We Are All Successful

Someone told me today that my pessimism is keeping me from being a success. Hmm. Not a success? Pessimistic? That’s not how I see myself.

Maybe I do come across as pessimistic, but I am only trying to tell my truth, which is all anyone can do. And admittedly, I am not a success by worldly standards. I haven’t made a lot of money working at a corporate job or playing the stock market. Haven’t made much money at all, if I’m being honest. I have earned no title, won no real awards, never been feted or lionized. No more than a handful of people would show up at my funeral.

Although I would have liked to have sold a huge number of books and have a large enough bank account to indulge myself, for the most part, I’ve never wanted material things. Things weigh me down, make me feel earthbound and claustrophobic. Things demand attention and care, and I’d rather devote my time to nothings. Love, freedom, and truth for example. These aren’t “nothing”, of course, but they are “no thing” — they have no materiality. And in these no things, I am a success.

I loved deeply, and even when that love didn’t bring me fairy-tale happiness, I remained true to my love. Although I was not successful in helping my life mate/soul mate get what he wanted in life, perhaps in the end, I gave him what he needed: someone to be there to witness his life, someone to make sure he was comfortable during his final days, someone to take care of his after death tasks. Maybe he even needed someone to grieve for him, to feel his absence, to acknowledge his importance in the world, and that I gave him. Like me, he wasn’t much of a success in worldly things, but his life had so much weight, when he left the world, my world tilted on its axis.

Freedom is something I have always valued. Freedom, and free time. Freedom from the drudgery of a demanding career so I have time to do the things I want. Freedom from things so I have time for no things. I always had time to indulge my various passions, such as reading. For many years, I read every moment I could, often reading far into the night, until finally, during the past year, I had a surfeit of reading. Now I am looking for new passions, though I have not yet found any. (Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they have not yet found me.)

I am not yet a success in truth, but then no one is. Truth is something we learn throughout our life, getting deeper and deeper into the truth of truth. I am still on my quest for truth, and someday, maybe, I will know the truth of life, of love, of truth itself.

What someone thinks of me, what of their own values they bestow on me (pessimism seem to be a value judgment more than hard truth), has not mattered in a long time, and that, too, makes me a success.

In many respects, my life has not yet begun. Since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and the concurrent death of our shared existence, I was born into a new life. The whole world is mine to do with as I wish, a blank slate, unwritten with failure, ready for success in whatever shape it comes.

Come to think of it, isn’t success also a value judgment? Not everyone’s dreams come true, not everyone achieves worldly success, but everyone is a success at something, even if it is only managing to get through another day.

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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.” Follow 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.)