A Burden I Didn’t Know I Was Carrying

A few days ago, I wrote about rethinking this whole blogging thing. Since I had nothing else to write about, I’d been writing about the one thing I know — me — and I’d come to the conclusion it wasn’t healthy or smart to put so much of myself out there.

I thought it would be difficult to break the daily blogging habit of almost three years, but in the end, it was simple. I did what I felt like doing, which was keep my thoughts to myself. Actually, it wasn’t that I wanted to keep my thoughts to myself, but that I didn’t want to have any thoughts in the first place. It’s hard, of course, not to think, but it’s one thing to let one’s thoughts slide into the mind and then slide right out again, and another thing to try to sift through all those fleeting thoughts, capture one, and then expand on it for a blog topic.

What a relief to just let the thoughts go.

And I was right — the world did not come to an end when I stopped blogging every day.

What I found interesting is how this new non-daily blog habit has made itself felt. It gives me two or three extra hours every day. I imagine my breezy writing style makes it seem as if I jot a few words and then simply publish what I write, but it takes a lot of work to make something seem light and easy — writing, editing, re-editing, re-re-editing, adding tags to the blog so it will show up in search results, preparing a photo, publishing the blog, republishing to another blog, posting the reblogged link on Facebook. Even better, because I’m not blogging, I have no need to check Facebook and the blogsite and my email because there are no comments to respond to. So yes, a lot of free time!

Without having to think about what I am thinking, and without having to examine my days for a topic, I have a lot of free mental time, too. And I know that Socrates is wrong: the unexamined life is worth living. In fact, it might even be worth more than an examined life.

And then there’s the whole compassion fatigue situation. Because I am not a therapist or a grief counselor, I never would have thought such a state would apply to me, but over the past twelve and a half years I have mentored (for lack of a better word) hundreds of people through the worst of their grief, and I am truly fatigued. I have always felt powerless in the face of other people’s grief, but knowing at least to an extent what they are going through, I tried my best to listen and be kind, but now I am having a hard time summoning up any compassion or patience. I understand that to them, grief is new and ever-present, but to me . . . not so much. My life with Jeff is now far in the past and so is my grief for him. In fact, I barely remember what I went through unless I am reminded by people who want to talk about their grief. So, without having to deal with other people’s grief, I have a lot of free emotional time, too.

I don’t regret my work on behalf of grievers, in fact, I’m glad I could help, but now it’s time for me to let that part of my life go. So for those of you who need help with your grief or who simply want to talk about what you are going through, please check out the various grief forums and online grief support groups. I know a lot of people who found them helpful and comforting, and I am sure you will, too. (I will, of course, continue to respond to comments left on my blog.)

So, what am I doing with all this free time? Not thinking, that’s for sure. Not feeling much, either, except lightness at having shrugged off a burden I didn’t know I was carrying.

***

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.

Daily Blogging

I’m starting to rethink this whole blogging thing, especially daily blogging, and that’s not a bad thing. Next week will be the fifteenth anniversary of when I started this blog. I’d read how important blogging was for authors, both as a way of getting known and as a way of connecting with readers, so even though I had no idea what a blog was, wasn’t yet published, had nothing to say, I jumped right in. I didn’t blog every day at the beginning, though during the years, I had several stretches where I did blog every day. Out of the 5,480 days from the beginning until today, I’ve blogged 3,565 times.

I started out writing about writing and books, then after Jeff died, I let my grief spill over onto this blog. When I set out on my 12,500 mile, 5-month cross-country trip, the focus of my blog changed again. And then it changed again when I became a houseowner with a yard to landscape.

Now? I’m still involved with gardening, but I don’t want to turn this into a gardening blog. Nor am I especially interesting in continuing to chronicle my daily life, my ups and downs, my moods, my periodic loneliness, and my infrequent bouts of missing Jeff. I don’t think it’s healthy or smart to put so much of myself out there. It was one thing when I was frantic with grief and needed an outlet, but I certainly don’t need an outlet when I am merely feeling melancholy or even just blah. Nor do I want to put emphasis on such times by writing about them.

Even worse than writing about those moods is trying to put a good slant on them. Sometimes it’s important to just be. Don’t name what the feeling is. Don’t write about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t try to be grateful or see the bright side. Just be.

I’ll probably continue daily blogging for a while longer because it’s the only writing I do, and it is a good discipline, but to be honest, it would be just as good a discipline if I forgot blogging and started a new book. (Not that I have any plans to write another book, I’m just giving an example.)

