Feeling Very Old

I’ve feeling very old at the moment, though come to think of it, youth (relatively speaking) is gradually creeping back.

I barely made it through tap class this afternoon. Tap is one of the harder dance classes for me since tap is not just a matter of remembering steps and sequences, or even getting the beat right. There is all that, of course, but there is also the tapping — the sounds one’s feet need to make. And today, my feet secret simply didn’t want to cooperate. Added to that ignominy, a young woman dancer came to class, and her hopping and bopping made me realize I was way past being young. Maybe even . . . shhhh, don’t tell . . . old.

In my defense, I’d walked the two miles to the studio in 100° weather, and tap was my third class of the day in a studio with a broken air-conditioner. I imagine anyone would be exhausted after such a day in such heat, even a much younger woman. I did wimp out and accept a ride back to the house where I am staying, even though the temperature had dropped to a temperate 99°.

Days like today remind me I am a hothouse flower, used to a fairly consistent environment, and they make me reassess the feasibility of a long trip, whether on foot, in a car, or both as I am currently considering. What would I do in terrible heat if there were no cool place to rejuvenate? How would I handle any sort of relentless weather? But ah, that’s the adventure, the ifs and the hows.

My research is leading me into all sorts of fascinating areas. Did you know there was a hiking trail around Lake Tahoe? The Tahoe Rim Trail is 165 miles, and you end up at your starting point! So no hitchhiking to get back to one’s vehicle at trail’s end, which seems a bit of an iffy proposition to me. The whole point of adventuring, at least in my case, is to live, not to court death by taking unnecessary risks, and any talk of a thru hike on one of the long trails always seems to include hitchhiking. All of the national parks have exquisite trails, both long and short, and those would be the first to explore. Long trails would come, if at all, when I know more about life on the road.

Luckily, I’m already feeling younger, so such thoughts are not as wildly improbable as they were when I started writing this blog. Amazing what a cool and controlled environment can do for one’s well-being. And I’m thinking of giving up such an environment, even if only temporarily? Yep. Sure am. For the adventure of it.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Hawaiian War Chant!

My Hawaiian dance class was invited to perform in a dance concert at the local college. We wowed them with our rendition of the very powerful Hawaiian War Chant! And rightly so. Aren’t we gorgeous?

(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.”)

I Am Truly Blessed

As I was setting up for my party last night, cooking the various taco fillings, chopping the many garnishes, and arranging everything in a pleasing and practical manner, I thought about all the people I had invited, and what they meant to me.

First were the people from my grief group. When I came here after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I joined a grief group to be with others in the same hideous and incomprehensible situation, and they helped me get through that awful time. I’m still friends with some of those folks, though I don’t see them very often, and it was nice to think of seeing them again.

Then there was the group I went walking with. Through the hugs we shared and the stories we exchanged during the three-mile walks, these friends helped see me through the torments of dealing with my dysfunctional brother and dying father.

And finally, the dance group, especially our teacher, who helped me see that life was still worth living, that there were still things to be learned and much joy to be experienced.

Although I hadn’t planned the party to be anything other than a simple get-together with friends, it turned out to be more than that — a chance for me to say thank you and to let everyone know how much they meant to me.

While I was making my little speech to my guests, I realized the truth: that although the past five years as I lived them seemed to be one trauma after another, in retrospect, because of these people, those years seem pretty damn wonderful.

I am truly blessed.

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

Back to Class

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the experience of a break from school, but I’ve been taking dance classes, and since the year-end holidays all fell in the middle of our class week, we haven’t had lessons for a long, long, long time. Well, it wasn’t that long, but considering how important those sessions have become to me, it seemed as if I’d started leading a whole other danceless life during the break.

Luckily today, our first day back, we took it slowly. Much strength and elasticity is lost with just a couple of weeks of inactivity, and there is no way to make up the loss in two-and-a-half hours. (One and a half hours for ballet, one hour for Arabic dancing.) Supposedly every day lost to dancing takes a week to make up when one is young, so there’s no telling how long it will take now. I’ll just be patient with myself and hope the teacher will do the same.

danceStill, it was good to be moving, to feel alive. Since most of today’s ballet class wasn’t taken up with all our usual barre exercises and stretches, we had time to learn a little dance. “Dance” might be too grand a word for those few basic steps, but it was elegant for all that, with développés, pas de bourrées, glissades, sauté arabesques, and soutenu turns. (I’m showing off. Can you tell?)

