Nightly Recap

During the past year or so, I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to Jeff at night when I am pulling back the bedcovers to get ready for bed. I don’t really tell him anything important; I just say a few words about my day or how I feel about things such as growing older or his being gone or anything else I feel like mentioning. I don’t think he’s listening — if he still exists somewhere, I sure as heck hopes he has something better to do than hang around and listen to me whine — but still, I talk to him, or rather I should say, I talk to his picture.

Occasionally I think it’s a bad habit and one I should break, because after all, it is a bit . . . not crazy, exactly, but off in some way . . . to talk to a picture. On the other hand, it’s not hurting anyone, least of all me, so why not continue? I’m not trying to hold on to him. After almost twelve years, it’s very obvious to me that he is gone. I’ve also built a good life for myself, so it’s not as if I am yearning for the past. I’m simply voicing the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. Although talking to a photo of a dead guy is basically the same as talking to myself, doing so gives me the feeling of imparting my feelings to someone other than to me.

This habit makes me wonder how important such a time of storytelling is, even if it is one-sided. In previous eras, clans and tribes, communities and families, would gather together around the fire in the evening and tell stories about their day. It was a way of saying, “I am here. I am living. I have meaning.” It was also a way of defining the clan, of gathering all their stories into one pot.

People living alone in houses or apartments seems to be a relatively new phenomenon. In previous eras — post-clan and pre-industrial age — families would gather in those members who were left alone, such as widows and maiden aunts and elderly patriarchs, but now, so many people, both young and old, are left to fend for themselves. Not that I want it any different for myself; it’s just an observation about changes through the ages, and how for most of human occupancy on this earth, we told our stories at night.

Whether it was a cultural evolution or written in our genes, it does seem as if this nightly recap is necessary. Oh, we can live without it — I did for over a decade before I developed this new (old) habit — but looking back over the many thousands of years of human interactions, this gathering of people and stories and thoughts seems important to our mental health or at least our sense of self and self-worth.

Of course, I could just be alibiing my habit, finding reasons that my behavior is reasonable, but still, I wonder.

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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.

Nothing is Something

In a book I just finished reading, a kid insisted that nothing was something. The comment was irrelevant to the story; it was just one of those things authors throw in there because they can. My mind did not skim over the idea as it normally would have, nor did it start philosophizing about somethings and nothings. Instead, my mind immediately shifted to thoughts of the “nothing” that is left behind after someone intrinsic to our life dies. That void inside us — that nothing — is definitely a something. We feel it in the very depths of our being long after the loved one leaves us.

The definition of “nothing” is “the absence of a something or particular thing that one might expect or desire to be present.” And boy, do we desire the presence of our loved one. We also expect them to be present. For years, every time I answered the phone, I expected it to be him telling me I could come home. I knew it was impossible, and of course, that expectation came to naught.

That expectation as well as the great yearning that so consumed me during the first years of grief are finally gone, replaced by . . . I’m not sure what, exactly. It’s not really nostalgia, more like a restructuring of his absence. Instead of yearning for him, I talk casually to him. Or rather, I talk to his picture. The photo — the same one I could not look at for years after he died because it brought me great pain — sits on the bedside table on the opposite side of where I sleep. I’ve gotten into the habit recently of telling him I miss him, talking about my day, and asking him about what’s going on with him. This is a very short conversation, mostly just a few sentences on my part as I get ready for bed, and none on his part. Though to be honest, if that photo ever answered me, I’d be scared out of whatever wits I have.

Despite this new, rather pleasant permutation of my grief, I can still feel the void he left behind as a physical thing. I shouldn’t be able to feel that — right? — because after all, a void by definition is an empty space. And yet, there it is, an emptiness, a nothingness that seems to color my life, just as his somethingness once colored it.

And, after more than eleven years of his being gone, it’s beginning to look as if that nothing/something inside me will be a permanent fixture for the rest of my life.

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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