Dreaming of Adventure

I’ve been spending way too much time lately thinking/talking/writing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, especially since I doubt I will ever travel more than small pieces of it. There are many problems to deal with when hiking the length of the trail — food (two pounds a day is recommended), water (either too much in the high sierras, with swollen rivers and icy trails, or too little in the deserts), heavy packs, wind, ticks and other unfriendly insects — and I would prefer a trouble-free life.

Still, just thinking and researching the logistics of such an adventure are an escape from my life. In looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with a dysfunctional brother, I amcamping always aware of others, either listening for signs of distress from my father or listening to my brother’s moans and cries without knowing if these sounds come from pain or are a way of manipulating me. When one is hiking alone, away from civilization, away from other hikers, even, one only has to listen to oneself, only has to fulfill one’s own needs. That idea is restful to me. One foot in front of another, nothing to think about, no one to worry about.

Even more that that, thinking about such an adventure is like working a puzzle, helping to keep my mind active and alert despite too much loss of sleep. I’ve even gone so far as to join a few Facebook groups, including a couple just for woman hikers. Lots of good information in those groups, lots of things to consider. Planning such a trip gives me a new way of looking at ways of life we take for granted. Modern plumbing, for example, has made basic body functions easy for us. But what if there isn’t a restroom for hundreds of miles? How does one keep clean? How does one remain infection-free?

Thinking about living an adventurous life (simply thinking about it, not living it) has also helped me past the last hurdle of grief, giving me something to concentrate on besides what I have lost. It’s been almost four years since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I have adjusted to life without him. In fact, sometimes I forget that I once had a different life, that once someone loved me. I don’t want to forget — I loved him deeply — but I can’t spend the rest of my life yearning for him, can’t be always looking to the past. Thinking about a life on foot makes me realize that, whether my life will be on my feet or on my behind, I do still have a life.

Throughout all these years of grief, I have been afraid of the future alone, afraid of becoming the crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course), afraid of settling somewhere and waiting for entropy to take its course. Thinking about other possibilities — hiking the PCT, walking to Seattle, car camping, going abroad and just winging it, taking a freighter to New Zealand — helps me realize that I don’t have to moulder. I can live. I can be adventurous. I can take chances. I can try new things. I can learn new things. I can become the sort of person who could hike the PCT if she so desires.

I don’t know what I want to do, and there’s no reason to make any plans since my stay here at my father’s house could continue for many more years. But I can prepare. In fact, tonight I will take a backpack on my Sierra Club walk (I walk with the club three nights a week) and fill it with a five pound weight. Five pounds is heavy! I cannot imagine trying to carry thirty pounds for any distance, but at least, this will be a start.

But a start of what? Maybe someday I’ll find out.

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

If You Are Sick Of Hearing About My Loss . . .

Someone left a comment a couple of days ago saying she is tired of hearing about my loss and so is cancelling her subscription to this blog. To be honest, I don’t really blame her. I never expected the death of one man (my life mate/soul mate) to have such an impact on my life that I could feel the ripples of his absence three and a half years later. I certainly never expected to still be mentioning my loss after all this time (it seems a bit pathetic), but I can’t ignore the single most significant event of the past few years of my life. Everything I am, everything I will be stems from that loss.

Death is such an inhuman and inexplicable event that our brains scurry around trying to solve the enigma of a presence that has become an absence. Some people are lucky enough to believe in a benevolent God and a beatific afterlife. Others of us strive to find meaning, and if we don’t succeed in finding it, we have to create meaning.

For now, this bSierra Club conditioning walklog is my meaning. Or rather, the means to my meaning. I was so stunned at all I felt after his death, so shocked at how little I understood such profound grief despite having lost a brother and my mother that I used this blog as a way of helping other bereft find their way through the labyrinth of pain. I wanted to let them know they are not crazy if they continue to feel grief long after their family and friends (and blog readers) have become tired of their sorrow. The truth is, we too get tired of our loss, but we have no choice but to continue our struggle to live.

And it is a struggle. I realized long ago that the only way I could make sense of his death is to do things that we wouldn’t have done together, or to do things that I wouldn’t/couldn’t have done while he lived. Even though I am no longer actively grieving and in fact am quite happy at times (I seldom cry any more, and if I do, it’s only for a moment or two), I still honor my loss with all that I am doing. I continue to blog about grief, take night walks with the local Sierra Club, travel a bit, write, amble in the snake-infested desert, and do things I am not necessarily comfortable doing.