Also, after my current streak of 1,089 days of daily blogging, not blogging every day is too big a decision to make lightly. Or maybe it isn’t a big decision — all I’d have to do is skip a few days and see what happens.

The world wouldn’t come to an end, that I know.

***

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.

Uneasy

I wasn’t sure I wanted to post a blog today — I’m feeling uneasy and didn’t really want talk about it lest it seem as if I were complaining, though that wouldn’t have been my intention. Then I decided that this disinclination to “share” anything today wasn’t worth breaking a 1,087 daily blog streak, and anyway, I’ve often spoken of things that didn’t exactly show me in a good light.

(“Share” is in quotation marks because I have come to hate that word — it’s such a social networking cliché, but it’s the only one I’ve found that works in this particular context.)

To be honest, this uneasiness is not that big of a deal — I’m just feeling out of sorts and didn’t want to seem self-indulgent by writing about it. Since I couldn’t think of another topic that I haven’t done to death (I mean really, how many times can I write about grass?), and since I didn’t want to use such a feeble excuse as uneasiness to quit the daily blog routine, and since I’ve confessed to worse things, here I am.

Yesterday I went to a meeting of a guild I belong to, and maybe three times as many people showed up compared to what I’m used to. I was fine while I was there, but when I got home, I felt . . . not sad exactly, but definitely not happy. Just uneasy. I have never done well in groups, and this was the biggest group I’ve been in for more than two years, and apparently, it was more than I could handle.

I woke this morning in that same uneasy state, but since I didn’t have to work today, I went outside to continue digging up weedy grass. (Oops. I there is that “G” word, after all.) I had nothing else to do, and I figured the physical activity would help get me back to my normal stoic self. It didn’t. In fact, it made me wonder what the heck I’m doing all that work for. It seems silly, really — all that work and worry just for a bit of a lawn and a few flowers. But then I reminded myself I need a focus. It doesn’t matter how silly the focus is — it’s important to have something to concentrate on outside of myself to keep me from looking too deeply into myself or looking too closely at my life.

I’m okay living alone (and considering my reaction to yesterday’s meeting, I’m apparently more okay being alone than being around a lot of people), but if I look at the realities — growing old alone, having no one to do nothing with, having to rely so much on myself — it just seems too dang sad. So I try to focus on other things, no matter how silly they might seem. Like working in the yard.

This uneasiness will pass as moods generally do. If not, well, I’ll be back at my care-giving job tomorrow, and that for sure will make me think of something — or rather someone — besides myself.

***

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.

Space Filler

This is one of those write-anything-so-you-can-say-you-wrote-something posts. I had an unexpected day off, so I accompanied a couple of friends who had appointments in a not-so-nearby city (the first time I’ve been in a major city in many years). I didn’t do much but fill space as I sat in the car and stared out the window watching the world go by, but it was nice to spend a day with these people, especially since it might be a year before I see one of them again. (He’s heading back to Thailand to be with his sick wife, and once again I will be looking after his house for him.)

As pleasant as the day was, it didn’t save me much time to write a real blogpost instead of a space filler. In the grand scheme of life, I don’t suppose it matters if I skip a day now and again, but today is the 914th day of a daily blogging streak, and I hate to quit when I am so close to 1,000 days. (Close? Sheesh. I still have almost three months to go!)

The funny thing about this trip is that both my sisters (who live on the west coast) were in that very city just a couple of days ago. I couldn’t get to Denver to visit them — not only was there a major snowstorm moving through Colorado, but my brakes, which have been working fine, decided to go squishy on me. (Because there hasn’t been a problem, I haven’t been reminding the mechanic to order a brake cylinder with the proper clocking to fit my car, so yesterday I stopped by to tell him about the brakes.) Because of The Bob, and because I am not fully vaccinated, my sisters’ immune-compromised friends didn’t want them to visit me, so I wouldn’t have been able to see them even if there weren’t a snowstorm and even if my brakes did work, which is okay. I’ve been leery of being around travelers anyway, because a person is only as healthy as the last person they sat next to.

Tomorrow should be a more leisurely day for writing, so I’ll fill you in on my trip. Meantime, here is a photo of what I saw when I was staring out the window of the moving car.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Because of various Bob-related issues around town, I haven’t been working much lately, which has been nice. I like having my time to myself to do what I wish (and even what I don’t wish but need to get done).

