The Day My Father Died

Something profound happened the day my father died, something I’m not sure I understand. I was holding him because he was too weak to sit by himself, and he couldn’t breathe when he was lying back against the pillows. I told him it was okay to die, that his wife and son and God were waiting for him. He said he knew that, but he didn’t know how, then he added, “Help me die.” “Okay,” I said. I told him I would be fine, not to worry about me, and I could feel him relaxing into what seemed to be acceptance. I laid him back on the bed, gave him his full morphine and haloperidol doses, which I had been hesitant to give him, knowing the sort of disorientation they could cause. The doses were fairly minor, not at all the massive doses that would be prescribed later, but they calmed him. Shortly afterward, his blood pressure began falling, and he never moved again. Just slowly slipped away during the next twenty hours. (I never had to give him the high doses of morphine and haloperidol — he was too far gone by then and besides, he couldn’t swallow.)

He died when I went to take a nap, but it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t there. It seems that he had died when he was in my arms, and all that was left was a body running down like an old wind-up clock that had reached the end of its coil.

I’ve made no secret of the rocky relationship I’ve had with him. (For most of my life, I did keep that secret within the family. It seemed to be one of those unwritten rules we lived by, though none of us knew where those rules came from, what they were, or why they existed.) I came here to my father’s house after the death of my life mate/soul mate partly because my mate wanted me to — he needed to know I would be safe before he could leave his diseased body — and partly because I wanted to resolve the complications with my father. I knew I’d be starting over when my grief waned, and I didn’t want to be dragging old pain, bitterness, and conflict with me into a new life. My time with my father seemed to add to those conflicts, though for the most part we got along okay. (Largely because I left him alone so he could pray in peace.)

But now, there are no conflicts. It’s as if by helping him die (though I didn’t really do anything specific), by releasing him from his fatherhood, leaving only our two souls locked in some sort of compact with death, that I also released myself from my past.

The focus, control, and insistence on having his way that made being his daughter difficult also made him a man whole unto himself. And in the end, that is what he is/was. Not father, son, husband, grandfather but a man unencumbered, rushing to meet . . . whatever was waiting for him.

It seems almost mythic, his passing. Mythic for him, perhaps, but certainly for me, as if I’d been on some sort of hero’s journey, and in the end I’d accomplished my quest. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand all the permutations of what has happened during the past four and a half years here — my grief, my father’s aging, my dysfunctional brother’s presence, the terrible journey to take him back to Colorado, my father’s dying, and my being set free — but I don’t think it matters if I understand. I just need to process it during the next couple of months of peace, and then go on from here as a woman unencumbered, whole unto herself, rushing to meet whatever is waiting for her.

***

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.

 

Maiden/Mother/Crone — The Mythic Stages of a Woman’s Life

floozyCrone Henge is a wonderful new blog from author Juliet Waldron. It’s a place where old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not. Old women are the forgotten members of our society, but in times past, they were revered for their wisdom. In fact, both words, crone and hag, came from words meaning wisewoman. It’s good to see that older women are once again claiming their place in the world.

According to Moondance, crones cared for the dying and were spiritual midwives at the end of life, the link in the cycle of death and rebirth. They were healers, teachers, way-showers, bearers of sacred power, knowers of mysteries, mediators between the world of spirit and the world of form. In pre-patriarchical societies, women’s wisdom held healing power, and crone wisdom was the most potent of all. For nearly thirty thousand years, old women were strong, powerful sources of wisdom. Crones were respected and honored in their communities. Today, a crone is variously described as a woman who is either 50, 52, or 56, post-menopausal, consciously aging, willing to acknowledge her shadow side. Crone is a term used to describe an ancient archetype, an aspect of the triple goddess (maiden/mother/crone), and the third phase of a woman’s life. When a woman is near, in, or past menopause, she is potentially a crone. The designation refers to a perspective or point of view rather than a specific age or physical event.

