Anti-Loneliness Plan

I went walking in the desert yesterday, the first time since I left my father’s house. It was easy to get to the open space when I lived within walking distance, but now that I am ten miles away, it’s harder to find the motivation to drive to “my” part of the desert. I always thought it silly to drive to a place of exercise, but in this case, it’s not exercise I needed. Well, I did need it. Let’s just say I needed more than exercise, like a feeling of connection to the world.

I’ve been feeling my aloneness lately, more so than usual, been feeling disconnected, and I simply cannot let my gloom (as one friend called it) continue past the point where I can handle it. So I worked on my book a bit in the morning to get my mind off myself, which was sort of a silly plan because the book is mostly about me. (Apparently, I am becoming the main character since my character is the only one who is connected to all the other characters.) But writing did help. And it helped give me the energy I needed to get in the car and drive to the desert.

The desert worked its magic. (Well, except for the part where my knees were scraped from a slide down a loose gravelly slope and my shoulders ached from the use of the Pacerpoles. The poles help take the weight off the lower joints, but the weight has to go somewhere.) As I picked my way along the rocky trail, stopping periodically to feast my eyes on the hills, I realized what the problem has been. It’s been a year since my father died, and such anniversaries are always difficult. From the beginning I’ve had a harder time dealing with his death than I expected because we weren’t particularly close, but we did live together in relative peace for almost five years. And his death, like the death of my life mate/soul mate, catapulted me out of my status quo and into a different life.

That I am in a different life has been masked by various circumstances. I spent the first six month in his house, cleaning out his things and getting the house ready for sale. Three of the next months were spent with friends and three were spent housesitting, so now is the first time I am truly feeling the effects of my aloneness.

Oddly, this sort of profound aloneness is what I expected to feel on my trip, especially if/when I am camping by myself, but since I seldom can guess how I will feel ahead of time, I have a hunch the trip will make me feel connected. But what do I know? I’m just a woman tossed on the grief heap and left to make my way however I can.

A further complication leading to a feeling of disconnect is that I’m currently rationed when it comes to the internet (which has always been a place of refuge for me) because all I have is the data on my phone to get me through the lonely times. Consequently, those times seem to loom greater than they normally would. There is enough data for me to post to my blog, so maybe I should try to go back to blogging every day despite not having anything to say. When did having nothing to say ever stop me before? (Be forewarned!)

I also had another rather mundane revelation while out walking — I leave on my extended trip in just a month, so I better start figuring out what sort of food to bring! I’ll be staying with various people along the way, so I’m sure I won’t starve, but I also need to take the time to visit national parks and forests, to hike in various locales, to camp when I can or must, so having supplies will be important. Because I’ll be in my car, canned goods won’t be a problem, and I will have my backpacking stove if I need to cook something, so I’ll be able to bring anything, even a bit of fresh food. Might be an interesting experience. I’ve never bought food for a camping trip before.

So, here’s the plan — walk more, write, blog, stockpile food, and stop reading as much. (Yep, reading is something else that makes me feel disconnected, though reading was the only way I managed to get through my lonely childhood. Now, for some reason, reading depresses me, maybe because the characters get together, which makes me feel sad for myself, or they don’t get together, which makes me feel sad for them.)

None of this will erase the fact of my aloneness, but it will help me forget it.

I’ll let you know what happens.

***

(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.”)

Late Night Loneliness

I’ve hit a stage in my grief/life process that I truly do not know how to handle — my almost total aloneness. I have close friends, even one who introduces me to people as her adopted sister, but no one of my own, no one who connects me to life on a profound level. Most people seem to have someone to anchor them to life — a spouse or life companion, a son or daughter, a parent — but here I sit, alone with my tears — no one to smile at me, to touch me, to check up on me to make sure I’m okay. If I were to get sick or incapacitated, if there were some sort of emergency in the early morning hours, there’s no one I could call to come help.

chainThere are people in my life. Friends. A couple of siblings who contact me occasionally. And people all around the world care for me — in fact, I will soon be meeting some of those people — but they are either living with their “anchors” or are struggling with their own particular brand of aloneness.

How does one do this, this being so alone? I don’t know.

The funny thing is I never wanted to spend my life with anyone. I figured I’d always be alone, and I was comfortable with my aloneness and loneliness. Until one day I wasn’t. And there Jeff was. (I found out many years later that about that same time, Jeff was feeling lonely, wishing he had someone of his own, and suddenly there I was.)

Throughout all the years of grief, I told myself to just hang on, that eventually the pain would diminish, and I would be okay. Well, the pain did diminish, I’ve mostly gotten used to his being gone, and I am okay — no major traumas or exhausting dramas complicate my life. But oh, that late night loneliness is a killer.

