After We Said Good-bye

I was looking through some of my old poems to see if I could find inspiration for a peace blog for November 4th, the day thousands people all over the world blog for peace, when I came across a poem I had written shortly after I met Jeff.

you turned around
and waved to me
after we said good-bye
a small gesture
that told me more
than all the words
we had spoken

And suddenly, I remembered that wave as if it were just the other day.

One day in August, forty-four years ago, I stopped by a neighborhood health food store, and there he was. My first reaction wasn’t particularly overwhelming, but my second reaction, which followed less than a minute later, was an internal ping, then a tiny voice inside of me wailed, “But I don’t even like men with blond hair and brown eyes.” Not exactly love at first sight. More like recognition. But recognition of what? I never did know.

I soon became an aficionado not just of natural foods but also of vitamin supplements, because obviously, the more supplements I took, the more excuses I would have to visit him.

I almost stopped going to his store when I encountered a woman talking to him I knew through the fabric store I managed. All of us young women were enthralled with her — she seemed so dramatic, with erect posture, white hair, dark sunglasses, and silence. She almost never talked. Once she realized we shopped at the same health food store, however, she would come into the fabric store and yammer on and on about Jeff and how wonderful he was. I felt foolish, thinking I was just another groupie (he did seem to have an inordinate number of women who shopped at that store) and I decided not to return.

But I had enjoyed talking with him. He was the only person I’d ever met who was interested in the same wide range of subjects I was, and so I ventured back to the store. One day shortly afterward, I stopped by in the morning, and we got to talking as we always did. A little later, when it was time for me to leave, he walked me outside. The two of us were stunned at how dark it was. We’d talked the entire day and far into the night. I started walking away, and then turned back for one last look. He also had turned back. And he waved.

How is it possible that so many years — and tears — have passed since that day? Back then, we were so new, we didn’t even know we would have a relationship. let alone one that would span decades.

But now I know what will happen to those two people. The end to our story has been written. The romance is finished. And I am left alone with only fading memories to tell me that I once loved, that I once was loved.

I don’t know what will happen to me. If I learned anything that far away August, it’s that life can change in an eyeblink. It’s the same lesson that his death taught me — you’re alive, and then, before you can blink, you’re not.

Still, the way things look now, I’ll be living out my life alone. Becoming that pathetic old woman I fear to be — the cat lady sans cats. (Though who’s to say if that cat lady really is pathetic. Maybe she’s living life on her terms the best she knows how.) Even if I — or my life —doesn’t end up being pathetic, I will be an old woman in an ever alien world. The world is already so different from the one Jeff and I lived in that I doubt he’d recognize it. (And if he is at all cognizant of what is going on in this country, I’m sure he’s glad to be done with it since all the things he feared would happen are happening.)

I was lucky for all those years that we were together. That day at this store set the tone for our relationship, and we always talked — about our lives, books, music, history, and oh, too many subjects to list. When the conversations died, I should have realized it was a sign that he, too, would die. (As people near death, they tend to pull away from their loved ones. I don’t know if this is a conscious decision, an unconscious reaction, or simply part of the flow of life and death.)

His voice seemed to have been the soundtrack of my life, and now his voice is silenced forever.

It still doesn’t seem possible that he’s been gone more than ten years. I remember being at his store just the other day. And he waved at me after we said good-bye.

But it wasn’t just the other day. It was decades ago. And that doesn’t seem possible either.

***

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

Pricked Conscience

Thank you for all your prayers, thoughts, concern, love.

After I abandoned my dysfunctional brother on the streets of Fort Collins and drove the 1000 miles back to where I am caring for my 97-year-old father, all I could do was weep. I felt terrible that no one cared. I wondered how it was possible in a world of 7,184, 285,500 people, my brother could be so unloved. And then I realized the truth. I cared, and so did all of you. Not that it makes any difference to him (at least as far as I know), but it makes a difference to me.

Even though he ended up angry, abusive, demanding, it wasn’t always so. He’d been in my life from the moment I was born, and I’d looked up to him. I remember him as a radiant and charming child. A brilliant youth. A teenager who refused to let himself be beaten (with a belt, no less) into submission. A young man who felt at home no matter where he roamed. A middle-aged man who struggled with problems greater than his ability to solve.

