Betrayal?

Jeff and I had such a deep, seemingly cosmic connection that for many years, I thought I’d be pulled into death when he died. It didn’t seem fair because he was five years older than me, and I thought I’d be cheated out of five years of my life.

About a year before he died, I hugged him and accidentally touched his left ear. I know now cancer had metastasized all the way up his left side and into his brain, but at the time, all I knew was that he pushed me away, wincing in agony. Some part of me closed down at that moment, and a voice deep inside me said, “He might dying, but I have to live.” During that year, we went our separate ways, he to dying, me to living. Then, six weeks before he died, he made the connection with me again. He needed to talk about what was happening to him so he could gather courage to face what was coming, and during that daylong conversation, I remembered why I’d fallen in love with him all those years ago.

Because of the disconnect during our final year, a year where I felt dissociated from him and our life, I didn’t expect to grieve, so the depth of my pain stunned me. I struggled for many years to deal with the wreckage of our shared life. Although he did not pull all of me into death with him, apparently he did pull part of me into the abyss, and that hole — that amputation — will always be a part of me.

During my grief struggles, I felt at times as if I’d betrayed our love because in the end, our connection wasn’t strong enough to keep us together, not in life and not in death. I did get my five years. And more. I continued to grow older than Jeff ever would, to develop my own unshared and solitary life.

As of today, I have lived exactly six years longer than he did. It doesn’t seem right, not that I have lived all these years, but that he didn’t have the choice. Well, neither of us had a choice. That voice inside me didn’t say “I want to live.” It said, “I have to live.’

I no longer feel any sense of betrayal. We each did what we needed to do, both when we were together and when death ripped us apart.

During those last weeks after we reconnected, we tried to support each other, each of us thinking the other was getting the worse of the deal. I thought he had it worse because he had to die in pain; he thought I had it worse because I had to live and suffer through life — and grief — alone. I still don’t know who got the better deal. I had these years, but I will also have to deal with dying one of these days.

But not today. Today I am honoring the six years of life that were given to me, years that were denied to him. It’s not exactly a celebration, but it is something worth reflecting on.

Or not. In the end, we each live our allotted years the best we can, and hope we can meet the end with courage.

***

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

Quantum State of Grief

It’s kind of funny that after all these years after Jeff died, after all the years of grief and then the subsequent years of no grief (at least not more than a momentary pang or two of nostalgia), I still sometimes fall into the magical, quantum state of grief where Jeff seems to be both alive and dead.

I know he’s gone. I feel it in the very depths of my being. But sometimes, when I’m going about my daily life (that doesn’t seem anywhere near as ill-fitting as it once did), I find myself thinking one of those quantum thoughts.

Last night, as I wandered from room to room preparing for the night (checking to make sure the doors are locked, turning down the bed covers, making sure I have a glass of water on the nightstand), I thought that I should call his mother to find out how she’s doing, so I can let him know the next time I see him.

The realization of the illogicality of the thought didn’t send me into a spiral of grief, it just made me wonder why that thought, and why now. (Come to think of it, a friend called and mentioned that a mutual acquaintance inherited the care of her hated mother-in-law, which is probably what put the thought in my mind.)

It just goes to show that even when the pain is gone, the habits of grief and grief-thinking linger. That’s not the only stray thought — on more than a couple of occasions, I have found myself wandering through the house, wondering how and where Jeff would fit when he got here.

Hmm. I see a pattern here. I tend to think these thoughts when I am simply wandering from room to room, but that’s no reason to stay put. I do like wandering around my house, feeling the “home” of it. For so long, after he died, I never felt at home anywhere in particular (he had been my home), though I did learn to feel at home wherever I was because . . . well, because that’s where I was. Back then, I had to break myself of the habit of saying I was going home when I returned to one of the places I was inhabiting because it wasn’t home, just a place to roost. I still catch myself editing out the word “home” until I realize that hey! I have a home! It’s not just a place to go back to, but a place to settle into. A place to make my own.

