More of Life’s Confusion

Yesterday I mentioned how much of life, dying, death, grief still confuse me, though now I am usually able to store such things in the back of my mind rather than dwell on them. Writing about that confusion made me remember how often I’ve been confused in life.

When I was very young, almost everything confused me. People always seemed to know things I didn’t, and I didn’t know how they learned such things. For example, everyone knew the names of the streets, and even though I knew the streets around where I lived, once we got out of the neighborhood, I hadn’t a clue what the streets were, and yet everyone else did. It wasn’t until after I got glasses in fourth grade that the confusion cleared. So that’s how everyone knew what the streets were! There were signs, and they could read them.

I came from parents who never used slang and who wouldn’t let any of us use it in their presence, who wouldn’t buy a television or let us listen to the radio unsupervised, so when I went to school, I didn’t understand what most of the insults meant. I remember asking a friend once what “fart” meant, and she turned bright red, and could barely stammer out the meaning.

There were many other episodes, such as the day a group of girls on the school bus were giggling about double-barreled slingshots, and when I asked what those were, they just laughed harder and made fun of me for being such a baby.

Many years later, I saw a Beverly Hillbillies show where the once-poor country girl who knew nothing of women’s underwear, called a bra a double-barreled slingshot. And suddenly it all made sense. I hadn’t been “such a baby.” I simply didn’t have the same cultural references than they did. I read. They watched television.

Although I liked my school classes, mostly because it was cut and dried (1+1=2) so there was no confusion, I still got confused at times. Years later, when I researched those confusing subjects, I learned that the reason I was confused was that the lesson — whatever it had been — was not the truth, or not the whole truth.

And then even later, listening to politicians, I’d get confused until it finally dawned on me that this particular brand of confusion acted as my own particular lie detector. It still works, though now I recognize it for what it is. (Oddly, during this past election, the only person who did not set off a spate of confusion was the one person most people were convinced was a liar.)

Such a lot of confusion! No wonder I spent my life reading and researching. All that not knowing set up a craving in me to know. I do know some things, but mostly what I learned is that just because everyone else knows something, it doesn’t make it true. And I learned to live with not knowing. Although some things we can know, such as the names of the streets and what a double-barreled slingshot is, there are other things we cannot know.

Perhaps this acceptance of not knowing is part of maturity. Maybe it’s just an excuse for being mentally lazy or some other not-quite admirable trait, but I am comfortable (usually) with confusion.

If nothing else, it keeps me from being arrogant. At least, I think it does.


“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Life’s Confusion

The other night I talked to Jeff’s photo, as I sometimes do. I think it was Christmas night, and I was feeling a bit lost. And confused. So much of what has happened to me in the past twelve or thirteen years (the years of his dying and the years of my grief) still doesn’t make sense, but for the most part, I just go on about my life, concentrating on the day I am living.

Even so, sometimes, the confusion makes itself felt. For example, I really do like my house, my life, having a place to call home, but it all came about because Jeff died. If he hadn’t died, my life would have been completely different. I wouldn’t have missed this current life, of course, because I would never have known it existed, but still, the confusion is there.

I also continue to be confused about life and death, what it is, where we go, and all that, but again, generally I don’t think about it, just take it as a fact that he is gone and I am not.

And I’m still confused about a lot that happened that last year we were together. I don’t worry about it much — after all, it was a long time ago — but there is one episode that still makes me feel ashamed.

When people talk about those who care for their dying spouses, we imagine tender care, patience, and the warm glow of love. After all, that’s how it’s portrayed in movies, and movies are a reflection of real life, right?

Well, no. Many of us endure a love/hate relationship — we want to be with them and savor ever moment we have, yet at times we can’t stand the stress, the turmoil, the pain (theirs and ours), the sleepless nights and all else that goes along with trying to survive while your mate is struggling with death. We can’t always be the person we want to be, and even worse, as the months pass and the exhaustion and numbness take hold, we become someone we’d just as soon pretend never existed.

Even during a year where death hovers, life still reigns. So we live. We get impatient and frantic and frustrated and surly. And, even though sometimes we wish they’d die and get it over with, we never really believe they are going to die. We forget that each day might be the last, and so we forget to be patient and kind.

It’s one of those time that still shames me. He was looking at Google Earth and visiting all the places he once knew. I listened to his stories of old Denver for a while, and then suddenly I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I got impatient and left. I still don’t know why I felt that way, so that adds to the confusion. There wouldn’t have been a problem if not for Death. If there had been another time, I would have made a point of drawing up a chair and soaking in the time together, but there wasn’t another time. And I am left with the knowledge of how I am not always the kind and patient and generous person I wish to be.

And I am left with confusion.

So much of that time is gone, out of mind. Even if I wanted to remember it, I couldn’t. I can’t even, at times, remember being with him, even though he was the most important person in my life for decades. Even after he died, he continued to be important because of the grief I experienced.

I don’t think I will ever truly find my way out of the confusion. Despite all my studies and experience and contemplation of dying, death, and grief, so much can’t be known. Most of the time, I can live with the confusion in the same way I live with the knowledge that one day I will die. It’s there, but doesn’t have any meaning on a day-to-day level.

Until, of course, there comes a day when the confusion wells up, and I end up pretend talking to Jeff.


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

Grief Update

I haven’t been posting any grief updates lately because I haven’t had much to tell. There has been no great pain or sorrow, no major traumas or dramas, no new adventures to undertake — just living my every day life of quiet sadness and loneliness.

Although I haven’t had any major grief upsurges for a while, I do often think of my deceased life mate/soul mate, even talk to him. Oddly, now that the agony of grief has mostly subsided, it feels as if he is back at home, waiting for me to finish my present tasks and return to him. I know he isn’t there, of course, but without the pain to simultaneously bind us and separate us, he doesn’t feel quite so gone.

I am still very confused by death. How can he be dead? Where is he? Is he? Perhaps he is waiting for me, perhaps he is simply gone . . . deleted. I won’t know until my life is ended, and perhaps not even then. Whatever exists beyond our cloak of materiality and physicality, beyond our brains and our minds, might have consciousness, or might simply be pure energy that returns to the Everything.

I’ve never known where to put his death in my head. I can’t be glad about it, yet at the same time, he couldn’t have continued to suffer. But more than that, if he is in a better place, why I am still here? And if life is a gift, why was it denied him? I’ve held on to the idea that dying relatively young was unfair to him, that he is missing something, and a lot of my grief was on his behalf, but the other night I realized it truly doesn’t matter whether we are alive or dead. Well, his death matters to me, but it doesn’t matter to the universe, and it probably doesn’t matter to him. Nor does my continued life matter in the vastness of life/death. A few years extra of life is but a dandelion seed in the winds of time. Almost totally matterless. Maybe even meaningless. In which case it truly doesn’t make any difference that I am alive and he is dead. (Well, except for the part where I miss him, but this insight wasn’t about that.)

Even if life is largely matterless and meaningless, I am still alive and at least for now, that does make a difference to me and those I am in contact with. But it’s good knowing I neither have to be glad nor sad for him, that I can continue to live without feeling bad that he is dead. Knowing this also makes it easier to remember him, to recall what we had, to celebrate his place in my life. I am still sad, of course, and maybe I always will be. I miss him, wish desperately for one smile, but gradually I am letting go of my worries for him. He doesn’t need them, and they are an unnecessary relic of our life together. And for all I know, he could be perfectly content, sitting by some cosmic lake, two ghost cats purring in his lap.

Someday, as my grief continues to wane, I might even get to the point where I find renewed life, but I still take comfort where I can find it, and for now I take comfort in thinking that life and death are somehow one.


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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+