Settling In, Not Setting Out

A blog I wrote the other day reminded me of one I’d written a long time ago called “The Importance of Being Important,” and I wanted to quote from that old post. I never did find the post; apparently, I had planned to write it, had written the title down on a list of blog topics that eventually got thrown away, and then I forgot all about it. I have no idea what I wanted to say about why we need to be important, but at one time, the idea must have been important to me.

I do think we humans have a need to feel important — to ourselves, if no one else. Importance could be tied in with a need for purpose, for being needed, for feeling that life does mean something, because feeling as if we aren’t important in the scheme of life is a crushing burden.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. In searching for that non-existent post in my archives, I came across essay after essay about my dreams for an epic adventure, plans for such an adventure, preparation for such an adventure, as well as actually setting out on various ventures. It struck me how different my life is now, and how different I am. Instead of setting out to experience more of the world, I am settling in to a world of my own making.

Even if it’s not actually a world I am making, it’s definitely a home — a place of refuge, a place where I belong, and most especially, a place that connects me to the rest of the world. In that respect, it is a way of experiencing more of the world, or at least experiencing the world in a different manner.

After Jeff died, I was afraid of settling down. Since I was well aware of my penchant for being a quasi-hermit (though it’s possible it’s more laziness than an actual penchant because sometimes it takes too much energy to be social), I feared that in settling, I would become a crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course, since I don’t want that much responsibility) and that when my expiration date came, weeks would go by before anyone would know I was gone. Luckily, I have neighbors who keep an eye out for me, and anyway, the role of crazy cat person in this neighborhood is already taken by a man who lives across the street.

[If I ever do write my small-town novel, there are certainly plenty of archetypes to choose from — the aforementioned crazy cat person; the hoarder who won’t let anyone in his house; the neighborhood talker; a generous and civic-minded man and his greedy slumlord brother; the tireless club woman who is active in just about every organization in town; the neighborhood drug dealer and thief. Except for the clubwoman, all the characters are men, which puts a bit of spin on the archetypes.]

Until the Bob issue, I did a good job of finding people to socialize with, but oddly, it’s my place itself that makes me feel as if I am settling in (which to me means taking an active interest in making a comfortable life for myself) rather than settling down (which to me connotes staidness and passively accepting the status quo).

The place seems almost like a presence in my life, as if it wraps itself around me in a comforting way. (I’m laughing here. That sounds almost like the premise of a horror story rather than a pleasant feeling, and perhaps, that’s how crazy old ladies living alone become crazy.)

It’s still early days, of course. I have been here less than three years, and I am just now beginning my journey into elderliness, so who knows how the experience of settling in will turn out. But so far, although I sometimes miss the excitement of setting out, settling in has been good for me.


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.

Taking the First Step into Adventure

During the years of looking after my nonaganarian father, dealing with grief, and surviving my dysfunctional brother, I’ve dreamed of adventure. I’ve yearned go walking and just keep on going and going and going. I’ve toyed with the idea of various themed road trips — visiting all the national parks or searching out haunted places. I’ve considered taking a freighter to New Zealand and Australia. I’ve researched ultra lightweight camping gear in case I got the inclination for some sort of long distance wilderness trek.

And through it all, I’ve wondered if in fact I would do any of it, if perhaps this craving for adventure were a stage of grief I would grow out of. I still don’t know, of course. I am currently town-bound, but I have come too far — in my mind at least — to turn back and accept a settled life. And that is always the first step — making the mental leap.

It’s no longer a matter of if I will buy camping gear, but when and what. I don’t want to get anything online until I can peruse local stores, and I can’t do that until I get my car back. Besides, the first thing I need is shoes, and those I have to buy in person to get a proper fit. Shoes are the foundation for any hike or long distance walk — if you damage your feet, that’s the end of a pain-free adventure. And pain has no part in my plans.

The world is full of wondrous things — unmet friends, lovely places, wildness, moments of bliss, random acts of beauty, interconnectedness. And it’s all waiting for me to reach out and embrace.

Come to think of it, I’ve not only taken the first step, but also the second. I’ve made the mental leap into adventure and I’ve slipped into a life of unsettledness. With no place to call my own, the whole world becomes my home.

And I am so very ready to go home.


(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.”)


A Good Day

I woke this morning with no energy, no enthusiasm for anything, no ideas. I lay there dozing until long after the time I would ever admit to staying in bed. I finally dragged myself from the warmth to take a walk. Took more energy than it should have. In fact, when I sat to put on my shoes before I left, I just sat. And sat. Not thinking anything, not doing anything. Just sitting.

Eventually, I did make it out the door. It was a lovely day — blue skies, moderate temperatures, barely moving air currents. Due to other activities, I haven’t been out to the desert in two or three weeks, so it was nice reconnecting to that wild world. (Or as wild as land so close to a housing development ever gets.)

desert roadAs I walked, I found myself wondering what it would be like to simply continue walking, heading . . . wherever. And it dawned on me why the idea of an epic walk keeps nagging at me. I feel most myself when I am walking. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what that means except perhaps that when I am walking, I want nothing else, need nothing else. The easy movement, the ever-so-slightly changing scenery, the present moment are all enticingly hypnotic.