I do wonder what Jeff would think about all this — my moving here, my owning a house, my getting old. (In three days, I will have lived six years longer than he lived.) But mostly, although he’s in the back of my mind and the back of my heart, thoughts of him and his death and my grief no longer dictate my life. Others things dictate the terms now, such as keeping up the house, keeping up my health, trying to hold back the infirmities of an aging body as long as I can. You know — life. Even though I knew from the beginning (odd that I still call his death and my ensuing grief “the beginning”) that the business of life is living — or do I mean the business of living is life? — I never really felt it. I felt the nearness of death and the winds of eternity more than the importance of my continued life.

But here I am, living, despite the occasional and brief lapses into the magical realism and quantum state of grief.

***

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

After We Said Good-bye

I was looking through some of my old poems to see if I could find inspiration for a peace blog for November 4th, the day thousands people all over the world blog for peace, when I came across a poem I had written shortly after I met Jeff.

you turned around
and waved to me
after we said good-bye
a small gesture
that told me more
than all the words
we had spoken

And suddenly, I remembered that wave as if it were just the other day.

One day in August, forty-four years ago, I stopped by a neighborhood health food store, and there he was. My first reaction wasn’t particularly overwhelming, but my second reaction, which followed less than a minute later, was an internal ping, then a tiny voice inside of me wailed, “But I don’t even like men with blond hair and brown eyes.” Not exactly love at first sight. More like recognition. But recognition of what? I never did know.

I soon became an aficionado not just of natural foods but also of vitamin supplements, because obviously, the more supplements I took, the more excuses I would have to visit him.

I almost stopped going to his store when I encountered a woman talking to him I knew through the fabric store I managed. All of us young women were enthralled with her — she seemed so dramatic, with erect posture, white hair, dark sunglasses, and silence. She almost never talked. Once she realized we shopped at the same health food store, however, she would come into the fabric store and yammer on and on about Jeff and how wonderful he was. I felt foolish, thinking I was just another groupie (he did seem to have an inordinate number of women who shopped at that store) and I decided not to return.

But I had enjoyed talking with him. He was the only person I’d ever met who was interested in the same wide range of subjects I was, and so I ventured back to the store. One day shortly afterward, I stopped by in the morning, and we got to talking as we always did. A little later, when it was time for me to leave, he walked me outside. The two of us were stunned at how dark it was. We’d talked the entire day and far into the night. I started walking away, and then turned back for one last look. He also had turned back. And he waved.

How is it possible that so many years — and tears — have passed since that day? Back then, we were so new, we didn’t even know we would have a relationship. let alone one that would span decades.

But now I know what will happen to those two people. The end to our story has been written. The romance is finished. And I am left alone with only fading memories to tell me that I once loved, that I once was loved.

I don’t know what will happen to me. If I learned anything that far away August, it’s that life can change in an eyeblink. It’s the same lesson that his death taught me — you’re alive, and then, before you can blink, you’re not.

Still, the way things look now, I’ll be living out my life alone. Becoming that pathetic old woman I fear to be — the cat lady sans cats. (Though who’s to say if that cat lady really is pathetic. Maybe she’s living life on her terms the best she knows how.) Even if I — or my life —doesn’t end up being pathetic, I will be an old woman in an ever alien world. The world is already so different from the one Jeff and I lived in that I doubt he’d recognize it. (And if he is at all cognizant of what is going on in this country, I’m sure he’s glad to be done with it since all the things he feared would happen are happening.)

I was lucky for all those years that we were together. That day at this store set the tone for our relationship, and we always talked — about our lives, books, music, history, and oh, too many subjects to list. When the conversations died, I should have realized it was a sign that he, too, would die. (As people near death, they tend to pull away from their loved ones. I don’t know if this is a conscious decision, an unconscious reaction, or simply part of the flow of life and death.)

His voice seemed to have been the soundtrack of my life, and now his voice is silenced forever.

It still doesn’t seem possible that he’s been gone more than ten years. I remember being at his store just the other day. And he waved at me after we said good-bye.

