The Bees Of The Invisible

Life and death are strange things. Or maybe it’s death that’s strange, at least to those of us who are still alive. A wise friend keeps saying we have to just accept the way things are, that we could go nuts trying to figure out the whys of it all, but since I seem to live on the edge of death (other people’s deaths, not mine), death and the process of getting there are often on my mind.

We start out as miniscule bits and pieces of two people, are born, grow from helpless infants to independent-minded children to independent and autonomous adults, finally ending up helpless again as our bodies deteriorate.

A few friends were talking the other day about all the nonagenarians in our lives, and someone asked what use they were. This is a question many of these aged folks themselves ask, so it’s not an insensitive question by any means. When there is nothing left to accomplish, when you can’t move about freely either mentally or physically, when you can no longer enjoy anything, not even your food because your taste buds have decamped, what use is there in living?

My 97-year-old father is “declining” as the doctors say, which is a cute euphemism for “slowly dying”. He could live a year or more, but still, everything is breaking down, even his normally sharp mind. He hates that he can’t think, hates that he can’t make instantaneous decisions, hates even more to have others make decisions for him. Even worse, he finds the situation embarrassing. I tell him, of course, that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, that it’s part of the process, but my words don’t make him feel any better about himself.

I don’t want to live to such a great age, and especially I don’t want to wind up helpless and dependent on strangers (I won’t have the benefit my father has of a caregiving daughter). My wise friend reminds me we have no choice in the matter, which is true. The only real choice we have is to live as well as we can as long as we can.

For a long time I’ve thought that if God is Everything, then we are the sensory cells of the Everything, feeling, seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting life. And the poet Rilke seems to agree. He wrote, “It is our task to imprint this temporary perishable earth into ourselves, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again ‘invisibly’ inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.”

Maybe these nonagenarians are still gathering their invisible honey as best as they can, but even so, it doesn’t make it any easier watching the old get even older and feebler, gradually losing their touch on life.



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.

Grief Update

I haven’t been posting any grief updates lately because I haven’t had much to tell. There has been no great pain or sorrow, no major traumas or dramas, no new adventures to undertake — just living my every day life of quiet sadness and loneliness.

Although I haven’t had any major grief upsurges for a while, I do often think of my deceased life mate/soul mate, even talk to him. Oddly, now that the agony of grief has mostly subsided, it feels as if he is back at home, waiting for me to finish my present tasks and return to him. I know he isn’t there, of course, but without the pain to simultaneously bind us and separate us, he doesn’t feel quite so gone.

I am still very confused by death. How can he be dead? Where is he? Is he? Perhaps he is waiting for me, perhaps he is simply gone . . . deleted. I won’t know until my life is ended, and perhaps not even then. Whatever exists beyond our cloak of materiality and physicality, beyond our brains and our minds, might have consciousness, or might simply be pure energy that returns to the Everything.

I’ve never known where to put his death in my head. I can’t be glad about it, yet at the same time, he couldn’t have continued to suffer. But more than that, if he is in a better place, why I am still here? And if life is a gift, why was it denied him? I’ve held on to the idea that dying relatively young was unfair to him, that he is missing something, and a lot of my grief was on his behalf, but the other night I realized it truly doesn’t matter whether we are alive or dead. Well, his death matters to me, but it doesn’t matter to the universe, and it probably doesn’t matter to him. Nor does my continued life matter in the vastness of life/death. A few years extra of life is but a dandelion seed in the winds of time. Almost totally matterless. Maybe even meaningless. In which case it truly doesn’t make any difference that I am alive and he is dead. (Well, except for the part where I miss him, but this insight wasn’t about that.)

Even if life is largely matterless and meaningless, I am still alive and at least for now, that does make a difference to me and those I am in contact with. But it’s good knowing I neither have to be glad nor sad for him, that I can continue to live without feeling bad that he is dead. Knowing this also makes it easier to remember him, to recall what we had, to celebrate his place in my life. I am still sad, of course, and maybe I always will be. I miss him, wish desperately for one smile, but gradually I am letting go of my worries for him. He doesn’t need them, and they are an unnecessary relic of our life together. And for all I know, he could be perfectly content, sitting by some cosmic lake, two ghost cats purring in his lap.

Someday, as my grief continues to wane, I might even get to the point where I find renewed life, but I still take comfort where I can find it, and for now I take comfort in thinking that life and death are somehow one.


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+

Grief Update — Two Years and One Month

Grief continues to confound me. It is now two years and one month after the death of my life mate/soul mate. I would have thought I’d have moved beyond grief’s ability to disquiet me, but I still have times where tears rush in to fill the void he left behind.

Some of my grief now is the poking-at-a-sore-tooth-to-see-the-extent-of-the-pain kind rather than the overwhelming agony and angst of the first year. There are still sore spots, most notably the obvious one — that he is dead. I cannot fathom death. My mind just cannot work itself around the conundrum of a once living person being so very gone from this earth. And there is the corollary murmuring deep in my psyche, “and someday you will be gone, too.” But . . . gone where?

