Giving Thanks for Words

Every day I find something to be grateful for, even if it’s only that the sun is shining,  that I once had a great love, that I have open spaces to explore (both in my head and in the world). Even when all else seemed bleak these past thirty-one months since the death of my life mate/soul mate, even when I had no hope, there was always something to be grateful for (most often that he was no longer suffering), so I don’t need to set aside a special day of thanksgiving.

Still, during this season of giving thanks, there is something I am especially grateful for, something worth celebrating . . . words.

Words convey thoughts, ideas, hopes from one person to another. They connect us from continent to continent, enabling us to bond with like-minded people all around the world. I have exchanged words — and friendship — with people from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Nederlands, India. And for this I am grateful.

Words allow us to read and to write, to find entertainment and enlightenment in worlds created out of nothing but letters strung together. Words allow a story, concocted in one mind, to come to full realization in another. For most of my life, these worlds of words have been my life, or at least a major part of it. Now that I too am a world-creator, I am grateful for the words with which I build my stories.

Words give comfort, especially when distance (either geographic or emotional) does not allow a touch of commiseration. I am especially grateful for all the words of encouragement you (the readers of this blog) have given me during my time of grief, words that touched me. I hope some of my words touched you.

Words mean hope. With words, there is always the hope that we will be able to come to an understanding of each other, and perhaps find peace. (Of course, people would have to shut up long enough to listen to each other’s words; one-way words cause conflict and confusion.)

Words mean community and continuity. Words, both spoken and written, presuppose that there is someone to listen, and that is community. Telling our his-stories and her-stories to each other creates both community and continuity. They tell us who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become.

If there were no one to hear our words, if we existed solely in ourselves, we’d still need words to communicate our feelings and ideas to ourselves. This ability to put our thoughts into words gives us the power to know ourselves and to understand greater truths.

So this week, whether you celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving or not, stop for a moment to give thanks for words. They are we.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+

Grief Doesn’t Take a Holiday

I wasn’t going to write about grief this Thanksgiving (except for yesterday’s brief mention of the guests who won’t be coming to dinner) because I didn’t want to break anyone’s holiday mood. Then I realized this is exactly the attitude I’ve been fighting. We shouldn’t ignore grief just because it is inconvenient for others or because it might make them pause to reflect on the ephemeral nature of life. Grief is part of life, and for some of us, it is our life.

The truth is, a huge number of people in the United States will be crying themselves to sleep tonight. For some of those people, this is the first Thanksgiving since the death of a significant person in their lives — a spouse, perhaps, or a child. For others it is the second Thanksgiving or even the tenth. But the number of years that the person has been gone doesn’t matter when it comes to holidays. What matters is that our loved ones are dead. A happy occasion with family, friends, food, turns out not to be so much fun when an absence (or a remembered presence) looms darkly over our hearts. Or if the occasion is fun, and the bereft forgets the truth for a moment, the grief rebound can be painful.

I had a lovely time today. Three of my brothers and their mates came to have dinner with my father and me. They brought everything except the table decorations and the turkey. Those I did. (I didn’t actually cook a turkey. I cooked turkey tenderloins several days ago and froze them, then today I steamed the pieces and arranged them on a platter. I didn’t feel up to cooking a turkey, and anyway, the oven is on the blink.)

The talk was congenial, the company delightful, the meal delicious, the toasts divinely inspired (I toasted my mother, who would have been proud of her men. During her final weeks, she worried that the family would drift apart.)

Afterward, two by two, the guests headed home. My father lay down for his nap. And there I was, alone, with no way to go home. My dead mate was my home, and even after nineteen months, I haven’t been able to find “home” within myself or anywhere else for that matter. I stood for a moment feeling adrift and sorry for myself, then set my father’s house to rights — taking the extra leaf out of the table, putting away the dishes that had been washed, doing all the other after tasks.

And then . . . in the quiet moment before I focused my mind on another activity, grief — that great yearning — burst over me. (For those of you who worry about me, there is no need. I am okay. Truly. These grief bursts, which relieve the stress of my sorrow, are how I keep on being okay.)

He is gone, and there is nothing I can do about it. I keep re-realizing those two simple facts. I do not think our brains are wired to understand the sheer goneness of death. Someone emailed me not long ago, expressing her admiration that I can talk about grief without feeling sorry for myself, but honestly, except for isolated moments, which I refuse to feed, I don’t feel sorry for myself. A lot of grief has to do with the mind disconnect that happens when you realize your loved one is no longer here on earth. It’s as if for a second you open up to a cosmic reality or an eternal truth. The façade of life shatters, and through the cracks you can almost see, almost sense, almost know . . .

Then you are back to yourself, and you don’t see, you don’t sense, you don’t know anything but that — holiday or not — you are alone.

To all of my bereft friends, who are struggling with the challenges of this holiday, I wish for you a peaceful night.