Sometime during the next couple of weeks, things should settle down enough that we (my fellow caregiver and our client) can get back to our regular schedule, which will also be nice because the extra company is good for me and the extra money helps pay for a few frivolities, such as groceries and grass (the lawn kind, not the erstwhile illegal kind). Still, I’m okay with whatever might happen. Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned to be resilient enough to take whatever comes my way, though I do reserve the right to whine a bit if I feel it.

In two weeks and a day, we start a new year. I’ve never been particularly excited about a new year since basically all it means is a clean calendar and learning to put a different year on the few checks I write. Even worse, we carry our old selves into the new year, so despite all our resolutions (or lack of resolutions), the old year folds into the new one without a hitch. For some reason, though, perhaps because of uncertainties The Bob is still causing, I am looking forward to this new year with a bit of hope, as if it is actually something new.

For sure, it’s a new month, one that will bring me closer to spring and spring flowers to brighten my day. It will also bring me closer to another “elder” birthday, but that’s not a problem. The actual number of years don’t matter, of course, though what all those years have done to me does. I can still do almost everything I want to, but I am slower, and I find myself tilting forward when I stand or walk. It takes a concerted effort to remember to roll my shoulders back and stand up straight, but I can still do that, which is good. (In his old age, my father tilted forward when he walked, too, and I always wondered why. Perhaps our sense of equilibrium goes out of whack like so much else.)

The other thing that the new year will bring is an end to my 100-day blogging challenge, though that won’t be the end of the daily blogging. Although sometimes it’s hard to come up with something to say, it’s still a good exercise for me, so I will continue at least until I reach the 1000-day mark. (183 more days.) Or not. Life itself is a continual challenge, and we never quite know what each day will bring, but if everything goes as planned, I’ll be here every day until the middle of June.

Meantime, there’s the rest of today to enjoy, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

***

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.

Books and Blogs

I seem to be doing my blogging later and later as time goes on. Unfortunately, inspiration is hard to come by when one spends most of one’s time alone. And then there is the matter of laziness, perhaps, or simply a tendency toward procrastination. Either way, here I am with my lights on since it’s dark outside, trying to think of something interesting to say. One of these days, I will give in to the temptation to let a day or two slide, but for now, I’ve committed to daily blogging for the rest of the year.

Just about the only thing I’ve been thinking about (other than that it will be another six months before I can get back into gardening) is the awful book I just finished reading. I could have put it aside at any time, of course, but then the uneasiness fostered by the story would have lingered much longer than it would by finishing it. Normally I don’t read contemporary women’s lit, but I needed a break from my usual diet of murder and suspense, which is a mistake I won’t be making again soon.

There seem to be two types of books that are targeted specifically for women — happily-ever-after stories (romances that tell the beginning of a relationship), and unhappily-ever-after stories, (novels that tell what happens to the loving couple after many years of being together).

This particular book was of the second variety. The main theme was about communication; none of the characters every told their partner what they were thinking. They expected the other person to know what was going on in their minds without their having to say a single word, and each character interpreted their partner’s actions in light of their own insecurities rather than the partner’s.

Even worse, the novel told three very loosely connected stories. The only connecting element was a house that none of them end up with; otherwise, the three stories had nothing to do with one another. Worst of all, there was nothing in any of the stories to offset the growing sense of dread and dreariness as the couples all drifted further apart. Just misunderstanding built on misunderstanding built on misunderstanding.

Simple discussions at the beginning of the book would have swept away all those misunderstandings. But then, there would have been no book for me to suffer through. Nor would I have had anything to write about today.

One of the stories was about a couple who were divorced from their original partners, and who ended up getting married. Since each had children from the prior marriage, and each child brought their own insecurities to the new home, dread was piled on dread. Some of that dread, I am sure, has to do with my own situation. I am at the age where, if I ever ended up in another relationship, it would be complicated by his children and grandchildren and perhaps even a great-grandbaby or two. (Unless, of course, he’s the type to eschew all family, in which case he wouldn’t be worth having.) The mere thought of having to sort out and find a way to combine the baggage of two lifetimes wearies me.

Luckily, I have no interest in another relationship. I have a house (and this blog), and that’s about as much responsibility as I want in my life.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Happy Fourteenth Bloggiversary to Me!

