Secondhand Christmas

I finished decorating my tree today, which sort of surprised me. I figured at the rate I’ve been working, I’d have it finished just in time to start undecorating, but I have twelve to twenty-eight days to enjoy the festive feel of the place before I feel lazy about keeping the tree up. I could do what a friend did — leave it up all year. Hers was an eight-footer that filled a bow window area, so it was out of the way of the rest of the house. It was so ornately decorated, I can see why she left it up all the time. It must have taken months to do all that work (though at the rate I was decorating my tree, it would have taken me years), and by the time she got everything off the tree and put away, it would have been time to take it all out again. So in her case it was better to just leave it up and enjoy it all year round.

My tree is small, a hand-me-down from my father. I’m not even sure why I kept it. Perhaps it was that when I was cleaning out my father’s house after he died, I didn’t know what to do with it, I had space in my storage unit, and it never seemed to be important enough to make the effort to throw it away. So I still have it, and I’m glad. The tree was actually gifted to him by my sister, and so now it reminds me of both of them. That seems as good enough reason to set it up. When I stop looking at it and stop feeling grateful, then I know it’s time to put it away for another year.

The red tree is also a hand-me-down. That one is from my brother who brought it to me back when I’d destroyed my arm and was housebound for several months.

It’s not just the trees that reminds me of others. In fact, almost everything I own at the moment has a story and a special memory, whether it is the furniture in this house, the dishes in my cupboards, even some clothes (and hats!) in my closet. For some people, living with all these secondhand possessions would make them feel poor, but it makes me feel rich. And blessed. And grateful.

Come to think of it, those are all good reasons to bring out my tree even though the Christmas season isn’t that big of a deal to me, especially now that I’m alone.

Related post: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas?


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.

My Writer’s Retreat

I’ve been wondering if I should do some sort of writer’s retreat to get me back into writing fiction, and as it turns out, all unknowingly, I created my own retreat. Last weekend, beginning Thursday afternoon when my last dance class was over until Monday when the first class of the week began, I did nothing but indulge myself. I started the days with my old workout, the stretching routine and weight training that fell by the wayside when I started taking dance classes. And I worked on my book. Not the whole weekend, of course, because I am not one of those who can sit down and write for the entire day — I need to do a lot of thinking about where to go next — but I did a couple of sessions each day. Even better, I ate only the food I had in the house — good food, no junk. — so I never had to leave my retreat. Best of all, my next room housemate was gone, so I had nothing but quiet (and a bathroom to myself) the entire time. Ah, joy!

A couple of weeks ago, I had experienced a day where I felt blessed, and that feeling has been with me all this time. I have been magnifying the mood by paying attention to the moment because the power of our lives is in the moment. And I’ve been cultivating gratitude, though that particular discipline is not hard to do — tballoon2here is so much in my life to be grateful for in any given moment.

During these blessed weeks, my internal conflict about where to go and what to do has faded because I have made commitments to continue with dance classes at least until the end of the year, to build up my strength, to refrain from worrying. (I worry more than I should about what is to become of me and how I will support myself in my soon-to-be old age.) And so I let the air out of all my conflicts (which is why I haven’t had much to blog about).

I joined an online writing group where the only requirement is to write 250 words a day. It’s a month-long commitment, but every month, I can recommit, which is what I plan to do at least until the end of the year. Even a writer who plods as slowly as I do can manage 250 words in a couple of hours. I usually spend the first hour reading the previous chapter to get in the spirit, to take into consideration past story actions, and to plan the next move. And I still have time to grab 250 words from the vortex of my mind, and sometimes a lot more!

I’ve never been one to write by word counts, so the count in itself is unimportant, but the commitment is. (Oh, who am I kidding. Having written 5,000 words in a week feels great!)

This weekend’s writing retreat will be different than last week’s because I will be performing with my class at a luau on Saturday, but that is still in the realm of creativity.

Dancing, writing, living. Ah, life is good in the moment.


(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.”)

From Bruising to Blessing

This has been a strange week. It started with a bruising and ended with a blessing.

Now that I think about it, the week actually started with the Pilot Fire, a nearby forest fire that completely burned the area on the Pacific Crest Trail I hiked not so long ago. Gone, just like that. (The photos accompanying this blog were probably the last ever taken of that particular spot.) Smoke has hung over the city for the better part of a week, burning my throat and filling my sinuses to a painful degree.

It was during this time of smoke that I went to a dance class that bruised me. Before the class began, they talked about a woman who had broken up with her demanding boyfriend. They all mentioned how lucky they were they had husbands and no longer had to deal with such matters. All are married, set for life financially, and it seemed to me they were smug in their belief that things would always be as they are. I stood there, off to the side, with nothing to say. I have no husband. My life isn’t settled. I don’t expect people to be aware of me, but still, their unconscious reminder that I am alone, living a rather precarious existence, bruised me.

During class, they rehearsed for a show I won’t be doing (costumes and accessories are way beyond my current budget) and that, too, made me feel out of place. Recently, one of the women had chastised me, telling me that when one joins a performance group, one does what one is told and I was feeling rebellious. (To be honest, I didn’t realize I’d joined a performance group. I thought I was just taking more advanced classes.) So for the first time ever, I left a class before time. They thought I was angry, but I wasn’t. I just needed to get out of there.

On my way out the door, I wondered if I needed to find other people, widows, perhaps, where I didn’t feel so alien.