But it wasn’t just the other day. It was decades ago. And that doesn’t seem possible either.

***

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

Unsettled

I’ve been feeling a bit down the past couple of days. My nest building has come to a standstill because I can’t do any more unpacking until the foundation of the enclosed back porch (soon-to-be exercise and storage room) is fixed, and the guy who promised to fix it has so far been too busy to do the work. It’s always “next week” and apparently, next week never comes.

That’s not really a major issue, though, just a bit of frustration that adds to my overall feeling of being unsettled.

My meeting people has also come to a standstill. Although people I encounter have been nice to me, I spend most of my time alone, which isn’t a new development, of course, but that aloneness, too, adds to my feeling of being unsettled.

What isn’t coming to a standstill are all the small things that demand attention, such as a breaker box that was stuck (it took a guy from the electric company two hours to dismantle it and put it back together), smoke alarms that need to be replaced, scammers sorted out from the official folks I need to deal with. All these things make me wonder if I’m in over my head, which contribute to my feeling unsettled.

Mostly, though, it’s the date. I’d forgotten tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of Jeff’s death, but a tightness in my chest and stinging eyes have reminded me of why I am here in this place, this house.

Because he is gone.

My sadness this anniversary is more nostalgic than painful. My missing him doesn’t feel as personal as it used to. For most of my years of grief I lamented that I never felt any different. Lamented that I hadn’t changed. But being here in this house, trying to create a new life for myself, tells me the truth. I am not at all the same person who struggled to live while her soul mate struggled to die. Not at all the same person who witnessed the death of the one person who anchored her to life. Not at all the same person who screamed her angst to the uncaring desert skies. That woman, I am sure, is still feeling the agony of his absence, but she is not me. She could never do the things I am doing.

Despite all the changes, I still worry about stagnating — becoming the crazy cat lady sans cats — and so far, there is nothing in my new life that precludes this from happening.

I tell myself to be patient, that my new life will be revealed (will unfold?) in the years ahead, but for now, I’m feeling . . . unsettled.

***

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.

The Massive Mission of Grief

Now that my own sorrow has considerably lessened, there have been many times when I have felt strange continuing to talk about grief. But despite the long years that have passed since the death of my life mate/soul mate, I am still bound by my grief. What I do, think, hope, even dream or not dream are because he is dead. Interestingly, I am discovering that these latter posts are perhaps as important as the early ones. Friends, relatives, and coworkers of the bereft are a lot more understanding those first months and even that first year of grief, but long before the end of the second year, they get impatient with any signs of continued grief. Most bereft stop talking about what they are feeling long before they are ready (and in way, I did, too. I spewed out my thoughts on this blog and mostly kept my mouth shut in real life).

And yet, grief is a life-long thing. And how can it not be? The pain might diminish, the hole might be filled to an extent with the gold of new relationships and new experiences, but the loved one is still dead. Even for those who believe their mate is in a better place, even for those who believe they will see them again, life is long and lonely without that special person.

If it were only about emotion and loneliness, grief would still be a massive mission, but all the physical, mental, chemical, hormonal upheavals change us and leave us feeling . . . not like us. Like some alien who no longer fits in this earthly environment.

But over the years, we do change and adapt. For this, I am glad to have continued these grief posts — people need to know they are not alone. They need to know that grief isn’t something you get over. They need to know that, unlike what some people believe, grieving long after others think you should stop is not a sign you lack resilience. Although people seldom admit it, there are gradations of grief. The death of a total stranger is not the same as the death of a soul mate. The death of a pet is not the same as the death of a child. (Yes, I understand that one grieves the loss of a beloved pet, but it is not the same, and I will delete any comment that says it is.) It’s easy to get over grief for a person you seldom saw, but grief for a person who shared your every waking moment is something you never get over. Everything that happens reminds you they are gone. Even after the pain has diminished, every moment of their not being with you makes you want to twitch with the feeling that something is not right.

But life — and grief — do go on, just maybe not the way we would prefer.

