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

Grief, the Internet, and Other Unpolitic Matters

It seems funny to me that I managed to write a blog post every day for more than four years, and now I can’t come up with four posts a month. There is so much I don’t want to talk about. Or rather, that I do want to talk about but don’t think it . . . politic. (Weird, isn’t it, that talking of politics is no longer politic? Not that I particularly want to talk about what’s going on in the world, but it’s hard not to want to have my say.)

During all my years online, I’ve heard people say that the internet is a harsh place because people hide behind their online personas and spew filth, but until this past week, I’ve never encountered such hatred and anger. Online, people are screeching about racists and xenophobes and misogynists and bigots, but offline, people are respectfully and calmly talking about why they voted the way they did, and not one of them voted for racism. Except that in today’s world, if you disagree with standard group-think for any reason, the first word that comes up in retaliation is “racist.” Or “anti-feminist.” As if the only reason to vote for a Broken heartwoman is that she’s a woman like you. (Apparently, women are not allowed to look beyond gender to the issues dear to their heart.)

None of this has anything to do with me, really, but I see the hurt caused by such divisiveness. I have never lost so much respect for so many people so fast as I did this past week. The election results didn’t upset me. I know that historically any Republican president brings out the activists, which mitigates the power. But the hatred and lies and name calling is something I can do without. Not only am I a person who wants everyone to get along, but such contention exacerbates my ongoing sadness.

When I was writing my dance class book, I was in a good place mentally. But now . . . not so much. I’m not experiencing grief; really, it’s more that all the vehement rhetoric makes me miss the one person I knew who could look rationally and historically beyond the hype on both sides to the truth, who understood my feelings, who knew my thoughts and agreed with them because they were his thoughts too. I realize having such a person in my life was a blessing, but sometimes it’s hard to still count that particular blessing because it ended so very long ago. In a few months, it will be seven years since he’s been gone. Long enough to forget occasionally that I had him in my life, but not long enough to completely fill the hole he left behind.

Working on my current book, a novel I started six years ago about a woman who lost her husband to death, is resurrecting the sadness, which shows me grief is still there, buried under my renewed equanimity. (I never used to be an emotional person, but his death slammed me way off course.) I periodically think about scrapping the book. I don’t know if anyone will ever read it. A grieving woman is not the sort of heroine that people seem to admire. A person experiencing grief is at the mercy of her hormones and brain chemistry, her emotional and spiritual tornadoes, the sheer debilitating exhaustion of the process. No amount of determination, no power-woman tactics can get you through it. Only going through it can get you through it.

Such a character and her manifest weakness, no matter how temporary, is not exactly something most people find inspiring. And yet, that’s the whole point of the book. To show the truth of grief. I got so sick of books where the woman lost her husband, cried herself to sleep, and woke up the next morning thinking, “Okay, that’s done with.” Or as one author wrote, “She went through all five stages of grief.” Yeah. That’s deep.

There is a reason why books featuring fictional widows and widowers generally start three to five years after the spouse’s death — those first years are not pretty.

And my poor heroine’s story is the first two months after her husband’s death. Oh, my. What have I gotten myself into!

But, despite my misgivings, I keep plugging along with the book and my life. And maybe someday both will find an acceptable resolution.

As for the world outside my own little world? Nope. Not a hope. People have become too addicted to their own opinions to ever see the truth in the opposition. The situation would break my heart if it weren’t already broken.


(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.