Negativity Is in the Ear of the Beholder

People who tell me I’m negative make me feel . . . well, they make me feel negative, and for no good reason. I might not be a sunny person, always looking on the bright side, and I might not be one of those who believe you fake it until you make it, but I’m not negative. I’m pragmatic. A thinker. A truth seeker. And the truth is, people who call others negative often want things their own way and are peeved if the others don’t like it.

For example, a friend invited me to go to lunch, so I arranged my schedule around the time she chose. An hour before we were to meet, she called and changed the time. The new time would interfere with my plans for later in the afternoon, so I told her I wasn’t sure I could make it. She called me negative.

Another friend often emails me and asks if I’m available at such and such a time so we can talk, and many times I wait for a call that never materializes. If I express my disappointment or say I’d appreciate being informed of a change of plans, I get called negative.

The other day I mentioned I couldn’t do something, and a person I’d met a scant hour earlier, said, “I hate negativity. Don’t ever say you can’t do something in my presence again.” Huh? I couldn’t do it. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try to do it or wouldn’t try to learn to do it. Nor was I being negative. It was a simple statement of fact. Being positive and saying I could do it would be a falsehood — a negativity — which is anathema to a truth seeker.

During those horrendous first days, weeks, months, after the death of my life mate/soul mate, grief would so overwhelm me at times that I would scream to the heavens, “I can’t do this!” And at that very moment, I couldn’t. Sometimes it took everything I had to simply breathe, let alone attempt one of the myriad end-of-life chores. Sometimes the pain of grief would well up, obliterating everything but raw agony and angst. But . . . I did what I needed to do. I used the heat of my anger and despair as fuel to accomplish such impossible tasks as clearing out his “effects” or boxing our things to be stored.

Two months after he died, I got up early, cleaned out the few remaining items I’d been using, packed my car ready for the trip to my nonagenarian father’s house so I could look after him. I walked through our rooms, remembering with what hope my mate and I had moved there, remembering the good times, remembering the more frequent bad times. Remembering his last hug, his last kiss. His death.

As I was shutting the front door, I thought of all that lay ahead of me. Pain welled up in me, and I cried out, “I can’t do this.” Then, it dawned on me: Yes. I can. Because I did. I got out my camera, and went through the house one last time, taking photos of the empty rooms to prove to myself that all those things I thought I couldn’t do, I did.

I still have times of screaming “I can’t do this” when life overwhelms me, but it’s not a sign of negativity. It’s merely an expression of the moment. And if someone doesn’t like my saying I can’t do something without finding out why I think so, it’s too bad. I can’t live my life to suit those who call me negative.


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.

Following Grief Wherever It Leads

A couple of weeks ago at my grief group, I mentioned that the day I cleaned out my life mate’s effects — his clothes, personal items, and mementoes — was the worst day of my life. I then said the only good thing about it was that since it was the worst day of my life, by definition, every day afterward would be better. The moderator of the group gave me a surprised look and said, “That’s a very positive thing coming from you.” Huh? I didn’t know we were supposed to be positive. I thought the whole purpose of dealing with grief, of talking about it, of learning from it was to feel it, process it, and let it go so that we’d eventually be able to rebuild our shattered lives. Being foolishly positive seems to be a rather negative way to deal with a soul-shattering loss.

After the first painful weeks, most bereft are outwardly optimistic when it comes to sharing their grief because they’ve been taught that dwelling on anything unpleasant is unhealthy. They talk about looking forward to new opportunities, new goals, new hopes, but inwardly they are still reeling from their horrendous loss. (And if they aren’t, chances are they are denying what their loss means to them.) I chose instead to feel my grief, to dissect it, to put it into words for the bereft who couldn’t express what they were feeling. I also wanted to illuminate the experience for those who haven’t a clue what grief really feels like (especially novelists, who so often get it wrong), and to challenge the current myths about grief. If I wanted to, I could have been as optimistic as everyone else, but that was not my self-imposed mission. I don’t need to shore myself up with positive thinking — I’m strong enough to take grief straight. This does not mean I am closing myself off to new possibilities. Eventually I will have to rebuild my life, but I am in a position right now where I can follow grief wherever it leads.

And where it is leading is into the second year of living without my mate.

The first year of grief is all about dealing with the emotional, physical, mental, spiritual shock of the soul quake you experience when a long-time mate dies. That shock protects most of us from feeling the full effect of the truth — that we’ll never see our mates on earth again. After the first year, when we begin to rebuild our lives, to feel that the worst is over, we are hit with the aftershocks, and it’s as if we are experiencing the loss all over again, but this time without the protective effects of the original shock. If we’ve worked through our particular issues — our shoulda, woulda, coulda’s — we are left with pure heartbreak.

Our family and friends (the few who stuck with us) have moved past the loss and they expect us to move on, too. One of my blog readers, a professional consultant in emotional-mental health who has been supportive of my efforts to demystify grief, wrote, “At this time of the journey, (the second year) people are at such risk of going into severe depression, of jumping into relationships they usually wouldn’t enter etc because everyone expects they’ll be ‘moving on,’ ‘creating a new life,’ when in fact the shock is only now subsiding (the emotional shock of losing the loved one is so under appreciated and I believe lasts for at least twelve months).” She hopes I will continue to share my journey, because “the next eight to twelve months will be just as important for folks to read. It seems to me the second year is about another level of acceptance . . .about the recreation of life whilst initially hating that it has to be recreated at all . . . about choosing life and the potential for happiness when death has taken our loved one . . . about choosing to find different lights to shed meaning on our existence.”

She makes good points, and I wouldn’t mind continuing to chronicle my journey into grief (despite the fact that I’ve alienated most of my blog readers). The problem is, I have nothing to say. Or at least, not much. For the most part, my situation isn’t changing. I’m caring for my 94-year-old father (or, to be more accurate, I’m staying with him so that he can keep his independence as long as possible), so I’m not doing much except taking a few isolated trips in an effort to fill the hole my mate left behind. It won’t be until after my father goes (and I could be 94 myself by that time!) that I will be able to start the rebuilding process, try to find a new life, a new place, a new reason for living. I’m still in a holding pattern. Obviously, I’m not totally stagnating, but I’m not moving on in any significant way, and I can’t because of my living situation. I’m not even having any revelations as I walk in the desert. (Of course, the heat could be baking my brain, burning off any thoughts before they form.)

I have no hopes at the moment, but I am not despairing, not weighted with hopelessness. I’m merely waiting for what life throws at me next. Perhaps this waiting is another stage of grief, a hiatus before the real healing begins, and if so, I’ll be ready. Dealing with grief as it comes, without the frill of foolish optimism, has taught me that I can handle anything. (Well, anything but torture, but I have no interest in being a martyr for any cause, so I should be okay.)