generosity.

Eye spacing is also part of the genetic crap shoot, though wide-spaced eyes are used to show innocence and narrow-spaced eyes to show deviousness.

A character past their youth can have laugh lines, which makes them seem pleasant. But crow’s feet or marionette lines seem to indicate not someone who is simply getting older, but someone who is not taking care of themselves as they are getting older.

I’ve learned to stay away from describing characters other than perhaps mentioning eye-color, hair-color, and a ready smile, and leave the judgement to another character. Although a character — like a real person — might not be all that attractive, they can be beautiful when seen through the eyes of love. Evil characters who might be considered attractive under other circumstances could be seen as ugly from the point of view of the character who is caught in their clutches.

It’s not just body parts that hint perhaps erroneously at character that has turned me away from giving more than cursory descriptions of my characters (more than three attributes is unnecessary in any case) it’s that too many authors who write that their character is beautiful then go on to describe facial characteristics that other people obviously find attractive, but that I don’t, such as pillowy lips, high cheekbones, and a narrow nose. In fact, because of this, I never read descriptions of characters any more — or settings, either for that matter.

It’s a good thing that in real life we have photographs that might tell the truth of how we look (I say “might” because as far as I know, no one’s driver’s license photo looks like them). If we had to describe our thin hair, thin lips, lumpy bodies, to people who have not yet seen us, no one would ever want to meet anyone.

Thinking about this and how we become fast friends with people who would never physically meet the standards of a literary protagonist, it makes me wonder if in real life we ever do see the physical person or if the body is sort of a mirage pasted over the truth of the person, as if we are seeing each other through the mind’s eye. If so, how lucky we are to see each other that way rather than through an author’s eye.


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.

Doing the Best We Can

I was talking to my sister the other day and I mentioned that the sum total of all that I have learned in my many years of living is that no one is just one thing and that we are all doing the best we can.

Well, except for me. Somehow I don’t include myself in that “doing the best we can.” I’ve been noticing lately how negative I am about myself and how much I beat myself up for not doing what I think I should be doing. For example, the pendulum of my lifestyle swings slowly from doing all I know how to do to be healthy to not doing anything to promote my health. At the moment, I am at the far reaches of the arc — exercising very little and eating very much the wrong thing.

Every night as I review my day, I castigate myself for my stupidity of falling into the sugar trap. After all, if you know the right thing to do to promote health and don’t do it, you are either lacking in discipline or not very intelligent. Or both. Still, it doesn’t help the situation to berate myself for my foolishness. In fact, it exacerbates the problem because it underlines the situation and makes it even harder to rectify the matter.

I’ve been trying to work on this — not being so negative about myself, not judging my actions, believing that I really did do the best I could that day even if it was far from my ideal. More than that, I’m trying to get away from the habit of reviewing my day. (It’s a fairly recent habit and I have no idea how it came about except that perhaps it started when I began to talk to Jeff’s picture when I was getting ready for bed to help relieve the onset of late night loneliness, which is also a fairly recent phenomenon.)

It seems to me that the very act of reviewing one’s actions is a judgement and that an active acceptance of one’s actions is a sneaky way of judging without judging, which is why I want to get away from the habit of reviewing my day. Whatever I did or didn’t do each day should be left in the past and truthfully, everything is in the past. Obviously, as soon as something has been done, it’s already part of the past and not the present. (Which leads me to question if one can ever actually live in the moment since the moment is thinner than a knife edge and by the time one has acknowledged the moment, it’s already in the past.)

Even though this negativity about myself is something I’ve been struggling with, I haven’t wanted to write about it because it would seem to contribute to the whole concept of beating myself up, but lately I’ve come to realize that this is a fairly common problem. So many of us hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do others. (Or do I mean a lower standard?) It makes sense when you think about it — our most intimate relationship is with ourselves. No matter where we go, there we are. We are witness to our most base body functions, our ignoble thoughts, our failures and foibles. I think it’s hard to accept all that as “doing the best we can.” We could probably do better and probably have at some time or other, but on any given day, I tend to think that perhaps we really are doing the best we can. (In this case I am including me in the “we.”)

I doubt making this effort will change my life in any significant manner, but if it helps bring me peace, then it’s all to the good.


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.