The Most Compelling Images

The most compelling images seem to be those that somehow mirror ourselves, or at least our image of ourselves. At it’s most basic, this mirroring is why humans buy magazines with other humans on the cover, and why the animals we most bond with have the cuteness of a human baby, with wide-set, round eyes, and generally a round face.

I didn’t realize that I was prey to such subconscious mimicry, but of course I should have known since, although I don’t always like to admit it, I am just a human. I was reminded of our subconscious fascination with ourselves when I was gazing at the tarot card I chose during a one-card self-reading, a painting by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. This three of wands card shows a woman standing at the edge of a land bridge, far above a mountainous scene with a river running through it.

I was suddenly struck by the familiarity of the image, and then I remember this photo of me on the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which I used for the cover of Grief: The Great Yearning:

There I am, standing at the edge of the world, though the altar-like rock in front of me masks that reality. If the photo had been taken from the same perspective as that of the tarot card image, you would see I what I am seeing — a mountainous scene with a river running through it.

No wonder the image of the woman standing above it all struck such a familiar chord.  She is I, or maybe I am she.


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.

30 Second Book Trailer For GRIEF: THE GREAT YEARNING

Grief: The Great Yearning is a finalist in the memoir category for the Sharp Writ Book Awards, and they asked me for a 30 second introduction to the book for their “awards ceremony” video. A couple of days ago I posted a draft of this video and here’s the finished video blurb.

After I put this video together, I realized an interesting coincidence: All the photos were taken in August, around the 15th.

The first photo might look like the desert, but it’s a photo of him in Colorado at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a few months before he died. I didn’t even know I had the photo, but I found it in a computer file after he was gone, and it shattered what was left of my heart. It looked as if he’d already been moving away from me toward eternity. Oddly, though I didn’t plan it, the three photos I used in the video were all taken within a few minutes of each other on that excursion. The gnarled tree with the stormy clouds, the profound depth of the canyon, the photo of him looking to eternity all now seem to be signs of my unconscious grief.

The photo on the cover of the book is taken in the very same place, exactly a year earlier. The photo of the two of us together (the only photo ever taken of the two of us together) was taken exactly thirteen years earlier than the three photos. And we met exactly thirty-two years before that last trip to the Black Canyon. I had no idea August was such a significant month for me.


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+

A Photo is Not a Living Person (Though Sometimes I Wish it Were)

I only have two photos of my deceased life mate/soul mate. It seems odd in this age of electronic imagery to have so few pictures, but there was no reason to take photos. We were almost always together. We remembered the things we did, the events we participated in, the conversations we had. A camera would have only been an intrusion in our lives.

One of the photos I have is fifteen years old, a formal photo of the two of us, taken at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. After he died, his mother wanted a picture, so I took a photo of the picture, cropped me out, and sent it to her. That image of him sat in my computer for over a year without my looking at it. I simply could not bear the pictorial reminder that he was forever gone from this earth. (To be honest, I still cannot bear the thought of his being gone.) Even worse, it didn’t look like him, not the way he looked toward the end (though it had been a perfect likeness at one time), so I barely recognized him. I didn’t want to supplant what images I had of him in my mind with a photo.

About a year ago, however, my memories of him started to fade, and I desperately needed to see him, so I printed out the photo. Somehow, the photo makes him look happy and radiant, as if he were smiling at something only he knew. (Which is odd, because he does not look at all like that in the original photo.)

The other photo of him is from a few months before we died. (I can’t believe I made such a typo, but I’m leaving it in because in so many ways, “we” did die.) I’d just come back from a trip in a rental car, and since a rental car is a terrible thing to waste, we took a rutted and sparsely graveled road to the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. (Although we lived only twenty miles from there, neither of our old cars could safely make the trip.) I didn’t realize I had a photo of him until months after his death when I went through the pictures I took of the canyon. (By then, I often took photos — seeing life through the lens of a camera was the only way I could deal with his dying and then with his death.) He is standing at the rim of the Black Canyon, his back to me, staring out at . . . eternity? I was able to look at this photo occasionally, for some reason — maybe because I was able to “see” him the way I remembered him.

