Gardening and Aloneness

A friend called this morning and asked if I was outside taking care of my “baby.” Meaning my yard. I had to laugh because I really was taking care of things in the yard. The only reason I had my phone with me was to get photos of the larkspur and the roses that had begun to bloom prolifically.

Obviously, my focus on the garden and lawn hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, the growing beauty of my yard is rather a conversation piece, something to share with neighbors who get the fun of seeing what’s developing without having to do the work. Until recently, I’d never realized that about gardening — that it wasn’t a lonely project but something to share. In fact, a neighbor a few houses away is going to be sharing her garden with me. Literally sharing. Tomorrow evening, I’ll be heading over there to dig up some of her prolific plants to transplant in my yard. She said, “I love sharing plants. I can’t wait to share some yard pretties with you.”

And I can’t wait to get them.

Although I’m surprised that I’ve taken gardening to heart, since I’ve never really been all that much into gardening, I’m not surprised that I’ve become focused on something outside of myself.

When you live alone, you need something to keep you going, something outside of yourself to expand your reach, something . . . more. I have friends and neighbors, a couple of siblings I am in occasional contact with, and a job that occupies my attention a few hours every week, but the rest of the time, when I am inside and the door is shut, there is only me.

I will eventually get back to fiction writing, but for now blogging is all I can handle. Any long writing project, such as a novel, seems incredibly lonely. I spend too much time in my own mind as it is. Admittedly, when you write a novel, you people your mind with various characters, but that simply masks the truth of being alone.

Since I need something more than just me alone, it might as well be gardening. At worst, babying a yard is a lot of work. At best, it’s a joint creative endeavor between me and nature and a couple of neighbors. And in the middle, between best and worst, is a whole lot of yard pretties!


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.

Living Alone

As I was leaving the house this morning to walk to the library (in nineteen-degree weather!) it suddenly struck me as strange that no one cares when I leave. No one cares when I get home. No one cares if I stay home or stay away. Obviously, I care, at least to an extent, but for the most part it doesn’t matter because wherever I am, there I am.

A lot of people care, not just about me but also that I am safe and well and that we can visit occasionally, but for the daily comings and goings? No one.

I’m surprised it took me this long to realize the strangeness of this situation, though it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The first couple of months after Jeff died, being alone didn’t seem strange, just so very, very sad. I couldn’t stand coming home to an empty house, not because it was empty, but because I forgot it was empty. I’d unlock the door as always, ready with an “I’m home!” and then it would strike me . . . again . . . that he was gone, and full-on grief would slam into me.

For the next few years, I took care of my aged father, and when he was gone, I was so busy clearing out the house and getting it ready for sale that I didn’t really notice that no one cared whether I came or went. When the work was done, that huge house was so empty that I noticed the echoes but not much else. Also, by then, I was involved with dance classes, so my dad’s house was mostly a place to spend the night.

The years after I left my father’s house were spent traveling or renting rooms in other people’s houses, and I was blogging about my activities, so I didn’t notice that no one was around to pay attention to my comings and goings.

When I bought this house, it was such a new and wonderful experience — both owning a house and making a home in a new place — it didn’t really strike me that no one particularly cared about when I left the house.

But now, it’s been almost three years since I bought the house. Although the thrill and the feeling of being blessed isn’t gone, I am more aware of being alone. (Not lonely. Just aware of aloneness.) That awareness could be why I talk to Jeff’s picture, and why I tell the photo when I am leaving, but a photo doesn’t care.

Now, almost twelve years after his death and all the moves I’ve made and all the things I’ve done, I’ve suddenly realized how strange this living alone is. It’s nice, of course, being able to do what I want and go where I want without regard to anyone else. But it’s also . . . not sad, exactly, but . . . strange.


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.

Nightly Recap

During the past year or so, I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to Jeff at night when I am pulling back the bedcovers to get ready for bed. I don’t really tell him anything important; I just say a few words about my day or how I feel about things such as growing older or his being gone or anything else I feel like mentioning. I don’t think he’s listening — if he still exists somewhere, I sure as heck hopes he has something better to do than hang around and listen to me whine — but still, I talk to him, or rather I should say, I talk to his picture.