This crone stage is a great new journey for women as they get older, but I intend to youth, not age. The way I figure, I did the mother stage first. By the time I was five, I could cook simple meals, clean house, do laundry, feed babies their bottles, and change diapers. By the time I was eighteen, I’d changed more diapers than most women do in a lifetime. (Sounds unbelievable, I know, but it’s true. I seldom admit it, but I was the oldest girl in a very large family.)

A few years after I met the man with whom I would spend the middle third of my life, his health took a turn for the worse. I wasn’t much of a healer, but I was a stayer — I stayed with him until he died. I also helped out when my mother died. I’m now staying with my 94-year-old father. When this stage of my life’s journey is done, this crone stage, the only stage left for me is maidenhood. And so I am youthing. (Youth-ing, not you-thing.) I am doing what I can to foster a spirit of adventure, to challenge myself; to attempt new things; to look at life as if I am a child again, lost in its wonders.

A crone is someone who is willing to acknowledge her age, wisdom and power, but me, as I continue my mythic journey, I am acknowledging my youth, wonder, and mystery.

Whether I become a maiden or not, I’m looking forward to this next stage of my life. It will be interesting to see what I become.

Following the Quest in Daughter Am I

Again I will be at Malcom’s Round Table discussing Daughter Am I, but this time we will be focusing on the quest angle. The  hero’s path, the mythic journey, the quest — these are all different names for a particular form of  story, though the format is so infinitely changeable, that unless you search for all the elements, you might not see the similarities in such diverse stories as Star Wars, Tin Cup, and Daughter Am I. All, however, follow the hero’s path.

This virtual book tour is, perhaps, a mythic journey in itself.  I was called out of my ordinary world into the special world of blog touring by Malcolm R. Campbell (the herald) when he asked if I planned on doing a formal blog tour. My first inclination was to say no (refusal of the call) but then I decided it was worth  a try — I want to do whatever I can to let people know about Daughter Am I. So here I am (crossing the first threshold). There is much ahead of me in this cyber quest — tests, meeting allies and enemies (enemies don’t have to be human — they can be missed deadlines, lack of energy, blank mind, all the various ways life has of thwarting us). This quest in itself will be a supreme ordeal — 70 blog posts in 35 days? Yikes! But I’m sure there will be plenty of other ordeals before I can reap my reward. At the end, I will share what I learned with you, and this too is part of the journey. The hero never keeps the magic elixir of change for himself, but shares it with those back in the ordinary world. 

So, please keep me company while I embark on my quest — I can use all the allies I can get!

Our next stop is at Malcolm’s Round Table: Following the quest of ‘Daughter Am I.’ It will be painless, I promise.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

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On Writing: Accomplish Your Scene Goal and Get Out

I’ve been on a hiatus from my apocalyptic novel, but now that I’m back, I have no more idea of how to write my current scene than I did a month ago when I abandoned Chip, my hero. After Chip hiked through his changed neighborhood, encountering one horror after another, he rescued a pit-bull from a raging river. He met the dog’s owner, talked to him for a few minutes. And that’s where I left him.

I’d been looking forward to that particular scene, thinking it would be easy to write because I would have two characters to work with. I worried about Chip spending too much time alone, but some of those solitary scenes turned out quite well. The changing environment, a defunct plumbing system, and a few of out-of-place and out-of-time creatures gave Chip plenty of conflict. Maybe too much conflict. By comparison, the scene with his mentor (the dog’s owner) is flat. It was supposed to be a high point, but it’s going nowhere.

In the mythic journey scenario, mentors help prepare the hero to face the unknown. They give the hero gifts, which the hero must earn. (Chip earned his gift by rescuing the mentor’s dog.) Mentors act as a conscience for the hero, though sometimes the hero rebels against the nagging conscience. Mentors motivate. And they plant information that will become important during the climactic moment. You’d think, with all that to work with, the scene would just burst out, fully formed. But it’s not happening, which is why I’m sitting here at the computer blogging instead of writing.

