Letter to Jeff, Day 432

 

Hi, Jeff.

Just in case you really are somewhere, I wanted you to know I haven’t forgotten you, still miss you, still wish there could have been a better resolution to your health problems than death. But what do I know? Maybe death was the best resolution. I’m not sure I see much hope of things working out for me, but I am trying. I’m getting out and doing things. It still seems as if the only way I can make sense of your death (from my perspective) is to do things I wouldn’t have done if you were alive.

I took a trip along Route 66 with some friends, which was fun. I kept a soda bottle for a souvenir. “Route Beer.” Tasted like plain old root beer, but I thought the name was cute. I’ve been going to lunch about once a week, sometimes after the grief group, sometimes with a couple of women I met there. I’m not sure I like the women, but for now, it’s enough that they like me. Yep. I’m that starved for affection.

In a couple of days, I’ll have been here a year looking after my dad. Who knows how much longer it will be. Maybe years. And then after? I truly don’t know.

I feel so hypocritical with all this grief — I wanted the horror of our life to be over, but I didn’t want you dead. Ironically, if you hadn’t been dying, I wouldn’t have wanted our life to be over, but the truth is, I wanted your dying done with. The stress was incredible for me, so I can only imagine how much worse it was for you.

My dying is still to come. It scares me to think of having to deal with infirmities alone, though I think it will be easier knowing that my death will not grieve anyone the way yours did me.

Did I tell you? I finally and forever understand what you mean by the pilot light of anger. I don’t want to be consumed by anger, but a quiet pilot light to keep me going, that is important. I can’t simply accept what life did to us — it’s not right. Maybe the universe is unfolding as it should, as people tell me, but from my standpoint, here and now, I need that pilot light. Maybe it will be a “pilot” taking me where I need to go, though I don’t know where that would be.

Part of me wants to find someone so I don’t feel so alone, but I’m not ready for that. It’s a matter of learning to deal with the loneliness. I lived with it before I met you, and I imagine I’ll learn to live with it now that you’re gone. I hope wherever you are that you aren’t lonely. I hope you’re not in pain. I hope you’re delighting in being free of that diseased body. I still have your ashes. I wish we could talk about what I should do with them. I wish we could talk about what I should do with my life. I wish . . . oh, so many impossible things.

I love you. Take care of yourself. I’ll try to take better care of me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Letter to Jeff, Day 423

 

Hi, Jeff.

I went to St. Simons Island where I gave a speech on creating characters. My talk went well — I dazzled. I could see it in their eyes. I met soLighthouseme authors, toured the town, climbed the lighthouse, steeped myself in island culture, even ate fried green tomatoes, though I didn’t like them — too much rosemary. Then, on the last day, I got sick. Might be a cold, might be an allergy flare-up, might be psychological (I couldn’t bear the idea of coming back here rather than to you, and it was a way of keeping me isolated.)

I refused to think about you this past week — didn’t want to suffocate. The stuffiness of tears on top of the stuffiness from being sick would have made it impossible to breathe, but Saturday, my sadder day, I did cry. Just kept crying, crying, crying.

I’m doing okay mostly, but I miss you. I hate that you’re gone, both on your behalf (though I doubt you care) and on my behalf. I still panic at the thought of dealing with life alone. Growing old alone. Dying alone. Living alone. I never expected to be so lonely, but I am. I’m lonely for someone generically and for you specifically. You’re so far out of reach! It seems pathetic that I need you — needed you — to give my life shape, form, focus, but it seems even more pathetic to be alone.

What’s to become of me? How can I go on alone? I know I’m strong enough, but shouldn’t there be more to life than simply endurance?

I miss you. I yearn for you. Just one more word. One more smile. Doesn’t seem too much to ask, but it kills me they are things I can never have again. How can it be over? And how can it still be painful after all these months?

I love you. Take care of yourself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Letter to Jeff, Day 409

Hi, Jeff.

It’s been a while since I wrote or talked to you. I’ve been trying to let you go, trying to get on with my life, but I’m tired of being upbeat. I just want to be me, however I feel at the moment. I’m tired of trying not to think of you just so I won’t be sad. I’m tired of not having anyone to talk to, which is strange because I now have more people to talk to than I have had in years, but we don’t say much of anything, just talk St. Simons Islandabout the minutiae of our lives. I’m tired of not having anyone who understands. For example, if I tell anyone of my small infirmities, they just tell me to go to doctors, and we know that’s not much of an answer. You often had an answer, and if you didn’t, you simply listened to my worries, which made me feel better.

I miss you, not just because I’m tired you’re gone, but because of you. I’m going to St. Simons Island to give a speech at a writers’ conference, and you’re not here to send me off, to see my new clothes, to wish me well. Odd to think I’m taking only a couple of garments you have ever seen. Most of my clothes are new since you’ve been gone.

