Shedding Light on Old Fears

Last night I again suffered a bout of fear over growing old alone. I haven’t had such feelings for a long time, partly because I have been living alone and am getting used to it, but mostly because I’ve been keeping my mind away from the inevitable decrepitude of old age, and away from thoughts of being that old lady whose house is falling down around her because she doesn’t have the funds to shore the thing up.

For now, the decrepitude is advancing very slowly, just a matter of knees that don’t bend as well as they did, not being able to walk as far as I once did, and not being able to easily climb up steep stairs without dragging myself along. But bodies do tend to break down, and one day . . .

Yeah, better not think of that day.

It’s odd, though, that the fear last night was of growing old alone rather than the fear of being broke because of all the extra expenses I didn’t expect when I bought this place, such as having to build a new garage. The old one might have lasted for years, maybe even the rest of my life (or the rest of my car’s life) but even though it seemed solid and well built, the shed-like garage had been built on shaky ground. (Probably above an old septic system, which, combined with a high-water table, made the area rather damp.)

The other things that I have had done to the house and property, such as putting in a new foundation for the enclosed porch and replacing the old porch floor, removing diseased trees, and putting up a fence, didn’t really change things that much. It just felt as if I were cleaning up the place.

But a garage is a whole other matter. Erecting a building from scratch seems so much like growing deep roots, as if I were no longer just playing house, but living here for real.

I realize I’ve been here for almost a year, setting down tender and tentative new roots, but building a garage seems like the beginning of a massive root system. Makes settling down — and settling down alone — even more real than it had been. (Besides, all the talk of security that came with planning the garage, such as lights and locks and security cameras, as well as having to be aware of the seedy characters that walk the alley, is enough to feed anyone’s fears of being old and alone.)

Luckily, I’ve made friends, and luckily, the contractor is aware of and considerate of my need to fix things now to make my old age easier, but fears aren’t logical. Or maybe they are logical, and I do have something to fear.

But I won’t — can’t — let myself be afraid.

Today is a new day, and though the sun isn’t shining and the temperature rather cool, it’s bright enough to shed light on that old fear and make it scurry from sight.

***

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.

Eve of Seven Years of Grief

1:40 AM tonight marks the seventh anniversary of when my life mate/soul mate died. If it is true that our bodies are renewed every seven years, then this anniversary is another death — the death of whatever remains of him in me. When two people live together for an extended period of time, in our case thirty-four years, you not only exchange ideas and energy, you also exchange atoms and molecules, and DNA via benign viruses, so for all these years I carried a bit of him with me. And now he is truly gone. (I still have his cremains, haven’t decided yet what to do with them, but that is another story.)

A month ago, I entered a spate of grief so profound, I felt almost the same as I did at the beginning, as if parts of me were being amputated. Could that be when the last iota of him in me died? As romantic as the notion is, I have a hunch the upsurge of grief was simply that — an upsurge. Generally the month leading up to the anniversary is much worse than the anniversary itself, and I expected the past month to be a horror of pain. During that grief upsurge though, I wrote him a letter, and also printed out a photo of him to hang on my wall. (My photos are all packed away in a storage unit, and since I cannot drive because of my arm, they are not available to me.) Because of this renewed connection, as ephemeral though it might be, or maybe just because after all it’s been seven years since he died, the past month has not been a horror of grief, but rather a time of relative tranquility.

I still don’t understand life, death, grief. Don’t understand why some people are allowed to live out their lives with a special person, and others are fated to go into old age alone. It used to bother me, this unknowing, and sometimes it still does, but generally I try to live in the moment, to take from the day what I can and leave the immortal questions for another time.

I do know I will always be grateful he shared his life with me, even though memory of that life is fading behind newer memories of my life alone. And I know I will always miss him. We shared a special bond, not like a long married couple, not even like soul mates, though that is how I describe our relationship — more like cosmic twins. For most of our life together, I thought the bond was so strong it would pull me into death when he went, and I resented his having five years more of life than I would. As it turns out, something in me did die that day but other things were born, such as a determination to live, and I have now lived two years longer than he did. I resent the extra years on his behalf, though I hope he is beyond caring.

I don’t know where the next seven years will lead me — no one knows what the future will bring, of course. Will it end with me sitting at my computer telling you about the 14th anniversary of his death? By then, I will be elderly. No, I don’t want to even think about that. I’m still afraid of growing old alone, still afraid of being old alone. But today, living in the moment, there is no fear, just a sense that . . . I don’t know . . . maybe that my life is unrolling as it must.

There probably won’t be room for tears tomorrow. I have pre-op doctor and lab appointments that will take up much of the day. (As of now, the surgery to have the external fixator removed from my arm is scheduled for April 4th.) And I am packing one handed for a move to a nicer room and a nicer neighborhood.

Changes.

So much has changed in the past seven years. For a long time, I lamented that his death and my grief did not change me, but looking back, I no longer know who that woman was who clung so firmly to life when all she loved was swept away.

One thing has not changed — a great yearning to see him one more time. To see his smile that so often warmed me. To see the light in his eyes when something interested him.

And one other thing has not changed — disbelief. I can’t believe he’s been gone so many years. Can’t believe I survived.

And yet, changed,/ unchanged, here I am.

***

(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.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.