Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One and Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Bertram is also the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire.
I often write about (or at least refer to) the changes in my life since Jeff died twelve-and-a-half years ago, but I don’t write that much about the changes since my older brother died. Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of his death, and it surprised me that it wasn’t that long ago (or perhaps it surprised me that it was so long ago — with death and grief, it’s sometimes hard to tell). His death set into play a long string of happenstance that ended up with me, in a house, in this sweltering corner of Colorado.
Mostly, his death changed me in some fundamental way so I was ready when my other brother suggested I take my small savings and buy a house. He’d come to help me clear out our deceased brother’s things and deal with any legal issues, and I have a hunch he wanted to make sure I was settled so he wouldn’t have to worry about yet another sibling. Whatever his reasoning, the idea he broached made sense to me, especially when he told me about this area that actually had houses I could afford.
The time was ripe, apparently, for buying houses in and around this area, because every one I liked (and could afford) disappeared from the market even before my real estate agent could look at it.
Luckily, I only needed one house, and that house came looking for me.
It seems as if I’d been looking for a very long time before I became aware of this house, but considering that my brother has been gone only four years and that I’ve been here a couple of months shy of three and a half years, the whole upheaval to my life — ambitions, geographical location, as well as the mental change from life-long renter to homeowner — happened in a matter of months.
It’s ironic that because of the death of my homeless brother, I am homefull. (That’s not a word, though it should be.) At any rate, whatever the proper word, because of him, here I am, with a home of my own.
During the last year of Jeff’s life, we sometimes talked about what I was going to do after he was gone. We knew I couldn’t stay in that house for very long — there was nowhere around there for me to work, and I couldn’t pay the expenses on my own — so we knew a move was necessary. (We couldn’t have known how short a time I’d have afterward to figure things out, but it turns out I was evicted almost immediately. I have no idea why except that the landlady seemed to think I had designs on her husband. For some reason, widows get a bad rap; she’s not the only one to think we are a rapacious lot, looking to replace what we lost with someone else’s husband.)
Jeff wanted me to go stay with my father because he said I’d have a place to stay where I’d be safe, but I absolutely refused to even consider the matter. My parents and perhaps even my brothers had always taken for granted that I would be the “designated daughter,” the one who would take care of her parents when they couldn’t take care of themselves, and having had to cater to my father at various times in my life, I truly dreaded the possibility of doing it for the rest of his life. As long as Jeff was alive, I was safe from what I thought would be a hell, but when his life drew to an end, the dread returned. (Strangely, I never considered that I would grieve. I figured I’d be sad for a while, but would continue on without a blip. What a shock it was to find out what grief really was!)
Even after Jeff pointed out that taking care of my father wouldn’t be forever, I still refused to consider the matter. It wasn’t until the end, when Jeff was comatose, that I changed my mind and told him I would go stay with my father. A few hours later, Jeff died. Apparently, even unconscious, he was worried about what would happen to me and couldn’t leave until he knew I’d be okay.
My father was 93 at the time, and though he was doing well, he really did need someone to stay with him. He was terrified of the night terrors he sometimes got as well the sundowners hallucinations he’d experienced during a hospital stay. The two of us worked things out. Although he would have liked me to wait on him, I wanted him to be as self-sufficient as possible, so I talked him into continuing the routine he’d adopted after my mother died. And he did keep it up until he couldn’t any longer.
Those years seemed interminable at the time, made worse by the arrival of my dysfunctional older brother, but as Jeff had said, the stay with my father wasn’t forever. He died four and a half years after my arrival.
Today is the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, and it perplexes me to think he’s been gone more years than I stayed with him. How did all those years slip by? The hardship of my time with him (though admittedly, it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be) now seems like a hiccup in my years of grief over Jeff.
It’s odd to think that those men — Jeff, my father, my older brother — who were so significant to my life are now gone. Odd, too, to think of how each of those deaths has contributed to my current well-being.
I’m still doing my one card a day tarot study, though I’m not sure if I’m learning anything. The whole thing confuses me — if the card tells me what I already know about myself, then it seems unnecessary. It it’s supposed to help me see where I am going, then that too seems unnecessary since I will know what I know when I get there. And if it’s about delving deeper into my psyche and coming in contact with my higher self — well, so far that hasn’t happened.