I am far enough away from those first horrendous years that I can start to see a pattern, and when I get a comment from someone who wails, “when will it be over?” I can give them an estimate. When they ask when life will get back to normal, I can safely say it will never get back to the old normal, but will eventually feel normal, though it will be a lot different from the normalcy of their shared life.

Although there is a pattern to dealing with grief after the death of a long-time spouse (or even a short time partner because you not only grieve what you lost but also what you will never have), all grief is different because all relationships are different.

I can’t, of course, tell people when it is time to find a new love — that is dependent on the person. I do know that those who manage to incorporate their first spouse’s memory into their new marriage are a lot happier than those who marry someone who feels injured by that grief, or who urges you to forget that previous marriage. I know one woman who incorporated her grief for her first husband into her marriage vows. Though she cried as she talked about her first husband, and her voice shook with emotion as she vowed to love the man she was marrying, she radiantly straddled those two worlds. It was beautiful to see.

So, if you know someone who is still grieving the loss of a spouse (or a child), please be kind; the bereft don’t live according to your timetable but according to the timetable of grief. And if you are the one who is still grieving long after others think you should have “moved on,” know that you are doing exactly the right thing, and someday you will get to where you need to be.

***

See also: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? And if by chance you know someone who is grieving, either of my books about grief — Grief: The Great Yearning or the novel Unfinished would make a nice gift.

***
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.

“I Can’t Do This!”

So often during the early years of my grief, my blog writing would be precipitated by a bout of crying. In subsequent years, I’ve tried to be more upbeat in my posts, but always a bout of crying would inspire another blog post and yep, you guessed it — today is one of the crying times.

In my previous post, “A Halcyon Time,” I told you about the occupational therapist who’s been visiting me for an hour a couple of times a week. She’s been helping me take a shower, massaging my incisions, teaching me a few therapeutic exercises I can do to keep my fingers and elbow working as much as possible. She’s helped subdue my fears, hugged me when I needed it, and brought a note of sanity into this whole insane experience. She’s treated me as more than just a client — she really seemed to care — and oh, how I needed that! It’s been years since someone cared for me in such a personal, hands-on way, and it’s made this time of home-bound healing palatable.

So why the tears? I just found out that Monday will be her final visit. My insurance won’t pay for any more days, and though she has fought for me a couple of times already and got the visitations extended, she has reached the end of what she is allowed to do, so I’ve been cut loose. I feel so terrible, so tearful. I haven’t even started the hard part of this whole healing journey. The fixator is still on, and once it comes off, it’s going to take a long time — maybe years, painful years — before I am back to a semblance of normal, and even then I will only regain about 50% mobility.

I’m screaming to myself, “I can’t do this!” (this being the next stages of recovery by myself), though I know I can. I’ve done so much I didn’t think I could do during the past seven years.

I still remember those first two months after Jeff died. I was all alone, in the worst agony I’d ever experienced, barely able to breathe, totally lost, and feeling as if half my soul had been amputated. I kept screaming “I can’t do this!” But of course, I did whatever needed to be done. I dealt with the mortuary, the bank, the government. I disposed of his clothes and other “effects.” Packed my stuff. Had a yard sale. Got rid of most of the things I didn’t think I would need. Traveled 1000 miles to go take care of my father. All within two months of Jeff’s death. All while screaming “I can’t do this!”

So yes, I know I can do this. Whatever happens in the next couple of months will in no way match the agony of those long ago months, and even if it did, there is something unbreakable in me that will allow me to do whatever needs to be done. But truly, it would’ve been so much easier with the counsel and support of that occupational therapist.

I hate to admit it, but I’m scared. I’m afraid of the next stage of healing and then going into old age alone with a disability (even a minor one), and more immediately, I’m afraid of falling back into the despair of loneliness and isolation.