I am not so naïve as to believe that an epic walk would be as beguiling. There would be no shelter from the night or unpleasant weather, no home base, no ready source of water or food once I used up the small amount I carried. And yet. And yet . . . I’m sitting here smiling at the very idea.

I often express my worry about settling down — not just creating a nest for myself, but settling for less than I want. When I expressed that sentiment to a friend today, she first asked me what I wanted. I had no answer other than that I wanted to become enlightened, stronger, wiser, more courageous. She told me that I was too far on my path ever to settle even if I did settle, which is comforting. Life is a terrible thing to waste, and I want . . . I want . . . I want something I can’t even imagine.

Luckily for me, all I have to deal with is today. And today, I got out of bed. Went for a walk. Lived in the moment. And now I am writing.

As it turned out, despite the inauspicious beginning, this was a good day.

I hope your day was rewarding, too.


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.

In Between

I’m sitting here at the computer, playing endless games of solitaire, and dozing off. I didn’t even know it was possible to fall asleep at the computer, but I have a hunch I could fall asleep anywhere right now. The long days of caring for my father must have been more stressful and exhausting than I thought. Or maybe it’s that for the first time in more than a decade I don’t have to listen for calls of distress from the old and/or dying. There is only me in this borrowed house (borrowed from my father’s napestate pending probate and sale). There are no life or death matters to take care of, nothing major for me to accomplish (though I have a few minor obligations and things I promised to do).

During these years of caring for my father, I often blogged about my plans and possibilities for after he was gone, but at the moment, I have no desire to do anything but just float through my days, dealing with whatever comes my way. And to dance, of course.

Someday soon I’ll have to pack and put my stuff in storage in preparation for . . . I don’t know what. But now, there is no reason to do anything unless I feel like it.

I’ve always loved these in-between times. I remember as a child only being happy walking to or from school. It was a joy to leave the house in the morning, and a joy to leave school in the afternoon. But being either place didn’t particularly thrill me.

Some of the best times Jeff (my now deceased life mate/soul mate) and I had were when we packed up all our stuff, moved out of whatever house or apartment we were living, and headed across country to find a new place to live with no clear idea of where we were going. Leaving gave us such a wonderful sense of freedom that was all too soon offset by the need to find a place to live. I remember a truck stop in Utah, a motel in Iowa next to a rain puddle as big as a pond, a traveler’s oasis in Nebraska. All prosaic places that brought us a night of happiness.

And now here I am, in transition once more.

I understand now why I don’t want to settle down anywhere, why no place (except the dance studio) brings any thought of joy — being settled seems to be a sort of entrapment for me, and I am through being trapped. I suppose it’s silly to think this way — we are trapped in so many different ways — trapped in our minds, our ever-aging bodies, our society, our laws — that the secret must be to find freedom and wonderful possibilities within the entrapment.

But tonight is not a time to think of such things. It’s a time to bask in the quiet freedom, to know that these walls don’t bind my life, to feel the flutter of possibilities. And, apparently, a time to fall asleep at the computer.


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.


The Eve of My Third Anniversary of Grief

In just a few hours, it will be three years since the death of my life mate/soul mate. It seems impossible I’ve survived so long. It seems impossible he’s been gone so long. Sometimes I feel as if we just said good-bye, as if I could call him up and see how he is doing, as if when I am finished caring for my father, I could go home again. But of course, those are just tricks of the ever-changing grief process.

I’ve been doing well recently, keeping busy, not letting myself get too caught up in the past. The present is complicated enough with my father’s growing dependency (though he has been doing well the past week or so, taking more of an interest in his own care). And the future is becoming more real, not quite as bleak as it has seemed during the past few years.

020smallFor all these months of grief, I’ve been worried about what will happen to me when my present responsibilities end. Oddly, during my mate’s long dying, I never really thought of the future. I just presumed I’d be okay. He told me things would come together for me, and I believed him. But now that I know how life feels with him gone, I’ve been afraid of stagnating, drowning in loneliness, living as quietly and unobtrusively as I’ve always done. The realization that I don’t have to find a place and settle down but can live on the go if I wish destroyed those fears with one clean stroke, and I’ve spent the past week figuring out the logistics of such an adventurous life. It won’t be easy since I have few financial resources and strong hermit tendencies, but the alternative — stagnation — makes such a future seem possible.

Because of all that is occupying my mind, I thought I’d sail right through this anniversary without an upsurge of grief, (though I always miss him; that’s a given) but grief will not be denied. If I don’t acknowledge my loss and sorrow, grief will acknowledge me. A couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was grieving for him. Dreamed I wanted to go home to him. Dreamed I cried for him. And when I woke, I was crying still.

I guess it’s just as well that the next stage of my life’s journey could be a long way off. Apparently I have grieving left to do. Chances are, I always will grieve to a certain extent, but now I’m more concerned about what to do with my life despite the grief. I’d hate to meet him again some day and have to admit that I spent my life awash in tears. He would be disappointed in me, and to be honest, so would I.

But three years. Has it really been so long since I last saw his smile? Last heard his voice? Last felt his arms around me? It’s hard for me to believe, but the calendar doesn’t lie.


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+