It’s amazing to me that anyone is willing to teach someone who comes to dance at such an advanced age, particularly since I will never be a “real” dancer, just as I will never be a “real” writer. Neither dance nor writing will ever be the sole focus of my life. I will not tolerate suffering for the sake of either art. (Quite frankly, I have no interest in suffering at all.) I have no passion to bring to either activity — I seem to be missing the passion gene, and the consensus seems to be you need passion to be a dancer or a writer. Although writing and dancing bring much life to my life, both seem to be not ends so much as means to what I really want, though continuing to be frank, I have no idea what I really want. (Which is sort of the problem, because of course, if I knew what I wanted, I could start doing whatever it is I needed to do in order to get what I wanted.)

But I’m getting off the topic of this particular bloggerie, which is today, dance, life.

Today I danced. Today I lived. Can’t ask for better than that.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

An Epic Adventure

During the past couple of years, I’ve been blogging about my yearning for an epic adventure. I’ve talked about walking up the Pacific coast, thru walking the Pacific Crest Trail, getting a small camper to roam the country and visit all my online friends. The last I might still do, but the first two are supreme athletic feats for which I simply do not have the feet. (Or the body, either!)

To me, an epic adventure is more than an athletic feat. It is a transcendental experience, one that allows us to transcend our daily experience, going beyond what we know, and somehow being transformed in the process. Such an endurance test would include physical challenges and encompass the whole range of human emotions.

And such an epic adventure came looking for me.

My Hawaiian dance class was invited to participate in a dance concert put on by the local college. Our teacher picked out two numbers — “Green Rose,” a Kahiko chant, and “Nani Wali Nahala,” a dance using bamboo sticks. (Have you ever seen Donovan’s Reef where the dancers danced with sticks? Our dance was faster and more complicated, but you get the idea.) Then we practiced. And practiced. And practiced.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that I’m musically challenged. My ears hear all the various strains, themes, and tracks of a song as a single entity. It’s very difficult for me to pick out a beat or single note from the mélange. And yet, I was chosen to lead the class out on stage. (It had nothing to do with expertise. It was more of a height thing — the woman at the other end of the stage was the same height as I was, and I happened to be there for all the practices.)

I did learn to pick the right note, count the requisite number of beats before heading into the limelight, and keep time while leading the way, yet it was always an adrenaline-filled, nerve-jangling moment when I made my entrance, whether in class or in dress rehearsal.

This epic adventure spanned five days. Our class’s dress rehearsal on Wednesday. The dress rehearsal for the entire cast on Thursday (a nine-hour endurance test, mostly boredom interspersed with moments of heart-pounding and palm-sweating nervousness when we lined up for our turns). Two performances on Friday. One performance on Saturday evening. A Sunday matinee.

By the end of the day on Thursday, and even after the first show on Friday morning, some of us were wondering if the whole thing was worth it, but by Friday night we got into stride (it helped that as soon as I stepped on stage, we got a big round of applause. Sure made smiling easier!). Saturday slipped by as if this were our new life, and Sunday, though fun, was simply another day. The stage had become our life. Then it was over and somehow we had to come back to our normal lives.

Or maybe not.

Such an epic adventure, encompassing as it did the endurance test of waiting for our turns, the physical feat of dancing, the emotional highs and lows — fun and boring, exhausting and exhilarating, challenging and nerve wracking — had to have changed us somehow. Well, changed me anyway. The others have done such marathon concerts before, but it was a first for me. (Me? Dancing on stage? Seems unreal, to be honest.) Change ripples into our lives, creating a new reality. The odd thing is, I might never notice it. Change might rock our world, but since we rock with it, we are always on sure footing.

Oddly, the thing that made it all seem worthwhile for me during that second interminable day of dress rehearsal, is that whenever any of us questioned why were we doing such a thing, I’d look at us and say with a smile, “but we look so adorable.” And maybe something as simple as that is what keeps one moving ahead on an epic adventure. Because, of course, we did look adorable. It might even have been part of the adventure. We are all long past the “adorable” stage of our lives, and yet, here we are (I’m the second face from the right):

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

All Jazzed Up

I was invited to dance today. I don’t always get to dance when the class is invited to perform because sometimes — like today — there is only room for a few dancers and others in the class are more experienced than I am, but today I was given a turn, and oh! What a joy! Of all the surprises life has thrown at me in recent years, the most surprising is this love of dancing and the privilege of being taught by a professional dancer who has studied with many famous dance teachers in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Australia and Hawaii, and who is willing to pass on that knowledge to both the promising young and the unpromising mature. (Unpromising because of age, not enthusiasm. None of us adults will ever be prima ballerinas, nor we will ever wear toe shoes, though perhaps we — meaning me — might eventually be able to point our toes in a dancerly way.)