Maybe I need to think of something else to give the scene spice. Maybe Chip doesn’t like the mentor, or maybe he doesn’t like the advice the mentor gives him. And maybe I need to rethink the dialogue.

Despite all the writing books that say you need short bits of dialogue, if there’s nothing to be gained by all that back and forthing, it’s better to string one character’s dialogue into a longer speech rather than have the conversation come out sounding like an interview. And if there’s no way to make a scene more interesting, it should be cut to its essentials. Accomplish the scene goal, and get out. In this case, there’s no reason to prolong the meeting with the mentor since Chip will never see him again.

And maybe I should stop over thinking the scene and just write something, anything, to get me back in the habit of writing. If it doesn’t work, I can always fix it during the rewrite.

On Writing: The Mythic Journey and Answering the Call to Adventure

I have reached the point in my work-in-progress where the hero Chip has chosen not to enter the place of safety, preferring freedom to security, and he won’t be succumbing to the lure of safety until the third time it is offered. (Three is a very mythical number if mythicism can be said to have degrees.) Now that Chip is mostly alone in the world, however, I’m not quite certain what to do with him. For him to become willing to give up his freedom, he has to undergo many ordeals, and the dangers need to escalate. I know I can create these situations, but they should have an underlying feeling of cohesiveness, otherwise they will appear as a series of unrelated incidents that go nowhere. After my last blog post and the realization that my work-in-progress is starting to follow the mythic journey template, I thought I’d check the template to see if it offers a solution.

The mythic journey begins in the ordinary world, which is the way my work-in-progress begins.

The second stage in the format is the call to adventure. I suppose the ending of the world qualifies; you can’t find anything more unsettling and disturbing than that. The choice to enter the place of safety is another call to adventure, for Chip doesn’t know what will await him, but it’s also the antithesis of the call to adventure in that he is being called to safety not danger.

The third stage is the refusal of the call. The refusal is supposed to show the hero’s fear, his need to be cajoled, the riskiness of the adventure. But if the call isn’t dangerous, does Chip’s refusal to enter the safety zone qualify for the third step? He is confronting the great unknown, so perhaps his choosing freedom and danger isn’t as noble as I think it is. Perhaps he is choosing the known over the unknown. Either way, he prefers to stay where he is.

Traditionally, the hero cannot achieve his or her full potential without accepting the call and the risks that come with it. Choosing to accept the call does not guarantee the hero’s success, for the road is long and treacherous. But for Chip, refusing the call is the long and treacherous time. Still, in the mythic world, opposites often lead in the same direction, so I will presume the lessons learned are the same.

Many influences come into play to get the hero to answer the call, such as a change in circumstance and offenses against the natural order of things. These Chip will have, and they will help him redefine his objectives. Readers also like to see the hero’s reluctance overcome, and the stiffer the reluctance, the more they enjoy seeing it worn down. Perhaps that’s my answer. Maybe I need to have readers hoping Chip will opt for safety, make them an accomplice in his choice so they will have a stake during the other nine stages of the journey. To do this, I will need a character that stands in for the reader, which means Chip can’t go it alone.

This brings us to the next stage of the mythic journey: the meeting with the mentor. A mentor helps prepare the hero for the coming adventure, giving him advice and gifts. A mentor would certainly give this part the cohesiveness it lacks, and it would also give life to what would otherwise be simply a string of ordeals.

So there it is, the solution to my problem: a mentor.

A nice irony: in my mythic journey as a writer, I always hoped to find a mentor, one who would help me overcome the problems I encounter. Who would have thought I’d find this mentor in my own blog?

The Mythic Journey: Star Wars, Tin Cup, and Me

New writers often rail against formulas and rules in an attempt to find their own voice, but the rules of good writing and storytelling need not be formulaic. Nor do formulas themselves need to be formulaic.

