Tag Archives: grief

New Beginnings and Happy Endings by Sherrie Hansen

The old joke goes that someone asked Mrs. Lincoln, “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” The twentieth century version would be, “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you enjoy your trip to Dallas?”

Today is the 360th day of the year. There are five days left in 2017. For me, much of the year passed in a fog because in 2017 my father was diagnosed with leukemia and eventually died. When something that life changing happens, everything else is inconsequential. But the year did have some bright points, and I’d like to think on a few of those things as well as what I am looking forward to in 2018.

az-purples

In January, Mark and I went to Arizona for a Spiritual Life Retreat. It was a good way to start out the year and helped ground me for what was to come. Seeing the beautiful red rocks and hiking in the desert was an eye-opening  experience for me. Having grown up amid Minnesota Northwood trees, lakes and streams, I’d rarely appreciated the beauty of the desert – until we discovered Sonoran Botanical Gardens. We even saw a rainbow. A promise was a good thing, because even then, we knew something was wrong with Dad.

Food - melting moments

The first week of February, I celebrated 25 years of being open for business at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, and my 60th birthday. We served Tomato Basil, Fresh Broccoli, Wonderful Wild Rice, and Potato Ham soups, egg salad and Monte Cristo sandwiches, Copenhagen Cream with Raspberries and my fancy homemade cookies. I hired a DJ and made up an eclectic set-list of favorite songs from 1957 on. It was a wonderful night and would be my Dad’s last time to come to an event at the Blue Belle.

baldners-dad

March brought a flurry of bad diagnosis and a roller coaster ride of hope and frustrations and searches for answers.

Zion - Sunset 2015 2

In April, Dad took his last “big trip” when he came down to Mark’s church in Hudson to listen to the M&MS and Zion’s worship team sing Life is Like a Mountain Railway, his favorite song. We practiced it several times for him because it made him so happy.

Ireland - flowers

In late May, Mark and I said goodbye to Dad at the ICU at Mayo. Dad had pneumonia. I hated leaving him, but we had tickets to Wales, Ireland and England. We compensated for our absence by calling him every night from whatever country we were in. We stayed at B & B’s, enjoyed taking photos of amazing castles, gardens, and beaches, as well as sampling delicious pub grub, smoked haddock, millionaire bars (caramel shortbread), meat pies, Battenberg cakes, and Irish stew. Our adventures on the Wild Atlantic Way along the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland inspired a new book, Seaside Daisy.

Ireland - daisy sea

Dad rallied and was still alive when we came home in mid-June. It seems like the whole summer went by in a blur. Dad had chemo and almost 70 blood transfusions. We almost lost him twice, once when he went into anaphylaxis shock and once when his platelets dropped to 1.7. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from all over the country to hug and cheer him on. Through it all, he kept his sense of humor and faith.

Dad - harvest

In the midst of the busyness, my new  release, Golden Rod, came out. I tried to remote it but my mind was on bigger things. In August it became apparent that more chemo was not an option. The process of acceptance that we were going to lose him began. Dad said it was sure too bad he had to miss his funeral because he knew the music would be great (lively bluegrass) and he’d get to see everyone he knew. When he first mentioned having a funeral rehearsal, we thought he was kidding.

Dad - pick-up

Sept 7, we kids hosted Everett Hansen Day at the Farm. Nearly 250 friends and family came for a potluck, greeted by a joyous, smiling Dad. During the next two months Dad was able to stay at home, and as was his goal, watch the harvest come in. My brothers and sister and I took turns spending the night in the double recliner next to him and enjoying many late night conversations.

Dad - creek

October was spent doubling back to the Blue Belle to serve over a hundred Seasoned Pork and Parmesan Stuffed Pumpkins to lunch guests by day, planning and writing murder mysteries by night, spending Wed, Thurs and Fri evenings with Dad, and worrying about him the rest of the week when we were down in Hudson.

