Empty Rooms

I seem to be doing a lot of sitting and staring out windows lately. Could be physical exhaustion. Could be mental overload. Could be spring fever for all I know. But here I sit in an empty room — no furniture, no decoration, no ghosts except for my own.

I am haunted by my unknown future, by leftover sadness, by thoughts of what and whom I will be leaving behind if I follow the call to adventure, especially my dance teacher/mentor/friend. She more than anyone brought me back to life when it seemed as if I’d never be happy again, and I will miss learning, dancing, lunching with her on a regular basis.

I want to stay. I need to go.

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Sounds like that old Jimmy Durante song, doesn’t it?

“Did you ever get the feeling that you wanted to go,
But still had the feeling that you wanted to stay,
You knew it was right, wasn’t wrong.
Still you knew you wouldn’t be very long.
Go or stay, stay or go,
Start to go again and change your mind again.
It’s hard to have the feeling that you wanted to go,
But still have the feeling that you wanted to stay.

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In my case, though, I’m not changing my mind since I haven’t actually decided anything. I’m leaving it up to the fates. I am planning on heading up north in June to meet a friend, and for all I know, I could be coming back in a couple of weeks. But no matter what happens to me — go, stay, return — I won’t be coming back here to my father’s house.

It’s been alternately stressful and interesting being chatelaine of such a large, lovely residence. It’s been a challenge to get my stuff packed and in storage, to dispose of my parent’s belongings, to find homes for their furnishings. Most of the furniture was taken out of the house this weekend. There is still one pick up tomorrow, and another on Wednesday, then the house really will be empty except for my clothes, computer, and one old mattress to sleep on.

I won’t have long to live in these empty rooms. In nine days, this phase of my life will be over, and once again, I will be driving away from a houseful of empty rooms.

It seems odd to me that after all this time — five years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate — I still don’t know how to go about rebuilding my life. Still, this should be an exciting time for me, with an unknown and possibly exciting future ahead of me, but these empty rooms are taking me back to the empty rooms I left behind when I drove away from the house Jeff and I shared, and along with the memories, comes sadness.

I know endings are the beginning of beginnings, but tonight I can’t summon up any enthusiasm for starting over. So I sit and stare out the window of this empty room, and try not to remember the other empty rooms I left behind.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

The Return of the Sad Saturday

My life mate/soul mate died on a Saturday, and for a couple of years, I had an upsurge of grief every Saturday even when I didn’t realize what day it was. (Somehow my body remembered.) It’s been a long time since I’ve had a grief upsurge and an even longer time since I’ve had a sad Saturday, but today I am tearful. I seldom dream about him, but early this morning I dreamt that someone we both knew had died. As we looked at the empty bed, he said, “It’s strange that she died right after I invited her to live with us.” I responded, “Maybe that’s what allowed her to die. Maybe the point of life is death.”

I woke then, and remembered that he was dead, and it made me sad. I haven’t been thinking about him much lately. I’ve been keeping myself busy, trying to build strength and rebuild my life, but this morning, my whole house-of-cards life came tumbling down.

I just now returned from a ramble in the desert, so the sadness has dissipated a bit, but all the pieces of my life are still in a heap at my feet. As the next few days progress, I’ll pick up the pieces one by one, and maybe this time the structure I build will have more permanence. Or not. No matter how good an attitude I have, no matter how much I become immersed in life-affirming activities, he is still dead and there isn’t anything I can do about it. I just have to continue on, realizing that my life has worth. I have worth.

At the beginning of my grief, I could not fathom ever being happy again, which was okay since somehow I didn’t think I had the right to be happy, but I no longer think that way. If our positions were reversed, I wouldn’t want him to spend his life mourning for me.

Still, it’s only natural to feel sad and to miss the person who meant more than anyone else, so I’ll remember him with sadness today, remember what he meant to me, remember his courage and his smile.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to go about the business of rebuilding my life and finding whatever happiness I can.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Wishing You Peace on Mother’s Day

For many people in the United States, Mother’s Day is a time of family get-togethers, joyful memories, and gifts honoring their mothers.

But for many people, women especially, this is a day of pain. Women who wanted children but were never so blessed. Mothers who lost children to death or despair. Mothers with missing children. Adoptees who never knew their birth mothers. People who are still grieving the death of their mothers.

To everyone who is silently suffering on this day, I wish you peace.

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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.

I Am Not Grieving Inappropriately

I recently received a message from a woman who is concerned that I’m still counting sad Saturdays — she’s worried that my grief for my dead mate is going on too long and keeping me from living. I appreciate her concern and her continued prayers (just as I appreciate the concern and prayers from all of you), but the truth is, except for readers of this blog, no one knows I still have my sad times. I don’t hide myself away from life, I’m not missing from life, and I’m not missing life. I miss him, of course, and I hate that he is missing from this life, but that particular sorrow is something I accept as part of my life.

There is nothing wrong with sad times, and there is no reason to fear sadness. Depression is dangerous, but not all sadness is depression, nor does all sadness lead to depression. Sometimes sadness is melancholic or nostalgic — a seasoning of life rather than a banishment of life, a reminder not to take life for granted. For several months now I’ve been hesitant to continue posting about grief since such posts show me (perhaps) in a pathetic or needy light, but there are too many misconceptions about grief that we accept as truth, and I want people who have lost the most significant person in their life to know that they do not need to put aside their sorrow simply to placate others. It is their grief and they need to feel the sorrow, not ignore it. Experiencing grief and processing it are how we learn to be whole again (or as whole as is possible).