I created this blog fourteen years ago today, back when I hadn’t yet become a published author, back when I had just acquired my first computer and didn’t even know what a blog was. I had read how important blogging was for authors, both as a way of getting known and as a way of connecting with readers, so I decided to “act as if” I were going to be published in the hopes of making it happen. I had nothing to say, no one to say it to, no reason to say anything, but I didn’t let that stop me. I started blogging on September 24, 2007, and haven’t stopped since.

Did acting as if I were going to get published work? Perhaps, though there is no direct connection that I know of. Still, one and a half years after starting this blog, my first two books were published. I now have nine books available: four suspense novels, one mystery, three books about grief (one fiction and two non-fiction), and my most recent book, Bob: The Right Hand of God. (My publisher said, “Bob: The Right Hand of God is playful, fun and well-written. It spans genres, so I’m not sure if there is an exploitable target audience. I don’t care. I like it.”

Two-and-half years after I started this blog, my life mate/soul mate died, and his death catapulted me into a world of such pain that it bled over into my posts. This blog became a place where I could try to make sense of what I was going through, to offer comfort and be comforted, to find my way to renewed life. And I struck a chord with people who were also dealing with grief. It’s no wonder my top posts are grief related: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? with 91,801 views and The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief with 40,705 views.

This blog sustained me during the years I cared for my father after Jeff’s death, and it gave me a place to rest when my father died four years later, and I was thrown out into the world, alone and orphaned.

This blog offered me a place to call home when I set out alone on a five-month, 12,000 mile cross-country road trip, gave me a place where I could talk about all the wonders I was seeing. Often on that trip, when I was between visits with online friends, I thought of William Cowper’s words: How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude! But grant me still a friend in my retreat, whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet. And this blog became a place where I could whisper, “Solitude is sweet.”

And when I settled into a house of my own, this blog gave me a place of familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar life.

Currently, as I am dealing with the infirmities of the encroaching years as well as the many facets of first-time homeownership, it’s nice to know that whatever life throws at me, whatever problems I encounter, whatever challenges and adventures — and joys — come my way, this blog will be here for me.

During the past fourteen years, I have written 3,207 blogs, received 21,115 comments, and garnered 960,164 views. It amazes me that anyone wants to read anything that I write here. This is so much a place for just letting my thoughts roam, for thinking through problems, and (I admit it) for pontificating a bit. It’s been a kick, writing this blog, and I want to thank all of you for indulging my whims and whimsies.

Thank you for reading. Thank you all for your comments, your likes, your support. They have meant more to me (especially this past eleven and a half years) than you can ever imagine.

***

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.

Happy Thirteenth Bloggiversary to Me!

I created this blog exactly thirteen years ago today, back when I hadn’t yet become a published author, back when I had just acquired my first computer and didn’t even know what a blog was. I had read how important blogging was for authors, both as a way of getting known and as a way of connecting with readers, so I decided to “act as if” I were going to be published in the hopes of making it happen. I had nothing to say, no one to say it to, no reason to say anything, but I didn’t let that stop me. I started blogging on September 24, 2007, and haven’t stopped since.

Did acting as if I were going to get published work? Perhaps, though there is no direct connection that I know of. Still, one and a half years after starting this blog, my first two books were published. I now have eight books available: five suspense novels, one mystery, and two non-fiction books about grief. A ninth book will soon be published, a novel that my publisher said, “is playful, fun and well-written. It spans genres, so I’m not sure if there is an exploitable target audience. I don’t care. I like it.”

Two-and-half years after I started this blog, my life mate/soul mate died, and his death catapulted me into a world of such pain that it bled over into my posts. This blog became a place where I could try to make sense of what I was going through, to offer comfort and be comforted, to find my way to renewed life. And I struck a chord with people who were also dealing with grief. It’s no wonder my top posts are grief related: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? with 82,261 views and The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief with 38,122 views.

This blog sustained me during the years I cared for my father after Jeff’s death, and it gave me a place to rest when my father died four years later, and I was thrown out into the world, alone and orphaned.

And this blog offered me a place to call home when I set out alone on a five-month, 12,000 mile cross-country road trip, gave me a place where I could talk about all the wonders I was seeing. Often on that trip, when I was between visits with online friends, I thought of William Cowper’s words: How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude! But grant me still a friend in my retreat, whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet. And this blog became a place where I could whisper, “Solitude is sweet.”