I don’t even have a place — an apartment or home base of some kind — to anchor me. This is by choice because I know I would close in on myself if I were to settle into my aloneness. (People keep telling me that I wouldn’t, but the truth is, it’s happening now.) I’m sure this unsettledness is exacerbating my loneliness at the moment. Eventually, I hope to break out of this loneliness/aloneness and into a new world of experience (or do I mean a world of new experience?), but for now, all I can do is hold on and hope I don’t drift too far from any feeling of connectedness.

***

(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.”)

Four Years and Two Months of Grief

In two days it will be four years and two months since Jeff — my life mate/soul mate — died, and even now I can feel the effects of his goneness. I still have occasional grief surges that bring a quiet bout of tears and a great yearning to see him once more. Chances are, I will have will have such upsurges for the rest of my life, though perhaps at a continually diminishing rate.

I keep busy, so I’m not subjected as often to the desperate loneliness and aloneness that plagued me for the first three and a half years of my grief, but holiday weekends, when everyone else is involved with family, brings the loneliness home to me. (I’m not strictly alone, but my 97-year-old father is involved with his personal end-of-life rituals, and my dysfunctional brother is . . . well, let’s just say I am much better off when he leaves me alone. Neither man sees me as real, so although I am not strictly alone, I am actually more alone than if I were truly alone.) Sometimes I wish I had someone for my own, but I’m desert knollsnot interested in getting involved. Not only is it too soon for another connection, but a connection would pull at me, keeping me from doing what I want/need to do — whatever that might be. So I deal with the loneliness as best as I can.

For thirty-four years, I was connected to another human being on such a profound level that when he died, it felt as if half of me went with him, as if I were straddling the line between here and eternity. I don’t feel the nearness of eternity any more, don’t feel the awesome gap between life and death — in that respect, my life has gone back to “normal.” But even after all this time, something in me yawns wide and cries out to be filled. Sometimes I try to fill the emptiness with physical activity. Sometimes I try to fill it with chocolate and other treats. Sometimes I try to fill it with reaching out to others. But it is always there, an itch beneath the surface of my consciousness.

Despite Jeff’s absence, despite my brother’s presence, I am happier than I ever thought possible, and yet . . . Jeff is still gone. Still dead. Still, strangely, a part of my life.

I went walking in the desert today. I haven’t been out there for a while, keeping my ambulation more as a means of transportation than recreation, but it felt right. I used to talk to him in the desert, used to feel close to him in the vastness the open land, used to show him the steps and positions I learned in my various exercise classes, but today I just walked. Felt the ground beneath my shoes, felt the heat on my shoulders. Just . . . felt.

(I did ask Jeff if he’d watch over me when I took my epic walk, but he didn’t respond.)

I know he couldn’t have stayed. I know I couldn’t have gone with him (except for the part of me that died when he did). I know I’ve had and will continue to have many adventures I never could have had if we were still together. I know, though I seldom admit it, that when I am finished with my responsibilities here and head out on my own, my life will be better without him and the demands of his illness.

And yet. And yet . . .

***

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.

Facebook Makes Us … (Fill In the Blank)

Facebook has become an icon, a symbol for our times. We are lonelier than ever — disconnected from family and friends in offline life — yet at the same time we are more connected online. Various recent articles have suggested that Facebook makes us sick, narcissistic, depressed, lonely, and anxious, partly because of the shallowness of Facebook relationships. But honestly, does anyone consider “liking” a comment an actual relationship? I doubt it.

Facebook is good or bad depending on how you use it. An article in The Atlantic that suggested Facebook makes us lonely used Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate and B-movie star (best known for her role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) as an example. Apparently, the actress had been dead for almost a year before anyone realized she was gone. (This is hard for me to believe. Perhaps all her bills were automatically paid out of her bank account every month, but what about taxes? Wouldn’t someone from any of the various tax collecting bureaucracies have noticed her delinquency?)

Still, the story goes that a neighbor found her and was so concerned about Yvette’s ignominious end that she scanned Yvette’s phone records and discovered that the former actress’s last calls were to old fans who found her via Facebook. Ignoring the neighbor’s decided lack of concern for the actress while the woman was alive, what business was it of hers how Yvette spent her last days? What business is it of ours? There is no way of knowing how Yvette felt. Perhaps it made her happy to connect with her past, to remember that she once had a life, to know that she once touched people. Perhaps everyone she knew and loved had died, and she needed to reach out and connect somehow. We don’t know the truth. We can never know another’s truth. The story is only pathetic because of our own fears of ending up alone.

