Elderly Knee

Ten years ago when Jeff died, I was in the middle of middle age, and suddenly, according the statistics being bandied about because of this current health crisis, I am “elderly.” I’m not sure how that happened, but the truth is . . . hmmm. I don’t know what the truth is. Maybe that I am older than I think I am. Or maybe I really am old enough to be at risk.

I saw a post on Facebook the other day that said you know you’re old when all your injuries are a result of sleeping weird, and that sure hit home. A few days ago, I went to sleep feeling great with all parts working, and I woke with a knee so out of whack and I could barely walk. Then a wrong step a couple of nights ago made it worse. Though the knee is marginally better today, for which I am grateful, I am using my Pacerpoles as if they were canes to keep the weight off that knee as much as possible.

It makes me feel sad for those poor demoted hiking poles. As recent as eighteen months ago, they helped me to maneuver cliffside trails, trek through overgrown forest paths, descend scree-laden desert tracks.

Now the poles only serve to get me from room to room, and they don’t even do much of that. Mostly, I stay in one room. The daybed seems a bit easier to navigate with a bum knee since it has rails that I can use to pull myself up, and it’s a bit higher than my normal bed, so it puts less strain on my knee when I stand up.

Apparently, not only am I in the “stay at home or else” group, I’m also in the “stay in one room” group. Perhaps even the “stay in bed” group.

Sounds elderly to me.

Luckily, I have books so I don’t need to go anywhere even if I could. I should start my car to keep the gas circulated and the battery active, but the thought of having to uncover the vehicle and try to sidle into the seat without stress on the knee is too much for me to even contemplate.

And I have food. I had a few leftover tea cakes I’d made for the open house to celebrate my one-year anniversary of home ownership. I’ve been doing a good job of staying away from such treats, so I’d forgotten I had them. (Before my knee decided to go wonky on me, I’d given up deserts in an effort to lose weight to protect my knees, but my body seems to be more interested in protecting my weight than my knees.) I decided if I was going to die from a novel disease, I didn’t want to die with cake in my freezer. How sad would that be! So I ate it. And I made a stir fry with odds and ends in my refrigerator. As you can see, I’m doing fine on the food front.

Well, I’ve been sitting long enough. I better go rest my knee.

My poor elderly knee.

***

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

I am a Ten-Year Grief Survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And today, like every day, I miss him.

***

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

 

International Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

When I was in sixth grade, I got a job helping the old woman across the street. She’d just broken her arm, and needed someone to clean. Every time I went there, my stomach heaved. The jobs she gave me were all of a particularly disgusting nature. For example, she had me clean the hair catchers in her bathrooms, and I remember pulling up gobs and gobs of hair, gagging all the while. Just thinking about it now turns my stomach.

refrigeratorBut that wasn’t the worst of my ordeal at this woman’s house. The worst was the refrigerator. Rotten fruits and vegetables. Fuzzy green unidentified leftovers. Ancient bottles and jars that were long expired or would have been if they had expiration dates. (I think expiration dates on all packaged food came much later.) I got sick every single time I went over there and I wanted to quit, but one of my parents insisted I fulfill my obligation. The other parent, in a rare moment of sticking up for me, argued that I shouldn’t have to do something that made me ill. Odd that I can’t remember which parent wanted me to go and which took my side, but it no longer matters. It was so very long ago.

But what does matter is your refrigerator. Clean it out!!!

During my nomadic years after my father died, I house sat and rented rooms in people’s houses. Invariably, in these myriad places, I found a refrigerator clogged with expired condiments and food long past the stage of edibility. I itched to clean out the refrigerators, but I refrained. Maybe the owners were sentimental about that bottle of Hershey’s syrup that was so old it was as thick as treacle and tasted about the same. Or perhaps they liked the vision of wealth a full refrigerator imparts.

In one of the places I lived, the owner gave me permission to clean out the refrigerator to give me space for my few groceries. After three hours, I had a huge stack of trash bags full of expired and rotten food. (By expired, I mean well past expiration date. Ketchup that was ten years old, eggs that were many months old, string cheese packets that were as hard as masonite. It took a chisel and lots of hot water to clean the spilled food that had congealed beneath all that detritus. (That is not an exaggeration. I did have to use a chisel.)

In the interest of health — and since most of us are under stay-at-home orders — I am declaring this International Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day.

I am begging you, please, go clean out your refrigerator. I know you have things in there you have become so accustomed to seeing that you no longer notice them. Or you have bottles of exotic ingredients you have been promising yourself to use for the past ten years. We all have those condiments and rare elements we bought for a recipe, used the requisite one teaspoon, and never got around to making that dish again. You might even have small amounts of food in your refrigerator or freezer that are still good but aren’t enough for a meal — well, soups and salads and stir-fries are all very accommodating when it comes to using left-overs.

