What It’s All About. Maybe.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be finished with weeping. It’s possible that when Jeff died, the pain dug such a deep well into my psyche, it tapped into an everlasting underground river of tears, and so they will be with me on and off for the rest of my life.

I never expect the grief upsurges. After each one, I think I’m done with the tears, but apparently, the well is deeper than I ever imagined. I should have expected today’s upsurge, though. This is the countdown to the fifth year anniversary of his death, and each day is the anniversary of a last time — the last time we talked, or hugged, or smiled at each other. Of course, in addition to the coming anniversary (the days before are the hard times — the anniversary is an anticlimax), I am still dealing with the fallout of the emotional trauma of the past couple of years, am grieving my father’s death, and am dealing with my impending anchorless and unknown future. (I’m also doing some online tasks for someone I didn’t think I’d ever be working for again, and that adds a whole other layer of remembered pain.)

Still, there are big changes. In between the days of tears are days of feeling great, even feeling sanguine about the future. I can feel the warmth and perhaps even the radiance of my smile, which I haven’t felt in many years. And I’m developing an appreciation for the macabre. (I keep wanting to type macable. What a lovely word that could be! I might have to use it sometime.)

solmate socksFor example, I lost Jeff the other day. Literally lost him as in could not find him. Or rather, could not find his ashes.

When I first got the ashes from the funeral home, I wrapped his robe around them to keep him warm. (Yeah, I know — he couldn’t feel the cold, but such is the magical thinking of grief.) And when I got here, I set the bundle on the couch in my living room, and there it stayed until a week or so ago. I had to clear things out of that room so it could be cleaned, and I placed the bundle in a box in the garage with my packed things, and somehow, I moved the box without remembering what was in it. What a scramble to find him! It truly is time to deal with those ashes. If I remember during the next windstorm, I’ll go to the top of a nearby knoll and let him decide where he wants his ashes to rest. Or I’ll take a trip to the ocean and return him to the font of life. (We are, after all, creatures of water and stardust even more than creatures of the dirt.)

Adding to the silliness someone sent me a gift and inside I found a pair of solmate socks with the logo, “Life is to short for matching socks.” “Yep,” I thought, “lose one soul mate, find another.”

There are some good things happening — I’m finally starting to fathom the way men think, which is not at all the way I think. It’s like the storybook problems of grade school arithmetic. Men jump right to the answer, leaving only sporadic hints of how they got there, and I need to see the whole dang train of thought because important information is contained in each step that is often missing from the solution.

I’m still doing things I would never have imagined myself doing. Today I went shopping for fishnet stockings, not something that had ever entered my mind, but I need them for my jazz costume.

And my car seems to be purring along, frisky and quiet at the same time. After all my plans of traveling the world and not settling down, I might have to move here permanently. Adventure can be found anywhere, but a good air-cooled-VW mechanic is a rare treasure.

Sounds like my life is purring along, too, doesn’t it? Sorrow, smiles, and silliness. That’s what it’s all about.



Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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 Conundrum of Grief

Tolstoy wrote, “Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.” This is especially true of those of us who have lost our soul mates. What we once were (or thought we were) has died along with our loved ones. Now we’re wandering the desert of aloneness and wondering why we are still here. Since we don’t know, life seems impossible.

Recently, there was a news article about an elderly couple who died within hours of each other. This is the sort of romantic story that we all believe in — that when one of a pair of soul mates dies, the other will die also. Unfortunately, that does not happen very often, which is why it is noteworthy when it occurs. Life is at once very fragile and very tenacious. Having watched my life mate/soul mate’s struggles, I know how difficult it is to die. People can suffer for years, fading slowly and painfully, hoping for death to release them from their agony, but still endure.