Currently, as I am continuing to settle into a house of my own, it’s nice to know that whatever life throws at me, whatever problems I encounter, whatever challenges and adventures — and joys — come my way, this blog will be here for me.

During the past thirteen years, I have written 2,842 blogs, received 19,481 comments, and garnered 873,352 views. It amazes me that anyone wants to read anything that I write here. This is so much a place for just letting my thoughts roam, for thinking through problems, and (I admit it) for pontificating a bit. It’s been a kick, writing this blog, and I want to thank all of you for indulging my whims and whimsys.

Thank you for reading. Thank you all for your comments, your likes, your support. They have meant more to me (especially this past ten and a half years) than you can ever imagine.

***

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.

100 Days

There are one hundred days until the end of the year. What are you going to do with those days? Will you finally get around to the New Year’s resolutions you made and promptly forgot? Are you going to slack off, giving yourself permission to take a break from the breakneck speed of your life? Are you going to get going on that novel you wanted to start, continue, finish, or edit? Are you going to make inroads in the pile of to-be-read books on your nightstand, or finally read some of those ebooks you downloaded? Are you going attempt the photography project you always wanted to do? Are you going to blog every day?

That’s what I’m going to do — recommit to blogging every day. I’ve been blogging every day for the past 365 days, and I intend to extend that commitment to the end of the year. (I’ll try to make the blogs interesting because posting something just to post something sort of negates the “challenge” part.) Feel free to join me! We can help each other, offering encouragement or topics when the will begins to wane. And it does. When I was grieving, it was easier to come up with topics than it is now when I am in a more comfortable situation. It’s hard to find lesson in being at peace. I suppose peace is a lesson in itself, but what can you say beyond that you’re at peace?

Still, I do manage to find something to write about. My sincere apologies for the more mindless posts and my eternal gratitude to everyone who reads what I write. A special thank you to those who comment, and a heartfelt appreciation for the thought-provoking responses. It’s always good to have more thoughts in my head than simply those I put there.

Even in a year as difficult and as slow as this one, the days do pass. And in 100 days it will be over. I have no great belief that next year will be better, so it’s not as though I’m counting down to the end of the year in order to get rid of this one. It’s more about taking something besides fear and isolation out of this year. It’s about making this year count, or at least making the last 100 days count. How are you going to make your days count?

***

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

Being Centered

After Jeff died, I feared I would stagnate, so I tried to get into the habit of saying “yes” to invitations and to following people’s suggestions about things to do. This led me to many interesting activities, including a short road trip along Route 66, learning to shoot various guns, and many meals with friends. (Going against people’s suggestions also netted me interesting activities, such as my cross-country road trip. Many people warned me of the dangers and said I couldn’t go alone, but I could and I did.)

More recently, ever since I heeded the suggestion to buy a house in southeastern Colorado, I’ve again been saying a lot of yesses. These yesses, too, have let me to interesting activities, including a train ride through the Royal Gorge, artistic endeavors such as painting gourds and making wreaths, and many, many meals with friends.

During the ten days after Christmas, there were no activities, so I spent the time by myself. It felt good. Centered. As if I were pulling my life back into my life.

It felt especially good to be able to structure my days. A bit of writing in the morning, walking around noon when the sun had taken the chill off the winter air, making raw vegetable salads and other healthy things in the afternoon. And reading in the evening.

I am so often torn — being disciplined or treating myself; being alone or visiting with friends; being structured or acting spontaneously. Being centered helps to mend the tear, to find a balance between what I want to do and . . . well, what I want to do. I want to do all of it, because obviously, if I didn’t want to be disciplined, I wouldn’t even try. If I didn’t want to treat myself, I wouldn’t give in. If I didn’t want to be alone, I would add to my activities, if I didn’t want to be with people, I’d say “no” more often.

Daily blogging began the process of centering me. It’s both a discipline and a treat, a way of being alone and visiting, a way of being structured and spontaneous. Writing has always been important to me, and it’s good to have an excuse to indulge myself (though truly, one needs no excuse to write).

A center needs to be held loosely — if you hold on too tightly, the pressure can blow it apart. If you hold on too loosely, it turns in “a widening gyre” and the center cannot hold. Still, without doing any harm, I can certainly be more careful what I say yes to. I’ve backed away from one of the clubs I joined, will back away from some shared meals, and am backing into a healthier regime.

Oddly, I no longer fear I will stagnate. Perhaps what I called stagnation was simply being centered.

***

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.