The Kindness of Strangers

Grief — or it could be self-pity — always seems to catch me unaware. I’ve been having good days recently, feeling that the universe is smiling on me, so today’s brief bout of tears was especially unexpected.

I’ve been doing a few small chores for my father’s estate — getting an electrician to fix the chirping smoke alarm on the 15-foot-high ceiling, clearing out a few more of my father’s things, scheduling an estimate for the carpet and tile cleaning. I was fine during all that, fine even when I closed out my father’s account, but on the drive back to the house from the bank, I could barely see the road for the tears.

heavenAlthough my father’s death didn’t devastate me like the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, it has had its traumatic moments. It’s difficult — and bewildering — to dismantle a person’s life, even a person who owned as few personal things as my father did. The person is gone, but their “effects” linger long afterward. Someone has to dispose of them, and since I am in the house, that chore has devolved upon me. (I suppose I could have left it for someone else to do, but during the past few years, I was the one most immediately involved in his life, so that in addition to propinquity makes me the logical person for the job.)

Closing out his bank account shouldn’t have been any more difficult than the rest of the tasks, but it was, perhaps because it means one less connection to my life here and ultimately to my past. Or maybe because the people at the bank were so nice to me. Since I was an equal signatory with my father on the account, they thought the money should go to me instead of my father’s estate. When I explained that legally the money didn’t belong to me, they made sure I had copies of the paperwork and urged me to keep them for my protection.

So few people have paid attention to me during these months my father has been gone, including those who told me they would owe me forever for taking care of him, it’s like I died with him. I’m not the only one who lost a father, of course, but most of my siblings’ lives will not be changed appreciably by his death — they still have their husbands and wives, still have their homes, still have . . . whatever it is that they have. But my life is in upheaval once more because of death.

The neighbors, who loved my father, have been snubbing me for the past three months because although I told them he died and made sure they could say goodbye as he left the house for the last time, I somehow neglected to tell them when the funeral was. It just never even occurred to me. His obituary was in the local paper and even though they knew where to find me, they never asked. Never stopped by to see how I was doing, either. Never expressed an interest in what was going to happen to me. And yet, devastated as I was by the rapid turn of events surrounding his death and my renewed grief for Jeff, somehow I was supposed to put them foremost in my mind. Oh, my.

No wonder the kindness of strangers brought me to tears.

Tomorrow, I will be back to my determined optimism, will be back to feeling maybe the universe is unfolding as it should be, will be back to believing wonder and joy await me, but tonight I will honor my dead with a few more tears laced, perhaps, with a touch of self-pity.

***

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.

Stressed to My Limits

I’m sitting here, wondering if I should write this post. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, so I’m hoping the women involved don’t read this or if they do that they don’t fret, and yet, ever since my life mate/soul mate died, I’ve tried to write my truth.

I had lunch today with some friends after dance class. (Got to replenish those expended calories!) I was the only single woman at the table. All the rest were divorced and remarried. Not that their marital state is a problem for me anymore. I’ve gotten used to being the only uncoupled person in most situations. Nor did I think anything of their topic of conversation at first. I’ve heard it before — they all contend that losing a husband to divorce is worse than losing him to death because with divorce, he’s still around, especially if there are offspring involved.

But today I am feeling fragile. It’s only been a month since my father’s death, and although I am not grieving him the way I grieved for Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, my father’s demise has upset my equilibriumtugofwar. I am aware of his empty place at the couch, his books, reading glasses, and magnifier stacked neatly the way he left them. I know he led a long and happy life, but his absence still is ever present.

Even worse, this is the second time in less than five years that my living situation has been thrown into upheaval by death, and this time I do not have a fall back position. The whole world lies open before me, but I don’t know what to do with it. To add to the complications, I need to pack in anticipation of leaving this house, which will be put on the market in a few weeks. I’d already gotten rid of the bulk of Jeff’s things before I came here, but what remains are “our things” along with what is left of his effects — things so emotionally laden that I simply could not dispose of them during that worst day of my life when I cleaned out his closet and drawers and prized possessions. And now I have to figure out what to do with it all. Oddly, the only thing so far that set off an emotional storm was the container of refrigerator magnets we used to use. Other things, like his favorite jacket and the sweater he wore when we met, I stoicly repacked because I still can’t deal with them.