There are people in my life who care, but it’s not like having a partner, either in life or in healing. I always knew, of course, the occupational therapist was only a temporary angel, yet I’d hoped to have her support until I felt well enough to continue on my own. Still, as with all partings, I am grateful for the time we had together. (Oddly, I don’t even know how I got involved with the home health service. I think one of the doctors at the hospital prescribed the service so a nurse would check on me since I was going home alone, and the therapist came along as part of the service.) It felt great being in someone’s concern, even if only two hours a week. I know I was darn lucky to have had her in my life the last three months, but now I am bereft.

A friend asked, “Do you think the loss of your OT is triggering the start of your annual grieving? Or it could be you are grieving only her, a caregiver who is gone. I know you feel the loneliness more acutely right around this time of the year, especially as it gets closer to your anniversary. If one could only push a button to fast-forward through these wretched months.”

She’s right — I do feel the loneliness more acutely at this time of year, and it’s possible that the nearness of that terrible anniversary, the seventh anniversary of Jeff’s death, is exacerbating my grief for the loss of therapist’s support, but even without that anniversary I would still feel the loss and the coming isolation. (Without her, I go weeks without seeing anyone.)

But there is no doubt the echo of that one devastating loss magnifies any current losses.

The death of a lifemate/soul mate creates a soul quake that leaves behind a huge void. When I went to stay with my father and discovered that he was living a scant 15 miles from the San Andreas Fault, at first I panicked, and then out of curiosity I went in search of the fault line. Unlike the image I had in my mind of a big crack in the earth, signs of the fault were much more subtle, such as red soil miles from where it originated, but in one place where the earth split, I found a leftover cavity filled with water. (It’s called a lake, though truly, it seems more like an elongated pond than a lake.)

Now that my soul quake has mostly healed, it has left behind a similar cavity inside me, and that cavity seems filled with tears, creating an underground lake or well that seeps to the surface of my life too frequently for comfort. And yet without the comfort of those tears what do I have? Only my ability to plod ahead, I suppose.

And plod ahead, I will.

?????????????

***

(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.

Women Adrift

I hadn’t been posting my blogs about my internal journey lately. For the first time, I’ve actually deleted a post or two without publishing it, not wanting to look as if I were unbearably pathetic. Although it might seem like it, I am not really unhappy. (I’d be a lot happier if it weren’t so hot and I could walk off my melancholy, but I am not so foolish as to go hiking in the desert in 105+ weather.) I have, however, been going through a small grief upsurge lately, nothing much, just riding the waves of emotion. This particular time of sadness hasn’t been so much about the loss of my life mate/soul mate, though that particular trauma has colored my whole life and probably will color it for the rest of my days.

Part of this particular upsurge has come about because now that I am back at dance class, I’ve been spending too much time with a group of married women, mostly older women who are still married to their high school or college sweethearts though there are a couple who are divorced and remarried. While I have been struggling to deal with one loss after another, their lives have mostly continued on the same track. As I listen to their chatter about their houses, travel plans, the care and feeding of their men. I feel . . . unbelonged. I don’t know how to deal with this particular issue. Maybe skip class occasionally when I get too overwhelmed? Mostly, I handle the situation by concentrating on the steps and trying to ignore the rest of what is going on, but the constant reminder that I am alone still gets to me.

It wasn’t until today, though, speaking to a woman my age who is dealing with some of what I have been going through, that I realized the greater problem, a problem I haven’t yet figured out how to resolve.

This other woman came to the high desert about the same time I did. Like me, she gave up her life in a cooler climate and moved here to take care of an aged parent. Like me, she is now lost. She has been here too long to go back and pick up the life she was living. After all these years, she has too much to lose by leaving, but she doesn’t have enough to keep her here, not enough to make this place (especially in the 105 degree heat) feel like home.

Where do you go when you have no real ties anymore?

I met a few other such women on my trip, women tent campers who had nothing but a restlessness born of unbelonging. They too had left what they had known and moved in with an aged parent to care for that parent until that parent’s death. The fact that we designated daughters were not married, were widowed, or otherwise lived alone, and so it fell upon us to make the move, does not mitigate the circumstances. We were uprooted when we went to be a caregiver, and uprooted again when the caregiving came to an end.