The first year after such a traumatic loss, one struggles to survive the psychic shock. The second year one deals with the effects of the ongoing loss and begins to look ahead more often than one looks behind. Since I am still in my second year, I don’t know what the third and fourth year bring — perhaps occasional upsurges of grief or a continual (though diminishing) struggle to comprehend life and death and loss. People who have been on this journey and come out of it mostly intact, tell me that it takes four years before one completely gets back the joy of living. So I am still within the normal bounds of grief.

For some people, grief is a time of shutting themselves away, of forgetting that they have other people in their life who need them, and if this goes on too long, they might need to seek professional help, especially if there are children involved. For me, though, and for others who are grieving appropriately, this is a time of opening up, of showing our vulnerability, of admitting that life is not always happy or fun. And in doing so, we make connections to help us rebuild our lives.

If I had hidden my sadness, if I had followed my natural inclination to bear my pain in silence, my life would have been much diminished. You and all the people I met since I began this journey nineteen months ago have added so much to my life that it tells me what I already know: I am not grieving inappropriately.

Saturday, My Sadder Day

Another sad Saturday — 83 of them since my life mate died. Even when I don’t remember that it’s Saturday, or that Saturday is the day of the week he died, my body remembers, and my usual muted feeling of sadness becomes more pervasive. It’s not that I want to be sad; the sorrow just comes, especially when the weather is as perfect as today’s — warm, still, clear sky, bright sun, gently cooling breeze. I’d worry more about my continuing sadness except that I tend to be of a melancholic bent. And the sadness does reminds me to pay attention. Since he can no longer make note of a lovely day, it’s as if I need to appreciate it twice — once for me and once for him.

If Saturday is a sadder day than normal, that must be a sign that I am doing okay most of the time (otherwise I wouldn’t feel sadder; I’d just feel sad). The world still feels flawed, I still feel the phantom itch from where he was amputated from my life, and I still yearn to talk with him. Part of me (perhaps that fabled inner child?) cannot understand why I can’t call him to find out how he is doing, to see if he needs anything, to ask if I can come home. This yearning flares up every Saturday, as if he’s closer on this day, and it seems as if I should be able to reach out and touch him. But he’s gone, out of reach of even my sadness.

Oddly, in many respects, my life is much better now, at least temporarily, than it was at the end of “our” life. I don’t have to worry about him any more (though the habit of a lifetime is hard to break, so I wonder if he is feeling as lost and as alone as I sometimes feel). I have a lovely place to stay with proximity to wild spaces. I have a respite from bills and other such annoyances. I have time to indulge myself with small excursions and escapes.

But my heart doesn’t care for such things. It wants what it cannot have, especially on Saturday, my sadderday.

Grief: Counting Down to the First Anniversary

In three days it will be a year since the death of my life mate — my soul mate. I’ve been counting down the days with tears. I would have thought I’d have finished my weeping months ago, and for the most part I have, but here it comes again. I’ve been keeping busy, not wanting to drown in sorrow. In fact, I’ll be leaving in a few minutes to have lunch with friends. Like me, they lost their mates, and so their presence is a comfort. We’ll laugh and talk, and that will keep the tears at bay, but when I get back to the house, I’ll probably be sad again. And that’s okay. I’m finding that now, after a wave of intense grief, there is a backwash of peace.

The anniversary itself was supposed to have been a good day for me, not a celebration so much as an acknowledgement that I survived the year. And perhaps it will be a good day despite the upsurge in sorrow. My latest book, Light Bringer — the last one he helped me research and edit, the last one I read to him as I was writing it — will be published on his death day as a memorial to him (though the book itself won’t be available for another week or so). The book is his epitaph, his tombstone, the final resting place for our joint efforts. (There is one more book he influenced, but that book is only half finished, and I haven’t had the heart to work on it.)

During all this year, I haven’t been able to eat the foods we fixed together (with the exception of salads. Those I still can eat, though why, I don’t know since salads were a major component of our meals). So I thought a good sign of my healing would be to fix one of those meals I haven’t been able to eat. Today I am going to get the ingredients for his chili, and on the anniversary, I will cook a batch in his honor. I will probably watch a movie that he taped for us, which is what we always did on special occasions.

He would have enjoyed such a day. I wish with everything I have that he were here, but of course, if he were here, there would be no such anniversary to endure, to acknowledge, yes, even to celebrate.

Owing His Memory?

I found this paragraph in a book I read recently, and it’s a graphic example of why I want to write a novel about a grieving woman — so few understand the nature of grief:

Jean-Pierre was gone; nothing could bring him back, and her feelings for him, feelings that had risen suddenly, had been ebbing just as quickly as evidence of his involvement with illegal drugs had surfaced. If Jean really had been running drugs, she owed his memory nothing.

Owed his memory? What does that mean? This example seems to have been written by a person who knows little of grief. In all these months of steeping in the world of grief, I have not heard a single person mention owing the dead person’s memory anything.  Memories are all we have left and we treasure them, but we also know that memory is not a living creature to whom we must pay homage. We might feel obligations to those who are gone, obligations such as honoring their wishes as to funerals and disbursement of treasured possessions, but we fulfill those obligations out of love and because we find comfort and continuity in still being able to do things for our loved ones. But owing the memory we have of the person? Doesn’t even make sense.

We bereft are all struggling to find a way to live with the hole in our lives, with the ongoing sadness, with the reality that grief is an unending (though perhaps diminishing) journey. No griever I have met has said, “Wait! I can’t be happy. I owe too much to his memory.” Grieving is a process, something we do, something that happens to us, but it is seldom the choice that is hinted at in the above example. Quite frankly, we are all sick of grieving, of being sad, but the only way not to be sad is to have our loved ones back with us, and since that is impossible in this world, we continue on as best as we can with our shattered lives. But we owe that to ourselves, not to his memory.