Life Lessons

Being cranky and impatient with the shenanigans of others as I currently am has a good side. At least for me. Being hyper aware of people’s shortcomings is like a having a mirror that shows me my own shortcomings, shows me what I need to work on.

The people who insist on making everything about them are reminding me the world does not revolve around a single person. We all revolve around each other, all have a place, even if it’s hard to concede another’s place, even if it’s hard to hold our own.

Those who refuse to take responsibility for their actions, including seemingly simple actions that affect others such as asking for more than is offered, are teaching me to be mindful of how everything affects everything else, and to accept the consequences of what I do.

Those who insist on always being right are teaching me that sometimes kindness and discretion are a greater right.

Those who insist on having the last word are teaching me to hold my tongue.

Those who insist on always doing their own thing even in a synchronized dance class are teaching me the importance of cooperating to get harmonious results.

Those who constantly one-up others, who have done more, been sicker or healthier, been more successful or more victimized, are teaching me that modesty has its place. (Actually, this is something I already know. But these poor folks remind me why I do not like to push myself forward.)

One of these days my hypersensitivity will pass, but these lessons will remain with me. I hope.

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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.”)

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The Healing Power of Stories

I attend a bereavement group every week, which surprises me, considering that I’ve always been a do-it-yourself sort. I only started going to the meetings because I wanted to know how to survive the terrible agony of grief I experienced after the loss of my mate. I didn’t learn how — it’s something no one can teach another — but I learned that one could survive those first unbelievably painful weeks when I met people who had survived them. I keep going to the group because of those same people. We have something in common, a shared understanding, a survivor’s respect. And now, after five months, I am one of those who, just by being there, show the newly shell-shocked bereaved that one can learn to live with the devastation of a major loss.

Each meeting begins with a lesson, and today’s lesson was about the importance of stories and how they help us heal. The people who attended the meeting today all happened to be women who had lost their mates after decades of being together, and the counselor asked each of us to tell the story not of our mates’ deaths, but of how we met. We all knew the end of each of our love stories — over the months we have told the story of our grief many times. But this is the first time we talked about the beginning of our love stories, and in those stories we found hope, comfort, smiles, a reconnection to our past.

According to the handout we were given, the benefits of telling stories are:

  • Searching for wholeness among our fractured parts
  • Coming to know who we are in new and unexpected ways
  • We can explore our past and come to a more profound understanding of our future direction
  • We can seek forgiveness and be humbled by our own mortality
  • We can discover the route to healing lies not only in the physical realm, but also in the emotional and spiritual realms.

An unexpected result of today’s lesson was a new understanding of the importance of writing. For me, anyway.

These past months, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I have always tried to lose myself — and find myself — in fictional worlds during periods of trauma, but this time it’s not working the way I hoped. I’m not finding healing in current books. The authors seem to be going for the shock effect of not-so-good versus unbelievably-outrageous-evil, for story people who have identifiable characteristics but no character, for fast-paced stories with little substance or truth. How does one find wholeness in such stories? How do we come to know each other or come to a more profound understanding of our future in trite mysteries and unrealistic thrillers?

Perhaps it’s not important. Maybe entertainment is all that counts when it comes to fiction, but I want something more. And I especially want something more when it comes to my own writing. I don’t know where grief is taking me — it is changing me in ways I cannot yet fathom — but I hope I will end up writing stories of truth, of understanding, of healing. I hope I will make people smile. I hope my words will matter.