Dad - casket

Dad died on November 7th. The actual funeral was everything Dad envisioned, with great bluegrass music. I started writing again on the 22nd, but switched to working on Daybreak in Denmark, a sequel to my first book, Night and Day, because the father character reminded me of Dad.

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

Gray December has been spent catching up on everything that didn’t get done this summer, trying to break out of the fog, and getting used to the “new normal” of not daily talking to Dad about what is going on in my life and hearing his jokes and advice. I’ve spent a lot of time crying. Comfort foods help for awhile and then make me feel worse. I am so thankful that I was able to spend so much time with Dad before he died, but the closeness has made it harder to adjust to him being gone.

bbinn-winter-2016

I think 2018 will bring more big changes in my life. I’m not sure what that means, but I sense it very strongly. I wonder where to go from here. Nothing is as much fun as it used to be, because I can’t tell Dad about it and hear his laughter or comments. Sometimes, I think I could just as well die too, but I have to finish Daybreak in Denmark first – as long as I’m half done already. We Hansens like to finish what we start, and like Dad, I find it very satisfying to watch the harvest come in.

Sunset 2014 Corn

I wish all of you happy endings in 2018. To those of you who have suffered losses in 2017, I pray you will find peace and joy in the New Year. Because it’s not the end, but a new beginning.

Daybreak in Denmark

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Why I’m Thankful that Writing is Good Therapy by Sherrie Hansen

Fine. I’ll admit it. Starting with my poetry writing days in the 1970s, I’ve worked through “issues” with old boyfriends, bosses, co-workers, ex-spouses, family members, random acquaintances and people I once considered friends by writing – most recently, using my imagination to transform them into hopefully unrecognizable characters in my books who can then be tortured, punished, rewarded, inappropriately loved and even killed.

Writing therapy is a wonderful by-product of being an author. With apologies to my brother, the psychologist, I believe it’s saved me thousands of dollars in counseling fees.

Dad - creek

Seriously, though – this Thanksgiving, I have many reasons for which to be thankful. I also have cause to grieve, having just lost my beloved father to leukemia on November 7th. My month has been filled with final foot rubs, long remembered conversations, and last words. My time has been taken up, not writing or trying to make a daily word count, but sleeping beside my Dad in the double recliner, rubbing his arm in the night when he didn’t feel well, and talking about “things” when one or the other of us couldn’t sleep.

Dad - daybreak

Days were filled with driving Dad around to his favorite farms so he could watch my brother bring the harvest in – for the first time, without him.

Dad - harvest

After Dad made the transition to his new home in heaven (which I truly believe is trimmed out in cherry wood, with crown moldings and one-of-a-kind solid wood doors that have a few knots, because while most people consider them a flaw, Dad thought they were “beauty-ful”), my days were spent rounding up a bluegrass band to play “Life is Like a Mountain Railway” at his funeral, making 18 dozen eggs into Hansen family sanctioned egg salad, and proofing Dad’s obituary and memorial flyers.

Dad - grandkids

I wouldn’t have missed a single moment that transpired or a single word that passed between us.

Earlier this fall, I fully intended to do NaNoWriMo, a writing challenge that asks you to commit to writing 1667 words a day for the month of November for a total of 50,000, or in my case, half of a book.

About the time my brothers and sister and I held a “Funeral Rehearsal” party for Dad that was attended by almost 250 people (at his request – he kept saying it was too bad he had to miss his funeral because the bluegrass music was going to be good, and he would like to see all his friends), I designed a mockup of a book cover and wrote a synopsis for Seaside Daisy.

Seaside Daisy

I’ve accomplished my NaNoWriMo goal for the last two years with Sweet William and Golden Rod and assumed I would do the same this year. But Seaside Daisy had nothing to do with Dad, and he’s all I can think about. Dad had never been to Ireland, where it’s set. He’s never lived by the sea, and to be honest, he probably would have thought Daisy was a flake.

