A House of Ghosts

An online friend, someone who only knows me through my blog posts, emails, and projects we have worked on together, made an astute remark.

She said, in response to my blog about the double rainbow, “I do think you are more perceptible to the outside world and that life is moving forward when you get out of the house. You won’t find any possibilities in the house — you have to be able to get out when you can.” I found that comment interesting because I hadn’t noticed the deadness of this the house until the last few days. It’s always been a place of dying and grief, paranoia and imprisonment. I first visited this house to help with my dying mother. I came to stay after the death of my life mate/soul mate to help my elderly father and to get through my shockingly painful grief. For the first three years I was here, my father would set the burglar alarm around 7:00pm and he didn’t give me the alarm code, so I was basically a prisoner of his paranoia, and now my brother is making me a prisoner of his paranoia and psychoses.

ThiStarss deadness was especially apparent to me this morning. I went to pick up a rental vehicle to take my brother back to Colorado (a foolish waste of money, since he insists he doesn’t have time to get ready) and while I was sitting in that sparse office, I could feel my spirits rise. Since my brother refuses to go tomorrow, that means I have the vehicle for my own use, and I could go . . . wherever. During the long ride back here, I felt that optimism, and even after a confrontation with my brother, who claimed the SUV was too small, he couldn’t be ready, and various other ranting objections, I kept that feeling of optimism. But now that I’ve been back in the house a couple of hours, I feel the cement hardening around my feet and my heart, and I can barely muster the energy to . . . well, to do anything.

I never had much belief in ghosts, but this place does seem haunted, if only by my own unhappiness.

I don’t really have anywhere I want to go, but I think I’ll head out on the highway for a couple of hours, and see what I can see — maybe some stars. It’s supposed to be a good night for stargazing.


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.

Grief Update: Four Years and Four Months

It’s been four years and four months since Jeff — my life mate/soul mate — died. These have been rough years, first dealing with the heartbreak of his death, then dealing with the agony and the void of his being gone, now dealing with the trauma and drama of my father’s dying, my brother’s dysfunction, my sister’s presence.

I’ve shed a few tears today, but I don’t think they are for my lost love. They seem more self-pitying than that, perhaps tears of exhaustion from trying to rectify a situation I cannot settle — everyone is pushing/pulling me, and it’s impossible to resolve the matter in any way that will satisfy or even half-satisfy everyone. Despite my efforts to help, I know that there is no resolution. Even if it’s not this week, my father’s end is nigh. Even if it’s not this week, my homeless brother will be forced back onto the streets. Even if it’s not this week, my sister will still have to deal with whatever comes, as will I.

The truth is, I can barely remember my life with Jeff. It’s so far away in time, place, emotion, that his being gone seems to have no impact any more, and yet his death defines my life. If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here in this house of horrors, wouldn’t have gone through unimaginable grief, wouldn’t be drifting in this transitional state, waiting for my “real” life to begin. (Silly to think that — as John Lennon supposedly said, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” On the other hand, it’s horrific to think that this is my life. Ouch.)

If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have wondered for thousands of hours in the desert. (I meant wandered, of course, but I’m leaving the typo because it is actually truer than what I’d intended to write. I did wonder as I wandered. Wondered about life, death, his current whereabouts, my future, the meaning of it all.) If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have made so many wonderful friends. Wouldn’t have found dance (my redemption, my joy, my life).

I miss Jeff, but it’s with the dull ache of a half-remembered dream. I know he was real — he was the most real person I ever met — and yet, though he used to be “my North, my South, my East and West, / My working week and my Sunday rest, / My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,” he no longer has any substantial reality in my life. I talked to him when I was out walking in the desert today, but I had no feeling of connection. It was just me, the heat, the restless air, the sandy soil, the oppressive low-lying clouds, and perhaps a lizard or two.

I keep a photo of Jeff — the one photo I have — where I can see it to remind me that this was not always my life. Once I loved deeply, so deeply that I still felt shattered years after his death, so deeply that I could only scream the pain of my loss to the uncaring winds.

I still have his ashes, but one day soon I will have to figure out what to do with them. When my father is gone, I’m going to have to put my stuff in storage, and though there is nothing left of Jeff in his “cremains,” I cannot see storing them as if they were just more detritus of my life. And I still have many of Jeff’s things to dispose of, things that once I couldn’t bear to part with because he might need them. Now I know the truth — feel the truth — he will never need them. I will never be taking them home to him. I will never be going home to him. Will never talk with him again.

It’s been four years and four months and six days since Jeff and I talked. Tomorrow it will be four years and four months and seven days.

And so the days pass.


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.

On Writing: Family

If a character has well-defined family members — that never-satisfied mother, that demanding great-aunt, that silent father — then we authors don’t have to create that character. The family does it for us.

The family of Mary Stuart in Daughter Am I truly helped create her. When Mary found out that she was the heir of grandparents she never knew existed, she had to find out who they were so she could find out who she was. Once I set the family dynamic, that determined the character of Mary. Her father was close-mouthed, wouldn’t talk about why he disowned his parents or why he told his daughter they were dead. He also bonded more with his daughter’s fiancé than with her. The mother seemed to be mostly a shadow of the father. Because of this, it was inevitable that Mary got engaged to the guy they liked, and it was also inevitable that she dumped him when she became her own person. And even that “own person” was created by family — turns out she was just like her dead grandfather, with his set of values, a desire to build his own life despite social conventions, and an intense loyalty. Even her “adopted” family helped create her. As she followed her quest to learn about her grandparents, she accumulated a crew of travel companions — all friends of her grandparents — who become a new family of sorts.

Rubicon Ranch, the collaborative novel I’m doing with some other Second Wind authors, is all about family. The birth family who’s been searching for the girl and who fall prey to con artists, the couple who wanted a child so bad that they kidnapped one, the old man who suspects his son of the crime, the woman who suspects her father, the boy who is being abused by his father, the sleepwalker who is still haunted by his dead sister, the woman who is grieving for her dead philandering husband. It’s interesting how the theme of family has evolved in such an extemporaneous project. We never planned this theme, but each of us separately chose to deal somehow with family skeletons.

The family of Bob in More Deaths Than One certainly helped create him, especially since that was the basis of the story. He comes home from an 18-year sojourn in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother be buried before he left is dead again. He goes to her funeral and sees his brother, but they had never been close, so he doesn’t make contact. Bob also sees himself, but a doppelganger isn’t really family, so it doesn’t have any part of this discussion.

Lack of family also helps define characters.

In my just-published novel Light Bringer, two of my main characters found each other when they were searching for their birth parents. Those characters were truly a product of their upbringing and their birth. That is the whole crux of the story — who the characters are and why they were birthed.

How does your character’s family make her who she is? (Or make him who he is.) How do they bind her? How do they set her free? Do they add to her conflicts, either internal or external, or do they help her on her life’s journey?