When my grief was new, I often wandered in the desert crying out in desperation, “Where are you? Can you hear me?” I don’t call out any more, though I still wonder where he is, if he is, what he is. I envy those who believe without a doubt that their deceased loved ones still exist and that they will see them again because I have no such constant belief, though I do have flickers.

One of the many paradoxes of my grief is that I hope he still exists somewhere, but for myself, I’d be okay with oblivion. Is his death worse for me if he still exists somewhere beyond my ability to connect with him? Or is it worse if he is completely deleted except for a spark of indestructible non-conscious energy? Either way, he is gone out of my life. Either way, I have to deal with the mysteries of death, love, grief, and what the heck am I going to do with the rest of my life?

I met my life mate when I was young and believed in fate and destiny and a mystical connection with the universe. I subscribed to the belief that when the student is ready, the master will appear. And he appeared. He was so radiant, it seemed to me he was a higher being come to earth to help me on my life’s quest. In the few ups and many downs of our shared life, I forgot that feeling. And no wonder — as he got sicker and sicker, his radiance dimmed and all but went out.

During that last year, when he could no longer carry on a two-sided conversation, he would lecture me on what I should do after he was gone. He kept saying, “Listen to me. I won’t always be here to teach you.” I didn’t accept that his dying was imminent, so these lectures aggravated me, as if he thought I was so stupid I couldn’t live on my own. (I’d give anything to hear one of those “lectures” again. How could I not have treasured every word?) But the point is, apparently, deep in his subconscious, he believed what I had once believed, that he came here to be my teacher.

There is not a single question (except the unanswerable ones such where he is and if he is) that has arisen in the past twenty-five months that I didn’t know the answer to. We had discussed everything, sometimes all day, day after day, year after year. He took me as far as he could, imparted his wisdom, and left.

If there is any truth to this scenario, rather than being the rather romantic idea created by a bereft woman grasping hold of life any way she can, then the question of what I am going to do with the rest of my life takes on even greater significance. What is so important about me and my life that this radiant creature would share half his lifetime and all of his long and painful dying with me? I suppose that is what I am left to find out.

The Internet is My Tranquilizer

I read an amusing, beautiful, and wise article on Malcolm’s Round Table yesterday: The Internet is Drugs.

Malcolm R. Campbell wrote: As I sit here in the sunny kitchen of my father-in-law’s farmhouse, I’m going through withdrawal because the Internet does not exist here. On a typical morning, I would have checked e-mail (pot), looked at several news screens (cocaine) and read everything in my Facebook (meth) news feed.

My Facebook status would be a no-brainer: blitzed, spaced out, and higher than the summit of Mount Everest. I recall those old, fried-egg-in-a-skillet public service announcements: This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions? [Click here to read the rest of the article.]

Malcolm makes the very good point that on the internet, everything is instant gratification, whereas on the farm, everything moves slower, can’t move at the speed of light from one location to another, can’t give you the drug-like gratification one gets from the internet.

For me, the internet is a tranquilizer. It’s a quiet place (since the sound on my computer is turned off), and it quiets my mind. Grief brought me much confusion, not only because of the pain of losing my life mate/soul mate and the loneliness of struggling on by myself, but because of the eternal questions that haunt me.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the physiological changes that grief brings (Grief and Our Lizard Brain). Besides these physiological disturbances and the more commonly known psychological anguish, people who lose a life mate are subject to spiritual and philosophical traumas that upset our normal way of thinking. Death gives life a whole new perspective, and so we are compelled to rethink everything we thought we knew, everything we held dear. Some people find a deeper comfort in religion while others are assailed by new doubts. I found myself with a multitude of questions.

Who am I now that I am no longer part of our survival unit? If he is in a better place, why am still here? If life is a gift, why was it taken from him? In the presence of life, what is the meaning of death? In the presence of death, what is the meaning of life? So many questions!

Yet on the internet, there is no question of who am I. I know who I am. I can see me on Facebook. I can Google me. I can check me out on my website, on my publisher’s website, on Amazon. And I know why I’m here. I’m here to make an impression so maybe people will read my blogs and perhaps buy my books. I don’t need to question the meaning of life and death, because the internet is eternal. (Or at least the electrons are.) As long as there is an internet, there I am.

Walking out in the desert in the real world brings a semblance of peace, but along with that peace come the questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life and death? Where do I go from here?

As my grief fades a bit, some of the bigger questions are fading, too, and I’m mostly left with the last question. Where do I go from here? On the internet, I am always “here.” In real life, I will need to relocate, to find a place to start over. But that question, for now, is as unanswerable as all the others that haunt me, so here I am, on the internet, where there is an answer for everything. And if there isn’t, I’m too tranquilized to care.