Occasionally I think it’s a bad habit and one I should break, because after all, it is a bit . . . not crazy, exactly, but off in some way . . . to talk to a picture. On the other hand, it’s not hurting anyone, least of all me, so why not continue? I’m not trying to hold on to him. After almost twelve years, it’s very obvious to me that he is gone. I’ve also built a good life for myself, so it’s not as if I am yearning for the past. I’m simply voicing the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. Although talking to a photo of a dead guy is basically the same as talking to myself, doing so gives me the feeling of imparting my feelings to someone other than to me.

This habit makes me wonder how important such a time of storytelling is, even if it is one-sided. In previous eras, clans and tribes, communities and families, would gather together around the fire in the evening and tell stories about their day. It was a way of saying, “I am here. I am living. I have meaning.” It was also a way of defining the clan, of gathering all their stories into one pot.

People living alone in houses or apartments seems to be a relatively new phenomenon. In previous eras — post-clan and pre-industrial age — families would gather in those members who were left alone, such as widows and maiden aunts and elderly patriarchs, but now, so many people, both young and old, are left to fend for themselves. Not that I want it any different for myself; it’s just an observation about changes through the ages, and how for most of human occupancy on this earth, we told our stories at night.

Whether it was a cultural evolution or written in our genes, it does seem as if this nightly recap is necessary. Oh, we can live without it — I did for over a decade before I developed this new (old) habit — but looking back over the many thousands of years of human interactions, this gathering of people and stories and thoughts seems important to our mental health or at least our sense of self and self-worth.

Of course, I could just be alibiing my habit, finding reasons that my behavior is reasonable, but still, I wonder.


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.

From “Impossible Dream” to “Why Not”?

I’ve never been much of a group person. I do things alone and sometimes with one other person. The most group-ish thing I do is dance class. I used to go out to lunch with a group, but those people don’t lunch together anymore. I used to walk with a group a couple of times a week, and I even hiked with different groups on the weekend, but the walking group is pretty much disbanded, and I found hiking in a group to be frustrating and dangerous. Groups HIKE. I s a u n t e r. They go fast and purposeful. I go slow and stop frequently to smell the air or take a photo or enjoy a particular vista. Then I have to hurry and catch up. Sometimes they take a break and wait for me, and then as soon as I catch up, they continue along the trail, leaving me with no break. Often, they bring their dogs, and sometimes the dogs harry me or try to push me over a cliff. (True.) One dog wore a bell that about drove me nuts. Why go out to the wilderness to listen to the quiet and be assaulted with the constant tinkle of that dang bell? Even worse, if I hesitated at a stream crossing, people would try to help and I would always get wet. Or they’d try to pull me up an incline even if I didn’t ask for help. Or yank my arm if I struggled to stand after sitting to rest instead of letting me find my own purchase.

Nope. Too dangerous.

I realize there are problems with hiking alone. But there are problems with living alone. Sometimes we simply have no choice. We do what we can.

Before I took my cross-country road trip, people told me I shouldn’t do it — my car was too old, I was a woman alone, it’s too dangerous, etc. etc. etc.

Well, I did the trip. More than twelve thousand miles in five months. And yes, the car broke down — one time the battery went dead, another time a piece of fuel line that was supposed to have been replaced hadn’t been and all the gas leaked out, and a third time, the VW mechanic who changed my oil in Wisconsin put in the wrong grade — it was way too thin, and my car kept vapor locking when I drove through hotter climes.

The most traumatic thing happened when I was with someone — I fell down the stairs backward and scalped myself — but it wouldn’t have happened if I had been alone.

Now that I’m talking about a solo backpacking trip, people are again telling me I shouldn’t do something. They remind me about my destroyed arm. Well, yes, that fall did happen when I was alone, but it was in the middle of the city, and I wouldn’t have been in that dangerous parking lot if it weren’t for other people. (Left to my own devices, I do not go out at night.)