If you’re still not convinced of the necessity of cleaning out your refrigerator, ask yourself if you really want some poor woman (maybe your mother or daughter or daughter-in-law, possibly a neighbor, perhaps even a son or husband) throwing up when/if they have clean up if you become sick or incapacitated in any way.

Please like and share this post so it goes to as many people as possible.

Thank you.

***

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.

Important Happenings

Yep! Flowers!

And more flowers.

And yet another.

Even more important, assuming all non-crucial businesses aren’t shut down in the next couple of days (and assuming the lumber yard can find a driver), the materials for my garage will be delivered at the end of this week. And truly, whether anyone but me realizes it, this is crucial! To my well-being anyway. Having a garage will make my life so much easier. Not that it’s hard now — staying home, reading, interneting — what’s not to like?

I hope you’re staying home and keeping well, too.

***

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

Six Months

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

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

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

And people are still struggling with devastating diseases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Ordinariness

It seems weird that at a time like this, when everyone’s life is interrupted, mine goes on as before without any major changes. Or any change, actually. For various reasons, I’d already stopped most of the activities I’d been involved in, and I hadn’t yet decided what new activities to try, so I’d been staying home even before it was recommended we stay at home.

Although there have been no cases of “The Bob” here, this county seems to follow along what Denver is doing, and Denver has issued a stay-at-home order for its residents that will be enforced. They are allowed to go the grocery store (and, I presume, work in those stores if they have a job), visit doctors, and go out to exercise and that’s sort of what I’ve been doing. Except I don’t have a doctor here. And I haven’t been braving the grocery stores. (I didn’t stock up on anything but a bit of tuna, so I’m just nibbling my way through leftovers and what little I do have.)

I have been trying to walk a bit every day, and I’ve been looking at videos on knee exercises because I tweaked my knee while sleeping one night, and it hasn’t yet gone back to normal.

And I have been going to sit with a sick friend occasionally when her husband needs to be away. (Yep. Living dangerously!)

The library is closed, and the latest I heard was that all services were suspended, maybe even the quick exchange of books they’d once promised, but I do have emergency books — a stash of unread paperbacks and a Nook with books I would only read in an emergency.

One thing I have been doing differently is experimenting with something I’d once planned to do but never quite got around to doing— using a pee rag. It’s something I learned when preparing for a backpacking trip, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t work inside, too, especially since there is only me here (and especially since I haven’t seen a package of Charmin in the stores for weeks now).

Other than that, the only change in my life is:

That’s right! A daffodil!!

Such a sweetly ordinary thing to see.

Wishing us all the ordinariness we once took for granted.

***

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.

House Proud and Proud of It

I used to be the sort of person who would clean well before company came and do a deep clean when I moved, but the rest of the time I lived in . . . not squalor, but not perfect cleanliness, either. Somewhere along the line, this struck me as wrong, and now I’ve reversed the trend.

A friend and her sister recently came to visit, and I cleaned house, but nothing extreme — mostly just dusted and dry mopped. I keep the house clean anyway, so there wasn’t much to do besides normal maintenance. Besides, I knew they would be walking around in shoes, so I saw no reason to wet mop the floors.

After they left, however, I cleaned. Really cleaned. Disinfected the bathroom, scrubbed the kitchen, washed doorknobs, dusted, dry mopped and wet mopped the floors, washed all the bedding, including the comforter I used for their bedspread. This cleaning bout wasn’t prompted by the current viral situation because obviously, if there was a problem, it had already been put into effect. It was more about reclaiming my space.

Because the garage is not built and the basement work not finished, I still have things stored in my second bedroom and my back room. And the second bedroom, which I use for an office, is generally cluttered with books and notes and various writing supplies, but otherwise, the house is guest-ready. There has never been a time since I moved here when I felt embarrassed to have drop-in visitors, though that had often been the case in my younger years.

I especially never wanted anyone to see my bedroom. Clutter was the norm and making my bed a futile gesture since I more or less lived in the bedroom. It was the most comfortable place for reading and pre-computer writing, but now it is simply that — a bedroom. A place for sleeping. (Which is why I have a daybed in my office — the life-long habit of reading in bed is strong and unbreakable.)

