Joys of Planning

I still have scabs and scars from the multitude of mosquitoes that feasted on me this summer, but I’ve already made plans for protecting myself next year. For example, I bought some khaki pants (they love the black pants I normally wear) and I intend to soak them in permethrin to make them abhorrent to the little monsters. I’m also collecting long sleeve shirts I won’t mind wearing for gardening or painting or any of the myriad outside chores that come with owning a house. And even though I do not like bug killers, I will spray my yard in self-defense. I tend to be allergic, and do not get small bumps and short-lived itching that apparently are the norm; instead I get immense lumps that itch for weeks.

Despite what it might sound like, the issue here is not the mosquitoes, but the planning. It’s been many years since I could pretty much count on being in a certain place the following year. I have lived on the edge of uncertainty for so long, that it’s a real joy to be able to plan on being somewhere and to know that, with a little luck, I will be that “somewhere.”

I have planned, of course, but always in the back of my mind was the qualifier: If I am here.

This need to qualify the future started long before Jeff died. His health was iffy for so long that we never knew from one day to the next if we could follow through on any plans, never knew if he’d even be around to put those plans into action. It was the same thing when I went to take care of my dad. I never knew from one day to the next if he’d be around and if I’d have a place to live. After he was gone, I traveled, never quite knowing where I’d be the next day, and when I returned to my dad’s town, I rented various rooms, and again, never quite knew how long I’d be there. I knew I couldn’t stay in California — didn’t want to stay — but with no compelling reason to move, I just . . . stayed.

Besides not being able to plan, I couldn’t buy anything big even if I wanted to because I didn’t know if it would fit whatever lifestyle I might have. Would I be forever a nomad? Would I move to a city? Would I bunk with a friend?

Well, now I know. Now I can plan.

And I’m planning what to do next summer when the mosquito invasion begins.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

The Folly of Planning

I should know by now that making plans is an act of folly since life — and death — so often overrides those plans. And yet, still I plan.

For the past several months, I’ve been planning and preparing for a cross-country hiking/camping/backpacking trip. I bought whatever gear I thought I’d need, fulfilled my promises, cleared my schedule. In fact, I was just ticking off the last item on my list — an oil change and a tune-up — in preparation for my departure this weekend, when my plans fell apart.

I should have known this would be an ill-fated trip when not one, not two, but three people who had invited me for extended stays more or less disinvited me all within a couple of days of each other. I’d still planned to head out because ultimately this trip was about me and my relationship to the world, but my mechanic put the brakes on the whole thing, at least for now.

Apparently, although the car runs very well, and the engine could last for a couple of more years just driving around town, I’d need luck to do a cross-country trip, and despite my penchant for planning, luck is something I never plan on. I didn’t intend to push either myself or the ancient VW, so I probably would have been okay, but I bowed to the inevitable and am having the engine rebuilt. And the transmission. Eek.

It’s funny. I had the body work done because the engine and other mechanical parts were fine, but now that they are not good enough for what I have planned, I have no choice but to get the very expensive work done or else I would have wasted the small fortune I spent on the body. By the time it’s all done, I will have paid enough to have bought a new car. I certainly can’t fool myself into thinking that all this work makes the vehicle new — this folly of mine is still forty-four years old. And yet . . . what the heck. Everyone needs a folly at least once in their life, right? Besides, the bug is the only car I have ever owned, and I’m the only owner it has ever had. Such uniqueness should be celebrated, if only by a new engine.

Once the work is done, I still can’t set out. I need to drive it around town for at least five hundred miles to break in the engine and maybe take a short trip or two before I attempt a cross-country trip. So that’s what I’m planning.

Yep. Always planning, folly or not.

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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.”)

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Makes me wonder what plans these seabirds had made — or not made — for them to end up in a parking lot in the desert, waiting for a ride back home.

I Am a Ten-Month Grief Survivor

I mentioned to someone the other day that it’s been ten weeks since the death of my life mate and that I didn’t know how I managed to survive that long, then it hit me. It hasn’t been ten weeks. It’s been ten months. How is it possible to live almost a year with half your heart ripped out? I still don’t know, but I do the only thing I can: live.

After the nine-month mark, I had a respite from grief. I liked the symmetry of nine months of grief (gestation) before being born into a new life, but as happens with grief, the respite was merely that — a respite. A couple of weeks ago, the need to see my mate one more time grew so great it felt as if the yearning would explode from my body like the creature in Alien. The feeling came and went for a while, and now the creature has gone back into hibernation. But still, the yearning lingers.

I’m learning to live with the remnants of my grief. From others who have also borne such a loss, I’ve come to understand this is the next phase of grief — not soul-destroying pain as at the beginning, but blips of varying intensity and frequency. I know I can deal with this new stage of grief because I have been dealing with my grief all along, but still, a part of me rebels at the necessity.

Planning signifies hope and is supposed to be a sign of healing. Strangely (or perhaps not strangely; perhaps it’s to be expected ) every time I make plans, I have an upsurge of grief. Plans take me further away from him and our life. They remind me of similar things we did together, and they tell me that from now on, he won’t be sharing new experiences with me. Still, I am not holding myself back. I need to fill the hole he left behind, and new experiences are one way of doing that.

In the past four months I’ve gone to various art galleries. I’ve seen Mesoamerican antiquities, aristocratic clothing through the ages, local artists, classic art work. I went to a wild life sanctuary where they take care of captive-bred animals that zoos don’t want. I went to the beach. In May, I’ll be going to a writer’s conference where I’ll be a speaker.

All this shows that I’m moving on, and yet . . .

And yet he’s still gone. That goneness is something I struggle with — how can he be dead? I wanted his suffering to be over, so I was relieved when he died, but somehow I never understood how very gone he would be. I don’t want him to be gone, but he’s not coming back, and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.