There is a third photo, one his oncologist took. I’d considered asking for it, but I remember how appalled my mate was when he saw it — he looked old and haggard and gray and very, very ill. I didn’t want to remember him as such, so I never followed through with my inclination.

A few months ago, I put away the photos. I went from not wanting to look at the pictures, to drawing comfort from them, to not wanting the constant reminder he was dead. But yesterday, I set the photos out again. I needed the feeling of connection, no matter how ephemeral. I don’t know how long it will be before I can’t stand to look at them again — perhaps only a day or two. As much as I need to feel connected to him (sometimes that lack of connection is like an itch deep inside), the truth is, a photo is not a living person, and I cannot feel connected to an image on a piece of paper.

Super Bowl Overview

Overview of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a natural super bowl.

(Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

First Look at the Cover for My Grief Book!

It seems odd to be pleased over the imminent release of my grief book, as if I’m trying to capitalize on grief, but the grief is a done deal. That particular sadness is here whether the book gets published or not. I do think it’s something to be pleased about, though. It will be a helpful book, both as a companion for people who are dealing with a grief that few of their family or friends understand, and for people who want to understand what their bereft loved one is going through.  It also seems odd to be a cover girl — That certainly was never one of my ambitions! — but I couldn’t imagine a better photo for the cover than this one of me at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was a completely spontaneous photo. My hands were supposed to be on the rock, but I started turning at the last minute. (Much to the chagrin of my brother who took the photo. He made me do it over, but the do-over wasn’t as evocative as this one.)

North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Yesterday in my post, Looking at the World Through the Lens of a Camera, I mentioned a trip I took to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The south rim is the better known part of the canyon, but the north rim seems wilder to me. Here are a few photos of the canyon.

While I stood taking the previous photo, this is what lay behind me:

Grief: Looking at the World Through a Camera Lens

My publisher suggested adding photos to my soon-to-be-published book about grief, and I jumped at the chance. I’d recently read David Ebright’s YA novel Reckless Endeavor, and was impressed by how much veracity just a couple of photos gave his story, so I was glad of the opportunity to do the same for my book. The only problem is, I have almost no photos of me and my life mate. We simply did not take photos — not of the places we lived, and not of each other. It’s not that we weren’t visually inclined, it’s that we lived in the moment. If you take a photo of the moment, the shoot becomes the moment and you lose the moment itself.

A couple of years before he died, I was gifted with a digital camera, and I took hundreds of photos of trees, animal tracksa cattle drive, some yaks in a nearby field, wildflowers (well, weeds) along the lane where I walked. It helped me get through what I thought were the worst years of my life, the years of his dying. Oddly, during all that time, I only took one photo of him, and that was by accident. We always wanted to see the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, but since the road leading to the canyon was gravel, it was too hard on our old cars. We promised each other that if we ever had the use of a rental car, we would take the trip. That August, I rented a car so I could visit my brother, and when I returned, I suggested we finally go see the north rim of the canyon. He didn’t want to make the trip since he was so sick, but at the last moment, he agreed to come with me. It’s a good memory. Just him and me and the ground that fell away just beyond our feet. I had my camera, and since I knew I’d never be back, I snapped a few photos, and he ended up being in one of those pictures. It still makes me cry, that photo. He’s standing with his back to me, staring at  . . . eternity, perhaps. Did he know he had just a few more months to live? I sure didn’t, or perhaps I was simply refusing to face the truth.

The year after he died (which actually was the worst year of my life), I took thousands of photos. The world had turned black and white, and it was only through the lens of a camera that I could see color and life. I roamed the neighborhood and the nearby desert, looking for visual treasures.

And then suddenly, a few months ago, I stopped carrying my camera around. Apparently, despite my continued sadness, I’m back in the moment, living life at full strength rather than diluted through the lens of the camera. I didn’t even realize how far I’d come until I started hunting photos for my book and realized I’d stopped taking pictures.

(I did manage to scrounge a few photos for the book, though not as many as my publisher wanted. And we’ll be using the only photo of the two of us for the back cover even if it is fifteen years old.)