I wish I knew why things worked out the way they did. Or maybe I don’t. I just wish . . . I wish . . . that you were here, happy, rich, and loving me. I guess that’s what I wish. But perhaps you’re better of where you are. If so, where does that leave me?

I know it doesn’t sound that way, but I really do try to be upbeat and not to be sad all the time, but it’s wearying. It’s going to be worse when I get back from St. Simons. I won’t be coming home to you and a hug and a smile. I’ll be coming back here to my father’s house.

Funny, I wasn’t going to write to you again, but it does make me feel close to you, if only for a minute.

I miss you, Jeff. I love you. I want to go home. Please?

Damn it! I hate this. Are you okay? Are you taking care of yourself? Do you miss me? I guess I’m glad for the upsurges of grief. At least I know I still remember.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Letter to Jeff, Day 386

 

Hi, Jeff.

I’m lying here in bed thinking of you. I’m tired and don’t want to get up so I thought I’d write you. I’m trying to focus on the good things, but it’s hard. My books aren’t selling. I’m living somewhere I don’t want to be, being someone I don’t want to be. I have a pilot light of anger to keep me going, otherwise I probably never would get out of bed.

And yet, looked at from a different direction — forgetting the past, forgetting what I want — my life isn’t so bad. I don’t have to worry about paying bills. I’m warm, comfortable, fed. And I have new clothes. A couple of women from my grief group took me shopping (a belated birthday present). They bought me pants and tops. I detected a hint of something not totally altruistic, as if they thought I was clueless when it came to clothes. One woman said she was sick of the blouse I was wearing. Who says something like that? What difference does it make to her how I dress? Still, it was nice. And I don’t look like me, which is even nicer. I go to lunch with those women a couple of times a month and a couple of times a month I go to lunch with a few others from my grief group. So see? Things aren’t totally terrible, but no matter how I look at it, it’s a lonely life.

I miss you. I want to come home. Or start over with you somewhere else. It’s a good thing I don’t have to make a decision where to go because I haven’t a clue. Maybe I’ll know when the time comes to leave here. I just wish, with all my heart, you were well and I was going to go home to you.

Adios, compadre,. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Letter to Jeff, Day 383

 

Dear Jeff,

I’m having a hard time coping, but maybe it isn’t necessary to be stoic in order to cope. Maybe tears and tantrums are my way of coping for now. If nothing else, those tears and tantrums help get rid of the terrible stress of grief.

I feel as if I’ve been abandoned by you. You were the only one who ever truly cared for me, and I don’t know how to be alone. I don’t mean physically alone — that I can do. I mean that mental, spiritual, emotional aloneness when there is no one in the world who cares on a daily basis. I know there are some people who care sporadically when they get a few minutes, but it sure isn’t something for me to build a life on.

I’m feeling sorry for myself. I keep hoping something good will happen. I need something to offset this pervasive sadness. The years stretch bleakly before me. It’s just too sad.

Adios, compadre. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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

Letter to Jeff, Day 376

 

Dear Jeff,

I was going to give up this crutch of writing to you, but here I am. I miss you terribly. I’d forgotten how I used to wake each morning with such expectation, thrilled to see you, thrilled to be with you. Your years of illness took their toll. I don’t know when that expectation turned to dread, and I woke never quite knowing what horrors the day would bring. Now there is neither expectation nor dread, just a heavy emptiness.

Light Bringer was published on the one-year anniversary of your death. I wanted so much for the book to burst on the scene to great acclaim, but sales have been disappointing. I don’t know whether I hoped success would offset the bleakness of losing you, or if disappointments are greater because I have to bear them alone. I’m glad I don’t have to tell you in person. I wouldn’t have liked burdening you with such bad news. There would have been more silence between us, and toward the end, there were already too many things we didn’t talk about, not wanting to bring more sorrow to each other.

I hope my writing you doesn’t keep you from going on to wherever you need to go, but I still need this connection to you. I still cry way too much, though the tears come in short bursts now rather than unending storms. I’m trying to keep hope alive, trying to believe that somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, things will work out for me, but how can they work out when you’re dead? The good things that happened were so much better when shared with you.

It’s so hard to believe that it’s over. I so yearn to talk to you once more, to see your smile, to fix one more meal together.

I’m glad you were able to do things your way at the end. I’ve heard such terrible tales of people regretting what they put their loved ones through in the hopes that the doctors could make them better. At least I don’t have that guilt.

I miss you. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Letter to Jeff, Day 366

 

Day 366, Dear Jeff,

Well, here I am. Survived a whole year without you. It’s puzzling — it feels like weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a year go by so fast, at least in retrospect. The individual days were exceedingly long and agonizing.

