It’s All Small Stuff

Yesterday’s post, “It All Matters” was not supposed to be so much an explanation of why I blog about the things I do but rather an explanation of why small things are important (and important enough to blog about).

There is a saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.” Believe me, it’s not all small stuff. Dying. Death. Grief. Loss. Love. Birth. These are all huge. You can’t choose not to “sweat” them, because they sweat you. So much of the accompanying emotional, mental, chemical and hormonal changes occur without your volition. They all work to propel you into a new way of being so that you can eventually handle those immense and intense life events.

When you are dealing with changes, especially traumatic changes, it’s the small things that keep you going. A cup of tea. A flower blooming in the desert. A smile from a stranger. A shadow. (After Jeff died, I so often walked with my head down to keep people from seeing the bleakness in my eyes, that I was very aware of shadow play.)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, there was something I once did that helped train me for grief. Jeff and I lived on a lane that was less than a third of a mile long. At one end was private property. At the other end a busy highway. To take a walk of any length, I had to walk up and down, up and down that lane. It was like a treadmill in that the scene never changed. It could have been horrendously boring, but I learned to look for the small things: a flower growing in the gravel, a reflection in the irrigation ditch water, a pretty weed. I also learned to look through the eye of a camera. Focusing on one of those small things (or even a big thing like the mountains in the distance) helped make that walk as interesting as a hike in the forest. (Well, maybe not that interesting, but it did keep me going.)

After Jeff died, what kept me going were the small things. What brought the world into focus was the eye of the camera. (I was too raw at the time to be able to see life as a whole. I had to break everything up into small, lens-size pieces.)

Conversely, it was also the small things that brought me low. One of the first upsurges of grief came when I broke a mug. The mug was unimportant but it was something gone from our shared life. One of the worst upsurges of grief came when I was blindsided by lilacs. Jeff had loved lilacs, and we had planted them all around the property where we lived. I’d never seen any lilacs in the desert I’d moved to after he died, but one day, shortly after the first anniversary of his death, the scent of a stray lilac bush in a vacant lot called to me, and I was once again awash in grief.

Mostly, though, focusing on the small things helped. I could not deal with the enormity of death, but I could focus on a dying leaf. I could not deal with the immenseness of learning to live without the one person who had made it all worthwhile, but I could focus on a budding flower. I could not embrace life quite yet, but I could focus on a hug or a smile; I could focus on a single bite of food or drink.

Grief is such a hard thing to deal with, but it does come with its lessons, and one such lesson is that in comparison to the immensity of loss, it’s all small stuff. And the small stuff really is important.

***

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.

Handling Someone Else’s Grief

In the book I am currently reading, a thirty-year-old woman lost her 5-month old baby to crib death, and now, nine months later, she is still grieving, still depressed. Because of a divorce, she and the baby had been living with her parents, and since they can no longer handle her grief — they feel as if they’d lost her as well as their grandchild — they ship her off to her godmother. The godmother is freaking out because she doesn’t know how to help the bereft woman, doesn’t know how to bring her out of her depression, and the godmother is emoting through many pages about her inability to cope.

This sort of story — this attitude — makes me so very frustrated!! It’s not enough that we (they) lost someone intrinsic to our lives, we have to deal with people’s need to help.

Here’s a clue, folks. For all of you who have asked me over the years how to help someone who is grieving: don’t help.

Let them grieve. So what if you can’t handle their pain. It is their pain. Sometimes love means letting your loved one hurt, letting them nurse their pain. Grief is how a person becomes someone who can handle the loss. You do not go from being an ecstatic mother to being a happy non-mother in a few months. It is not possible. Grief takes you where you need to go, takes you to a happy-but-sad (sad-but-happy?) place, though it takes way more — years more — than a mere nine months.

Nine months is nothing when it comes to the loss of a life. Sure, the baby had only lived a few months, but what the mother grieves along with the loss of those few months, are the young girl, the young woman, the happy wife, the radiant mother, the grateful grandmother the baby would have been. That is a whole lot of grief to deal with.