Oddly, the arm thing makes me more determined on a solo backpacking trek, maybe because I have proof of how quickly one’s life can change. If I had someone to go with, I might not go alone, but if it’s a matter of going alone or not going at all, I’m going. What else am I going to do? Hide in my room lest I suffer another injury?

Besides, the point is to be out there alone. To connect with the world, to see if I can handle the immensity — a sort of spiritual journey or vision quest.

My eventual goal is to do one of the iconic hikes, probably the Pacific Crest Trail since I know someone in each state along the way who might possibly be able to help. From what I hear, though, there are so many people on the trail now that it is almost impossible to hike alone. And there are trail angels along the way, willing to help PCT hikers.

Meantime, a three-day solo journey, accompanied by a satellite phone connected to people who would come rescue me if necessary, is as safe as it’s going to get.

All this is still in the maybe, could be, possibly stage. And yet, I can feel the change in me, the change from “impossible dream” to “why not”?

Years ago, when I first thought about hiking one of the long distance trails, I thought it would be so uncommon that if I wrote a book about my experience, the story would propel me into bestsellerdom. Unfortunately, the trails have become so common and the stories so ubiquitous, that the only way to get noticed is if I were to screw up and embroil myself in a lot of drama, and I have no intention of doing either.

With enough research, preparation, and luck, my book would be just a ho-hum story of a woman who decided to hike the PCT and did it.


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 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.

Being Important

I’m feeling restless tonight as if I should be doing something important, but here I am at the computer, playing games of solitaire. (Well, I was playing games. Now I’m playing a different kind of solitaire called “What will I blog about tonight?”)

When life is all about family, spouses, soul mates — creating a shared life — everything you do seems important, but when you are alone, importance is hard to feign because the isolation of being the only one in the room makes even breathing seem unimportant.

Despite the way it might sound, I’m not depressed or sad today. I’m feeling good, actually (probably leftover endorphins or adrenaline from dancing). I’m not lonely, either, just alone, and sometimes aloneness echoes in empty rooms, making it seem like some sort of lack. It is a lack, of course, but it isn’t a lack of life or . . . importance. It’s a lack of companionship and maybe a lack of “other energy.”

fireThere are some things I don’t necessarily understand when it comes to dancing. I call myself tone deaf, but I’m not — I just hear a single track of melodic (and not so melodic) noise and find it hard to separate out one particular sound or thread or beat from all the rest, which is why barbershop quartets hurt my ears and simple tunes are soothing. (I can count, though, and as my dance teacher says, if you can count, you can dance. Or something like that.) One woman I particularly enjoy dancing with (she’s so very elegant and graceful she makes me look good!) hears sounds and beats that pass me by  even when she points them out, but I pick up on something she doesn’t — the energy of the group. When we are all dancing as one, I can sense the energy we generate, as if we are tied together with invisible strings, moving arms and legs, heads and torsos in perfect rhythm. There’s nothing quite like that feeling, at least not in my experience.

Even when we are not all in harmony, as often happens, there is an air of connectedness in the studio, with all of us focused singlemindedly on the steps. One woman came with her husband last month, and though he didn’t bother anyone, it gave those classes an uneasy feel because it disrupted the flow of electricity of connectedness among the dancers. (This isn’t as mystical as it sounds. The energy I sense is more of a focus rather than waves of electricity, though I know we all respond to the electricity we generate.)

That energy from another person or a group — that “other energy” — is missing in a solitary room.

Some people spew energy even when they are alone, so rooms don’t seem as empty to them. I don’t spew energy, which makes my presence in a room even smaller and quieter than it would normally seem. And makes whatever I do seem unimportant, as if I am just passing time.

But the truth is, “being” is important, so even when we are alone, regardless of how it feels, we are being important.


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.