Facebook doesn’t create loneliness. It might exacerbate a loneliness that already exists, (and face it, if we really had full offline lives, would we be spending so much time online?), but it also gives us the opportunity to connect with our past and maybe our future. I know several people who fell in love online, and the connection continues offline even now.

Facebook makes us informed. If it weren’t for Facebook, I would never have seen the above-mentioned articles, hence I would never have known about the deleterious effects of Facebook. Nor would I have seen these incredible before and after photos of Nagasaki.

Facebook makes us humble. You’re feeling thrilled that you sold ten books that day and then someone boasts they sold 10,000. Brings you down a peg, that’s for sure. Is humility such a bad thing? In a world that seems to revere aggrandizement, a bit of modesty is good for one’s soul.

Facebook makes us grateful. Mixed in with all the brags and too-cute animal photos are the heartbreaking posts. People talking about how their chemo is going, sharing their angst at the death of a loved one, giving updates on their hospital stays, telling us about the traumas their children and aged parents are facing. Such posts make us realize that no matter how bad things are for us, someone has it worse.

Facebook makes us aware of community. Or at least that’s the goal of my various groups. In the Suspense/Thriller Writers Group, I’m trying to keep writers focused on the craft of writing, on helping each other attain our writing goals. Perhaps together we can do what each of us can’t do alone.

In other words, Facebook doesn’t make us do anything. We make of it whatever we can.

Grief Update: Twenty-one Months

Twenty-one months ago, my life mate/soul mate died. How much is a month in grief time? A year? If that’s the case, then today I have reached my 21st birthday in the world of grief. Sometimes it feels as if twenty-one years have passed since his death, our shared life so distant that it could be a dream conceived in present-day loneliness. Other times, it seems as if a mere twenty-one days have passed, as if he recently left — or I did — and soon I will be going home to resume my life with him. Sometimes the pain of separation feels old, as if it is a long-faded scar, other times it feels fresh and raw. Sometimes I see him as clearly as if we’d just parted, other times I have to struggle to remember what he looked like.

During the first year after he died, I was focused on getting through the pain so I could start a new and wonderful life. Somewhere deep inside, beneath thought, resided the feeling that only a great good could offset such a trauma, and I wanted to be ready to embrace my new life. Perhaps something wonderful will happen, but so far, I’m still struggling with the same old life, still struggling with a vast and unending loneliness.

I’ve been making friends, trying to assuage my loneliness, but always I feel his absence. He was the only person who ever truly listened to me, listened beyond my words to the truth of what I was saying, and no matter what I said, he never filtered it through his own  prejudices, opinions, and emotions, but could talk dispassionately and intelligently about even the most passionate subjects. Electric energy crackled between us when we went on one of our ping-ponging conversational excursions from history to music to movies to philosophy to books to science and back again to history.  I know I should be grateful for having him as long as I did, and I am grateful. I should be glad we were able to converse the way we did since that is something so few people have. And I am glad. But still, life is bleak without his being here to pong my pings, conversationally speaking.

I’m trying not to think about where to go from here, trying to trust in the rightness of my path wherever it will take me, but to do so somehow makes me complicitous in his death, as if I’m agreeing it was right that he died. Oddly, back then, I was glad he died. He’d suffered enough, and death was the only way to end his agony. The further away I get from his death, the worse it gets because I only remember that he died. How can he be dead? I don’t even know what “dead” means, just that he is gone from this earth, and has been gone for twenty-one months.

Putting a H.A.L.T. to Grief

It’s been eighteen months since my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I’m still chugging along. I do okay most days, but still there are times when the thought that he is gone takes away my breath. His death was so final, his absence absolute. He never responds when I talk to him, never sits down to watch a movie with me, never seems to care when I get angry at him for rejecting me. (I know it’s not his fault, but still, death is the ultimate rejection.)

During this past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot about grief. I learned the importance of facing the pain head-on, accepting it as part of the process, and waiting for it to diminish, which mine has — significantly. I’ve learned how to find peace in the sorrow (or perhaps despite the sorrow). I’ve learned that grief cannot be hurried, that months or even years might pass before we bereft find ourselves again. And most of all, I’ve learned the secret of H.A.L.T.

People who make major life changes, such as alcoholics who give up drinking, smokers who give up cigarettes, diabetics who make diet and exercise changes are often urged to watch themselves so they don’t get Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. That’s what I mean by H.A.L.T. Did you think I actually meant putting an end to grief? You should know by now I’m letting grief wear itself out, whenever or however that might be.

