The Courage to Start Over

Two characters in the book I am reading are talking about why they moved to that particular small town. One was born there, moved away, then returned for as yet undisclosed reasons. The other said she just wanted to start over. The first woman said, “I think it’s admirable. A lot of people don’t have the courage to do something like that.”

Is it true? Does it take courage to move to a new place to start over? Or is it that sometimes we’ve lost so much there’s nothing to lose by doing so?

I know several widows who moved out of their homes, and then took off, looking for a place to settle. A couple of them bought RVs, traveled across country, and eventually found a place they liked well enough to stay. Others just . . . wandered. It might have taken courage, but I have a hunch it was simply easier than staying and living with the memories and the ghosts of things past. Some people who are left behind do stay in their once-shared home and that, perhaps, takes more courage than heading out to look for a new place.

In my case, after Jeff died, I moved to a different state to take care of my father, and when he too died, I wandered. In between road trips, I’d rent rooms in people’s houses. Then three years ago, I bought a house sight unseen (though I had seen photos), in an area I’d only driven through once. At the time, I knew no one in town, though I promptly rectified that little matter. Did any of this take courage? Not particularly. Does it take courage for a stone that was catapulted into the air to land somewhere? No. It’s just the way things are. It’s the same thing when you are catapulted out of your life — you eventually have to land somewhere. It’s just the way things are.

Come to think of it, that’s not the only time I went looking for a new place to live, though the other times were with Jeff. We were fed up with the growth of Denver and the attendant problems like crime and pollution. We were also without work. So we just took off with no destination in mind. I don’t think that took courage; it was an adventure, and to be honest, once we left everything behind, it was the freest I ever felt in my entire life. The problem with such an irrevocable act is that eventually you have to find a place to live, and that search destroys the feeling of freedom.

It’s a good thing this place is working out for me because I don’t have another move left in me.

But I am getting off the theme of “courage.” Although I have done many things people say take courage — such as dealing with grief, my solo road trips, buying my first house so late in life — I didn’t particularly feel courageous. I did endure, however, and I did persevere despite having lost so much, and I tend to think that counts more than mere courage.


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.

Being Found

During all the years of feeling lost after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I wondered how one restarted a life. I knew I couldn’t continue being a virtual nomad, knew I needed to go somewhere, but where? When you can go anywhere, how do you choose? And once you’re there, how do you start over?

Well, here I am, in the midst of my new life, and to be honest, I still don’t know the answer to my quandary. It’s as if I was lifted out of one life and plopped down in the middle of another, with no real transitional period.

Within just a few days of being in my new home, I made friends. Although many of the people I’ve met have lived in this area their entire life, they are not at all cliquish, but have welcomed me into their midst. And each acquaintance, each friend, has introduced me to others, so that I am building a strong base. It doesn’t seem as if I’ve been here less than four months. I’m right smack dab in the middle of . . . well, a life.

Recently, I ended up going on a train ride through the Royal Gorge sponsored by a senior group. The only way to see the gorge from below is by that train — the walls of the gorge are too steep to hike down, and at the bottom, there are only the engorged Arkansas River and the thin line of tracks.

As I was sitting on the train, staring out the window, I had a hard time making the mental adjustment from the desert to the river. It didn’t seem real. How did it happen, that such a short time ago, I was a somewhere else, and now I was here?

Mostly I don’t think about such things. I just go with the flow, though occasionally the miracle, the blessing of my current life — like the Royal Gorge — strikes me as being so very immense.

I once was lost, and now I have found myself living a life I could never have imagined. I always aspired to a simple life. Owning not much of anything.

I suppose in some ways I pictured my life as that Royal Gorge trip — traveling light, going with the flow, seeing what there is to see.

But the train stopped.

And now, when my peers are downsizing, I am upsizing. I never wanted to own a house — way too much responsibility! I never even wanted to own any furniture, and yet here I am, with a house full of furniture.

It makes me wonder how else the years of grief have changed me.

For the better, I would hope.


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.

Going Along for the Ride

I’m going to be without a car for about three weeks starting on Monday, and when I mentioned this to a woman I dance with, she said, “Maybe you’ll have to ask your friends for help.” She said it sweetly and kindly, but the impression my friend gave me was that I was just too damn independent. Others have come right out and said the words, not meaning them as a compliment, and I suppose it’s the truth. I don’t like to put people out or put them on the spot or make them feel burdened by my requests. Still, people do like to help. So . . .

Maybe it’s time for me to be less stubbornly independent.

Or not. What do I know? Not as much as I once did, that’s for sure.

But my friend is right. If I am without transportation at such a critical time — when I am about to be ejected from the only home I’ve known for the past five years — then I will have to ask for help, even though it’s my decision to be without a vehicle. (I’m going to have my ancient VW bug de-rusted, de-dented and re-painted in celebration of my new start in life. Makes me smile to think of restoring the bug while I am restoring me.)

It’s interesting all the changes — outer and inner — that are coming at the same time as the fifth anniversary of Jeff’s death. (The actual anniversary is this Friday.) I feel like I’m crossing some great divide, though I’m not sure what the divide is dividing. Maybe the last of my old life and the beginning of my new. Coming to my father’s house to take care of him was a transitional stage for me. A place where I could grieve, where I could move away from my old shared life without having to start anew.

