A Close Encounter of the Unhomed Kind

(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.”)

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I’ve been sort of joking about being homeless, and I suppose I sort of am. (How is that for a noncommittal sentence!) And anyway, I consider myself ‘unhomed’ rather than homeless. (I’m laughing. I’m using my phone since I don’t want to be dragging my poor old computer from place to place, and the phone has a mind of its own. I’d written the word ‘unhomed’ but the word ‘unhinged’ appeared instead.)

My stuff is in storage, and at the moment I am living off the kindness of friends, but this is due more to my lack of a vehicle and a need / promise to continue with dance classes at least until the end of May than to destitution. I have resources and plans, just a strange set of circumstances coupled with a growing need for adventure.

I’d planned to rent a room for May, but couldn’t find anything within walking distance of the dance studio so I will need to continue relying on friends for another few weeks. The distance wouldn’t have mattered if I had my car, but it’s still at the body shop. The original estimate on my car was that it would take three weeks to be de-dented, de-rusted, and painted. Four weeks have gone by, and now the auto body guy says three more weeks. Luckily, my friends don’t seem to mind my company. And if they did? Well, I’d figure out something. Use my vehiclelessness as an excuse to go on some sort of adventure by bus, perhaps.

I am learning something during this time — the foolhardiness of my making plans. Every time I make any sort of plan, it changes. Not just concerning my living situation but about taking off on a trip. I’d planned to leave June first, but a friend asked me to housesit the first couple of weeks in June, so I’ll be staying around here a bit longer than I’d originally intended. Makes life interesting, just going with the flow.

And for now the flow is toward . . .

I was going to say the flow was toward homelessness, but the truth is, now that I don’t have a permanent place to stay, I feel less homeless than at any time since Jeff died. He was my home, and I knew that to ever be happy I’d need to find ‘home’ within myself. To be home wherever I am. And if I am home, I can never be homeless even if I don’t have a set place of residence.

If you’re one of those who are worried about me, I truly appreciate it, but there’s no need to be concerned. I’m just experiencing a close encounter of the unhomed kind.

Nomadic Women

There are so many women in my grief age group — those who lost their mates around the same time mine did — who are starting nomadic adventures, or who dream of starting them, that it makes me wonder how many of us rootless women there are roaming the world.

Richard Grant, author of American Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers and Bullriders, estimates that 500,000 people travel the US without a permanent home. (Others estimate there are over a million nomadic Americans.) To be honest, I wouldn’t include people who travel around in $300,000 motors homes as “nomads.” They might not have a fixed address, but they do have a home, and a luxurious one at that. They just take it with them. Still, the nomadic life appeals to people at both ends of the financial spectrum, some because they have the means to live on permanent vacation, and others because they can’t afford any other lifestyle, so I shouldn’t judge on the basis of income.

A good percentage of modern American nomads are women. Some women simply want to see the world, so become rootless by choice. Other women started out looking for a different life after a divorce, a death, or other loss uprooted them, and so ended up traveling the world. (Being nomadic must be a popular obsession — not only is it a designer brand, there is even a perfume named “Urban Nomads.”)

It seems to me women are the ones who become nomadic after the death of a partner. Men generally stay put, and often remarry quite quickly. (This is entirely anecdotal, of course, gleaned from my interactions with other bereft, but the Census Bureau does estimate that 10 times as many widowers as widows over 65 remarry, though there are fewer older men than older women. And there are fewer widowers than widows. I couldn’t find remarriage statistics for younger people, or those in their late fifties and early sixties.)clean

Oddly, it seems that traditionally men were the cave dwellers while women roamed about, making me wonder if this male “cave” instinct, more than a need to be taken care of, is the impetus for widowers to remarry. By the same token, a nomadic instinct could be what takes grieving women out of the nest, leads us to adventure, and maybe helps us find a new life.

I have no interest in being a nomadic RV dweller. The upkeep alone seems more trouble than it’s worth, though I can understand the pull — wherever you are, you are home. To be honest, I don’t really have an interest in being any kind of nomad, but I have no inclination to settle down, either. For one thing, I wouldn’t know where to settle or why to settle there — without my life mate/soul mate, one place is the same as another. For another thing, settling seems too much like stagnation. It’s entirely possible that by the time I’m free of responsibilities, I will also be free of my disinterest in settling down, but I doubt it. It will be so much easier to put my stuff in storage and hop in the car or start walking, than to find an acceptable apartment somewhere in the country, move all my stuff into it, set up the utilities, get my computer connected, change addresses, and all the other necessities of moving. Nope. Too much trouble.

Either way, whether I take to the road or settle down, I’ll still be rootless. My life mate/soul mate was my home, and with him gone, the only home I have is whatever home I can find within.

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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 is Exhausting

Yesterday’s grief update — I Am a Three-and-a-Half-Year Grief Survivor — was very sedate, no great emotion. And that’s how the day went — sedate, no great emotion. I kept myself busy and endorphinized with walks, exercise, and errands. I actually felt happy for a while. (It’s easy to be happy when you are zipping along at three miles an hour beside a dry riverbed at night with new friends, and only flashlights and stars to illuminate the walkway.)