The most prevalent formula for writing fiction is the mythic journey, and two of the most obvious examples of this template are The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. Does anyone doubt that these two movies tell the same story? Yet the mythic journey is not always so obvious. Tin Cup, far from the plots and contrivances of The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, follows the same basic structure as they do and is equally mythic.

The movie begins in Roy McAvoy’s ordinary world, a driving range. The main call to adventure comes when his friend Romeo suggests that Roy enter the U.S. Open. Roy refuses the call, not wanting to change his ways, but he agrees when he realizes it is a way of catching the interest of the woman he loves. The woman and Romeo act as Roy’s mentors, helping him prepare for the game. He crosses the threshold into the extraordinary world when he enters the U.S. Open. As in any mythic journey, other archetypical characters (non-stereotypical but recognizable) accompany the hero Roy and help, hinder, and cheer him along the way.

Roy wants to change, and he prepares for and passes first one test and then another. Then comes the big moment, the mythic moment. He fails the final test, losing the U.S. Open, but wins his personal quest. He makes the shot he knows he can make, and he returns to the ordinary world with his ladylove. At the end he attempts to figure out what he learned, and recommits himself to another quest, next year’s U.S. Open.

Because of mythic journey formula, Tin Cup is not simply an amusing movie but is the quintessential story: an ordinary person who transforms himself into an extraordinary one.

In my own mythic journey as a writer, I have learned not to be afraid of formulas and rules, but rather to embrace them and make them my own. I hadn’t considered using the mythic journey formula again, since I already used it for my novel Daughter Am I, but my work-in-progress is the story of an ordinary man who is transformed into an extraordinary one, so whether I like it or not, I will be following the formula to a certain extent.

And I do like it. Perhaps it will give my novel a mythic aura. Not a bad quality for any story.

Not Exactly a Rave Review, But a Fair Assessment

Well, here it is. The Publishers Weekly review of my Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award entry Daughter Am I:

A group of spunky octogenarians joins a woman on a search to discover the truth about the grandparents she never knew she had. After inheriting the farm of her estranged, murdered grandparents, Mary Louise Stuart discovers photos and an address book in the Colorado farmhouse and becomes obsessed with finding out who her grandparents were and who would want them dead. With each question, another senior citizen joins the quest — former friends and gangsters with names like Crunchy, Iron Sam, Happy, Lila Lorraine. The mystery deepens with each stop in their whirlwind tour of the Midwest: who’s following them? A love interest ensues between Mary and Tim Olsen, whose grandpa was good friends with her great-grandfather. While the author certainly researched the history of the Mafia, too many of the numerous historical asides — and subplots — are tacked on under the guise of story time, making the story drag with detail abut Wyatt Earp, the JFK assassination and bootleggers. But underneath the relentless bouts of story time is a delightful treasure-hunting tale of finding one’s self in a most unlikely way.

Not exactly a rave review, but a fair assessment.

I can understand why the reviewer didn’t like my “relentless bouts of story time,” but the whole purpose of my writing the story was to debunk the myths about the so-called Mafia in this country. The Mafia as we know it is a figment of Hollywood. Teach, a con man and the storyteller in my novel, says, “People talk as if the Mafia and the Syndicate are still active today, but the Syndicate phased out the American Mafia, wealth phased out the Syndicate, and now new gangs of all races and nationalities have taken their place.”

I wanted a framework for telling the history of gangsterism in this country, and I decided on a mythic journey using aged gangsters for the archetypal figures. As the hero’s journey progresses, her mentors tell stories of the old days. Listening to the stories and putting all the pieces together, she learns who her grandparents were and who she is.

I suppose I could take out some of the stories to make the novel more publishable (which I will do if an agent or editor ever requests it) but for now they stay. Until I read this review, I hadn’t realized how much I miss the all those novelists who did tack on historical asides. In fact, I used to seek out books by authors such as Taylor Caldwell and Noel Barber for that very reason.

So, if that’s the only thing the reviewer objected to, I have no objection to the review.

You can take a look at my entry here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00121WDKQ