If you can’t handle a griever’s pain, realize that what they are feeling is a thousand times worse than what you are feeling. Have empathy. Swallow your pain and let them talk about their loss and sorrow. Prepare food for them if you must, but don’t guilt them into eating it.

Grief is in control. Not the griever. Not you.

It is their grief. Whether it takes nine months or nine years, it is none of your business. Sorry to sound harsh, but it isn’t. Grievers go through more than you can ever imagine, more than can ever be expressed in one silly story about helping someone overcoming the loss of their baby. So let them get on with their grieving.

You can and should be there (and still love them) when the grievers become someone you don’t know. Because they will become such a person. It is the nature of grief. And you cannot hurry grief.

It is this sort of simplistic view of grief that made me write about grief from the very beginning. It’s important for people to know the truth. It’s not the griever who has to change their attitude toward grief. It is the friends and families of grievers who must accommodate their loved one as grief takes the bereft where they need to go.

***

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: The Inside Story

One common challenge facing all of us — grievers, friends of grievers, and health care professionals — is how to help those who are experiencing grief after bereavement.

Coping with the death of a loved one can be the most traumatic and stressful situation most people ever deal with — and the practical and emotional help available to the bereaved is often very poor. I found this to be true as I recovered from the loss of my life partner.

How long does grief last? What can I do to help myself? Are there really five stages of grief? Why can’t other people understand how I feel? Will I ever be happy again? Questions like these aren’t easily dealt with, and much of the literature aimed at the bereaved can read either like a medical textbook.

My new book Grief – The Inside Story: A Guide to Surviving the loss of a Loved One aims to answer these big questions in a straightforward way, and it may be of help to you or someone you know.  If you would like to know more a free easily-downloadable sample of the book, and a complete and detailed listing of its contents, is available here: https://www.docdroid.net/klBIjLB/grief-by-pat-bertram.pdf

The book trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtLwOpGpm_w

Grief – The Inside Story is now available from Amazon (www.amazon.com/dp/0368039668), and all good bookstores. If you have any questions I’d love to hear from you.

Preparing for a Life Mate’s Death

People often ask me how they can prepare themselves to cope with the eventual death of their spouse, but there is no way to ever prepare yourself for such an eventuality. You cannot imagine how you will feel when they die — it truly is unimaginable — so the best thing you can do is spend time with them now, enjoy what you have together, and let the end take care of itself. If you prepare now for what you imagine you will feel then, you will miss the very things that will get you through the pain and loneliness — creating memories, knowing you did the best for your loved one that you could, having no regrets as to your actions.

The truth is, grief at the loss of a spouse is so great and so all-consuming, that it changes you into the person who will be able to live without your mate. Not at first, of course. There is no way to prepare for the pain you will feel. But as time goes on, you will become the person you need to be and you will learn to embrace life again. Even the loneliness will become bearable.

It is not our choice who lives and who dies, but we can choose to live despite their death. I have met many widows and widowers since I lost my life mate, and every one of them eventually found a way not only to survive, but to thrive.

While dealing with the horrendous loss of their mates, while still grieving well into their second and third year, women have traveled the world alone to honor their husband’s dream. By themselves, they have closed up the house they lived in for twenty years and moved halfway across the country. They have put in irrigation systems, have finished building a house, have written books, have taken up painting, have gone back to school, have started businesses, have blogged about their grief. They have made new friends. They have worked to support themselves and their families, and to pay the medical bills their husbands left behind. They have welcomed grown children back into their homes, helped take care of newborns and elderly parents. All while dealing with active grief.

Just as you cannot imagine how you will feel, you cannot imagine who you will become. So, try not to imagine the unimaginable. Celebrate what you still have, and if the day comes when you are left alone, you will be able to do whatever you need to do.

***

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.

Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home

When I was young, my favorite song was Joe South’s “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home.” Back then, the lyrics spoke to me of poignancy, change, and the way growth was destroying the special places in the world.

Now, I couldn’t bear to listen to the song. It would speak to me of grief, of loss, of my inability to ever go home again. And oh, I do so want to go home!