It’s possible the lack is in the tarot itself. After all, the tarot is only a deck of cards — specialized cards, but still just cards. Although each card is assigned a meaning of sorts, a core truth, the cards are open to interpretation, so whatever a person thinks the card means that particular day is the meaning, and that meaning can be different on a different day. This all seems too imprecise and ambiguous for my logical and concrete mind.
It’s possible the lack is in me, not just my inability to intuit any meanings, but my inability to connect with any particular deck. It’s possible I’ll be able to find such a deck — after all, I have dozens of them. Each month I use a different deck, and so far, the ones I’ve used are off-putting. The artwork doesn’t speak to me, and the symbolism of the artwork seems specious at best. Still, I’m sure I will find an affinity with at least one, and then we’ll see if my studies take a different turn.
Having said that, I’ve been keeping track of my daily card, and I do see a pattern to the cards I pick, vague though that pattern might be, because the same cards seems to show up again and again. For example, the king and queen of pentacles show up at least once every month, sometimes two or three times. Since I pick a card randomly, this repetition seems to indicate that more than mere chance is at work. If I used the same deck all the time, I’d think that perhaps the card hadn’t been shuffled well enough or was sticky or had some sort of defect that made the card stand out, but I use a different deck every month.
These two cards do seem to be a reflection of my life. The queen, in a few words, represents someone who is secure in her personal possessions and in her place in life, and the king refers to stability and not having to prove oneself. Since the cards are open to interpretation, and since every tarot writer has assigned various meanings, these few words don’t tell the whole story, but they suffice for the purposes of this article.
Another and seemingly opposite card that I get frequently is the ten of swords which spells ruination, disaster, calamity, though this seems to reflect my thoughts about the current USA situation rather than my own. The card is also a reminder that though I can’t change the actions of another person, I can change how I respond, which seems a timely reminder, for sure.
The cards I pick are mostly swords and pentacles. Very few cups or wands. Very few of the major arcana, though The Tower shows up periodically, which among other things, points to changes — a release of tension that has been building up, a flash of sudden insight, or maybe a warning.
So does any of this mean anything? I don’t know. My daily card pick is helping me get used to the tarot, and it is getting me familiar with the various way experts interpret the cards, so that’s something. The card itself sometimes seems to refer to me, sometimes it seems to refer to what’s going on in the rest of the country, sometimes it seems to be a reflection of my worries. But does it add anything to what I know? Not that I can see.
Sometimes the cards tell me I am more intuitive than I know, other times they seem to think I rely on my intellect. Either way, does it matter?
I do try to find a bit of advice in the daily card, as I did with the ten of swords mentioned above, but these are merely reminders of what I already know.
I suppose it’s possible that after years of study, I might find . . . something. But then, that’s not the point of my studying. I have the cards, and I do find the array of the different decks compelling, and if there is any esoteric knowledge hidden in the cards, I’d like to know what it is. But more than that, it’s about connecting with my deceased brother, the one who collected the cards. “Connecting” might be the wrong word since I’m not trying to connect with him in any psychic way. It’s more that I am connecting with my memory of him, with the private person buried beneath his polarizing personality, the beloved brother I lost way before his death.
That connection, if nothing else, does give my daily card reading a meaning.
According to what I’ve been reading about the tarot, there are infinite meanings to each deck, each spread, even each card depending on how it falls and how the reader reads it and what s/he reads into it. Such a lack of logic and unpermutability offends my sense of rightness (though it shouldn’t since in my own life I rebel against absolutes and allow myself to live however my personal wind blows).
If I ever do learn to use any of the decks, especially as they are supposed to be used — as a way to look inside oneself (at least that’s the impression I get for their true use) — I will need that intuition because some of the instruction booklets that come with a few of the more esoteric decks are written in Italian. Online translation programs help, but not when, as in one case, the booklet is written in an archaic version of the language that no one seems able to interpret. Too bad — it’s a lovely deck, with beautiful imagery, and all sorts of mystical symbols on the cards that are missing from other such decks. In another deck with an Italian instruction book, the suits are completely unfamiliar (lasers and scarabs. light and the void.) And one deck has an additional suit, which makes for an unwieldy stack of cards.
I’ve been spreading out the decks themselves, instead of the individual cards, to see if I can learn anything about the brother who collected them. I know he was interested in a world of things, both practical and mystical, and yet, since he was homeless, I have to wonder if he ever got a chance to use any of the things he collected, or if they were all for a future he never got to live.