Did I mention the sun sets at 4:30 around here? And I am prone to SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

So this was my state of mind as I listened to my lunch companions talk. And oh, my poor heart ached. I would give anything to see Jeff one more time. Even if he had gone to be with another woman and left me destitute in the process, I would still be glad to know that he was alive and well. I’d be angry, of course, heartbroken and humiliated, but I so loved him that his well-being meant more to me than my own. (I’m only now learning to put myself first, but that could be because there’s no one left in my life to care about that deeply. I’ve lost them all one way or another — Jeff, the two brothers closest to me in age, my parents, a very special friend.)

I no longer know who has it worst when it comes to grief — the divorced, the widowed, those who lost a child, parent, lover, sibling, best friend, pet. I no longer care. We all suffer heartache and grief in our lives. We all deal with it as best as we can (or let it deal with us). In my case, this conversation mostly served to show me how vulnerable I still am, how much I still miss him, how much his being dead is still a part of my life.

God may provide, the universe might be unfolding as it should be, everything could be falling into place, my destiny might be waiting, life could be what is happening while I am making other plans (or whatever aphorism it is that you believe), but the truth is, at the moment, I am stressed to the limits.

I keep saying that however things turn out, I’ll be okay. And I mean it. Just not today.

***

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.

Too Many Losses

I’m sitting here with tears running down my face, and I don’t really know why. Just too many recent losses, perhaps. Two losses — the death of my father two and a half weeks ago and before that the loss of a dear friend to what seem to be irreconcilable differences — aren’t many, it just seems like a lot because any loss renews my grief for my life mate/soul mate, who died four and a half years ago.

windI tried to wait until the tears passed before writing tonight because I’ve wept way too often on this blog, and I just didn’t want to have to admit to more sorrow. But here I am . . .

I was fine all day until after dance class this afternoon when everyone went home to someone and I returned to a borrowed house. I don’t mind being alone — it’s rather peaceful not having to worry about other people’s ills and crotchets, not having to figure out what someone else wants or needs. But perhaps that’s my problem. After a lifetime of being needed — from a childhood spent taking care of younger brothers and sisters to a recent adulthood spent taking care of the sick and dying — all of a sudden, no one needs me.

It’s not that I want to be needed — I don’t. (It’s long past time for me to figure out what I need rather than what other people need.) It’s more that I’m not used to the emptiness not being needed has left behind, an emptiness I have yet to fill. Dancing helps, of course, but there are only so many classes I can take. I’m filling many of my weekend hours sorting through and packing my stuff for storage, but I can only do that for so long, too, because it’s sad dismantling what’s left of my shared life with my mate. Not only is each item I get rid of one more thing gone from that life, it’s a reminder that I won’t be going home to him. Not now, not ever. The odd thing is, I really had let him go several months ago with the realization that he is a person in and of himself and on his own journey that has nothing to do with me. But preparing for the coming upheaval in my life brings it all back.

Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself tonight. Instead of sitting here whining or trying to figure out why the tears, I think I’ll go for a walk. If nothing else, it will be good for me.

***

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.

The Day My Father Died

Something profound happened the day my father died, something I’m not sure I understand. I was holding him because he was too weak to sit by himself, and he couldn’t breathe when he was lying back against the pillows. I told him it was okay to die, that his wife and son and God were waiting for him. He said he knew that, but he didn’t know how, then he added, “Help me die.” “Okay,” I said. I told him I would be fine, not to worry about me, and I could feel him relaxing into what seemed to be acceptance. I laid him back on the bed, gave him his full morphine and haloperidol doses, which I had been hesitant to give him, knowing the sort of disorientation they could cause. The doses were fairly minor, not at all the massive doses that would be prescribed later, but they calmed him. Shortly afterward, his blood pressure began falling, and he never moved again. Just slowly slipped away during the next twenty hours. (I never had to give him the high doses of morphine and haloperidol — he was too far gone by then and besides, he couldn’t swallow.)