New grief feels as if it will kill you, but it seldom does. Such grief is so very strong that it takes your very breath away. It makes you feel as if you are having a heart attack and some sort of terrible gastrointestinal disease at the same time. It can cause Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, make wounds difficult to heal, retard recovery from illness. The death rate for those whose life mate’s died increases by 25% for all causes of death — disease, accident, trauma. Despite this, almost all of us, to our shock, find that we have survived the trauma of such a heinous loss.

Here is the conundrum of grief: if they got the better end of the deal, if they truly are in a better place, then why are we still here? And if life is worth living, how can we not care that it is being denied our loved ones?

I always thought I’d die when he did, and I wonder if that’s where some of my deep sorrow comes from — an unconscious feeling of not having loved enough, been connected enough to die at the same time as he did. But the truth is, I wanted to live, though I don’t know why.

About a year before he died, I hugged him and somehow so aggravated his pain that he pushed me away. A voice deep inside me, beneath conscious thought, proclaimed, “He might be dying, but I have to live.” I have no idea what that voice was. I’d only heard it once before, and that was when I met him. Thirty-six years ago, I walked into a health food store to buy whole-wheat pastry flour, and after talking to the owner for two minutes, that voice wailed, “But I don’t even like men with blond hair and brown eyes.” It wasn’t love at first sight, our meeting, more of a primal recognition. And that same part of me recognized that our shared life was over. After that day, our lives started to diverge — he to death, me to continued life.

I don’t know why I was so determined to live then, and don’t know why, almost twenty-two months after his death, I am still determined to live. Curiosity, perhaps. Curiosity to see what I can make of my life alone, to see what I am, to see who I become. Curiosity to see how I will make life seem possible once more.

S.O.S. — Dance Therapy

A few days ago, I started doing what I call “dance therapy.” I thought it was my own idea, but today I discovered there really is such a thing. It’s been around since the 1940s and was created as a way for the mind and body to work together. Supposedly, by dancing, people can identify and express their innermost emotions, bring those feelings to the surface and create a sense of renewal, unity, and completeness.

But that’s not what my “dance therapy” is about. I know what my feelings are. (And so do you if you’ve been checking in with this blog occasionally.) I’m still grieving the death of my mate of thirty-four years. We were soul mates: partners in life, in business, in ideology, in exercise — in fact, years ago, before he started losing health, we used to do aerobics together, which for us meant free-style dancing around the living room. I continued by myself for a while, but as he got sicker, I had to stop that form of exercise because most song lyrics made me cry. Even happy songs — especially happy songs — brought tears to my eyes, and I couldn’t deal with that. Not being a natural optimist, (maybe as a Wednesday’s child, I really am full of woe) I needed to fight to stay positive, to focus on what I had rather than what I was losing. In my current situation, though, the loss is so great, it’s not a matter of seeing the glass as half empty rather than half full (if you’ll pardon my use of that odious phrase). It’s a matter of trying to glue a shattered glass back together and hope it holds together as I fill it drop by drop.

I’m not in nearly as much pain as I was seventeen and a half months ago when he died, but I’m still feeling sad and empty despite the friends I’ve made and the trips I’ve taken. (My most recent excursions included a Route 66 Rendezvous, a couple of major county fairs, and a trip to Seattle — so see, I really am going on with my life.) The world still feels different with him gone. I still feel different, knowing he’s not somewhere in the crowd. I will probably always miss him, always yearn to talk with him, always long for the sight of his smile and the sound of his voice, but I don’t want to — can’t — be enchained by my own sorrow forever.

Most songs still bring tears to my eyes, but it no longer matters since many things make me tearful now. Besides, without a song or a dance, what are we? And so, I’ve begun my version of dance therapy. Today I danced to ABBA. (Why is that more embarrassing to admit than that I still cry at times?) I’m not looking for a sense of happiness or even optimism. Nor am I looking for exercise. (For that, I walk, lift, stretch, air bicycle.) My hope is that by moving in rhythm to a few peppy songs most days, I can train myself to feel lighter in spirit. Maybe even learn to have fun — whatever that is.

It’s the best I can do.