As fate would have it, the very next night, we did a luau for a bereavement group, and talking with those women — some frantically determined to stop grieving after the first year, others well into the second-year grief resurgence — I realized I didn’t belong with them, either. My pain was too old, too dimmed, and though I understood what they were going through, I was beyond such raw pain. And, selfishly, I don’t want to revisit those days through other people’s grief.

I never was one for groups, but after Jeff died, I made a concerted effort to be sociable. So now? I don’t know. I consider myself lucky to have a couple of good friends who understand (mostly) what I am going through, and I am lucky to have found a place to live this month where I could set up my exercise mat and weight bench. I have also been making an effort to live in the moment, to give up worrying about the future, to think new thoughts when the old ones get too oppressive. (Though, honestly, it is hard to think new thoughts. All I have done my whole life is think, so all different kinds of thoughts have already passed through my mind, but I suppose looking for a new thought to think helps get me past the disappointing times.)

And then, yesterday came. The fire was mostly out, only a faint smokiness still hanging in the air. I had beginning ballet and beginning tap, which I love — no straining to work beyond my capabilities. No rehearsing. Just working on technique, steps and combinations. (And only a couple people in the class showed up, which made things even easier — no feeling of being overwhelmed.) And miraculously, I felt blessed all day. Oddly, a friend invited me to a movie last night, Miracles from Heaven, which seemed to compound the miraculousness.

I still feel blessed today, though nothing special has happened. I worked a bit on my novel, trying to figure out what characters I need and where to go from here. I read a couple of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mysteries. And I played a dozen games of computer solitaire while I let my mind wander. And I am blogging!!!

Truly blessed.


(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.”)

The Thing Is, I’m Feeling Blessed

Before I left Tucson, I felt a bit of trepidation about continuing my quest, but as soon as I got on the road, the worry left me. Still, I didn’t feel quite easy, but the uneasiness had nothing to do with my journey. (My books were republished, and certain issues showed up in Grief: The Great Yearning which upset me because as I’m sure you know, that book is very personal to me.)

Since there is nothing I can do about the book now, I tried to get it out of my mind by playing tourist. All along the highway to Benson were billboards screaming, “What’s the Thing?” One billboard claimed that the thing was a mystery of the desert, so I stopped at the tourist trap (a real trap — although the stuff in the store looked like it could be native artifacts and crafts, almost everything was made in China) and paid my dollar to see the thing.

The exhibit certainly didn’t improve my mood. There were several buildings of dusty antiques, a car purported to be one Hitler rode in, bizarre driftwood and tree root sculptures, and a hand carved life-sized tableau of people being tortured.

And then there was the thing. I don’t know if it was real, don’t know why it is a mystery, don’t even know what the poor thing is doing on display, but it looked like a mummified woman with long limbs and a small head clutching a baby.

I started crying for the poor thing (though if it’s some sort of hoax, my tears were absurd) and walked away without photographing the exhibit, but eventually I went back and took a picture because what is one more indignity added to so many?

A little after heading back down the highway, the rhythm of my journey lulled me into a more pleasing state, and by the time my tent was set up at Chiricahua National Monument (the camp host came and introduced himself, and I inveigled him into helping me with the rainfly), I was feeling peaceful and blessed.


(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.”)


The Peace that Comes from Knowing You are Blessed

I’ve been taking stock of my life lately. Well, to be strictly accurate, my life has been taking stock of me. I am not purposely putting my past into perspective, it’s just that I see the horrible things that happen to people, the terrible physical and mental problems that plague them, the struggles they deal with on a regular basis, and I realize my life hasn’t been so bad. And of course, the request for my resume got me to thinking about what I’ve done (and haven’t done) with my life.

I didn’t have an easy time of it. Money was hard to come by no matter how hard we tried (“we” meaning my life mate/soul mate and I). We often lived hand to mouth; turned the thermostat down in the winter to almost unlivable conditions; didn’t oysterhave an air conditioner, which made the summers just as unlivable; bought food only on sale or at the lowest price available; never bought new cars; seldom bought new clothes or shoes.

And yet . . . I didn’t have a hard life, either.

We always managed to get through the winters and summers, had enough to eat (and it was all delicious and healthy since we cooked everything from scratch). We kept our vehicles running, always had plenty of library books around, planted dozens of trees and bushes and watched them grow. And we had each other. Although his dying about killed me, I got to be there with him through it all, and even was privileged to feel profound grief for him after he was gone.

I’ve been healthy more often than I’ve been ill. I’ve suffered bouts of depression at various times in my life, but my happy days outnumbered the sad/depressed ones. I laughed more than I cried, smiled more than I frowned. My mind works. (At least I think I it does. Since it’s my mind telling me that it works, would I know if it wasn’t?) My immune system is chugging along — even my allergy problems are a sign that my immune system is doing what it’s supposed to do. My body mostly does what I ask of it, and seems to have as much — or rather, as little — balance, elasticity, and endurance it always had.

Even my current situation — looking after my 97-year-old father and doing what I can for my dysfunctional brother — is a blessing. I have free time to indulge in blogs such as this, live in a nice area, enjoy being with friends, have the ability to participate in activities such as walking and exercise classes that help keep my body and mind in working order.

At the moment, I have no regrets, feel guilty about nothing, am angry about nothing. I haven’t even had a grief upsurge in a while. (As a matter of fact, the 27th of the month — the day of his death — passed with but the briefest acknowledgment of the date.)

I’m not sure why I’ve been taking stock — maybe getting ready for the next part of my life when I have to start dealing with the negative aspects of aging, when I have to deal with being on my own with no one to love or care for, when all that stretches before me is unchartered territory. Meantime, I’m enjoying the peace that comes with knowing I am blessed.


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.