I still don’t know where to put you in my mind. I can deal with your absence — as if perhaps I’ve come here to take care of my father and afterward I’ll be going home to you — but I can’t deal with your goneness. That goneness still makes me sick to my stomach at times, gives me the stepping-onto-air-instead-of-solid-ground sensation.

Today I remembered that when we met, I had the feeling you came into my life to be my guru, a companion on my journey. You know that saying, “when a student is ready, the teacher will appear”? Back then, I thought you were the one who appeared when I was ready.

I wondered if you too had that feeling about coming here as my guru, and I realized that you did, at least toward the end, and you felt burdened by it. That last year, you kept telling me you wouldn’t always be around to teach me, so I had to grow up and learn to do things on my own. You also said once that it wasn’t your job to teach me. I used to bristle when you talked that way because I didn’t know where you got the idea I thought it was your job (having completely forgotten the guru aspect of our meeting — that particular idea got lost many years ago in our struggle to survive). And yet, you did stay for as long as I needed you. You took me as far as you could on my journey.

I could accept that you left to rejoin the pantheon of radiance because your job was done, but when I factor in your illness and all your suffering, it doesn’t compute; it seems too selfish, as if our relationship were all about me, but if this “teacher” aspect of our relationship isn’t true, why did two such truth-seekers meet? And if it is true, why would such an exalted being as I once thought you were come here to help me search for truth? If ours wasn’t a cosmic connection, was it some sort of primal recognition?

When me met, “I” didn’t recognize you, but something deep inside of me did. “I” am not aware of who or what that something is. Is it the eternal me and the “I” simply the physical me? If so, that means something in us will recognize each other again if you still are, if you still have being.

This is the sort of jibber jabber you had no use for, but you’re not here to keep me grounded in reality. Hmmm . . . When I was young and would go off on such flights of fancy, I thought I’d get lost in the insanity. (For much of my youth, I did think I was crazy.) Perhaps you were here to help keep me grounded until I matured enough to handle where such thoughts would take me.

Because now, today, I do know I am sane. Totally. This grief experience has taught me the truth of that — even the natural insanities of grief didn’t rock my sanity.

Thank you for journeying with me. Thank you for being my guru. I hope my life will be an honor to you.

Adios, compadre. I love you.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Applying the Lessons of Grief

Yesterday I talked about disconnecting yourself from a defunct relationship, one where there is no hope of ever reconciling and yet you still feel a sense of connection to your loved one. I said:

To a certain extent, time disconnects us from our past relationships — the longer we are separated, unless we cling hold on to the past, the weaker the connection. Simply living helps us disconnect — the more we live, the more new, unshared memories we make, the more the connection recedes. Going back to where we were before we made the original connection also helps.

This was good advice as far as it goes. My situation was the opposite. After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I couldn’t feel any sort of connection, just a vast emptiness where he used to be, a terrible goneness. Time didn’t make any difference, at least not by itself. The truth is, if we don’t do what we can to heal those wounds ourselves, time doesn’t do much of anything except perhaps offer a different perspective. As Rose Kennedy wrote, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”

In my case, the person I needed to disconnect from was . . . me. The coupled me. My shared life was defunct, so I did what I could to develop memories of my new life alone. Since I can’t physically go back to where I was, I’ve tried to go there mentally. Remembering who I was before him has helped tremendously in moving past him. I had a life before our shared life, and I have one afterward — it’s just a matter of connecting those two lives with the best of both. and to pick up the pieces of me when I was alone.

My problem now is that I need to disconnect from another person, one with whom I have an ongoing relationship, and I don’t know how to do it, don’t know if it’s possible or even if it’s even a charitable thing to do.

A have a problematic sibling who is depressed, possibly bi-polar, probably an alcoholic, verbally abusive, full of fury, manipulative, desperately needy, and relentless in pursuit those needs. (He’s also brilliant and exceedingly creative, and spent most of his life composing music and writing songs that have never been sung.) He has been nearby for several months, and therein lies the problem since his anger now seems to be focused on me. (He thinks I have it easy being here looking after my father, and doesn’t see how stressful it is being torn between the two of them, as I have been my whole life.) If I could find out what he wanted, perhaps I could help, but he ischange cagy (paranoid is more like it) and talks around his needs. (He hates being a charity case, hates when people do things for him, and hates even more when people don’t.) He won’t go for treatment, blames everyone else for his problems, and doesn’t know how to take care of himself. Mostly, it seems as if he is lost inside a whirlwind of unfocused energy.

I’m trying to disconnect mentally from him so that his words don’t wound. I’m trying to disconnect emotionally from his problems, because I can’t see the situation clearly if I am bleeding for him. I’m trying to disconnect from his anger, because if I don’t, I absorb that anger and . . . well, let’s just say I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison for manslaughter.

