Thank You

thankyouA big thank you to everyone who responded to my post Enabling or Decency and Caring?, offering support and advise. I still am not sure what to do about the situation, but I am taking all your comments into consideration before deciding how to handle the problem.

During all these years of grief over the loss of my life mate/soul mate, I found comfort telling myself, “I am where I am supposed to be.” I don’t believe in fate, don’t believe that our lives are decided for us (at least, not always), and yet, there is serenity to be found in accepting that perhaps the universe is unfolding as is should. It’s possible this drama of mine is also unfolding as it should. It is bringing me closer to being emotionally free of a conflict that has burdened me almost my whole life. At the very least, talking about it has brought me peace.

I do not think I am in a dangerous situation (though of course, any situation has its dangers). I do not think I will be hurt and, despite my brief outbursts of unadmirable behavior, I do not think I will hurt anyone else.

I have finally come to an understanding that I did not create the problem, and that there is nothing I can do to change it. I can change myself, though, to the extent that any of us can change ourselves. I can make sure that I take care of myself, relieve stress with physical activities, lead my own life as much as possible under the circumstances, and most of all, find solace in the realization that all things come to an end.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Silent Language of Grief

The so-called five stages of grief are so ingrained that most people think that’s all there is to grief. You deny, you get angry, you feel pain and guilt (and sometimes you bargain for the return of your loved one), you feel depressed, and finally, you accept. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? A brief checklist of stages, and then you get on with your life.

But grief is not that simple. First, those stages were described by Kübler-Ross to show how people come to terms with their own death and perhaps that of a loved one. It bears little resemblance to how people grieve after the death of a long time mate. Sure, we bereft have moments of anger, times of depression, some feelings of guilt, but most of us undergo a completely different set of stages, such as shock, bewilderment, hopelessness, loss of identity, anxiety, panic, isolation, loneliness, yearning. (For most of us, not anger or guilt but a vast yearning to see our mates once more drives our grief.) We also have physical changes to cope with that aren’t addressed in the Kübler-Ross model, such as immune system deficiencies, stress, dizziness, nausea, changes in brain chemistry, hormone disturbances, loss of equilibrium, and a higher death rate from all causes than non-grievers.

Still, whatever stages of grief a person goes through, there does come a time when you accept the truth deep in the marrow of your being — he is gone forever. You think this acceptance signifies the end of your grief, but do you want to know what often lies on the other side of acceptance? Heartbreak and tears. Sure, there are times of peace as you become used to your aloneness, but acceptance feels like another death, and it needs to be grieved. (It’s one thing to know he’s never coming back, and another thing to KNOW it. This acceptance is why the second year of grieving is often worse than the first year.)

Grief is a way of processing information. We know our loved one is absent, but is it possible to comprehend how very gone he is? To understand the nature and finality of death? Perhaps not, but by feeling the pain of separation and releasing it through tears, we can come to accept (however unwillingly) the idea that our loved one is gone from this earth.

It’s been sixty-nine weeks since my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I still have bouts of tears. I was always a stoic and believed in facing reality, but this is one reality I cannot comprehend. I try to conjure him up in my mind, but he is forever out of reach. Forever gone.

According to Voltaire, “Tears are the silent language of grief.” When we have no words to describe our loss, when we have no way of comprehending the incomprehensible, all we have left are tears to communicate to us the depth of that knowledge and the depth of our loss. And so I weep.

The Simple Truth

I’m beginning to understand the truth of grief — you never truly get over it. Whenever I think I’ve reached a stage of acceptance and peace, grief has a way of swinging around and coming at me from a different direction, and it always takes me by surprise.

Yesterday was a good day. I started in on my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and managed to write the allotted number of words in just a few hours, which pleased me. I’m such a slow writer, I thought it would take me all day to do it, especially since I piddled around for a while, trying to decide which kind of paper to use, which pencil, which clipboard. (Yeah, I admit it — I still write by hand, mainly because it’s easier on my eyes.)

I also posted a blog for the first day of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month).