When did I get to be such a neatnik? I don’t know — but it pleases me to wake up in the morning to a clean kitchen and living room. It pleases me to see a lovely bedroom with the bed made and any clutter kept out of sight. (The things I might need at night, such as lip balm, flashlight, tissues or lotions, I keep in a basket to make them easily removed from the bedside table.)

I’ve never been particularly house proud (never owned a house to be house proud about), but now I am. And I’m proud 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.

The Bob

In the following scene from A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my novel about a novel disease, investigative reporter Greg and his editor Olaf are talking about an article on the pandemic Greg is hoping to write.

—-

“How’s the research coming, Greg?” Olaf asked, a shade too heartily.

“I feel as if I’m drowning in paper.”

“So I see,” Olaf said, laying a hand on the stack of articles. “Mind if I look?”

“Help yourself. They belong to the newspaper.”

Olaf settled himself in his customary chair with a handful of the papers. A minute later, he raised his head.

“How do these guys get anything printed? If my reporters turned in work as incomprehensible as this, they’d be out of here so fast they’d think they were flying.” He glanced at the papers and shook his head. “Even the titles are incomprehensible. ‘Imitating Organic Morphology in Micro-fabrication.’ I don’t even know what that means.”

“Me neither,” Greg said, thinking if he had to wade through this sort of stuff to learn about the red death, the earth would fall into the sun long before he read half of it.

Olaf tossed the sheaf of papers back onto Greg’s desk. “Better you than me.”

“What do these guys do?” Greg asked. “Take a course in obfuscation?”

“Probably. Convoluted writing and obscure terms are a way of intimidating the uninitiated, keeping the profession closed to non-scientists, and adding to the scientific mystique. Just think, if diseases had names like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, doctors wouldn’t make anywhere near the amount of money they do now.”

Greg laughed. “That’s an idea. They do it for hurricanes, why not everything else?” He mimed seizing the phone and dialing. “Mr. Olaf? I can’t come in today. I’ve got the Bob.” He hung up his imaginary receiver and looked inquiringly at his boss.

Olaf nodded. “Works for me.”

—–

And it works for me. From now on, I’m going to call this current novel virus “The Bob.” No insult meant to any Bob living or dead, but I need a different name to call this disease because I am already sick of seeing its name wherever I go on the internet and hearing it out in public. And anyway, I named the disease many years ago back when I didn’t know any Bobs.

***

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.

Trail!

I have missed trails, missed following a path into unknown wonders, so when I found a nature trail at Bent’s Old Fort when my friends and I visited the historic site, I took the opportunity to head out on an adventure. I’d felt as if I had stepped back in time at the fort, and the short hike in the prairie and along the Arkansas River did nothing to dispel that feeling.

I looked back once and saw the fort, but even that sign of civilization soon disappeared from sight,

and all was as it had once been. Prairie, and trees,

and the Arkansas River.

Unless I want to travel a hundred miles or more, or traverse gravelly roads for long distances, this trail seems to be the only trail that is available to me. It’s still further than I want to drive for what is a rather short walk (though with my tweaked knee, that mile and a half seemed like a far piece.) Still, when my garage is done (if it ever is) and I can easily get on my “horse” and head out without having to uncover the vehicle and unlock gates, I’d like to visit the place more frequently. Maybe even find a place where I could take a photo each time I went so I would have a visual presentation of the slow-changing scene.

It could be an interesting project, and even better, would help me overcome my aversion to driving to a place merely to walk.

***

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.

Bent’s Old Fort

In 1833, William and Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, built the original fort on what was then the border of Mexico so they could trade with Plains Indians and trappers. For many years it was the only primarily white settlement on the Santa Fe trail between Missouri and Mexico. The fort was abandoned in 1849 because of disease and disasters. It was resurrected in 1976. The reconstruction was based on archaeological excavations, various drawings and diaries. Supposedly, the original plans for the fort were found in an attic in Germany, though I don’t know it that’s the truth or was merely an interesting story peddled to visitors.

My visiting friends and I went on an excursion to see the fort. I didn’t think it would be much of an adventure since the fort is a reconstruction and not the real thing, but once I stepped inside the gates, I was glad I went.

I felt as if I’d stepped back in time.

The whole place was as authentic as possible, with a general store

And stores

A blacksmith shop, with the huge bellows hanging from the ceiling on the upper right and attached to the adobe stove on the left

The maze of catwalks and ramps leading to the various sections on the second floor

The guard tower from the outside looking in

And the from the inside looking out

The resident peacock

and peahen.

In the summer, there are some encampments where the fort is filled with the various characters, such as the Bent brothers, as well as fur traders, the blacksmith, and the blood-letting doctor rather than the single character who entertained us. Should be fun!

***

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.