Planting Hope

I received ten flowering trees yesterday that the Arbor Day Foundation gifted me when I sent a donation. (It wasn’t really a donation, because I only sent the money to get the trees.) If you have ever responded to such an offer, you will understand the irony of the term “tree.” These seedlings might someday be trees, might even be the beginning of a small forest in my yard, but for now, they are nothing but skinny little twigs between six and twelve inches long with barely a growth that could be considered a root.

I’ve planted seedlings from the foundation before, and not one ever grew to babyhood, let alone achieved grown-up-tree status, but even knowing that, I sent the money. I figure I wasn’t out anything except my donation, and maybe not even that if the foundation really does plant trees with at least some of the money they receive.

Of course, these “trees” came when there is no way I would take a chance on injuring my knee further by digging holes, so I considered not planting them, but a teenager a few houses away agreed to do the work for me. That was a double blessing, not just because having someone else plant them saved my knee, but also perhaps because the trees will not immediately realize who their caregiver will be. And maybe, just maybe, when that realization dawns, one or two of them will decide they like it here anyway.

Even if none of the seedings live very long, it’s the thought that counts. Planting trees is like planting hope — hope for a future, and a more beautiful future at that.

And all of us right now can use a bit of hope.


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.


The Thing With Feathers

Hope seems to be the theme of my day. Though I’m not sure what hope is or what I am hoping for, Emily Dickenson’s poem Hope is tiptoeing around my mind:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

She seems to think hope is necessary, maybe even eternal, but what is hope?

OstrichThe freedictionary defines hope (the noun) as: A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment. The same dictionary defines hope (the verb) as: To look forward to with confidence or expectation. Both of these forms of hope seem to indicate a specific thing that is hoped for, though not everyone who has hope has a wish for something specific.

Hope is also a theological virtue, and hope the virtue is defined as the desire and search for a future good. And yet, as that most prolific author, Anonymous, says: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

So hope, but don’t hope? Very confusing, this concept of hope!

For many of us, we have hope of the archaic kind (hope used to mean trust or confidence), but even that definition seems to leave us with questions — Trust in what? Confidence in what? Others of us know hope only by the lack of its opposite — despair, which interestingly, is defined as the absence of hope. (So hope is a lack of despair, and despair is a lack of hope. The epitome of circularity.)

Still, hope is more of a thing, with feathers or not, than simply the lack of something else.

So what are we hoping for when we hope to have hope?

Scott Russell Sanders says: “In order to have hope we needn’t believe that everything will turn out well. We need only believe we are on the right track.”

I’ll leave it at that, and not ask “on the right track to what?” We are all on some sort of journey through life, and the hope that we are on the right track makes hope about today, not some mythical future, and perhaps that is enough.


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.

Taking “H” Things With Gratitude

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. ~~ G. K. Chesterton

For the rest of November, I’m going to take for gratitude some of those things I often take for granted — an entire alphabet’s worth! Since today is the eighth day of this surge of gratitude, I am giving thanks for “H” things.

I am especially grateful for:

Broken heartHeart. All kinds of heart. The compassion, tenderness, and forgiveness we feel for others. The spirit, bravery, and desire that help us overcome unfavorable odds. The essence of us as humans. The muscle that keeps blood flowing through our veins and arteries. The symbol — so simple and elegant, even a child can draw it. We take all of these sorts of heart for granted, and yet they are all things to be taken with gratitude.

Healing. We often take healing for granted, which makes sense since the healing processes of body, mind, and soul all take place out of sight. And yet, for most of us, those healing processes work even when we aren’t aware of them, keeping our bodies well, putting things right when we get sick, helping to mend our grief-stricken hearts. This is something to be grateful for.

Hope. Even when it feels as if we have no hope, generally, we still have the hope of a new day, better times, someone or something to love.

High places. Seeing the world from high places — lofty peaks, tall buildings, towers, Ferris wheels — puts our lives in perspective and gives us a feeling of expansiveness as if nothing can go wrong in a world with such wonderful and far-sighted views.

H. Even the letter H itself is a something to be grateful for — it’s very shape is like the first step of a ladder, the ladder to healing, hope, and high places.

So, what “H” things are you taking for gratitude today?


See also:
Taking “A” Things With Gratitude, Taking “B” Things With Gratitude, Taking “C” Things With Gratitude,Taking “D” Things With Gratitude, Taking “E” Things With Gratitude, Taking “F” Things With Gratitude, Taking “G” Things With Gratitude


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.

After the Waiting Comes the Dread

So, no more 2011. I stayed awake until the year was officially over . . .  waiting . . .  but I felt no different when the clock hit 12:01 a.m. than I did at 11:59 p.m. It was the passing of a moment, that’s all. But this morning, I woke with a feeling of dread. I haven’t felt such a roiling since the months immediately following the death of my life mate/soul mate. I feel as if I’ve lost something precious that I can never get back, as if the world has changed in some unidentifiable way. I don’t know what that something is, though. It’s not the loss of 2011 — those are just numbers. It’s not the loss of my mate — he already died and cannot die again.