He died when I went to take a nap, but it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t there. It seems that he had died when he was in my arms, and all that was left was a body running down like an old wind-up clock that had reached the end of its coil.

I’ve made no secret of the rocky relationship I’ve had with him. (For most of my life, I did keep that secret within the family. It seemed to be one of those unwritten rules we lived by, though none of us knew where those rules came from, what they were, or why they existed.) I came here to my father’s house after the death of my life mate/soul mate partly because my mate wanted me to — he needed to know I would be safe before he could leave his diseased body — and partly because I wanted to resolve the complications with my father. I knew I’d be starting over when my grief waned, and I didn’t want to be dragging old pain, bitterness, and conflict with me into a new life. My time with my father seemed to add to those conflicts, though for the most part we got along okay. (Largely because I left him alone so he could pray in peace.)

But now, there are no conflicts. It’s as if by helping him die (though I didn’t really do anything specific), by releasing him from his fatherhood, leaving only our two souls locked in some sort of compact with death, that I also released myself from my past.

The focus, control, and insistence on having his way that made being his daughter difficult also made him a man whole unto himself. And in the end, that is what he is/was. Not father, son, husband, grandfather but a man unencumbered, rushing to meet . . . whatever was waiting for him.

It seems almost mythic, his passing. Mythic for him, perhaps, but certainly for me, as if I’d been on some sort of hero’s journey, and in the end I’d accomplished my quest. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand all the permutations of what has happened during the past four and a half years here — my grief, my father’s aging, my dysfunctional brother’s presence, the terrible journey to take him back to Colorado, my father’s dying, and my being set free — but I don’t think it matters if I understand. I just need to process it during the next couple of months of peace, and then go on from here as a woman unencumbered, whole unto herself, rushing to meet whatever is waiting for her.

***

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.

***

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.

 

I am Truly Blessed

I just came back from dance class to an empty house. It felt strange not to have to worry about my father, not to have to deal with our complicated relationship. (Though at the end, it was simple. He wanted to die, and I was there, helping him let go.)

My father died in exactly the same way Jeff (my life/mate soul mate) did — terminal restlessness and agitation treated with morphine and haloperidol for a while, and then finally nothing when they fell into a coma and slowly and peacefully faded out of this world. In both cases, I sat with the empty body until the mortuary came for the remains, though in both cases I had company, a nurse with Jeff and a brother with my father.

But then came the major differences. With Jeff, I was totally shattered, dealing with unbearable angst and agony at his separation from my very being. I did not have that sort of deeply connected relationship with my father. Besides, he was considerably older than Jeff. Where Jeff’s life had been cut short at a fairly young age, my father had used himself up. He had nothing left. Most of all, when Jeff died, I was alone. Completely. Had to deal with everything by myself. Had little support. (Which is why I swallowed my intense independence and went to a grief support group, and one of the reasons I wrote about my grief.)

But this time, I could feel the incredible outpouring of love and caring from both my online and offline friends. Many comments were left on my blog and Facebook — not the typical stranger-to-stranger condolences you get on such sites, but heartfelt expressions of concern from people who have gotten to know me from my chronicling the traumas of my life.

I went walking with my walking group last night and cried on a friend’s shoulder and got hugs from everyone else. And then I experienced the same thing at dance class today, hugs and tears. After class, I went to lunch with friends, got calls this afternoon making this empty house seem not so bleak, and I will be going to dinner with another friend tonight.

I am truly blessed. Thank you for your kindness, your caring, your love. You mean more to me than you will ever know.

Me, Jeff, Mom and Dad on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Strange to think I am the only one left alive.

***

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.