My self-imposed commitments finished for the day, I went walking in the desert. It was perfect weather — blue skies and warm, still air.

Then bam! Out of nowhere, grief socked me in the gut. I wanted so much to see my mate, to talk to him, that I would barely breathe. The pain lasted for hours. And tears? Too many to count.

The novel I started writing for NaNo was about a grieving woman, so perhaps that had something to do with my upsurge in grief. I’ve been worried that immersing myself in the story of a woman who lost her husband be a bit much for me at this stage, but I also know that I won’t want to revisit grief once I’m done with it. (Yes, I know —  one is never done with grief, but the pain does lessen an the bouts of tears come further apart.)

It’s possible any writing would have brought on this re-grief — he was my sounding board (literally a sounding board –I always read to him what I wrote). And it’s possible it was just time. Lately I’ve been distracting myself when the pain crept in, so it could have been building up.

The whys of this spate of grief, however, are not important. It still comes down to the simple truth: He is dead and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it except learn to live with it.

Is Hate a Stage of Grief?

Is hate a stage of grief? If not, it should be. I don’t see how one can avoid it.

I’ve proved, to myself at least, that I can live without my life mate. It’s been twenty-eight weeks since he died, and in that time I’ve managed to get rid of his clothes and his car, clean out the accumulation of decades, move 1000 miles from our home, walk at least that many miles, eat, drink a lot of water, sleep (after a fashion), make new friends (mostly people who have also lost their mates, which gives us an instant bond of understanding). I smile now, and laugh. I can even look forward to the immediate future: I’ve planned an excursion (going to an art museum to see Mesoamerican antiquities, including an Olmec head) and I’m thinking about doing NaNoWriMo (something I said I would never do, but I need to kick start my writing after all the kicks life has given me lately). The point is, despite my grief, despite the oceans of tears I’ve shed and continue to shed, I have done these things. I can live without him. But I hate that I have to.

I’m coming to an acceptance of his death, though I’m not sure I understand it. (Don’t much understand life, either, but that’s a topic for another day.) I know I will never see him again in this life, and I hate it. I hate that I will never go back home to him. I hate that I will never talk to him again. I hate that I will never see his slow sweet smile again.

I hate that he will never watch another movie. I hate that he will never plant another tree and watch it grow. I hate that he will never have another cat. I hate that he will never read another book. I hate that he will never listen to his music tapes again. I hate that he will never start another business. I hate that he will never play another game of baseball, or smell another flower, or swim in another lake. I hate that so many of his dreams are going unfilfulled.

Most of all, I hate that he is dead.

I am thankful that I had him in my life for as long as I did, but I hate that his years were cut short. I know I should be glad that he isn’t suffering any more, and I am. But I hate that he had to suffer in the first place.

This stage will pass as have all the other stages of grief I’ve lived through. I might even find happiness again, but he will still be gone. And I hate that.

I Am a Five-Month Grief Survivor

Five months ago, my life mate died . . . and I am surviving. I had not expected to grieve much — he had suffered a long time, and his death was hard-won — but still, those first endless weeks were difficult. The delineation between “us together” and “me alone” was so abrupt, so stark, so uncompromising that I had a hard time fathoming it. I finally went to a grief support group to find out how one survives such pain. I never did find out, but I discovered that one can survive the trauma, which helped, as did talking about my experience and listening to what others had to say. Grief is so isolating that it’s nice not to feel alone.

What helped most of all, though, was simply living. During the past five months, I have read dozens of books, walked hundreds of miles, written thousands of words, taken I-don’t-know-how-many photos, met many people both online and offline. All of those experiences have helped create memories, memories of a life without him, and those memories have softened the threshold between “us together” and “me alone.” I still have times of great sadness, still have that falling-elevator feeling when I remember I will never see him again, still miss him (probably always will), but for the most part I am doing okay.