This is an especially hard time for me because I am nearing the eighth anniversary of Jeff’s death. I’ve been holding on to myself, not giving in to sadness, (or rather, not welcoming it), just trying to take life as it comes.

Well, today at dance class, life came hard. After we’d practiced the dance we’re learning for a performance, the others were standing around talking about the dance and how to do things or change things or something unimportant like that.  So I took the opportunity to step outside and scratch myself discreetly. As I left, one woman called after me as if I were doing something wrong, “Pat, don’t be like that.”

Well, I scratched, took a few deep cleansing breaths, and went back inside to where a couple of the women were talking about me. Then the teacher lectured us on how there is no animosity in dance class.

Huh? Animosity? The only animosity I felt today was against this itch that won’t go away. Through ballet class and then belly dance class, I’d barely said anything to anyone, just minded my own business, and for what?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore, but I still don’t know where to go, still don’t know how to create a new life. Still don’t know how to earn a living. (I’ve always hoped I’d be able to make a living with my books, but I can’t even give them away.)

I just know I want to go home and there is no home to go home to. Jeff was my home. He’s gone, and I am just so damn tired of it. I’ve done very well with my meager resources all these years, finding renewal, finding a dream, even finding joy at times, but still, he’s dead.

I spend a lot of time counseling grief-stricken folks — sometimes just through this blog, sometimes through email or phone conversations, and I always tell people the truth. That it is almost impossibly hard. That they will always miss him/her. That they will find renewal, though it might take many years.

What I’ve never said is that the one thing you never get over is being tired of their being dead. How can you? Although your efforts through time do make things better, it’s the passing of time that continues to make things hard, because every year that goes by is another year they’ve been gone, another year you’ve had to live without them.

Luckily, this month is more than half over, and every day that brings me closer to the anniversary also brings me closer to my May trip. I can’t make changes until after the trip since I won’t know until then if any sort of epic hike is possible, so I’m sort of just hanging in there by the tips of my fingers. Holding myself together the best as I can.

But oh, I’m so tired of having to do any of this.

If I could just go home for a little while . . .

But I can’t.

Dammit.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Fabulous Review of UNFINISHED

Getting a good review is always heartening for an author, but even more gratifying is when the reader/reviewer “gets” the story.

Unfinished was a hard book for me to write because it called up the horrific and inexplicable emotions I experienced during the first few months after the death of my life mate/soul mate, but knowing that others appreciate Unfinished makes the dredging of my grief worthwhile.

I hope this review by Sheila Deeth, author in her own right, will intrigue you enough that you’ll check out Unfinished.

Sheila Deeth‘s review of Unfinished:

Beautifully balanced blend of grief, romance and mystery

Many things are left unfinished when a life is cut short, even if the ending is long and slow, well-predicted, and sensibly prepared-for. Words are left unsaid, secrets left untold. And relationships tremble in the wind of passage. Platitudes offer neither comfort nor wisdom, and grief is a full-time job.

Pat Bertram’s Unfinished invites readers into that grief, while adding layers of mysteries, hints of betrayals, and conversations beautifully recorded of honest recognition. “One of the ironies of grief is that… when people should be looking out for you, you have to… make allowances for their discomfort,” says one character, while others tell Amanda she should pick herself up.

Unfinished is a beautiful combination of intriguing fiction and informative wisdom, leading readers along the path of grief, through byways of longing and guilt. Faith is respectfully recognized and recorded, but never a call for commitment—it’s what others believe, including Amanda’s husband David, but it’s not part of her life.

The story tells of David’s illness, the temptations of drugs to kill physical pain and the internet for mental and emotional hurts, and the aching need for human interaction. It’s a story of betrayals past and future, secret and open, and of a woman slowly coming to terms with life on her own. Mystery perfectly balances grief, the plot moves forward decisively even while Amanda digs into the past, and the dialog is convincing and wisely thought-provoking.