And so we drift.

This particular facet of my life has been mostly subsumed into the whole grief spectrum, but it is something separate from all the other losses, something I haven’t had to face it until now. After my dad’s death, I stayed at his house until it was sold, did some housesitting, visited friends, and then rented a room until it was time to take my cross-country trip. Now that the trip is ended, at least until the end of the summer, I have to face the truth. I have too much to lose by leaving, but it’s not enough to hold me here.

And so I drift.

***

(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.”)

Grief, Adventure, Car Update

I never know when or why grief raises its grizzled head, but apparently today is one of those days. It could be I am so relentlessly living in the present that the effort wears me out or maybe my sad truth simply wears through.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life draping my psyche in moldy widow’s weeds, so I try to stay focused on what I have — friends, adventure, dance, writing — and not what I don’t have, but oh, that “don’t have” is so very hard to handle even all these years later.

In less than nine months, I’ll be marking the sixth anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death. Can seven, ten, fifteen years be far behind?

It seems odd that though I seldom think of Jeff, can barely conjure up an image of him in my mind, can’t even remember the sound of his voice, his goneness rules my life. If he were still alive, would I be walking along deserted beaches, hiking in old growth forests, putting myself in dicey situations in the name of adventure? Of course not. I’d be home with him.

And that lack of “home,” I’m sure, continues to be the crux of my grief. He was home to me. Without him, there is no home, though I am learning to be at home wherever I am. Still, there are times when I desperately want to go home, and that’s when it hits me . . . again. He is gone and there is nothing I can do about it.

Even though I know the truth — if he hadn’t died, my life, and his, would have become truly horrific — it doesn’t help with my missing him, with my desire to go home to him.

To a certain extent, being without a car is exacerbating my feeling of homesickness and homelessness. I have a hunch this prolonged situation is as frustrating for the auto body guy as it is for me since there is way more work than he ever imagined — though I never did ask for or expect the full restoration he is doing. He also has me bugging him to get the car finished, which I don’t think he likes, but he is not the one without a car, without a mate, without a home. (I do have places to stay, for which I am eternally grateful, but the places are other people’s homes, not mine.)

The past few days I’ve mostly been walking around town or taking it easy hiking on the Pacific Coast Bike Route to give myself a chance to heal from the dog bite, sprained calf muscle, and myriad mosquito bites, but tomorrow I’ll attempt something more challenging to get back into the moment.

Jeff might be gone, but I am still here, and I have to do something.

***

(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.”)

***

Wednesday’s Child

A childhood ditty declares, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” I sometimes wonder if there is any truth in the saying — I was born under Wednesday’s curse and I do seem to be more woe oriented than most people I know.

Everything always seems so easy for others. When I mention my tales of woe, such as grief for my deceased life mate/soul mate, people often dismiss my pain and offer their own religious beliefs as consolation. But those are their beliefs. Not mine. And even if they were my beliefs, they wouldn’t affect my grief. Grief is not intellectual. It is visceral, as much of a physical trauma as it is emotional, and as such is not always ameliorated by religious beliefs.

eclipse(I make it seem as if grief is a constant in my life, but it isn’t, not really. I can go weeks without thinking of him or shedding a single tear. This just just doesn’t happen to be one of those weeks.)

I suppose it does seem unimportant, this death that occurred five years ago. And yet, to me, it is all-important. Because of his death, I am where I am today, both spiritually and geographically. Because of his death and all the other deaths that have affected me in recent years, I have to rebuild my life from the ground up. This seems an immense task to me, and yet people shrug it off as if it is an everyday occurrence.

Is life that easy for others? Can they as easily dismiss their own woes as they do mine? After a trauma, can they really go on as if nothing has happened? Do the realities of life and death affect them so lightly? Or is it that they are better at hiding their feelings than I am?