Today, however, I am tearful. I woke with a great yearning to see my deceased life mate/soul mate. I wish I could talk to him, find out how he is (or if he is). I wish I could feel as if once again, I were home. (He was my home. Everything else is opening rosejust a place to live, though I am gradually learning to find “home” in myself, because of course, wherever I go, there I will be.)

Grief is exhausting, even after forty-two months, and maybe that’s what hit me today — exhaustion. I get tired of trying to find reasons to live and ways to be happy. I get tired of trying to focus on the positive elements of my life and to find ways around that vast emptiness where he once was. The more I do these things, the more of a habit they will become, but his absence is still such a significant factor in my life that the creation of happiness and meaning is a conscious effort. I am always aware that that whatever I am doing is not an augmentation of an already full life, but instead is a way of spending the hours and maybe building a new life for myself.

I feel silly at times even mentioning my sadness because so many people have experienced horrific tragedies that make the death of one middle-aged man seem insignificant, but his death is exceedingly significant to me. And it’s significant to the world (even if no one else is aware of it) because the death of a good man (or woman) somehow diminishes us all.

So today, I will allow myself to be sad that he is gone from my mortal life and from this earth, and wait until tomorrow to once again pick up the pieces of my life and continue on without him.

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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.

My Own True Grit

I started watching True Grit today, but had to stop because I couldn’t see the screen for all the tears. My deceased life mate/soul mate and I lived not far from Ridgeway where True Grit (1969) was filmed, and the scenery in the movie made me homesick, not just for the Rockies, which formed the backdrop of my life, but for him. As the movie played, I could almost hear his voice telling me about the filming of the movie, and I could almost feel the soft cool air of Colorado wafting through the open window.

Sometimes I have the urge to settle near there again when my responsibilities to my father end. The air would feel familiar. The light would be soothing to my eyes. The mountains would offer comfort and perhaps protection from harsh winds. But then what? I’d be alone with the mountains, and mountains, no matter how welcome or familiar, can’t offer companionship. Without my mate, I’d still feel lonely, still feel as if I were homeless, because he, of course, was my home.

In Figuring Out Where to Go From Here, I realized I didn’t have to settle anywhere, but could live on the go, writing as I went. It will be possible, at least for a while, especially if I can get some sort of crowd funding. And perhaps I will discover home within myself or even discover that the journey itself is home.

I haveMt. Lambornn’t been writing about this journey lately because my 96-year-old father is doing exceptionally well, so much so that it seems foolish to talk about my future since I might not be free of responsibilities for a long time. Besides, I don’t want my father or anyone else to think I am hurrying him off this earth. If the universe is unfolding as it should, then my soul quest (or at least the road trip part of the quest) will happen when the universe and I am ready.

Still, it is nice to know what I’m going to do when the time comes — put my stuff in storage and head out on my journey, broadening both my internal and external horizons. Since I want to live by whim, to relearn spontaneity and perhaps find serendipity, there really isn’t a lot of preparation for me to do in the meantime except to continue to get rid of that which is unnecessary so I can hit the road unencumbered by superfluous possessions, outdated issues, and useless notions. Eventually, I will need to prepare various giveaways and promotional materials, perhaps even a marketing plan, for visiting bookstores along the way, but now is not the time for planning but for dreaming.

The beauty of such a quest as the one I’m dreaming of is that if I am particularly homesick for areas where we lived, I could go and stay there for a while, recharge my soul’s batteries, and then continue on when wit, whim, and my own true grit dictated.

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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+

Living Light and Free

When I first started writing about my idea of living on the go after my current responsibilities end, I got many emails, comments, and messages suggesting a Winnebago, fifth wheel, or any of a variety of houses on wheels. Not so coincidentally, I’ve been noticing a plethora of such vehicles hogging the road, and frankly, I have absolutely no interest in that means of travel. (Though I do appreciate the interest in my plans.)

I know people love the convenience of taking their home with them, but such vehicles have always appalled me. They seem like civilization at its worst, the ultimate in conspicuous consumption and arrogance, dabbling in nature while not giving up comfort or technology. The only thing more appalling to me is the RV culture that has grown up around such a lifestyle, and I want no part of it.

The wRoute 66hole point of my journey is to travel light, being free to go where whim and circumstances carry me. To find home inside me or perhaps in the journey itself, to feel at home wherever I might be, whether it is a small town, a big city, the open road, or beside a mountain stream. There is no place in this vision — this vision quest — for a lumbering vehicle with a high environmental impact.

Besides that, a home on wheels screams loudly and clearly, “I am not of you. I am just passing through.” And for however long I stay in one place, I want to be of that place, a part of it in any way I can, to experience it not as a tourist, but in some more intimate way. It’s possible I’m just fooling myself, but still, this journey is supposed to be on my own terms, and my terms are that less is best. I’ve never really owned much, not even real furniture since I prefer empty rooms, and I sure don’t want to start owning things now.

To begin with, I will have enough of my past that I can’t get rid of — things that I made or were made for me, household goods my life mate/soul mate and I shared, belongings that remind me of who we were — and so I’ll need to rent a storage unit. Someday maybe even these few possessions can be disposed of, and then I really will be light and free.

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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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+