Good fiction with wise lessons, pleasing humor and wounded depths, Unfinished is a book you’ll keep to reread when it’s unfinished.

Click here to buy Unfinished by Pat Bertram: https://www.amazon.com/Unfinished-Pat-Bertram/dp/1941071651/ 

Glad about Grief

Almost five years ago, my life mate/soul mate died, leaving me in a world of pain.

I hesitated about using such a cliché, but the truth is, the world for me was pain. My heart hurt, my lungs hurt, my mind hurt, my soul hurt. I was surrounded by hurt. Everything I saw, smelled, touched brought pain. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened. How could he be dead? How could I not be?

Ferris wheelMost of the pain has been now absorbed, amoeba-like, by the days of my life. During the past five years, I have traveled, taken dance classes, learned new things, made new friends, lost friends, had new experiences, attended festivals and fairs, ridden Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds, suffered various ailments, written more than a thousand blogs, walked thousands miles, dreamed impossible dreams as well as merely improbable ones, been hurt, inadvertently hurt others, made plans and abandoned plans, panicked, found peace at times, even found pieces of time.

All of that living has bounded the pain, creating a buffer between me and the rawness of the universe, making it easier to embrace the future, wherever it might take me. (Easier, not easy. There is a contract on my father’s house, which, if accepted, will mean the beginning of the next phase of my life. And since I have no clue where I will go, I have moments of panic because I just am not ready. And yet . . . I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.)

Despite the buffer, the pain does seep into my consciousness at times, stealing my breath, and filling me with sorrow. The difference between now and the beginning (odd that I always call his death “the beginning”) is that where once I railed against the pain, now I welcome it because I am reminded of him, of his life, of our shared life, and that is good. He is no longer the focus of my life, and that also is good since such a one-sided relationship can bring no joy or growth, but he is and will always be a part of my life. He is and always will be a person unto himself, and it’s that person I celebrate with my brief and occasional bouts of tears.

The world is poorer for his absence. And someone, if only me, should acknowledge that. I used to wish grief weren’t so hard. Now I’m glad that it is.

***

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.

For All of You Who Are Experiencing Grief

I always know when someone who is grieving has discovered my blog — the number of views increases dramatically while the number of visitors stays the same. Only an intense loss (or upcoming loss) keeps someone here long enough to read a sampling of my grief posts.

Although I am on the downward slide of grief, every day someone else encounters the shock of grief that bewilders, steals their breath, shatters their lives, and makes them question their very being.

A long time ago, long before the internet and blogs, I used to write soul-searching letters, similar to my blog posts. I never expected my friends to save the letters. I was young, changing rapidly, and the letters reflected my thoughts about life at any given moment. Once, years after such a spate of letters, my then best friend called me, told me she’d found a stack of letters. She read portions of them aloud to me, and laughed. She couldn’t understand my hurt — she’d seen how far I’d come, and she thought I’d be as amused as she was by my younger self. I tried to be a good sport, but her laughter seemed such a betrayal, I never felt the same about her again. Nor did I ever feel the same about writing letters. In fact, I never wrote another personal letter again lest my feelings linger far beyond their meaning.

Then came blogging and the loss of my life mate/soul mate. I wondered if I would ever regret pouring out my soul on this blog as I did in those letters, but I understood how important it was for both me and my fellow bereft to try to find words for what we were feeling, so writing such personal posts never bothered me. I also knew that if anyone laughed, they were more to be pitied than castigated — only profound and complicated love leads to such all-encompassing grief, and if they’d never felt such grief, well, there was nothing I could do about it. Writing about my grief was simply a risk I took.

But no one laughed.

At the beginning, my grief posts reflected the feelings of me and others in my grief age group (those who lost their mates a few months before or a few months after I did). But grief is eternal. We may not still be lost in the anguish of new grief, lost in the confusion of grief that lingers beyond what family and friends think acceptable, or lost in the maze of trying to create a new life for ourselves, but someone is.