I do okay most of the time, juggling his needs and my father’s. Physical activity and outings with friends help dissipate my stress, and if those don’t work, short bursts of tears do. I can’t go back to where I was before he came into my life, because he has always been there. I used to think I’d never be free until he was dead, and maybe that’s true, but it’s not how I want to live my life — wishing someone were dead so I could live free. What I really wish, though, is that he were strong, healthy, happy, and somewhere else.

I am taking the lessons I learned from grief and applying them to this situation as well as I can. Despite our shared genetics, I tell myself he is a separate person with his own journey. (I wrote “his own demons” but replaced it with “journey” since I know nothing about demons, not even the euphemistic kind.) He is not me. His anger is not mine. Just because he says something, his words don’t make it so. His problems are not of my making, even though he likes to tell me they are. My solutions are not necessarily his solutions.

Although I’ve talked around this situation before, alluding to a family problem with roots going back to childhood, I haven’t talked specifically about it out of loyalty to him. But blogging is the best way I have of putting things into perspective, and my writing about this situation now is a way of distancing myself from him even further, since I know how irate he would be to have me mentioning him. But as Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Wise Women of Cyberspace

I’ve met many wise and wonderful women online while struggling to find my way through grief, women who gave me the courage to do what was necessary — accept the pain, feel each emotion as it arose, and somehow find a way to live with it. One such woman and I would talk on Facebook about grief now and again — she was three years ahead of me in the process, and had found a new direction in her life, which gave me hope that someday, I too, would manage to find peace and even renewed life.

She posted one of her comments from our conversation on her blog today, Patience, Wallowing and Defragmentation, and explained how the lessons she learned while dealing with grief have helped her in dealing with health issues.

The conversation she referred to in her blog took place two years ago, but that wasn’t the end of our discussions. Just a couple of months ago I wrote: “It is sinking in that I couldn’t make him well when he was alive, and I can’t keep him with me now that he’s dead. As much as I hate his being dead, in a way, it has nothing to do with me.”

She responded:”That’s the toughest part — realizing that their death has nothing to do with us and that we are all, while connected through a web of energy, uniquely created beings following our own individual path. Regardless of how connected we are to some people in some ways, their path is theirs and ours is ours.”

It’s this knowledge that his death belongs to him and my life belongs to me that has helped me move beyond my mourning. My grief for him cannot make him alive once more, cannot change one facet of his life or his death. Of course, I had little choice in my grief — it came from somewhere so deep inside that I’d never know such a place existed. Grief still wells up on its own now and again, but I don’t try to hold on to it, don’t try to hold on to the past, don’t try to hold on to him. And perhaps, that takes the most courage of all — letting him go.

Lucky for me, I had such a wise woman giving me counsel.

***

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.

The Necessity For Grief

People keep telling me I’m courageous to write about my grief, and perhaps it does take courage to let people see me at my most vulnerable, especially when I remember that the grieving me will be living forever in cyberspace. Even if I find peace or new meaning or happiness, that vulnerable part will still be accessible to anyone with a connection to the internet. But that is a small price to pay to be able to get my message across.

I never had a message to impart, but after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I found I did have something to say, and it is this: it’s okay to grief. Such a simple message, really, and not just meant for the bereft, but also those connected to the bereft. Too often family and friends urge their bereft loved one to “move on,” “get over it,” “stop thinking about it.” And they need to know that it’s okay for the bereft to grieve. If they can’t handle their loved one’s grief, imagine how much harder it is for the bereft to handle the pain.

We live in a society that values cheerfulness at all costs, and sometimes, when it comes to grief, the cost of putting on a cheery mien to make others feel better is simply too high. Despite what people seem to think, happiness and joy are not the only allowable emotions. Grief is important, too. If the bereft shows no danger signs, such as drinking too much, blocking out family and friends for many months, suicidal impulses such as stockpiling pills, then it’s better to let grief take its course.

Grief is how we learn how to adapt to a world without — without our loved ones’ presence, without their friendship, without their support, without their love —and it is possible to learn how adapt well enough so that we can live, laugh, love again. Grief digs deep into our psyche, allowing us to ask the important questions that get lost in the activity of daily life: who am I, why am I here, and what’s it all about? Even more important, perhaps, grief helps us to grow in courage, strength, wisdom. It would be nice if happiness and easy living gave us such attributes, and sometimes they do, but more often growth comes with adversity.

Although we bereft often wish to be done with our grief, we would resist anyone who tried to take it away from us. It is ours. Its lessons are ours to learn. Its power to reshape us into people who can deal with anything is ours to grasp.

Apparently, as I’ve been writing this bloggerie, I’ve amended my message. Not only is it important to grieve, it is necessary.