I thought I wanted him out of my life, and I do. For the past fifteen months, he hounded me relentlessly, wanting more from me than I could ever have given him, though to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what he wanted. He settled for a place to camp in the garage and an occasional bag of groceries, but I knew that wasn’t enough. (As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t even solve my own problems, let alone his.)

At the end of the road in Colorado, as he stood there by the car drinking his bribe and exchanging a last few words, I mentioned that he always wanted one more thing from me but he never gave me anything.

“Yes, I did,” he responded. “I pricked your conscience.”

I didn’t think of that remark again until this morning when I got out of a safe and comfortable bed and remembered his saying he needed to find a place to camp by the railroad tracks. I flushed the toilet and remembered that he had to find a place to relieve himself out in the open. I took a cold drink from the refrigerator and remembered that his beverages could only be the temperature of the outside world. I fixed something to eat and remembered the dumpster he pulled his dinner from last night. I drove to the store and remembered how painful it was for him to walk because of his sciatica.

He used to scream, “You’re living like a millionaire while I have to live like a dog, and you don’t even appreciate it.” I always responded that millionaires didn’t have people knocking on their windows for attention dozens of times a night. But the truth is, he is right. I am living like a millionaire — warm bed, hot food, cold drinks, pristine toilet, kitchen, safety, comfort, and friends who care about me.

So thank you, all of you. You mean more to me than you will ever know.

***

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.

Saying Good-bye

100_0876bDuring the past three years, I’ve met way too many people who have lost their mates. (Until I became one of them, I had no idea the vast numbers of people living with such grief). Some, like me, lost their mates through a long dying. Others lost them instantly. I’ve never been able to figure out which is worse for survivors to deal with. The quick deaths bring such shock and disbelief that it seems impossible to survive, but we who have plenty of time to get used to the idea have to deal with the memories of our lack of generosity toward our long-dying mates. The trouble is that when someone dies slowly, as the months and maybe even years pass, we get used to their dying. The dying itself becomes a way of life, so that a flash of irritation here or a lack of empathy there means little in the fullness of the days. It’s only when they are gone that these things loom large, and we wonder why we couldn’t have held to our equanimity just a couple of months longer.

But of course, we did not know how short a time we had to be with him. It felt like a new low is all, and at the end, death came in an instant, as all deaths do, bringing shock and disbelief.

In the world of grief, I am one of the lucky ones — I got to say good-bye. That is the thing that haunts so many bereft — their inability bid farewell to the person who meant more to them than any other. It’s not just those whose spouses died suddenly in an accident or from an unnexpected heart attack who never got a chance to say good-bye. I’ve heard sad stories of hospital personnel cleaning out the emergency room too quickly so that the person left behind never even got a chance to see their beloved one last time. I’ve heard of nurses who demanded the bereft to be quiet in their weeping or quick in saying those few final precious words. I’ve heard of doctors who insisted the ill one would get better, giving the couple no reason to believe they would need to say good-bye.

One woman, whose husband died in a vehicle accident, was particularly sick with regret. After she’d been notified of the tragedy, she’d gone to the hospital to find him already on the way to the morgue, leaving her  with no way to say good-bye. She too, is one of the lucky ones. He came to her in a dream, and told her it was okay, that he’d already been gone from his body, and that he loved her. And in a way, he had already said good-bye. Shortly before his accident, he had called family and friends he hadn’t talked to in a while and chatted with them for no real particular reason, and then a day or two later he unexpectedly invited her to a special lunch. Two hours after that lunch, he was dead.

Such pre-good-byes are fairly common, as if something in us knows the time of our death and prepares for it, but many bereft are left without even such a farewell to bring them comfort. Since parting words seem so important to the grief process, the unfarewelled bereft have to find other ways to say good-bye such as writing letters to the one who is gone, talking to him, or taking a memorial trip to a place that had special meaning. Actually, these are good ideas even for those of us who did get to say good-bye. I’ve written him and talked to him. Maybe one day I’ll take a memorial trip to a place with special meaning, though to be honest, everyplace we ever went — even the grocery store — was special because we were together.