Daybreak in Denmark

On November 22, I made a new cover file and wrote a new synopsis for Daybreak in Denmark, a long-planned but still unwritten sequel to my first novel, Night and Day. It’s the right book for a time such as this. Dad was half Danish and traveled to the island of Als almost 20 years ago to search for his extended family, who we’ lost touch with after World War II. If Dad was still alive, I could ask him about the farming bits, and reminisce about the interesting things we did in Denmark.

Dad - porch swing

The father figure in both Night and Day and Daybreak in Denmark is a dear man, a retired farmer with a fun sense of humor. It will be my honor to incorporate snippets of my Dad’s jokes and quirky Minnesota ways into this book.

Dad - combines

As an added bonus, Jensen has a cantankerous stepchild to contend with in this book. Why this will be therapeutic for me is a whole other story, and one I shouldn’t go into here. But trust me, this character is going to be a well-drawn, expertly crafted antagonist.

If you’ve lost a loved one recently or need to work through another sort of emotional issue over the holidays, I highly recommend writing. Get it out. Put it into words, or at least try. Journal, blog, or write a letter to the person you’re having troubles with and then tear it up or throw it in the fire. Whatever. Writing about it helps.

Dad - funeral spray

I’m thankful I got to spend as much time with my Dad as I did. I’m grateful for the hugs, loving words, and other expressions of sympathy shown to me, my husband and my family since his death. I’m grateful to have been raised and loved by a man who taught me so much – by word and example. My dad wasn’t a writer, or even a good reader, but he was a great storyteller. He was also an expert at repurposing rejected “stuff”, and a talented creator of beauty-ful things. I miss him so much, but I treasure my memories and the gifts that he gave me, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Dad - casket

 

Sherrie Hansen’s Bio:
Twenty-six years ago, with the help of her dad, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in Northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now spend their time in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Golden Rod” is Sherrie’s 10th book to be published by Indigo Sea Press, a mid-sized, independent press out of Winston Salem, NC.
You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor 

Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

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Carry On by Chuck Thurston

 

victorian-mourning

We were talking with old friends – a couple – that we had not seen for some time. It was the tail end of the holiday season. The grey of a gloomy day had darkened into a cold night. An outside light showed snow flurries swirling around the bare limbs and darkened evergreens. We were digging into memories of past times good and bad. The short days and long nights of the winter solstice often seem to invite these reflections. The setting and time of year lent itself to nostalgia.

We talked of the parties of long ago – the candles, the music, the gaiety, those then present; the several now gone. The lady said that she got in this mood after her father died, and that she missed him and grieved for his absence every day. I had not heard of her father’s death and told her I was sorry for her loss. I asked when it had happened. “Eight years ago,” she replied.

Had she lived in Victorian times, her job would have been much easier.

Back then the process was highly ritualized, and twelve months was considered appropriate for a child mourning a parent, or vice versa. If you’re wondering, yes, there was a sliding scale. A full two years was considered appropriate for a widow; first cousins merited only four weeks. Everyone else – a sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent, was somewhere in between.

The Victorians wore the appropriate clothes, conducted the appropriate ceremonies, had a lavish funeral and erected an ornate monument for the grave. Manuals and journals described the mourning etiquette in the event the survivors needed guidance. I am sure they continued to miss the departed for a longer or shorter period of time depending on the nature of the relationship, but as far as formal mourning went, they dropped it after the prescribed period.

Life then, if less complicated, was harsher. Household tasks had to be taken care of; farm or home tended to, children to be raised with few of today’s conveniences. In many cases efforts were begun to acquire a new mate or partner to fill the void. “There’s no limit to what a person can accomplish,” the saying is, “but they can rarely do it by themselves.” So it often seemed desirable in those days to hook up with another solo soul and carry on. My grandfather’s first wife died leaving him with nine children, and he wasted no time finding another mate.

