The Courage to Remember

One of the lies we’ve been told about grief is that we should put the deceased out of our minds to keep from being so sad, but the truth is that it’s important to remember . . . anything.

Carrie Jane Knowles, author of the soon-to-be re-released memoir, The Last Childhood (a book about the impact her mother’s Alzheimer’s had on their family), wrote a blog today: Art as an Act of Memory. She talks about the devastating effects of not being able to remember even the simplest things, and mentions a far-flung theory she’d read that Alzheimer’s patients developed the disease because they wanted/needed to forget.

Of the four of us, I’m the only one still living.

I am not a believer in blaming the victim for a disease, but this particular idea has merit. We spend most of our lives burying that which is too painful to remember, whether the memory of loved ones lost to death, world-wide tragedies, wars, deprivations, abuse, that it seems impossible so much buried pain could leave us unscathed.

As Carrie Knowles says, with all the “tragedy we’ve witnessed in recent years, what chance do we have of not developing Alzheimer’s? How will we have the courage to remember?”

Courage. So much of life is about courage, about living despite the tragedy in our lives, about remembering no matter how much sorrow it brings us.

Philosopher Eugene T. Gendlin wrote: What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes. Most people don’t know this. They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways they make themselves good. On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year. A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change.”

At times I’ve felt strange about continuing to write about the effects of the death of my life mate/soul mate five years after the fact, but from the beginning, I knew it was important to feel whatever I was feeling. Not that I could have buried the feelings — I don’t have that sort of discipline — which is just as well.

I am starting my life from scratch, or at least mostly from scratch. I’ll have a storage unit full of things that I can’t yet get rid of, a brain full of fading memories, a soul full of old sorrows, and a psyche that will always feel the absence of the one person who connected me to the earth. And I’m okay with that. What I wouldn’t be okay with is if any of those things held me captive. I have a world to explore, adventures to embark upon, experiences to savor. My moments of sorrow will only add piquancy to my future if I continue to have the courage to feel and the courage to remember.


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.

My Baby Bonsai Forest

On January second, I planted a few black pine seeds as a symbol of starting my life from scratch. I would not have chosen black pines as they are notoriously hard to grow, but they came with a bonsai kit I got as a gift. Oddly, considering what a ungreen thumb I have, all the seeds have sprouted. Now what? Wait, I guess. See what happens. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with my life. Waiting to see what happens. Maybe I should go out and make things happen, but life, as with seeds, often flourishes in its own time, and all we can do is wait and see what happens.


Starting From Scratch

On Saturday, I waited for the old year to play itself out, on Sunday, I started the new year with a feeling of dread, and today . . . well, today I got on with my life. Every upsurge of grief seems to end with a new level of acceptance, a renewed determination to live. One of the factors one has to deal with during the second year of grief is realizing for the hundredth time that this new state of being without our loved ones is permanent, that there is no redo. You start from here, from scratch.

Scratch is a starting line for a race scratched in the dirt, and starting from scratch means you start at the beginning with no advantages, even if you’re the weaker contender. That’s exactly how this feels — a scratch beginning, no advantages. We bereft see other couples, some who have been together for decades longer than we were granted, and yet here, at our new beginning, we start alone, uncoupled. I try to see this as being given a chance for freedom, but freedom connotes not just freedom from something, but freedom for something. I am free of my worries for my dead life mate/soul mate (though oddly, sometimes I still worry. Is he warm, comfortable, happy?) but I have not yet discovered what I am free for. That will come, perhaps, with living.

Today, as a symbol of starting from scratch, I planted my Bonsai. Well, I planted the black pine seeds. Bonsai means potted tree, and a pot of dirt and a few seeds do not equal a tree. At least, not yet. I’ll just have to wait to see what happens. Who knows, in ten, twenty, fifty years, I might have my own little potted tree. That’s assuming, of course, that if the seeds sprout and if they grow, I’ll be able to snip off any of the precious growth. I mean, how would you like it if someone decided to make a potted plant of you, and snipped off a few fingers or even a limb just because they found it pleasing? Okay, so maybe I don’t quite have the hang of positive thinking, but I did plant the seeds, so that counts for something!

My grief book is also in the works. I got my manuscript back from my publisher today with the final edits. One editor had to give up on it — couldn’t see the words through her tears. The editor who finished the work said, You’ve written an exquisite book.  It’s wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.   I can see many of the sayings from the book being used as proverbs by grief counselors, such as “time is the currency of love.” You have many, many profound insights.

A nice way to start from scratch — with a new book and wonderful compliments. My grief book probably won’t be available for a couple of months, and that’s fine. I need time to get used to the idea. It’s a hard thing to do, putting oneself out there for anyone to gawk at. People are mostly kind, especially those who will find comfort knowing someone else feels what they did, but I worry about the first time I get a nasty review. It’s one thing to get a terrible review when it’s a story you made up. It’s something completely different when it’s your life.  What if someone tells me to just stop whining and get over it? Maybe I’m gathering disadvantages before I ever cross the starting line, so I won’t think about that.

There might not be a redo button in life, but there is “do,” and putting the book out there is doing something. And so is planting a tree. This might not be an auspicious beginning, but you can’t expect more when you’re starting from scratch.