Too Many Deaths

It seems as if I’ve accidentally taken a vacation from the internet. I haven’t posted a blog in over a month (I even forgot to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of this blog), and I’ve made only an occasional visit to Facebook. It wasn’t planned, this vacation. It’s just that life — and death — got in the way of my usual e-activities.

My older brother’s death affected me — and continues to affect me — so much more than I thought it would. (For someone who thinks she is as self aware as I think I am, my own reactions to death always manage to surprise me.) I thought I’d grieved the loss of my brother when I left him on the street in Colorado, but death is different. Irrevocable. And I am very conscious of his being gone.

My brother had given me the stuff in his storage unit a few years ago with the caveat I wouldn’t do anything with it until he was gone. (Did he know how close to death he was? I don’t know. I thought this disposition of his possessions was just his usual doom saying.) So, in addition to dealing with his death, I had to deal with his possessions. Well, my possessions. It was incredibly sad to see his preparations for a life as a musician he never got to live. It was incredibly sad having to dispose of the provisions for that unlived life. (There is no way I could have kept his things. I have enough of my own — and Jeff’s — stuff in storage without having to add my brother’s, too.)

Jeff’s death brought to the fore questions about death and the meaning of my life as well as fears of my growing old alone. My brother’s death didn’t leave me with the mystical quest Jeff’s death did; instead, it made me question the practicalities of my life. Made me realize I need to prepare for my old age. Considering the longevity of my parents, I thought that old age would be a long time coming, but both brothers closest to me in age, one a year younger, one a year older, are now gone. My younger brother didn’t come within thirty years of my mother’s final age. My older brother didn’t come within thirty years of my father’s age.

Although I have reconnected with other siblings, I still have to deal with life on my own. They all have someone significant in their lives, and I have . . . me. I see friends sporadically, but mostly, I spend my time alone. It’s odd that I am now where I feared to be during those first years of grief after Jeff died. I used to be terrified of stagnating, of becoming the crazy cat lady sans cats, so I kept myself busy with forward-looking activities. After the seventh anniversary, that need for busyness evaporated. Luckily, as it turned out. Most of my grief group friends are now paired up, my walking friends have gone on to other activities, and my dance classes have diminished. (I stopped going to a couple of the classes because they had become a performance group rather than actual classes and caused me more frustration than joy. Most of my other classes, classes that I loved, were either cancelled or are hit and miss.) And my dream of an epic hike evaporated when I discovered the reality of my physical abilities. Or lack of abilities.

So here I am. Alone. But not stagnating. (At least, I don’t think I’m stagnating. But if I am, would I know?) I’ve been spending time with my new grief book, preparing for its send off into the world of agents. I’ve been trying to get back into walking shape — my frequent colds this year and the trips I’ve gone on (to Seattle and to my brother’s memorial) have taken their toll on me. And I’ve been trying to figure out where to go from here, not in a mystical way, but a practical way, trying to figure out where I want to be living when death begins swiping at me with its scythe.

Death. So not a friend of mine! (Though I might feel differently when I near my own end.) I don’t mean to sound morbid. There’s just been too many deaths in too short a time.

Although I should return from my accidental vacation and get back into the discipline of keeping up the blog, I truly don’t want to foist my sadness on others. I did enough of that when I was dealing with Jeff’s death, and there’s nothing new to say.

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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.

Shredding the Past

Four years and three months ago (a mere fifty-five days after his death), I cleaned out my life mate/soul mate’s “effects.” It was truly the worst day of my life.

You would think the worst day would have been the day Jeff died, but that was a sadly inevitable day, one I actually had looked forward to. He’d been sick for so long and in such pain, I was glad he finally let go and drifted away. But the Thursday I spent cleaning out his stuff broke my heart. I cried the entire day, twenty-four sleepless hours. I have never felt such soul-wrenching agony. I didn’t want to block out the pain — didn’t want to risk becoming hardened and unable to feel — but I sure as hell don’t want to ever go through anything like that again. (The only good thing about living the worst day of your life is that every day afterward, no matter how bad, will be better than that day.)

I couldn’t bring myself to dispose of all of his things on that fateful day, so I’ve kept several cartons in storage. I knew I’d have to sort through those boxes someday, but I hoped it would come at a time when it wouldn’t hurt.

Well, today was one of those somedays. And it didn’t hurt.

A couple of weeks ago, when I had to make a copy of his death certificate so I could finally get his name removed from our joint account, it struck me that I shouldn’t even have the certificate. It belongs to him, and he no longer belongs to me. (Not that he ever did belong to me, but we were connected in a very profound way that neither of us ever understood.) All these years of grief and all the effort to regain a new interest in living and trying create a new life for myself has severed the feeling of connection.

It seems strange now to remember that I was once so connected to another human being that his death shattered me. It seems strange to think of how I screamed my agony to the uncaring winds, how I spent hours every day in the desert walking off my sorrow. How I wept so uncontrollably for hours, days, weeks.

Now, whoever he his, whatever he is, wherever he is, he is his own being. He lent himself to me for more than three decades, for whictrashh I am eternally grateful, but life and time have separated us. (Odd that I wrote that “life and time have separated us” rather than that “death and time have separated us.” Just another example of how much I’ve changed during the past four years and five months.)

Today I sorted through some of the stored boxes, and disposed of much of the contents. Files of our old bills (well, they weren’t old at the time I saved them, though they are old today). Our joint bank statements. Notes he’d made. Magazines he’d started to read. Lists of books he’d read or wanted to read.

Our life. His life.

The past. Ripped to shreds.

I threw away a lot of other things such as boxes of music he’d taped from the radio and our old rotary phone.

I have many more boxes to go through — his, mine, and ours — but I stopped when both the trash bin and the recycle bin were full. And not a teardrop in sight.

It’s still possible the sorrow will hit me a bit later, but if so, it will only be for a minute or two. My current life with my aged father and my recent dealings with my dysfunctional brother have been so traumatic that I can barely remember the life I shared with Jeff. (I keep his picture to prove to myself that I once loved, once was loved.)

None of us know where the future will take us, but in my case, I won’t be dragging the past along. Or at least not as much of it.

***

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.