The Victorians believed in curtailing social behavior for a set period of time, but that practice seems outmoded now. Many losing a loved one today feel obligated to advertise the extent of their pain across the internet. Perhaps this is a part of the healing process, but many of the posts are troubling; some are frightening in their description of despair and the feeling that life has lost much of its meaning.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. He later wrote that suicides were not uncommon under these brutal conditions. Two prisoners in his building were talked out of their intent to kill themselves. Others reminded them that they had important things yet to do. One had a child who had escaped to Canada and would want to join him after the war. The other was a noted scientist who had begun a series of books that only he could finish. When others reminded them of their duty to their future, they abandoned their suicide plans.

And that is key – our duty to the future. I do not know what cognizance the departed have of the lives they leave behind, but I would be saddened beyond belief if I knew that a loved one of mine was crippled with inconsolable grief by my going. It would seem to speak poorly of my earthly contributions to our happiness. Was the time we spent together so vapid and unfulfilling that he or she can’t summon up memories of shared joys to buffer the pain of my departure? If the spirits of the dead are permitted anger, I think mine would be angry.

For life is not a three-legged bag race. Barring some catastrophic event, one of a loving couple will die before the other. My wife and I brush on this topic now and then. One or the other of us usually mentions that it would be extremely difficult to carry on alone. But the answer to the statement that “I couldn’t go on without you,” is certainly, “Yes, you could; you must, really.” Each person will find the tools necessary to build a new life and directions for the path going forward. The tools are the good memories of years gone by. The path will reveal itself through them. Healing will commence, because it must; grief is not a career and doesn’t deserve that consideration.

So back to Viktor Frankl…how did he come through? Was he empowered by the knowledge that he had something important left to do? As a matter of fact he did. When he first entered the concentration camp he set three goals for himself. He first determined that he would survive; he made a commitment to use his medical skills to help where he could, and, remarkably – that he would learn something from the experience. His book, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” came out of the misery of Auschwitz.

Carry on.

 

Chuck Thurston lives and writes in Kannapolis, NC. His two volumes of Senior Scribbles (Unearthed and Second Dose) will be joined by a third in 2017: Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader. His work is available from the Indigo Sea Press and Amazon.

Joel Barker’s The Power of Vision documentary tells the story of Viktor Frankl.

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Carry On by Chuck Thurston

 

We were talking with old friends – a couple – that we had not seen for some time. It was the tail end of the holiday season. The grey of a gloomy day had darkened into a cold night. An outside light showed snow flurries swirling around the bare limbs and darkened evergreens. We were digging into memories of past times good and bad. The short days and long nights of the winter solstice often seem to invite these reflections. The setting and time of year lent itself to nostalgia.

We talked of the parties of long ago – the candles, the music, the gaiety, those then present; the several now gone. The lady said that she got in this mood after her father died, and that she missed him and grieved for his absence every day. I had not heard of her father’s death and told her I was sorry for her loss. I asked when it had happened. “Eight years ago,” she replied.

Had she lived in Victorian times, her job would have been much easier.

Back then the process was highly ritualized, and twelve months was considered appropriate for a child mourning a parent – or vice versa. If you’re wondering – yes, there was a sliding scale. A full two years was considered appropriate for a widow – first cousins merited only four weeks. Everyone else – a sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent – was somewhere in between.

The Victorians wore the appropriate clothes, conducted the appropriate ceremonies, had a lavish funeral and erected an ornate monument for the grave. Manuals and journals described the mourning etiquette in the event the survivors needed guidance. I am sure they continued to miss the departed for a longer or shorter period of time depending on the nature of the relationship, but as far as formal mourning went, they dropped it after the prescribed period.

Life then – if less complicated – was harsher. Household tasks had to be taken care of; farm or home tended to, children to be raised with few of today’s conveniences. In many cases efforts were begun to acquire a new mate or partner to fill the void. “There’s no limit to what a person can accomplish,” the saying is, “but they can rarely do it by themselves.” So it often seemed desirable in those days to hook up with another solo soul and carry on. My grandfather’s first wife died leaving him with nine children, and he wasted no time finding another mate.

The Victorians believed in curtailing social behavior for a set period of time, but that practice seems outmoded now. Many losing a loved one today feel obligated to advertise the extent of their pain across the internet. