Proposal for a Book About Grief

The time has come to talk of many things . . . well, one thing anyway. Grief. I need to get going on the proposal for a grief book about the second year and beyond, so I would appreciate any suggestions of topics that you think should be included.

Some topics are obvious, such as The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief and Meeting the Challenges of the Third Year of Grief.

Although I’ve never heard anyone but me and subsequently my blog readers talk about it, apparently there is another massive grief upsurge at the eighteen month mark, which probably should be mentioned.

Also, a few theories I came up with on my own, such as The Half-Life of Grief and Grief and Our Lizard Brain should be included because they are important insights into the grieving process and why it takes so long to come to an accommodation with grief.

During the course of the book, I need to assure people that they are not crazy, that it is normal to still be having upsurges of grief into the fourth year and well beyond when they have lost a fundamental part of their life, such as a spouse or a child. I think it’s important to somehow let the bereft know that it is not their family and friends’ responsibility to keep track of their grieving process. It is theirs alone.

Should I include a chapter geared toward those who haven’t experienced such a great loss to help them understand what their bereft friends and family are going through? Or would this be outside of the scope of this book? Even if the folks the chapter would be intended for didn’t read it, perhaps it would give the bereft one the confidence to speak up rather than wondering if in fact their family and friends are right about them?

Mostly, I want to tell people the truth about grief (my truth anyway), not try to comfort them or offer the typical platitudes such as “grief takes as long as it takes” (because really, when you think about it, that doesn’t say anything at all while giving people the idea that maybe they aren’t doing grief right if it is taking them so long). By the second year, the bereft know grieving is hard, and I think more than anything else, they want that hardship to be recognized and not disregarded as if it were something akin to a self-willed temper tantrum. (Well, more than anything else, what the bereft really want is their loved one back, but giving them this would be beyond the scope of my book.)

At the end of the book, there should be an explicit or implicit promise that yes, as hard as grief is, they can find a renewed interest in life.

Is there anything else you can think of? Anything you would like to see addressed? Any part of the grief process that seems to be overlooked by grief professionals? Anything that I’ve written over the years that should be emphasized?

Thank you for your help. And thank you, from the very depths of my being, for all the support you have given me (and my writing) over the years.

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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.

Why Do You Want to Do This?

In response to my post, Date With a Driveway, a reader very respectfully asked, “Why do you want to do this?”

If by “this” she means the short backpacking trip I’ve planned for the coming weekend, the answer is easy: I need to know if I can do it. There is no dance class on Thursday, so I will have a few days up in the hills (including a punishing hike up to the Pacific Crest Trail) to see what I can do. There is a campground close to the connecting trail, so that if those three uphill miles are all I can do that first day, I’ll have a place to hang out and recuperate. And shortly beyond that, there is another campground if I am too exhausted to hike very far. Besides which, it’s a fairly well-traveled part of the PCT so that I won’t be completely isolated my first time out.

If by “this” she means hiking the Pacific Crest Trail itself, that’s a more complicated question, though oddly, one I haven’t asked myself recently. It’s just something that’s been in and out of my head for a long time.

Many years ago, when Jeff first got really sick and I realized how devastating his death would be for me, I read about the Pacific Crest Trail and I figured hiking the whole thing would be a great way to lose myself after he was gone. After he died, I was too busy and too distraught (such a mild word for the tsunamis of grief I experienced!) to think of anything at all.

During those first months (and years!) of grief, I used to walk for hours in the desert. I always had to make sure I had enough energy to get back to the house, and so I wondered what it would be like to walk and just keep on walking without having to return to the starting place. It seemed as if it would be so freeing — just walking forever without a thought in my head or a care of any kind except to walk. And oh, did I want that freedom!

Then one day, I went on a search for the San Andreas Fault, and came across a marker for the Pacific Crest Trail.

I took a few steps up the trail, in awe at being on such a legendary path. It surprised me that the trail was so far inland — somehow, never before having been to any Pacific coast state, I figured any such long distance trail would follow the coastline. (The California Coast Trail is something completely different, and isn’t really a trail so much as an partially connected bunch of trails, paths, sidewalks, beaches and boardwalks with very few places to camp.)

I liked the idea of walking away from my life and my grief. Liked the idea of all the new experiences — perhaps even some sort of transcendental experience — such a long hike would bring, experiences that would buffer me from my now dead life and take me further into a new life. Liked the thought that maybe I wouldn’t be me at the end of all that, that maybe I would become strong and wise and able to handle growing old alone. Liked the idea of connecting with the universe. (Being disconnected from that one particular person left me feeling as if I had no connection to the earth or to anything, as if I were hovering uncomfortably to the side of life or even worse, eternally falling into the abyss.)

A couple of months after the San Andreas Fault hunt, I started walking in the evenings with a hiking group, and from that sprang a few day hikes on the PCT. It was during our evening walks that the topic of a thru hike first came up (thru hiking means hiking the whole thing from Mexico to Canada in one hiking season). Gradually I learned how difficult such an undertaking would be, not just the vast swaths of land one had to cover each day but also the lack of water in many places and the dearth of stores to buy food along the way. Every book/article/blog about hiking the PCT also talked about hitching a ride to this town or that, and the thought of hitching as much as anything else made the idea seem impossible.

So I gave up on the idea and instead went on a cross-country road trip.

A few months ago, I listened to the song, “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” Having an impossible dream seemed like such a wonderful thing, and then I realized I did have such a dream — to thru hike the PCT. (Such dreams seem to run in my family — though he never attempted it, I remember my father talking about wanting to walk up the coast of Portugal.)

So I started backpacking practice. I mean, a dream that goes nowhere, a dream that just sits in the back of your head seems like no dream at all. Thru hiking the PCT in a single season really is impossible for me. Multi-year thru hiking might also be impossible. But attempting any sort of hike on the trail seems worth taking a chance. It beats stagnation, right? Beats sitting alone in a rented room and reading about life. Beats fading away into loneliness and decrepitude.

And I still want the new experiences, want to see things up close at walking pace and not as they pass by outside my car window. I still want whatever changes such an experience will bring, especially physical and mental strength. I still want to walk away from my solitary life. I still want a deeper connection to . . . something. And I still want to be free.

An illusion? Perhaps.

An impossible dream? Probably.

And yet there the trail is. And here I am, at least for now. The twain must meet, wouldn’t you think?

On the other hand, all this could be bunk. It’s possible the whole PCT dream is my way of fleeing from the unthinkableness of the past decade and the even more unthinkableness of the coming decades.

Whatever . . .

I’m still heading out at the end of the week to see what I can see.

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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.

Date With a Driveway

Yes, you read the title right — I do have a date with a driveway.

After being sick for so long, and then my road trip, I am in no shape to do any sort of long distance trekking, so I need to get back into backpacking practice. And what is the best backpacking practice? Backpacking!

Although I went out hiking this morning in the nearby desert, I probably shouldn’t have. It is already too hot. So I decided to go up in the mountains next weekend and see what happens.

One of the biggest problems I have with hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in bits and pieces is the parking situation. Most trail heads around here are off major roadways, and there is no way I will ever be comfortable leaving my car by the side of the road for even a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days!

Luckily, a trail angel who lives near the Pacific Crest Trail is letting me park in his driveway. It will be a long, hot, very steep climb up the connecting trail from his house to the PCT, but what the heck. If it takes me all day to hike those three miles, well, it takes me all day.

It’s good to have the date with the driveway because otherwise I would keep putting off that first backpacking trip, looking for the perfect time to get my feet wet. I’m using the “feet wet” idiom facetiously because there is not a single water source on the trail where I am planning on hiking, and zero chance of any precipitation. I’ll have to haul all my own water, and because I don’t know for sure how much I will need for those days (and because there are limits to how much I can carry), I will do what I’ve always done — when I’ve used half of what I brought, I’ll head back.

Oddly, I’m neither excited nor worried. It just seems like a natural extension of what I’ve been doing all along. I am taking precautions, though. I printed out topographical maps of those miles with trail notes of where things are, and I’ll download a PCT hiking app that will tell me where I am and where I am going, an app that supposedly works in airplane mode.

So, maps, emergency supplies, water, food, shelter.

What else do I need? Oh, yes — strength and endurance. Let’s hope I remember to pack those two items!

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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.

Life, Death, and Dancing

I’ve gotten so used to living my uncoupled life, that I seldom stop anymore to think of what has happened to get me where I am, and yet, this past week, I did marvel at the strangeness of it all.

If Jeff hadn’t died . . .

If I hadn’t gone to take care of my nonagenarian father . . .

If I hadn’t stopped by a dance studio to inquire about classes . . .

And so there I was, all last week, in rehearsals for dance performances that would take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Me? Rehearsals? Dance performance? Remarkable.

This might not seem strange to people who have only known me in the post-Jeff phase of my life where I have become rather adventuresome in a small sort of way, but before that, I lived a quiet life, a bookish life. I have always tried new things and looked for challenges, but never have I gone so far out of myself as I have in these solitary years. I suppose it makes sense — all comfort died with Jeff, so it doesn’t make that much difference if I am comfortable or not.

Oddly, though, I was perfectly comfortable performing this weekend, though I still remember how hard it was in the beginning to push through the discomfort and be able to even think about dancing in front of a crowd.

(I’m second from the left, costumed for “Rejoice” from The Wiz.)

I sometimes wonder what the person I was all those years ago would think about the future she is living, but I’m glad she didn’t know. It’s taken many painful years to get to this point, and it was probably better that she didn’t see what was before her.

I should remember this when I worry about the future. Back then, I couldn’t know what my life would be like eight years in the future, so any worry would have been wasted. And perhaps it is the same now. In eight years, my life could be so different, that any worrying I do today would be wasted.

For me, then, the moral is to take each day as it comes while trying to go beyond what is comfortable, and to enjoy any accomplishments that might ensue.

All that and dancing, too!

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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.

Upgrading My Blog

When I started this blog eleven years ago, there weren’t any ads at all on the WordPress site, or at least none that I or my readers ever saw. Gradually, as WordPress grew bigger, ads began appearing at the bottom of individual posts. People who had a WP blog and were logged in never saw those ads, nor did I, but I did always see a WP ad about paying to have the ads removed. Ironic, right?

I never thought anything of it. I liked the free aspect of the blog, and since people are used to seeing ads, I didn’t think it made much difference. And anyway, no ads ever appeared on my blog itself (the home page), only the individual articles. Until recently. When I was in Seattle recently, I used my sister’s computer, and before I logged into my blog, I noticed that ads were appearing on the home page.

So I finally gave in and paid for an upgrade to have the ads removed. This also gave me a domain, so if you are the sort who happens to notice such things, you will see that this blog now displays the URL “bertramsblog.com”, though the original URL” ptbertram.wordpress.com” and any links or bookmarks you see or have saved will still get you here.

Will this make any difference to anyone or anything besides my bank account? I don’t know, but I do know I have to start getting more professional (at least to a certain extent) about my writing career. The rights to most of my published works will soon revert to me, and I will have to figure out what to do with those books. I might have to self-publish, though I really hate the idea of giving Amazon so much of my fiscal information. I also not want the expense or the task of re-republishing the books especially since they’ve already been published and republished. On the other hand, I really love being a published author.

But that is a quandary for another day.

For now, this one big step to make Bertram’s Blog more professional is about all I want to deal with.

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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.

There’s a Trail Up in Them Thar Hills

Although I had planned the trip to Seattle with great detail (only to have that entire plan go out the window even before I set wheels on the road), I didn’t have any plans at all for the return trip except for one — I wanted to take a look at the Pacific Crest Trail where it crossed a highway in Washington. As it turned out, there wasn’t much to see but a vague path covered in snow.

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Later, I checked out the trail in Oregon where the melting snows left behind a bit of a marsh. And mosquitoes. That was the only place on the whole trip where I was bitten. Badly. And it wasn’t even mosquito season! Other people who think of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail might fear bears or cougars, but it’s the swarms of Oregon mosquitoes that terrify me. I don’t know if there is enough mosquito repellent in the whole world to entice me to do the Oregon part of the trail, and yet, Oregon is so beautiful that it would be a shame not to experience more than the few steps I took on the Oregon PCT when I was there.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. I am still a long way from even thinking of walking the trail. Whatever strength I’d developed before catching a cold and then going on my trip is long gone, so I will have to start over, and considering the coming heat, I’m not sure how much backpacking practice I will be able to do this summer. Still, this impossible dream of mine remains, and I can feel the trail waiting for me, hiding somewhere up in these mountains. Eeek.

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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 a Wonderful World

Two years ago, my youngest sister got a couple of rescue kittens. She claims they walked around the house saying, “Wow, wow, wow,” because they couldn’t believe they were living in such a wonderful place.

(Below is a gratuitous Pat and Cat photo. It really has nothing to do with this post, but I never before got to post a picture of a cat. Besides, it’s interesting to see myself as others see me — I had no idea my sister was taking this photo. I was laughing because she said Isabella liked me — that if a cat turned her back on you, that meant the cat trusted you, and I said the cat was only warming her behind on the heat emanating from the computer.)

Driving back from my visit to Seattle, I often thought of those cats because I kept hearing myself say, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” Everything I saw seemed astonishingly beautiful. Often there was no place to stop and take a photo, so I had to memorize the scenes, such Mount Shasta appearing out of the clouds for one glorious and shining moment, the abundant wildflower bloom and vibrant greenery along the side of the road, the piney mountains sweeping down to grassy meadows and the meadows sweeping down into the desert. I have no idea why the world seemed so spectacular that day. Maybe I was still giddy after the successful visit with my sisters. Maybe it was the perfect weather or the perfect time of year. Maybe, after being forged in the cold fires of grief, I had come to a place of new clarity.

The reason doesn’t really matter. It’s only important that I could feel the wonder of that day, enjoy the world spread out before my eyes, and surrender to the surprises. At one point, I drove around a curve and had to brake suddenly because I was so astonished by what I was seeing.

Luckily, there was a place to pull off and get out of the car before I caused an accident. The lake far below in the shadow of the mountains was the loveliest shade of green I had ever seen. Is Mono Lake always that color? I don’t know. But I was blessed to have seen those waters with my own eyes. Later, when road construction forced me to halt by the lake itself,

I realized that everything I was seeing had never been seen before by anyone and could never be seen again. We all have a different point of view tempered by our experiences, the angle from which we see a scene, the way the light hits at the very moment we look at something, so the world I saw that day was seen only by me.

Wow. Wow. Wow. I couldn’t believe I got to live, if only for a day, in such a wonderful place.

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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.

Feasting My Eyes and My Soul

I’d never had any particular interest in seeing Crater Lake, probably because the photos of the lake are so ubiquitous, but everyone I talked to about my return trip recommended that I go. So I did. And wow. Photos simply do not do the place justice, not even my photos. The park is astonishingly beautiful, from Annie’s Spring on the way to the crater,

to the sculpted cliffs,

to the mountains in the distance,

to the lake itself.

If anything, the day was too perfect, at least too perfect for a photograph. While my eyes could distinguish the edge of the lake where the cliffs were mirrored in the water, the camera could not, so the photos came out looking weird with those upside down cliffs.

And yet, totally awesome. I’d planned to stop by, take a photo, and wander around for a few minutes to stretch my legs, but I ended staying most of the day. I simply could not stop feasting my eyes and my soul.

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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.

Memorializing Memorial Day

I don’t often gear my posts toward national holidays and such, but this year I did a special post for Mother’s Day, and now I am doing one for Memorial Day weekend mostly through serendipity because this particular stop, as well as the rest of my return journey, was unplanned.

After I left Seattle and before I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon,

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I encountered a wonderfully bizarre (and touching) World War I memorial — a full size rendering of Stonehenge as it might have looked if it were made of reinforced concrete.

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In fact, Sam Hill, the founder, enlisted the aid of a whole slew of authorities on archaeology, astronomy, and engineering to make the monument as accurate as possible. It took more than ten years to build. On Memorial Day in 1929, it was dedicated to the servicemen of Klickitat County, Washington who died in the service of this country during World War I.

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Why Stonehenge as a war memorial? When Hill first saw the real thing, he was told that the place had been used for human sacrifice, and he said, “After all our civilization, the flower of humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war on fields of battle.” Even though Stonehenge is now considered to be a device used by stone age astronomers, the memorial on the Columbia River remains a powerful and intriguing statement about war.

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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.

Sisterhood

When my two sisters and I were on Whidbey Island, we realized that with all the photo-taking, we not did have a single picture of the three of us together. We didn’t see anyone who seemed approachable enough to ask them to take a photo, but we decided it was okay, that maybe every time we got together for a sisters’ event, we could say that it was another time when we didn’t get a photo.

We all liked the idea, actually, until we discovered the 3 Sisters Market and 3 Sisters hooded sweatshirts.

Although the “hood” connection to sisterhood didn’t come to me until after the fact (it was one of those “duh” moments that makes me wonder why it took so long to see the connection) I get such a kick out of the above photo, because — how perfect! Three sisters with hoods celebrating sisterhood. (The pictures on the wall above us are of the three sisters the market — and the farm — are named after.)

It seems weird to me how much we look like sisters in the photo. We never did, not really. We must have grown into it. Nor has there ever been any “sisterhood” among the three of us. We always paired up or if we were together, it was with others in the family. More than that, though, we never considered ourselves “three sisters,” perhaps because we were so far apart in ages and had brothers in between each of us. We are also so different from one another, as if we are sides of an equilateral triangle. (Which makes me wonder what is in the center of that triangle.)

We had such a great time (and surprisingly, got along better than any of us ever imagined) that we are planning another adventure for next year — a camping trip at The Three Sisters Wilderness Area.

How odd to think that after all these years we have discovered our sisterhood.

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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.