The Power of Words

I am a writer, hence words are my life. So far, they are not my living, though I still have hopes of making money with my writing, but they are my life. I love to play with words. I think in words rather than images. I see hidden meanings in words. For example a friend on Facebook told me that grief is like tide pools — sometimes very shallow and sometimes unfathomably deep. She said she preferred the shallows because of the living things she could see in the pools, and all at once, in the midst of the word shallows, I saw the word hallow, meaning sacred and holy. This seemed very deep to me, but maybe I simply liked playing with the idea that “shallows” had depth.

Still, sometimes the power of words surprises me. In my previous post, Vulnerability and Upsurges of Grief,  I mentioned that I was going through a profound grief upsurge, one that was so strong I felt I needed to reach out to Jeff in the only way I knew how — by writing him a letter. The next day, I was puzzled by the absence of tears, by the peace that had settled over me. The only thing that changed from one day to the next was that letter. After I’d told him about my arm, my feelings of isolation, my financial woes, I wrote “Odd that your death brings so much grief, but it also brings me comfort, knowing you are out of this world. At least one of us doesn’t have to deal with this crap anymore.”

One of the hardest things about losing a lifemate/soul mate/spouse/partner is that there is no longer any “us.” There is only I. Me. By subconsciously identifying myself as being still part of an “us,” perhaps I felt a continuity of our shared life. Since his death, I’ve never really felt the continuity, never felt his presence — only his absence. (People sometimes suggest I should put Jeff out of my mind because he is in the past, and the truth is that I do forget him for weeks on end, but it’s also true that his absence is part of my present. His absence fuels my need to live, my need not to waste whatever life is left to me.) I’d packed his picture in my storage unit when I went on my trip, and since I have no way to go get it right now, I printed out another copy of the photo. I tacked his image above my computer, and seeing his radiant smile makes me smile.

I’d read once that those bereft who find a way to make their lost mate a part of their lives are happier and more contented than those who try to ignore the past. I suppose in my rush to live as fully as possible, I’d forgotten this, or maybe thoughts of him had just naturally drifted away. In the busyness of my life in the shallows, he’ll probably drift away again. But for now, it feels good to have this connection, even if it is all in my mind.

Because of anecdotes about near-death experiences, we all assume our dead are happily waiting for us, but I’m not sure that’s true. Even though they might not feel loss as we do, it’s possible that they too feel the separation. I also think it’s possible that sometimes inexplicable grief comes not from within us but from without, from our lost one thinking about us, missing us. (I used to think that calling a death a “loss” was a misnomer because we did not mislay the person, but now it does feel as if Jeff is lost to me, lost in the far reaches of time.)

March is shaping up to be an interesting month. Not only do I add another year to my age, I tick off another anniversary of his death. It’s also another long month of having the external fixator attached to my arm. (The surgery to remove the device will not take place until April.) Another month of isolation. Another month of surrendering to idleness. (That part, at least, sounds inviting.) I might again founder (and flounder) in the depths of grief, or I might find peace in the shallows. But whatever happens, right now, at this moment, I am at peace.

And all because of a few powerful words.



(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.

Salad Days

One staple of meals with my life mate/soul mate were salads. During our decades together, we always tried to eat plenty of raw vegetables, so our salads weren’t puny affairs with a few bits of vegetables and lots of iceberg lettuce. We used as many colors as we could — red tomatoes, purple cabbage, yellow squash, orange carrots, white cauliflower, green leaf lettuce. Since the salads were a time-consuming affair, we usually worked together, he washing the vegetables, me cutting them up.

I don’t remember much of the last year of his life (except for the last six weeks — those I remember). After he died I was in too much pain to recall that year, and now it’s too far in the past to recover the details.

But I do remember a time when I came in late from my walk, and he’d already fixed a salad for us. This was shortly before he got too sick to do anything but try to stay ahead of the pain. I don’t understand where he got the energy to fix the salad — his poor body was so ridden with metastases, it must have taken everything he had to do the simplest task, and yet, the salad was waiting for me when I got in.

Yesterday I mentioned how I carelessly let that last year slip by, how I didn’t hang on to his every word, but I was careful that day and took a photo of the salad, perhaps the last one he ever made for me. I wanted the picture because the plate was beautiful, not as a memory of him, but still, it showed I was paying attention to the good things in our shared life.

It seems impossible that he’s been gone for almost three and a half years. Seems impossible that our salad days are over and all that remains is this simple photo.


(Incidentally, “salad days” comes from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. At the end of Act I, Cleopatra says, “My salad days, / When I was green in judgment.”)


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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Putting Grief into Perspective

In light of all the horrors going on the world today — massive fires, floods, ghastly diseases — talking about my grief seems a bit self-indulgent. In my favor, my intent was never to get people to feel sorry for me, but merely to chronicle one woman’s journey through grief. I wanted to tell what it felt like to lose a life mate/soul mate since I’d never experienced such a massive onslaught of pain, both physical and psychical. In fact, I never even knew such hurt was possible.

Now that my pain has subsided to irritation and sensitivity, mood swings and easily hurt feelings, continuing to blog about my grief does seem a bit over the top as if I’m trying to dramatize myself. But again, that is not my intention. Grief lasts a long time and can cause much damage to the souls of the bereft if not allowed to follow a natural healing cycle, and these more petty side effects of grief are still part of the grieving process. Even when I’m mostly healed and grief assimilated into my life, there will still be the second half of the process to deal with — finding new meaning, new joy, perhaps even a new identity. And all those steps are worth chronicling.

I write this blog mostly for me (and also to show writers the truth about grief since many get it wrong), so any help other grievers glean from my writing is an added blessing. In other words, what I’m writing here in this post today is a reminder for myself of what I am trying to accomplish with these posts as well as trying to put my grieving into perspective.

Sometimes now, I am far removed from the initial pain, and I look back and wonder what the big deal was. So I lost my life mate/soul mate — others have endured such losses and not screamed their pain to the blogosphere. Was it really so hard? Um . . . yeah. It was excruciatingly difficult.

At the same time I marvel that I made such a big deal of my grief, I marvel that within two months of his death I managed to get his funerary arrangements made, his finances tied up, his “effects” and belonging disposed of, the house cleaned, our remaining possessions packed and stored, a new bank account set up, my driver’s license renewed, and make my way 1000 miles from home to look after my 95-year-old father. That’s a lot of work even for a person who isn’t grieving to do by herself. I have no idea how I managed to get all that done within such a short time, especially since I was reeling from a tsunami of agony and anger and angst.

In the two years and three months since his death, others have lost their spouses, their children, their parents, their health, their houses and all they hold dear, and my grief seems pale in comparison, but the truth is, all we can do is travel our own path. What might seem rosier in another’s life or what might seem more horrific, doesn’t change the truth of our own journey. And this is my path — following grief wherever it might lead me.