And now it’s time to start anew. (We never really do start a new life, of course. Every stage is an extension of our one life, but sometimes it feels like a new start, particularly when so little of the old remains.)

Another friend said about my current situation, “Grief and joy mixed up with movement. That’s a recipe for . . . I don’t know what.” She suggested asking the I Ching. Sounds so exotic! Now I just need to think of the proper question to ask. (Not a yes or no question.)

The oddest thing about this upcoming odyssey is how many friends I have. (It bewilders me at times that so many people seem to like me.) Some friends have said I simply cannot leave the area, that I have to stay here so they can have the benefit of my company. Others say I have to go on an epic journey so they can experience it vicariously.

Me? For now, I’m just going along for the ride. And starting next week, I will literally be going along for the ride. No driver’s seat for me for a while. Should be interesting.


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.

Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day

I’m declaring this Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day. I mean no disrespect to people who suffer involuntarily from such an ailment, but it seems to me that the rest of us could use a bit of amnesia.

We often talk about living in the present, though generally what we mean is we will try to concentrate on today and let the future take care of itself. But the past is always with us. It’s hard to block out memories windof past hurts, misunderstandings, bad behavior, and to treat people as if we have just this moment made an exciting new friend. There is much history, even good history, between us and the folks we know, history that shades our relationships. There are many established patterns of communication that may now be outdated because one or both of the people have changed, yet the habits remain.

I have a dear friend that I cannot seem to re-establish lines of communication with. We both have our idiosyncrasies to such an extent that, like England and the U.S. we seem to be two separate countries divided by a common language. Just for today it would be nice if neither of us remembered our differences and started out with new points of view. Or started out with no points of view at all. Just a willingness to see where life takes us.

And so, with that attitude in mind, I am declaring this Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day.

Hi. My name is Pat. I don’t remember ever seeing you before. It’s so nice to meet you!


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.

My New New Year

desert knolls2013  began with tears. I’m still not sure why, though it probably has to do with a deeper acceptance of my life mate/soul mate’s goneness coupled with the slide toward the third anniversary of his death. You’d think with such a sad beginning to the year that things would ony get better, but my life went downhill from there until I felt as if I were drowning in sadness. So, in an effort to change my outlook, I decided to start the year over.

Last night at midnight, I toasted in my new new year. It seemed such a silly thing to do, yet almost profound at the same time, that it made me smile. I have to admit, I did mist up briefly a little later when I put his photos away. Sometimes seeing them bring me comfort, but sometimes they only serve to remind me of what I have lost, and there is no place for the past in this new new year of mine. (At least not yet. I’m sure there will come a point when I need the small bit of comfort those photos can bring and will set them out again.)

I have to focus on what is, and what “is” is me alone. It’s hard to carry on any kind of relationship with someone who is dead. He doesn’t respond when I talk, doesn’t offer comfort when I need it, doesn’t hug me or smile at me. Not a very fulfilling relationship!

I’m not being entirely facetious, just trying to face the truth.

I’ve read that people who manage to have a relationship with their deceased loved ones are happier than those who shut out any memory of those who are gone, but still, it’s a one-sided relationship. And, to be honest, for me it’s better that way. Since I have to find my own path through the rest of my days, I’d just as soon not have a ghost hanging around, hampering whatever fulfillment I might find. (Hmmm. Is there a story in that?)

I started my new new year in an effort to gain a new focus (or do I mean a new new focus?) And so far, this new new year is going great. Not only can I still feel the effects of that midnight smile, but the weather is gorgeous — blue skies, warm air, the faintest of breezes — which was perfect for my long walk in the desert.  Even better, I can feel a slight shift in my outlook, a turning away from the way I wish things were to the way things are and maybe even to the way things are meant to be.

I’m hoping I can continue this new new year the way it has begun, but if I begin drowning in sorrow again, I’ll just start over with a new new new year.


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+

The Gift of Possibilities

I have been given a very special and unwelcome gift this year — the gift of possibilities.

Thirty-eight weeks ago my life mate — my soulmate — died. During the previous few years, the constraints of his illness bound our lives, and it felt as if we were doomed to an eternity of decreasing possibilities. Every day he became weaker, could do less, had fewer options. We could not plan for our future, knowing each day was all he might have. We could not even spend much time together — it took all his strength and concentration just to make it through another hour.

And so we lived. Waited.

His death brought enormous changes to my life, but during these months of grief, I have focused on the  impossibilities. It is impossible for him to come back to me and it’s impossible for me go home to him. It’s impossible for us ever to have another conversation, watch a movie, play a game, take a trip, start over in a new location as we so often did during our decades together. It’s impossible for me to stop missing him, impossible to conceive of living in a world from which he is absent. It’s been impossible, too, to concede that perhaps my life could be easier without him. What difference does that make when our being together was all that ever mattered to me?

And yet, and yet . . .

I am getting glimmers of myself now, myself alone. I no longer have the financial and emotional burden of his illness. I am no longer weighted down by my own grief, though it is still a part of me, and probably always will be.

I still feel as if I am waiting, but I’m beginning to feel as if I’m waiting for something rather than simply waiting, though I don’t know what I am waiting for. I do know that — slowly — the world of possibility is opening up to me again. I might not be able to do whatever I want — people are so wrong when they say anything is possible — but many things are probable when you’ve been given the gift of possibilities.