The timing is right to be thinking about him — next month, it will be two years since he died. It’s not just his death that gives me pause, but that the death of this homeless man was instrumental in my gaining a home. (A change in my attitude, perhaps, from never wanting to own a house to thinking it would be a good idea, from believing it was impossible, to finding a way to make it work.) And then there is the age difference I mentioned a few days ago: growing up, he was always older and more knowledgeable, and no matter how old I got, there he was . . . a year older, too.
Well, he’s not getting any older, and I am. I’ve now lived a year longer than he did, and knowing that I caught up to him and beyond brings me no comfort.
Oddly, though, he does. Bring me comfort, I mean. Despite my being ambivalent about what if anything besides energy survives after death, I sometimes sense that he is watching out for me as he wanted to do in life but never quite managed. Obviously, I have no way of knowing whether it’s true or not, but this feeling allows me to live fearlessly in a house by myself.
It’s hard to know the truth of oneself, let alone another person, but here I am, moving the tarot decks around, trying to see . . . something. This is the second time I’ve done this — the first time was a couple of years ago when I first got the cards. Maybe this time — or the next — will bring enlightenment. I hope so. It would certainly be easier than actually learning how to use the cards.
Any of you who have followed this blog for the past few years know of my struggles to deal with my troubled brother while I was taking care of my father. I finally had to drive my brother back to Colorado, which was the most horrifying trip of my life. He was out of control, and I wasn’t sure I would survive.
But we got there safely. After being stymied at finding a place for him to stay, I finally had to give up.
I still remember the last time I saw my brother. I was sitting at the wheel of a rental vehicle, and he was standing outside the window. He begged me to stay one more night, but I knew the next night he would beg, and then again, and I had to make a clean break.
We talked for a while, then he told me I shouldn’t drive far before getting a room, that he was worried about my falling asleep. This concern for me, the first he had shown in the fourteen months we were together, broke me. I started to cry. Then he told me several sights I should be sure to see, and I cried harder. “Do you think this is a fun trip for me?” I said. “It’s killing me. I don’t want to leave you here on the streets.” He briefly touched my hand, and my tears poured down my face. He expressed surprise that I cared, and I explained that of course I cared. I’d spent the past fourteen months trying to keep him off the streets, which is why I’d lobbied for his camping out in the garage.
I reached out for my brother’s hand, needing that one final touch, but he turned and walked away, tears of his own in his eyes.
I cried all thousand miles back to my father’s house.
I knew I’d never see him again, so I thought I’d finished my grieving, but still. the news that he died last night has torn me apart.
Now I am crying again. All I can think of is that brilliant boy I so idolized, and the tortured man he turned into.
And I can’t help reflect that both brothers near to me in age, the one a year older, the one a year younger, are now gone. Both died way too young. It’s as if my childhood, such as it was, has died too.
“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”
Grief Books By Pat Bertram
Available online wherever books and ebooks are sold.
Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One debunks many established beliefs about what grief is, explains how it affects those left behind, and shows how to adjust to a world that no longer contains the loved one. “It is exactly what folk need to read who are grieving.”(Leesa Heely Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator ).
Grief: The Great Yearning is not a how-to but a how-done, a compilation of letters, blog posts, and journal entries Pat Bertram wrote while struggling to survive her first year of grief. This is an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.
Other books by Pat Bertram
Available online wherever books and ebooks are sold.
While sorting through her deceased husband’s effects, Amanda is shocked to discover a gun and the photo of an unknown girl who resembles their daughter. After dedicating her life to David and his vocation as a pastor, the evidence that her devout husband kept secrets devastates Amanda. But Amanda has secrets of her own. . .
When Pat’s adult dance classmates discover she is a published author, the women suggest she write a mystery featuring the studio and its aging students. One sweet older lady laughingly volunteers to be the victim, and the others offer suggestions to jazz up the story. Pat starts writing, and then . . . the murders begin.
Thirty-seven years after being abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Colorado, Becka Johnson returns to try to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? And why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen?
When twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents -- grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born -- she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead.
In quarantined Colorado, where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable, bio-engineered disease, investigative reporter Greg Pullman risks everything to discover the truth: Who unleashed the deadly organism? And why?
Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in SE Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. At her new funeral, he sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on?