We didn’t wear fancy costumes today, but we looked jazzy all the same. BTW, in case you don’t recognize me, I’m the second from the left with the page boy hairdo.

Let’s boogie!

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

Being Important

I’m feeling restless tonight as if I should be doing something important, but here I am at the computer, playing games of solitaire. (Well, I was playing games. Now I’m playing a different kind of solitaire called “What will I blog about tonight?”)

When life is all about family, spouses, soul mates — creating a shared life — everything you do seems important, but when you are alone, importance is hard to feign because the isolation of being the only one in the room makes even breathing seem unimportant.

Despite the way it might sound, I’m not depressed or sad today. I’m feeling good, actually (probably leftover endorphins or adrenaline from dancing). I’m not lonely, either, just alone, and sometimes aloneness echoes in empty rooms, making it seem like some sort of lack. It is a lack, of course, but it isn’t a lack of life or . . . importance. It’s a lack of companionship and maybe a lack of “other energy.”

fireThere are some things I don’t necessarily understand when it comes to dancing. I call myself tone deaf, but I’m not — I just hear a single track of melodic (and not so melodic) noise and find it hard to separate out one particular sound or thread or beat from all the rest, which is why barbershop quartets hurt my ears and simple tunes are soothing. (I can count, though, and as my dance teacher says, if you can count, you can dance. Or something like that.) One woman I particularly enjoy dancing with (she’s so very elegant and graceful she makes me look good!) hears sounds and beats that pass me by  even when she points them out, but I pick up on something she doesn’t — the energy of the group. When we are all dancing as one, I can sense the energy we generate, as if we are tied together with invisible strings, moving arms and legs, heads and torsos in perfect rhythm. There’s nothing quite like that feeling, at least not in my experience.

Even when we are not all in harmony, as often happens, there is an air of connectedness in the studio, with all of us focused singlemindedly on the steps. One woman came with her husband last month, and though he didn’t bother anyone, it gave those classes an uneasy feel because it disrupted the flow of electricity of connectedness among the dancers. (This isn’t as mystical as it sounds. The energy I sense is more of a focus rather than waves of electricity, though I know we all respond to the electricity we generate.)

That energy from another person or a group — that “other energy” — is missing in a solitary room.

Some people spew energy even when they are alone, so rooms don’t seem as empty to them. I don’t spew energy, which makes my presence in a room even smaller and quieter than it would normally seem. And makes whatever I do seem unimportant, as if I am just passing time.

But the truth is, “being” is important, so even when we are alone, regardless of how it feels, we are being important.

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

In Between

I’m sitting here at the computer, playing endless games of solitaire, and dozing off. I didn’t even know it was possible to fall asleep at the computer, but I have a hunch I could fall asleep anywhere right now. The long days of caring for my father must have been more stressful and exhausting than I thought. Or maybe it’s that for the first time in more than a decade I don’t have to listen for calls of distress from the old and/or dying. There is only me in this borrowed house (borrowed from my father’s napestate pending probate and sale). There are no life or death matters to take care of, nothing major for me to accomplish (though I have a few minor obligations and things I promised to do).

During these years of caring for my father, I often blogged about my plans and possibilities for after he was gone, but at the moment, I have no desire to do anything but just float through my days, dealing with whatever comes my way. And to dance, of course.

Someday soon I’ll have to pack and put my stuff in storage in preparation for . . . I don’t know what. But now, there is no reason to do anything unless I feel like it.

I’ve always loved these in-between times. I remember as a child only being happy walking to or from school. It was a joy to leave the house in the morning, and a joy to leave school in the afternoon. But being either place didn’t particularly thrill me.

Some of the best times Jeff (my now deceased life mate/soul mate) and I had were when we packed up all our stuff, moved out of whatever house or apartment we were living, and headed across country to find a new place to live with no clear idea of where we were going. Leaving gave us such a wonderful sense of freedom that was all too soon offset by the need to find a place to live. I remember a truck stop in Utah, a motel in Iowa next to a rain puddle as big as a pond, a traveler’s oasis in Nebraska. All prosaic places that brought us a night of happiness.

And now here I am, in transition once more.

I understand now why I don’t want to settle down anywhere, why no place (except the dance studio) brings any thought of joy — being settled seems to be a sort of entrapment for me, and I am through being trapped. I suppose it’s silly to think this way — we are trapped in so many different ways — trapped in our minds, our ever-aging bodies, our society, our laws — that the secret must be to find freedom and wonderful possibilities within the entrapment.

But tonight is not a time to think of such things. It’s a time to bask in the quiet freedom, to know that these walls don’t bind my life, to feel the flutter of possibilities. And, apparently, a time to fall asleep at the computer.