Perhaps it’s the past that I’ve lost? All that’s left for me now is today, and the rest of my today’s, however many there will be. (And considering the age my mother was when she died and the age my father is today, I could have a LOT of days.)

Perhaps it’s that irrational hope of reunion that I’ve lost? For a long time, I had the feeling that if I am strong, if I pass the test of living without him, if I face life with hope, then I will be able to go back home to our shared life. That feeling was very strong at the beginning, and I was careful to deal with all the challenges that grief brought me. But he never came back, never called, and of course, he never will, not in this life anyway (and this life is the life I am living).

Perhaps it’s the sense of togetherness that I’ve lost? During the months since his death, I’ve often felt as if this were still our life — his and mine — with the tasks of living now solely my responsibilty.  But the truth is, this is my life, and my life alone. He’s not here to help, to listen, to care. (I talk to him, especially when I am out in the desert, but so far he’s keeping silent.)

Despite all my losses, I hope I will be able to face the coming years and the coming changes in my life with courage and hope and generosity of spirit. I am in a transitional stage, and someday — perhaps before I’m ready — I’ll have to figure out where to live, what to do, how to grow old alone.

But for now, today, all I feel is dread.

Going Along for the Ride

Life takes odd twists and turns. It seemed to me, when my life-mate — my soul mate — was dying of inoperable kidney cancer, that our lives would never change. He’d been sick for so many years, dying cell by cell, that it felt as if we were locked in a horror show of endless, predictable misery. Last year at this time, his disintegration suddenly speeded up, and he started dying organ by organ. And then he was gone.

I’ve made no secret of my grief, of the pain his “goneness” has caused me, but through it all, I’ve been getting on with my life, trying to open myself to new experiences, trying to hope for . . . what? That is the kicker. How do you know what to hope for if you can’t even imagine where you are headed?

A couple days ago I sat in a restaurant, one thousand miles from our home, celebrating my birthday with new friends and acquaintances I’d met through a grief support group. Though all nine of us are trying to deal with the devastating loss of a loved one, we talked and laughed and had a good time. It showed me that there is life after death — we lived despite our loved ones’ deaths. And it showed me something else. That for all of life’s seeming predictability, it can still surprise. A year ago, when my life mate was a couple of weeks from death, there is no way I could ever have envisioned that restaurant scene.

Back then, I knew I’d have to leave our home, to find a temporary haven where I could deal with my grief, but I had no clear idea of where I wanted to go, and somehow I found myself in the desert. And, since I’d been a virtual hermit for years, I could never have guessed that I would make so many friends. Nor had I celebrated my birthday in . . . well, never mind how many years it’s been. And yet, there I was, with new friends in a time and place I couldn’t have even imagined a year ago.

So where am I going? How will I get there? Who will I be? Who will I be with?  There is no way of knowing. I’ll just have to go along for the ride and hope that everything works out when I get there. Wherever “there” is.

I Am a Ten-Month Grief Survivor

I mentioned to someone the other day that it’s been ten weeks since the death of my life mate and that I didn’t know how I managed to survive that long, then it hit me. It hasn’t been ten weeks. It’s been ten months. How is it possible to live almost a year with half your heart ripped out? I still don’t know, but I do the only thing I can: live.

After the nine-month mark, I had a respite from grief. I liked the symmetry of nine months of grief (gestation) before being born into a new life, but as happens with grief, the respite was merely that — a respite. A couple of weeks ago, the need to see my mate one more time grew so great it felt as if the yearning would explode from my body like the creature in Alien. The feeling came and went for a while, and now the creature has gone back into hibernation. But still, the yearning lingers.

I’m learning to live with the remnants of my grief. From others who have also borne such a loss, I’ve come to understand this is the next phase of grief — not soul-destroying pain as at the beginning, but blips of varying intensity and frequency. I know I can deal with this new stage of grief because I have been dealing with my grief all along, but still, a part of me rebels at the necessity.

Planning signifies hope and is supposed to be a sign of healing. Strangely (or perhaps not strangely; perhaps it’s to be expected ) every time I make plans, I have an upsurge of grief. Plans take me further away from him and our life. They remind me of similar things we did together, and they tell me that from now on, he won’t be sharing new experiences with me. Still, I am not holding myself back. I need to fill the hole he left behind, and new experiences are one way of doing that.

In the past four months I’ve gone to various art galleries. I’ve seen Mesoamerican antiquities, aristocratic clothing through the ages, local artists, classic art work. I went to a wild life sanctuary where they take care of captive-bred animals that zoos don’t want. I went to the beach. In May, I’ll be going to a writer’s conference where I’ll be a speaker.

All this shows that I’m moving on, and yet . . .

And yet he’s still gone. That goneness is something I struggle with — how can he be dead? I wanted his suffering to be over, so I was relieved when he died, but somehow I never understood how very gone he would be. I don’t want him to be gone, but he’s not coming back, and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.