Waiting For the Guests to Arrive

I’ve been staying with my almost 95-year-old father, not to take care of him so much as to look out for him. Last year, the two of us spent a quiet Thanksgiving. He wasn’t up to company and neither was I since it was the first Thanksgiving after my life mate’s death. This year, a couple of my brothers (who perhaps had no more exciting plans) decided they wanted to get together for dinner, and one fast-talking brother conned . . . er, sweet-talked . . . my father into letting them come here. This brother also negotiated a deal where up to six people could stay for two hours. (Which worked out to be three brothers and their mates.) If you knew how quickly that many people would wear out a 95-year-old recluse, you’d understand what a great concession my brother wangled. (BTW, I really admire this brother’s negotiating skills. I once saw him talk a clerk at Office Max into giving him an extra l0% discount, and the guy agreed to it for no reason that I could see.)

The last time I spent Thanksgiving with any of my siblings was four years ago, a couple of weeks before my mother died. We’d come to spend a final Thanksgiving with her, but she was too sick and too weak to join us. Still she was glad we came. She always wanted her children to be close, and she worried that after her death, we would drift apart. Now here I am, in her house, and she is not here.

She’s just one of the guests who can’t come because of cosmic impossibilities. My next youngest sibling died the year before she did, and her grief at his dying helped bring on her own death. And then there’s my life mate. I doubt he would have come (he couldn’t the last time because of his own illness), but it saddens me that he doesn’t have the choice. Makes me even sadder that after the holiday, I won’t be going home to him.

I set the table today to lessen tomorrow’s commotion, and I used my mother’s china. (Sorry, BBB. Paper plates just won’t cut it!! And yes, I will do the dishes.) I want the day to be special because how many more Thanksgivings can my father have? And if he’s blessed with a dozen more, who knows whether even my brother’s vast negotiating skills will gain such concessions again.

And it pleased me to be able to do this small thing.

Afterward, I was overcome with a burst of grief (to be honest, it wasn’t so much grief as plain old feeling sorry for myself.) My brothers will be at dinner with their mates, and I won’t be with mine. Still, I had him for all those years, and for that, I am truly grateful.

(And never mind trying to figure out how many siblings I had. For most of my years there were too many, and now there aren’t enough.)

Giving Thanks for Words

Every day I find something to be grateful for, even if it’s only that the sun is shining, that the pain of loss is muted, that I once had a great love, that I have open spaces to explore (both in my head and in the world). Even when all else seemed bleak these past nineteen months, even when I had no hope, there was always something to be grateful for (most often that my mate was no longer suffering), so I don’t need to set aside a special day of thanksgiving.

Still, during this season of giving thanks, there is something I am especially grateful for, something worth celebrating . . . words.

Words convey thoughts, ideas, hopes from one person to another. They connect us from continent to continent, enabling us to bond with like-minded people all around the world. I have exchanged words — and friendship — with people from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Nederlands, India. And for this I am grateful.

Words allow us to read and to write, to find entertainment and enlightenment in worlds created out of nothing but letters strung together. Words allow a story, concocted in one mind, to come to full realization in another. For most of my life, these worlds of words have been my life, or at least a major part of it. Now that I too am a world-creator, I am grateful for the words with which I build my stories.

Words give comfort, especially when distance (either geographic or emotional) does not allow a touch of commiseration. I am especially grateful for all the words of encouragement you (the readers of this blog) have given me during my time of grief, words that touched me. I hope some of my words touched you.

Words mean hope. With words, there is always the hope that we will be able to come to an understanding of each other, and perhaps find peace. (Of course, people would have to shut up long enough to listen to each other’s words; one-way words cause conflict and confusion.)

Words mean community and continuity. Words, both spoken and written, presuppose that there is someone to listen, and that is community. Telling our his-stories and her-stories to each other creates both community and continuity. They tell us who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become.

If there were no one to hear our words, if we existed solely in ourselves, we’d still need words to communicate our feelings and ideas to ourselves. This ability to put our thoughts into words gives us the power to know ourselves and to understand greater truths.

So this week, whether you celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving or not, stop for a moment to give thanks for words. They are we.

A Thanksgiving Card for You

A friend sent me this card, and I’m sharing it with you. Happy Thanksgiving! Click on the image to get the full effect.

Grateful Even in Grief

Mairead Walpole, author of A Love Out of Time posted an article on the Second Wind Publishing Blog entitled “Thanksgiving: A holiday or the trigger for the countdown to Christmas?” I read the article more for her observations than because of an interest in the holidays, thinking I had nothing for which to be grateful, then it struck me how wrong I was. I have a lot to be grateful for despite my continued (though much gentler) grief.

I am thankful I have a place to sleep, food to eat, desert trails to walk, books to read, words to write.

I am thankful for the people who have entered my life to give me support during this bleak time.

I am thankful I had my life mate to love and care for.

I am thankful my life mate loved and cared for me.

I am thankful for the emotional security offered by our relationship, which gave me the freedom to try new things.

I am thankful he shared his life — and his death — with me.

I am thankful for our added closeness at the end.

I am thankful he is no longer suffering.

I am thankful he didn’t linger as a helpless invalid. He dreaded that. 

I am thankful for his legacy. He faced his death with such courage that he gave me the courage to face my life.

I am even thankful for my grief. It reminds me that he shared part of this journey called life with me, and it is helping me become the person I need to be to continue my journey alone.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful even in grief.