***

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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

Death and Dying: Good-bye Experiences

70During the past thirty-two months since the death of my life mate/soul mate, I have shared my grief, and in turn others have shared their grief with me, telling me stories they never told anyone else. I have heard incredible tales of signs and dreams and feelings of connection to the one who has left earthly life behind, which makes me realize that something is going on beneath the surface of earthly life, though I don’t know what.

Although I concede that near death experiences exist, I do not believe that NDEs are necessarily an encounter with those who are dead. We humans are so incredibly complex, that these experiences could be an as yet unknown state of consciousness, such as a dream state, or maybe even a dip into the collective consciousness. I’ve heard of too many people who saw the white light, saw their loved ones begin to draw near and then immediately recede as the nearly dead person returned to consciousness. It seems peculiar to me that the dead have nothing better to do than wait for someone to begin to die, to hurry and don their earthly bodies to rally round on the off chance that the person will die, and then shrug off their earthly personas and go back to doing whatever their disembodied selves were doing before being called to reception duty.

On the other hand, there have been an incredible number of instances of people saying good-bye before they left the earth for good.

Sometimes the good-byes were said while the people were still alive. I’ve heard many stories of perfectly healthy people who visited and called family and friends they hadn’t seen in a while, and then a few days later they had an accident or a heart attack and died. It was as if part of them knew they were going to leave this earth, and they were saying good-bye even though they didn’t consciously realize that is what they were doing.

Sometimes the good-byes were said after the people were dead. A boy’s grandmother stopped by to tell him that she would be okay and not to spend his life in sadness. A woman whose husband died in an accident never got a chance to say good-bye before the hospital removed his body, but that night, she felt a kiss on her cheek and his whispered words that it didn’t matter, that he’d already been dead when he reached the hospital. A woman who swam too far out into the ocean and was floundering in panic heard her mother tell her to relax, that she would be okay, and later found that her mother had died at that very moment. A woman who lost her husband had incredibly rich and coincidental experiences every Monday during the first six months after he died. She could even feel his anger, but now, eighteen months later, he is finally leaving her alone to find her own way.

And sometimes the messages come in dreams. One daughter planned to move in with her mother, and that night her father visited her in a dream and said he was glad, that her mother needed her. (The daughter told her mother to tell her father to stay out of her dreams.)

Even I had a good-bye experience. Two of them, actually.

For the last year of his life, my love and I argued about what I would do afterward. He thought I should go stay with my father where I would be safe and warm and fed, but I could not bear the thought of doing so. I’d just finished caring for one dying man, and I didn’t want to look after another. While he was in a coma during his last days, however, I finally decided to follow his wishes and come stay with my dad, and I told him so. Just a few hours later, he died.

At the moment of his death (or rather, when his breathing and his heart stopped), I did not feel anything except a moment of relief that his suffering was over. I watched the nurses clean his body and shroud it in a blanket, then I waited numbly for the funeral director. After she took away his body (in a black SUV, not a hearse), I left. The highway was dry, but about halfway home, my car suddenly went careening, around and around, back and forth, totally out of control. (I assumed I hit a patch of black ice, but that was such a peculiar night, I can’t say for sure.) I thought I was going to die, but oddly, I never left the road. The car finally came to a halt facing the wrong way on the highway. I was fine. So was the car. As I sat there gripping the wheel, I wondered if he had stopped by on his way out of this world to save me, to leave me a final reminder to be careful, or maybe give a shake of his ghostly head at this evidence of my carelessness. (He always worried that I wasn’t careful enough.) I remember feeling him leaving this earth — like a breath passing over head — but to be honest, I don’t know if I really felt his leaving at the time or if the impression was something my mind created later to explain the bewildering event. It was after this particular near death experience (as out of control as the car was, it truly is amazing that I survived intact), that the feeling of his goneness slammed into me, and I never again have had any sense of his presence in my life.

What was he doing for those hours before he left this earth? Finishing his dying, possibly. Closing down systems of the body and brain that have yet to be discovered. From grief, I have learned the power of our lizard brain, learned that there is way more to the brain — and human biology, psychology, and consciousness — than is in our textbooks.

So what does all this mean? I don’t know, and that’s the truth of it.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+