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

 

Dad Update Too

I’m taking a short break from my offline life to catch my breath here online where it is calm and quiet. Oh, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday my ninety-seven-year-old father seemed fairly normal, just starting to have more difficulties, possibly because his body is shutting down, but today, he experienced bad episodes almost hourly, and I’ve spent the entire day with him, in addition to visiting briefly with siblings, and coping with one minor emergency after the other.

And then tonight, after all that, my father fell. Oh, my. I got him untangled from his walker, and kept him lying quietly on the floor, soothing him, while I called hospice and waited for the nurse to come. He seems to be declining rapidly now — every hour is different from anything that has come before.

Luckily, I am only on my own with him until Monday night — my brother-in-law offered to come stay until my other sister could get here. It will be so good not to have to worry about my falling asleep at just the wrong time or having to leave my father to suffer his panic attacks alone. Selfishly, I am glad I will not have give up my dance classes — they keep me strong and sane. But even if it weren’t for the classes, I would need to have someone else here. He is fighting the inevitable with every cantankerous bone in his body, though perhaps the morphine and haloperidol will help him move past the restlessness and let him sleep.

I probably won’t sleep much — I’ll have to stay in the bedroom next to him so I can hear him if he needs help. And, of course, feed him his drugs at the prescribed times.

All this seems bizarrely normal, though occasionally it strikes me as strange that death has been my life for so many years now. First helping with my mother, then taking care of my life mate/soul mate, and now my father.

And afterward? My father will be at peace, and I . . . well, who knows what I will be doing. Other than dancing, that is.

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

Dad Update

My father, for most of his 97 years, has seemed invincible, as if even death couldn’t defeat him. In fact, I’ve been worried that because of his continued improvement after a recent hospitalization, hospice would evict him. But no one is truly everlasting, and for the first time, I see distinct signs that his long life will someday be ending.

He seems to have reached a new low. He has more troubles breathing, more panic attacks, more nightmares, and more loss of strength — all in the past week. I’ve put off giving him morphine for as long as I could — I’m in and out four days of the week, and I didn’t want him to be alone when he started using the liquid morphine for breathing in case there were side effects. (Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, was on morphine at the end, and he wasn’t himself at all, though it could also have been due to the cancer that had spread to his brain. Oddly, my mother, who died of lung cancer while on hospice, never had to resort to morphine for breathing or for pain.)

I’ll be with my father almost continuously for the next three days, but that’s not enough for him. He wants me here all the time, and I simply cannot do it. It might seem terrible of me to want to continue dancing, but dancing brings me joy, releases whatever stress I might have from being my father’s sole caregiver, gets me out of the house, and keeps me from resenting the situation. (I don’t resent taking care of him, but I would if I had to give up my dance classes.) I’m only gone for a total of about twenty-five hours a week, either taking classes or running errands, and the rest of the time I am here alone with him.

He could be to the point where he can’t be left alone at all. Luckily, I have a sister waiting to be summoned back to help. It’s hard sharing such close quarters with a strong-willed woman, so I’ve been dragging my feet on making that decision. But I gave in to the morphine, and I will give in to this, too. I need to keep my mind on the goals — my dancing (first!) and my father’s care. Even if I didn’t have dancing, I couldn’t be at his beck and call for twenty-four hours a day. It is simply too stressful. I know people do it because they have no other choice, but I’ve already put in my time when Jeff was dying, and anyway, he was easy to deal with because he knew what was happening to him, and he accepted it. My father, on the other hand, fights the inevitable every step of the way, hurrying through what he calls his “chores” (taking his pills, doing his breathing treatment, urinating) so he can sleep, then hurrying through his naps so he can do his chores, as if he were trying to stay one step ahead of death.

I try to be conciliatory toward his drama attacks (everything he experiences is the worst thing he ever felt in his life, even if it is a short-lived pain or bloody nose or bad dream). But the truth is, it’s hard to find the tragedy in the dying of a 97-year-old man who lived a charmed and healthy life well into his nineties. (I know comparisons are not fair, but I keep thinking of Jeff who led a painful life and died when he was only 63.) But so many years of good health and good living have left my control-freak father ill-prepared for losing control of any part of his life, and because of it, he can’t handle even the small things that go wrong.

Do I sound unsympathetic? I’m not. It’s just that it doesn’t help the situation if I get as panicked as he does. Of course, when he’s gone and my life is turned upside down yet again, I might give in to panic. Or not. All of my life’s uncertainty might (at least I hope it might) help me deal with my own end, particularly since I don’t have a devoted daughter to ease my final years.

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