Although it might seem as if I am still bemoaning my loss by continuing to mention his death, the truth is, I am not embracing loss. I am embracing life — my life. I’m still not convinced life is a gift — there is way too much pain in the world — but my loss is the means of my future gain. I will not waste the freedom his death brought to me. I will not waste the courage he bequeathed me. I will not waste what is left of my life, even though I have to continue alone.

It seems to me that my struggle to create a meaningful life is worth writing about. So, if you are sick of hearing about my loss, feel free to unfollow me, but I am going to continue to blog about my life, and my life includes his death.

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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.

Facing My New Year With Courage and Wisdom

Yesterday was the third anniversary of my life mate/soul mate’s death. It turned out to be a nice day, and only intermittently sad. One of my fellow bereft sent me an email, “Is it wrong to wish that it’s just another day for you? Maybe it is, but I hope that you can acknowledge it with a nod and then let the day become like any other. We can’t make shrines out of these anniversaries. I’m weary of worshiping a ghost. I’m trying very hard to listen to this advice as I prepare my own countdown.”

Her message was exactly right, and I hoped for the same thing, that I could acknowledge the anniversary with a nod and then let the day become like any other. It’s important for me to remember him, but instead of remembering the horror and sadness of his death, I would rather remember that I loved him, that he was a special man, that he lived — and died — courageously.

The day turned out to be not just a day like any other, but better — a day of peace and friendship, a day apart from my daily responsibilities and cares.

I’d planned to go to lunch with friends I met through my grief group, but at the last minute, I almost reneged. I was teetering on the brink of sadness, and wasn’t sure if I could handle being around so many people, but I donned my “glad rags” (black hat I’d decorated with red poppies and matching red shirt and black slacks) and kept the appointment. Whether it was the silliness of the hat or the power of the black and red clothes, I felt uplifted and was able to enjoy the lunch. Since it was more to celebrate another woman’s birthday, we only gave a passing nod to my anniversary, which was good — I didn’t want to dwell too much on missing him. Afterward, one of these friends went walking with me in the desert, which was especially nice. I got to see the desert through her eyes, and I got to show her my “back yard.”

Today I start a new year. (In many respects, this is more of a birthday for me than the anniversary of my birth because after he died, I was born into a new life.) I’m not sure what I hope from this year. Peace, of course, but perhaps also adventure and challenge. (Sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it?) But mostly, I want to accept whatever comes with the same courage and wisdom that helped me face the past three years.

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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+

New Steps on the Journey Through Grief

I’ve reached a new level of grief. I’m still sad, but I can barely remember why. I still feel the absence of my life mate/soul mate, who died two years and two months ago, yet I can barely remember the living man. The life I shared with him is receding, as if it happened to someone else. There is still a hole in my life and a decided lack of “life” — no sparks kindling new ideas, no electricity of excitement, no radiance — but I no longer have anything with which to compare that lack of life. It’s as if these sad and lonely days are the way it has always been for me.

During those years when we were together, I had someone to talk to, someone who could help put life into a different perspective, and now there is just me. To tell the truth, I still talk to him, but he never offers a different perspective. I used to feel a tenuous connection to him (or at least to our shared past) when I talked to him, but now I have no idea if I’m even talking to him or simply talking aloud.

With our shared life moving further into the dim past and my memories of him fading, I worry that I will forget him. I know I’ll forget the person I was when I was with him. No matter how I change, I’m always just me, and yet, (for example) I cannot remember this little girl, cannot remember being her. She has receded far into my past. Or perhaps she’s become subsumed into my current persona? Either way, she no longer exists even in memory. And so will the person I was with him disappear as I move further into the future without him.

The irony is that I was in such pain after his death that I made a special point to experience new things so I could create new memories. I thought new memories would help cushion the severity of the break between our shared life and my life alone, yet those very memories are taking me further away from him.

I might not completely forget him. I have moments when I flash onto a vivid image of him, and as heartbreaking as those moments are (because I am reminded once again that he is dead), they are all I have left of him except for some of his things. It seems cruel that their things outlive the dead. Shouldn’t people live longer than things? Or else, shouldn’t the things disappear when our loved ones do? And yet, as my memories fade, the things I kept of his and the things I kept of ours, such as our household goods, will be all I have to remember him by.

Every new step on the journey through grief brings its own grief. It saddens me that he is forever receding from me. Yet I am still here, and I must live. I can’t cocoon myself in memories of him and our life together. I can only go on doing what I have been doing — experiencing new things and making new memories, even if they take me further away from him.