I’ve abandoned my mental crutches — I no longer write a letter to him every day, don’t talk to him very often, don’t feel a need to scream. I am thinking more of the future, which signifies hope and getting on with my life, but such thoughts also bring moments of panic when I think of having to grow old alone. Mostly, I try to live in the moment and take each day as it comes.

One big trauma this past month was when I finally accepted in my depths that I will never see him again in this life. I knew that from the beginning, of course, but knowing it, feeling it, and accepting it are completely different things. People talk about acceptance as if it’s a peaceful thing, yet it at the time it felt as if I were losing him all over again. But that passed as everything does.

One big advancement this past month happened just this morning — for the first time since his death, I smiled when I thought of him. He would be glad — he’d have hated being the cause of so much pain.

He was a good man. I’m glad he shared his life with me.

On Writing: Characters and Grief

For characters to be realistic, they need to experience the same emotional arcs that we experience in our lives. A grieving person, for example, undergoes several stages, including denial, guilt, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. Chip, the hero of my current work loses everything and everyone he loves in a single day of earthly upheaval, but so much was thrown at him so fast, he barely had time to comprehend it all, let alone go through protracted stages of grief.

Still, he did experience a period of denial; how could he not? What happened to him and the world was unbelievable. He also felt guilt, wondering why he survived when so many others didn’t, but again, he had little time to indulge in the feeling — he had to learn to live in a plastic world. (Plastic, in this case, meaning capable of being molded and re-formed.) He dealt with it all until the final insult — the loss of the candy that was his one indulgence — and then he gave in to a fit of anger.

These first three stages, as I mentioned, were brief. Now that he is in a place of safety, away from the upheavals of his world, he could revisit those stages, but I don’t think it’s necessary. No point in taxing a reader’s patience with repetition of effects. So that leaves me with the two final stages of grief.

At the end, Chip will come to accept what happened to him. He will also come to accept his new role in life, but until then he will need to go through a period of depression. Should this depression be as short as the other stages? Should it continue for a while to make his predicament seem more normal? I don’t think it’s necessary. A character in a constant state of depression is not a vibrant character by definition and, anyway, this story is supposed to be lighthearted, a whimsically ironic apocalyptic fantasy.

I’m thinking on the fly here, letting you see how I develop a character. That’s not strictly true. I’m doing it because I need to figure out my hero’s next stage of development, and I need to post some sort of bloggery. I end up getting so many people to guest, that I forget the main purpose of this blog: me. Well, me, my novels, and my characters.

But for now, I do know where I stand with Chip. He will be going through a period of depression, but also he will be dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Or will he? I’ll figure that one out tomorrow.

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What If People Like My Books?

An odd thought struck me this morning: what if people actually like my books? Over the past few years, I’ve racked up hundreds of rejections. I told myself the agents and editors were only rejecting my query letters, because what else could they be rejecting? None of those I sent letters to had ever heard of me, so they could not be rejecting me personally. Nor did most request any part of a manuscript, so they could not be rejecting my novels. But others did request parts of the manuscripts, and found them wanting. Some did not like my characters, my setting, my matter-of-fact style, my inability to sweep them away. Some did not like that the books could not be easily slotted into a genre. The rest simply said the books did not fit with their list. I had a great attitude through all those rejections, and I didn’t think they affected me, but they must have, because I’ve been steeling myself against weak sales and less-than-stellar reviews.

Ever since More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire were accepted by Second Wind Publishing, I’ve been so focused on figuring out how to sell my books (I even started a new blog, Book Marketing Floozy, to share what I learned and will continue to learn) that it never occurred to me people might read my books. Of course, one-fourth to one-half of all purchased books are never read, so perhaps those who buy won’t read, but what if they do?

Now that my publication date is nearing (actually, it’s not a date, more like a time — end of November), and my novels are about to be made available, I’m getting nervous. Only one person (a free lance editor I met in a writing group) read all four of my manuscripts, and she absolutely loved them. And an author I met through my blog read one of my manuscripts, and she thought it was brilliant. Although many people have read excerpts of my novels, no one else has ever read one all the way through. Soon my novels will be published.

And what if people like them?