I suppose it’s possible that I lack the resilience necessary to lead an easy life, but it seems to me I am resilient enough. In the past five years, I have closed up a house after the death of its inhabitants not once but twice, getting rid of the earthly possessions of those who no longer have a use for them. I have twice been dislocated and unhoused because of death. I have made friends and lost them, and made new friends. I’ve had my heart broken and my feelings hurt, and endured abuse from my dysfunctional brother. I’ve walked thousands of miles, written hundreds of blogs, laughed and joked, smiled and listened. I’ve learned to dance — not well, perhaps, but well enough to perform on stage with my classmates. And I am still chugging along, dreaming a new future into existence.

For the most part I am happy, grateful, hopeful even. And yet . . . and yet . . .

When he died, it felt like an amputation, and whatever was amputated is still gone. I have become so used to the feeling that I don’t always notice the amputation, but every once in a while grief steals over me like an eclipse, shadowing my life with pain and sorrow. For just a moment I wonder what is wrong, and then it comes to me.

He is dead.

That’s the fact of my life I cannot get around. Where he is, if he is, whether he is subsumed into the whole or maintains individual consciousness, I still have to deal with his goneness, still have to make my own way in the world. Still have to learn to live fully.

And oh, yeah. I have to forget that whole “Wednesday’s Child” thing. I don’t need any more woes.

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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.

Letting Go

My first out-of-town adventure in this new rootless life of mine was going to be a pilgrimage to dispose of Jeff’s ashes. (For those of you who are new to this blog, Jeff was my life mate/soul mate who died five years ago, catapulting me out of our shared life and into a life of accepting whatever comes my way.) I’d been taking care of my nonagenarian father, but now that he’s gone, too, my stuff is in storage. And, I am appalled to admit, so are Jeff’s ashes.

It’s past time for me to dispose of those cremains (as the funeral industry do quaintly calls them), but I don’t know quite where to release the ashes. Disposing of them is more a matter of myth and ritual than reality. I know he is gone and that they have nothing to do with him or his life, but they are his last earthly remains, the inorganic part of his body that was left behind when he was cremated.

I’d planned to take the ashes to northern California when I went to visit a friend, to scatter them in the ocean near the Redwood Forest because he loved both water and trees, but since neither of us had ever been there, it seems wrong, somehow. Disposing of this last vestige of his life should feel right to me —- I am the one left to deal with his goneness. But I don’t feel right about any of it. I don’t feel right about his being gone, though when I subtract him out of the equation of my life, I’m fine. Happy even. I certainly don’t feel right about keeping his remains in a rented storage unit, but they’ve been there five weeks already, so I don’t suppose it matters if they are there a while longer.

People tell me I will know when the time is right, and this time does feel right. It’s the place that confuses me. Do I take him out to the desert on a windy day and let him go where he wishes? Do I take him back to Colorado, back to the creek where we talked about our future, or maybe back to where we lived? Do I take him to Minocqua where he’d dreamed of opening a mom-and-pop store on the lake? But oh! He’d feel so far away. As if he isn’t already so far from me.

In the days after Jeff’s death, a minister friend advised me to save some of the cremains, which was good advice. I’d never planned to keep them but having them with me brought me comfort. But I don’t feel right about keeping some and getting rid of the rest. It would feel so . . . scattered.

Though I have his ashes with me, it feels as if I left him in Colorado. I left his car there. (I donated it to hospice.) I think I would feel better if his ashes were there, too, for no other reason than that is where I picture him. We never talked about what to do with his ashes, but once when I mentioned I was considering taking them to the North Fork a mile or two from where we lived, his eyes lit up.

It will be a while before I get back to Colorado — I have a dance performance coming up, housesitting jobs, and a New Years resolution to keep. (I promised an online friend — my first and staunchest fan! — that we would meet this year for sure, so with or without Jeff’s ashes, I’ll be heading for northern California first chance I get.)

I never thought it would be hard to scatter his ashes — after all, they are doing no earthly good sitting in a storage unit — and now I realize it’s going to be immensely difficult, that final letting go.

But it has to be done. Doesn’t it?

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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.”)

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