Confusing Thoughts For A Confusing Day

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.

Confusing thoughts for a confusing day.


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.

Nature’s Fireworks

Last night I went outside for a bit to watch nature’s fireworks — the immense show of lightning that so often shows up on July fourth in Colorado. Standing there in the unearthly light, I was reminded of another time I watched the show. It was decades ago. I stood on the roof of the apartment building in Denver where I lived, and watched the far-off jagged lines of light.

It seems odd to think of that young woman and all she hadn’t yet experienced. All that she couldn’t even have imagined that would eventually happen to her. I think it was right before I met Jeff, so he wasn’t even in the picture. Our life together, our great cosmic connection, was on the horizon, but she hadn’t an inkling.

In fact, she didn’t think she’d be alive much longer. When she was young, she could project herself into the future, but that future always ended when she was twenty-five. No matter how she tried, she could never imagine her life after that. She thought it meant she would die that year, but instead, it meant she would come alive because that was the year she met Jeff. It makes sense to me now, that lack of any sense of the future, because how could she have projected herself into a future she couldn’t ever have imagined?

She couldn’t have imagined any of her life with Jeff. She couldn’t have imagined — though she dreamed — that she would learn to write and would become a published author. She couldn’t imagine how much something called a blog would mean to her (back then, there wasn’t even a hint of such a personal use for the computers that were just coming into renown).

She couldn’t have imagined Jeff’s death and the grief that would all but destroy her before it rebuilt her. She couldn’t have imagined that anything would ever get her to take care of her father when he got old — it was the one thing she was determined she would never do. (Even at a young age, I knew I was the “designated daughter,” and Jeff saved me from that. For a while, anyway. But fate came calling.) She couldn’t have imagined living in California and especially not in the desert — she never liked California, and she hated the heat. And she could never have imagined finding peace and hope in the desert, or taking dance classes, or making so many friends. She never imagined that two of her brothers and both parents would die. (Though logically, she knew her parents would die at some point, but they were still in their middle years and a long way from the end, so she never thought about it.)

She could never have imagined traveling by herself, camping by herself, hiking and backpacking by herself. She could never even imagine having the self-confidence and courage and boldness such adventures would demand.

And especially, she could never have imagined owning a house.

All that was in her future, and it seems so strange that the young woman standing on the roof watching the lightning storm hadn’t even a glimmer that any of those momentous things would occur.

And yet, there I was last night, on the other end of that life, looking at what seemed the same storm, and knowing all that the young woman would experience.

Suddenly, the sounds of a war zone brought that reverie to an end. I had never lived anyplace where fireworks were legal, and oh, my — hours and hours of the sound of gunfire all around me. At one point, I looked out the back door because it seemed to me as if the sounds were coming from my yard, and I was shocked to see huge falls of sparks landing on my garage and house from the fireworks nearby neighbors had set off. Luckily, the long dry months had come to an end a couple of hours earlier, so there was no danger, but it still made me nervous.

Today, although all is sodden, it’s quiet. The war is over. The lightning that brought the flash of memory has receded into the past.

Or into the future.

Next year, or the year after, or ten years from now, perhaps I will again watch nature’s fireworks on the fourth, and I will be marveling at happenings I can’t imagine today.


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

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.”)

My Punctuated Life of Equilibrium

I never understood evolution, especially Darwin’s version of how it happens. I mean, a bat is always a bat. Bats beget bats and have been begetting bats for millions of years. So how does a bat become something else? And how did something else become a bat? Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of punctuated equilibrium is the only evolution theory that ever made sense to me since batsit mirrored what I knew — that bats always beget bats until . . . they don’t.

Punctuated equilibrium says (at least the way I understand it) that everything exists in a state of equilibrium, with very few evolutionary changes except on a local level. (By “local level” I mean within a species. A species of creatures that becomes separated by a river, for example, will undergo minor changes as time goes on, with those individuals most able to adapt to the new environment surviving to procreate. But still, the adapted creature is recognizably the same species as its forebears.) These vast times of stasis are occasionally punctuated with relatively short (on a cosmic scale) periods of genetic changes, and then things settle down into another long, long, long, period of equilibrium.

This is what my life feels like — long, long, long periods where everything is static, and then brief but frenetic periods of change before stasis sets in once more.

During all the years when my life mate/soul mate was dying, our lives seemed stagnant. We did things of course, but there were no major changes, nothing to yank us out of our torpidity. Day after day, year after year, he got sicker and weaker and I became more emotionally anesthetized since I could not bear what was happening to him and I couldn’t do anything to help him get better.

As the years passed, I felt as if it would always be that way — he dying, me struggling to live. And then one day, things changed. He bent down to pick something up, and a horrendous pain shot through him. He bore the pain as long as he could — three unbelievably agonizing weeks — because he knew that any drug strong enough to kill the pain would also destroy him. And it did. When he finally got on morphine, it made him disoriented. Sometimes he didn’t remember me, and sometimes he didn’t remember himself.

I hunkered down for a long siege since the doctor said he had three to six months to live.

And just like that, three weeks later, after one last breath, the long years of stasis were over. I went through a few months of rapid changes, getting rid of his stuff, putting mine in storage, moving in with my father to take care of him.

These past years of grief have masked the truth. That my life is still basically the same. Stagnant. Living with a man (my father this time) who is declining. Struggling to find a way to survive live despite the situation. I’ve agreed to stay to the end, which could be years, and I’m okay with that. (Designated Daughter, don’t you know.)

The end of this stage of equilibrium will be punctuated with another brief but frenetic period of change as I adjust to the new situation of having no one but me to be responsible for. And then . . .

I’m hoping to figure a way out of this punctuated equilibrium of mine, maybe find a way to incorporate small but steady changes to punctuate my future and keep things from becoming one long run-on sentence, to keep me ever-evolving until the inevitable period is put on the end of my life.

Of course, this is easy to say. It’s harder to do. No matter what we plan, life scatters punctuation marks where it 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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Designated Daughter

The problem with having a star-studded weekend is that resuming real life can be difficult. Sunday evening, on the way back from the airport, I found myself dreading the return to my life. It’s not that I would have wanted to keep up the frantic pace of wonderful waterside seafood restaurants, Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, limousines, champagne, and fabulous shows, but that until I was away from it for a while, I hadn’t realized how depressing my current living situation is. (I am the “designated daughter,” looking after my 96-year-old father.)

Dad and me

Dad and me

When I came here three years ago to be with my father, he was still mostly strong and vital, which gave me the opportunity I needed to grieve for my deceased life mate/soul mate without having to deal with the minutiae of daily life or my father’s medical condition, but this changed as my father declined. And now, I’m back where I was for so many years, keeping vigil while someone close to me struggles to live (or die. Sometimes I’m not sure which is harder for them.)

My father is doing well (he even insisted I leave him by himself while I was gone instead of getting someone to stay with him) but still, he is suffering from congestive heart failure, and it’s hard watching someone decline, especially when it’s someone you have a complicated relationship with. He vacillates from being the authoritative father when he is well to needy child when he isn’t, which makes a complicated situation even more problematic. And for the most part, I am his main contact with the outside world, which at times adds an additional burden.

I thought I was doing okay, accepting this new direction in my life, but now I see that this situation only adds to my sorrow. But it is what it is, and there’s not much I — or anyone else — can do to change things, though life itself will eventually make the change for me. Until then, I’ll muddle through the best I can, and try not to give in to depression.


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+