Living Offline

I seem to have more of an offline life lately than I do online, which is a throwback for me. I didn’t get a computer or get on the internet until 2007, but they came at a time of upheaval in my life (my mother was dying and my life mate/soul mate was declining) and they proved to be lifesavers. Well, mindsavers. I needed something to occupy my mind to keep from giving in to foolish worry (foolish because there was nothing I could do about either situation except to be available when needed), and learning has always been my forte. So I learned what I could about using computers, navigating the internet, blogging, social networking, and everything else that goes to making up an online life.

Origidesknally, I was gifted with a year of the internet, and after checking out libraries and finding other interesting sites such as the Internet Movie Database, I wondered how I could possibly use this unexpected gift. I figured that by the end of that first year, either I would find something to do, or I would get rid of it.

It didn’t even take a year, just a few months. Not only did I find something to do, I found a life, excitement, friends, even love of a sort. (I loved blogging from the first time I posted an article and understood what blogging was all about.) I also found support and encouragement. I don’t know how I would have dealt with the death of my life mate/soul mate if it weren’t for the bereft I met because of opening myself to the blogosphere.

Now, almost three and a half years after his death, I’m looking around my offline world, and I’m finding life, excitement, friends, even love of a sort. (I love walking with the local Sierra Club.) I no longer seem to need the screen of a computer to filter the worst of my worry or pain. I see the world through the excited eyes of child rather than the angst-ridden eyes of a bereft and lonely woman.

Parts of my offline life are hard, of course. I’m looking out for my 96-year-old father, dealing with problematic family members, and experiencing occasional upsurges of grief, but what isn’t hard is easy. Fun, even.

Instead of fearing the rest of my life alone, now I’m looking forward to seeing what I will make of myself.


(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.

Thirty-Two Months of Grief

I haven’t been writing much about grief lately. It’s been thirty-two months — 977 days — since my life mate/soul mate died. In that time, many others have suffered grievous losses, and to continue mentioning my grief seems like all I’m doing is whining. Still, this is my loss, and what other people experience, no matter how horrific, doesn’t lessen my sorrow. I don’t have the same sort of raw pain that I did at the beginning, of course, nor do I have the gut-wrenching angst that so often bedeviled me during those first months, but I do experience bouts of sadness and yearning.

My emotions are on a slow Ferris wheel ride, usually sliding down into sadness on Saturdays, the day he died — a day that apparently is etched in my very psyche — and then a gradual climb to hope and possibility on Monday and Tuesday.

Even when Saturday’s sorrow is fleeting, as it often is now, I find that I am at my most vulnerable then, and any hurtful word, thoughtlessness, or setback can send me spiraling down into grief. Without him to talk to, without my being able to casually mention the slights and so slough them off, the unkindnesses take hold and remind me that I am alone. Which reminds me that he is dead. Which makes me grieve.

I can handle being alone. I can even handle his being out of my life. What I can’t handle is his being dead. It’s possible he still exists somewhere, perhaps lolling on the shores of some cosmic sea, a cat purring in his arms, but I have no way of knowing for sure. All I know is that he is out of this earthly life. Gone. Deleted. I still cannot wrap my mind around that. And I still can’t help feeling that he was cheated out of a couple of decades of life.

Sometimes I pretend to believe that he left so that I could experience life in a way we couldn’t experience together, but other times, especially on the day of the month that he died — such as today — I find it impossible to pretend that this new experience of life alone is a positive thing. And even if it is for the best, it comes at the cost of his life, and that is too big of a price to pay.

If I sound discouraged today, the truth is, I am dis-courage-d. Have lost my courage. Sometimes I am strong and forward looking, but on this 977th day of his goneness, I am unable to gather the courage to believe that any good will come from his being dead and my being alone. I’d give anything to see him one more time, to have him smile at me or say an encouraging word, but no matter how much I yearn for such an encounter, it’s not going to happen in this lifetime.

I am used to the ups and downs now, so I know all I have to do is hang on, and in a day or two, when I am less tired perhaps, I’ll find my courage again. And some day I might even come to believe that this new experience of life alone truly is a positive thing.


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+