Hunger, anger, loneliness, and exhaustion make us vulnerable, which makes it easy to backslide into old behavior patterns.  I recently noticed that grief often surges when I am tired, so I’ve been trying to steer clear of these vulnerabilites, but the trouble is that all of those states are effects of grief, so exhaustion and loneliness and anger causes grief and grief causes exhaustion, loneliness and anger. A sad cycle. But now that I’m aware of it, I can try to be more careful. Although I’m willing to let grief take its course, I have no intention of letting grief rule the rest of my life. I intend to be as bold and as adventurous as possible, a wildly inappropriate woman who just likes to have fun. But not quite yet. I still have some sadnesses to deal with.

Surviving a New Stage of Grief

I’ve been working on my grief book, typing what I wrote immediately after the death of my soul mate. Suddenly it seems as if the past sixty-two weeks have melted into oblivion and I’m back there again, newly bereft, wandering in a fog of pain, wondering how to cope with the massive changes in my life. I know I have come a long way because the revisited pain seems bewildering to me. Did I really feel all that? Did I really survive such a terrible time? Apparently I did, because here I am, mostly back to normal. I’m still lonely, though, and the loneliness surges unbearably at times.

Loneliness is the newest stage of my grief, as it is for so many who are coming out of the first numbing months of grief. I don’t know how to cope with this vast loneliness, but I didn’t know how to cope with any of the other stages of grief, either. I just embraced the pain, the anger, the sorrow, and waited for a gentler time. So that’s what I will do with the loneliness. Embrace it and wait for it to subside. Waiting is not all I’ve been doing, though. I’ve been making an effort to be with people, which helps, and so does writing. I’d forgotten how quickly the hours go when one is immersed in words.

I still wonder if anyone will want to read this grief book when it is published. It is so intensely personal. And painful. Yet people who have read my blog posts about grief have found some comfort in them, so perhaps this book will serve the same function. Even if no one is interested in reading my daily struggles to come to terms with the death of my mate of thirty-four years, the book is important to me. It’s a way of binding my grief into a neat bundle so I can get on with my life, though I have been told one never truly gets over such a loss. But we do survive, and that is ultimately what my book is about — surviving grief.

I Am a Fourteen-Month Grief Survivor

Fourteen months sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? Plenty of time to get over the death of one’s lifemate/soulmate/best friend. And yet, those who have been where I am today know you don’t ever truly get over it. You deal with it, you get on with your life, but there is always that niggling feeling of something being not quite right.

I still feel bad for him that he’s gone, that he suffered so much, that he died too young, that he is no longer here to enjoy something as simple as eating a bowl of his chili. (Though the batch I made today in his honor wasn’t worth coming back from the dead for. The kidney beans were overcooked, the onions undercooked.)

I still feel sad for me, that I’ll never get to see him again in this lifetime, that we’ll never get to do all the things we planned, that his smile exists only in my memory, that I’m alone. I’m glad we had all those years together, but that doesn’t ease the loneliness he left behind. It is odd, but for some reason I never expected to be lonely. I’m used to spending time alone, I know how to entertain myself, and I’m quite capable of taking care of myself (though the thought of growing old alone makes me panic at times). I also have more friends now than I’ve had in many years. But still, I’m lonely — lonely for him specifically, and lonely in general. Perhaps my loneliness is another stage of grief rather than a character flaw. Perhaps someday it, too, will pass, as have other manifestations of my grief.

One stage of grief I am clinging to is anger. Not rage, just a quiet pilot light of anger. I accept that he is dead in the sense that I know he will never be coming back (though I still long desperately to go home to him, still yearn to see him one more time). But I cannot accept the rightness of his death. It seems so terribly wrong that death was the only resolution of his illness, the only solution to his pain. And that does anger me. Anger is generally considered to be a negative emotion, but during the past few months I’ve found that in small doses, anger is a positive thing. Anger can give us the strength to survive. Anger can give us the energy to do things we couldn’t do under normal circumstances. Anger can give us a feeling of control in uncertain times. Anger can keep us going when we want to give up. Anger can give us the courage to live with the injustice of death. Anger can motivate us to find solutions to problems, can motivate us to undertake dreaded tasks, can motivate us to change our lives. So, yes, I’m clinging to whatever vestige of anger I can. It’s the only way I can get through these lonely days.

I am now more aware of the years looming in front of me than the years behind me, those years we shared. I’ve been saying that I don’t know who I am now that he’s gone, but I do — I’m still me. Still the person I’ve always been, just older and sadder. I’ve mostly untwinned our lives, no longer see me as half of a couple. And yet, something is missing. I don’t cry much any more, but sometimes I find myself crying for . . . I don’t know what.

It’s a relief to be telling the truth. I’ve been keeping upbeat the past few weeks — preparing for my presentation at the writers’ conference, traveling, being around people who only know me as an author, posting photos of my adventures. It was wonderful, but it’s only half my story. The adventure ended, and now here I here I am. Fourteen months of missing him, and still counting.