Haunted by the Specter of Empty Rooms

The last night in my father’s house. I’ve been wandering through the empty rooms to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything, and I can’t stop crying. It seems as if during the past five years I’ve tapped into a well of endless tears, and though the weepfests are fairly rare now, tonight brought them back.

It’s the end of so many things.

I came to this house after the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, to look after my father and ensure he could be as independent as possible during his last years. I fulfilled that task, and now he is gone, too, having survived my mother by almost eight years.

I no longer know who I weep for. All my dead? The woman I once was? Death itself?

I came here shattered by grief — totally desolate with no idea how to go on by myself, no idea how to want to go on by myself. Now I have dance classes, friends, dreams. Would Jeff even know me now? Would the woman I once was know me?

I rememb016ber how at the beginning of my grief, I used to marvel that so great a trauma as the death of the one person who tied me to earth and made life worth living didn’t change me. But something did — perhaps living. There is a whole world out there if I have but the courage to take it, and yet here I am, soaked in tears.

Tomorrow I will gather myself up and forge ahead with hopes and a smile, but tonight, well, tonight there are just too damn many empty rooms. Too damn much sorrow.

I know this is the cycle of life. People are born. They live a few years or many. They die. But my heart doesn’t want to know that particular truth. My heart wants what it can no longer have — to go home to Jeff. But that home is gone, too. Those rooms I emptied before I came here are filled with other people’s belongings. Jeff for sure isn’t there. Nor is he in my future.

The specter of empty rooms haunts me.

I used to love empty rooms. Jeff and I never put furniture in our living room. A weight bench. That was all. But now, empty rooms remind me of ends, not beginnings. And I am tired of ends. (That’s probably why I like the idea of a nomadic life, though I doubt I would like the reality — there are no ends, only beginnings.)

I wish I were strong and wise and brave, but the truth is I simply do what everyone does — keep on going however I can.

And tomorrow I go, leaving these empty rooms behind.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.

Empty Rooms

I seem to be doing a lot of sitting and staring out windows lately. Could be physical exhaustion. Could be mental overload. Could be spring fever for all I know. But here I sit in an empty room — no furniture, no decoration, no ghosts except for my own.

I am haunted by my unknown future, by leftover sadness, by thoughts of what and whom I will be leaving behind if I follow the call to adventure, especially my dance teacher/mentor/friend. She more than anyone brought me back to life when it seemed as if I’d never be happy again, and I will miss learning, dancing, lunching with her on a regular basis.

I want to stay. I need to go.


Sounds like that old Jimmy Durante song, doesn’t it?

“Did you ever get the feeling that you wanted to go,
But still had the feeling that you wanted to stay,
You knew it was right, wasn’t wrong.
Still you knew you wouldn’t be very long.
Go or stay, stay or go,
Start to go again and change your mind again.
It’s hard to have the feeling that you wanted to go,
But still have the feeling that you wanted to stay.


In my case, though, I’m not changing my mind since I haven’t actually decided anything. I’m leaving it up to the fates. I am planning on heading up north in June to meet a friend, and for all I know, I could be coming back in a couple of weeks. But no matter what happens to me — go, stay, return — I won’t be coming back here to my father’s house.

It’s been alternately stressful and interesting being chatelaine of such a large, lovely residence. It’s been a challenge to get my stuff packed and in storage, to dispose of my parent’s belongings, to find homes for their furnishings. Most of the furniture was taken out of the house this weekend. There is still one pick up tomorrow, and another on Wednesday, then the house really will be empty except for my clothes, computer, and one old mattress to sleep on.

I won’t have long to live in these empty rooms. In nine days, this phase of my life will be over, and once again, I will be driving away from a houseful of empty rooms.

It seems odd to me that after all this time — five years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate — I still don’t know how to go about rebuilding my life. Still, this should be an exciting time for me, with an unknown and possibly exciting future ahead of me, but these empty rooms are taking me back to the empty rooms I left behind when I drove away from the house Jeff and I shared, and along with the memories, comes sadness.

I know endings are the beginning of beginnings, but tonight I can’t summon up any enthusiasm for starting over. So I sit and stare out the window of this empty room, and try not to remember the other empty rooms I left behind.



Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.


In between bouts of sorting and packing my stuff (which in many cases entails finishing started projects so I can store the equipment and supplies in their appropriate boxes), I’ve been clearing out my father’s stuff. I’m leaving the furniture in the house for now because supposedly it’s harder to sell completely empty houses, but even though my father lived sparsely, there are still many things to be sorted through and given away or boxed up for donation— medical and first aid items, bedding, towels, office supplies, dishes and kitchen tools, books, and on and on. And then there are the personal and household cleaning products that can only be tossed away. (I donated his clothes to a rescue mission a couple of months ago.)

I’m making procleangress on clearing out the house. In fact, most of the rooms except the linen closet and the kitchen (and my rooms, of course) have been decluttered. Nothing personal remains to destroy the fictive dream of prospective buyers. (Apparently, house hunters need to see themselves in the house, and other people’s possessions keep them from doing so.)

Strangely, after all these years, I’m falling in love with the house. I’ve appreciated the shelter, but never had any fondness for the house itself. It has been a sad place for me, the place I came to nurse my grief, to look after and then nurse my father, to deal with my abusive/alcoholic/schizophrenic brother. But as I am cleaning out the stuff in house, I am also cleaning out my “stuff” — my grief for my deceased life mate/soul mate, my despair over my brother, my complicated dealings with my father.

When my dysfunctional brother was here and banned from the house, he often expressed outrage that I lived like a millionaire and never felt grateful for the great gift I’d been given. I used to think, “No millionaire has ever had to look after both an abusive brother and a dying father, being torn between the two of them.” But what do I know. Maybe that’s what being a millionaire is all about.

Now however, I am living like a millionaire, reigning over a house full of empty rooms that speak to me of peace and comfort, of expansiveness, of new possibilities. (It is ironic that I so love empty rooms because I live in a clutter of projects-in-progress.)

Although the house is more than ten years old, there has never been a fire in either fireplace, nothing has been cut on the cutting board, the Jacuzzi has only been used a couple of times, there has never been more than one car in the three-car grease-free garage. Someone, somewhere, will be getting a lovely barely-used house to turn into a home.

And me? Well, I’ll be . . . somewhere. But I’ll always be grateful I had this time to declutter.


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.