For all of you who are experiencing grief, know that I’ve been there. I understand at least a little of what you are going through, and my heart cries out to you. People who dealt with profound grief before I did told me that someday I will find renewed interest in life, generally (though not always) within four to five years. It was true for them. It was true for me. And it will be true for you.

Until then, wishing you peace.

***

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.

Grief Update: Forty-One Months

Forty-one months ago, my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. At times his death seems recent, as if he’s just beyond reach, at home maybe, waiting for me to finish with my present responsibilities. At the same time, his death seems very far away. Last night I looked at his photo and was perplexed to realize he no longer seems real to me. I have no concept of him as a person. It’s as if he were merely an idea I had once a long time ago or maybe a character I created for a book. And yet I know he lived, loved, laughed. I know he was real. I feel the loss in the depth of my being, and tears of sadness and yearning for him are always close to the surface, though the tears seldom fall any more.

starbMy life doesn’t seem real, either. I walk, write, make friends, lose friends, make plans and break them, try new activities, see new places, sample new foods, wish on the first star I see at night. (Okay, so it’s Venus — from here, it looks like a star.) Despite all that I’m doing to create a life for myself, I feel as if I’m just going through the motions. I don’t want to live alone, yet I don’t want to live with anyone, either. I don’t want him back to suffer more, yet I wish desperately to see him once again.

Even if I did get a chance to see him, I wouldn’t know what to say — grief has changed me in some fundamental way, and I don’t know if we’d have anything to talk about. Of course, I’d ask him what his life was like, if he were happy, if I seem as abstract to him as he now does to me. We might reminisce a bit, and I’d probably tell him of a few worldly developments, but to be honest, nothing that has happened in the past forty-one months is so important that I’d drag him back from the dead to talk about.

I’ve been looking forward to a time when grief no longer has me in thrall (they say it takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life, though from talking to people who have gone through a similar grievous loss, I found out it’s more like four to five years). And yet, if I feel this way now — as if he isn’t real — then I’m not sure I want to find out what’s ahead. But I have no choice. In seven months, it will be four years since his death, and twelve months after that, it will be five years. And he will seem even more gone than ever.

***

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.

Nothing is Trivial When Dealing With Grief

It’s amazing to me how the most trivial things can take on significance when it comes to the loss of the person who connected you to the world.

Yesterday I was clearing out a mini in-basket where my life mate/soul mate kept stamps and related items, such as postage rates and receipts. Up until now, I’ve just left the basket intact. In those first months after his death, I couldn’t bear to use the last stamps we ever bought together, so I set the basket aside and ignored it. Enough time has passed that those stamps now seem like ordinary, insignificant postage, so I dug them out, sorted through the papers in the basket, and threw away the outdated rates and receipts.

One of the things I found in the basket was a simple note he had written: 44¢. That’s all it said. He wrote it in green ink on yellow paper about two-and-half-inches square, so that despite his worsening vision, he could see at a glance what the current postage rates were.

I hesitated a moment before tossing out the note. As unimportant as the paper was, it seemed to be a symbol of how bit-by-bit, his erstwhile place in the world and my life was disappearing. Most of his things are gone now, and attrition has eliminated many of “our’ things — towels worn out, spoons lost, cups broken.

The first time I broke a cup, it about devastated me. I remember crying as if it were my heart and not a piece of crockery that had shattered. As I wrote back then, “I broke a cup today, one more thing gone out of the life we shared. Our stuff is going to break, wear out, get used up. I’ll replace some of it, add new things, write new books, and it will dilute what we shared. Is there going to be anything left of ‘us’? I feel uncomfortable in this new skin, this new life, as if it’s not mine. As if I’m wearing clothes too big and too small all at the same time.”

Still, I did throw out the paper. It seemed foolish to keep it, especially considering that postage rates have gone up since then. And I’m no longer newly bereft, clinging to anything of his to bring me comfort.

If the paper had remained in the trash, there would be story, but a little later, I retrieved the paper and put it back in the basket. My rationale was that someday, perhaps, I’d like to know what the postage rate was on the day he died. But grief has no rationality. I simply could not let go of that newly significant slip of paper.

***

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.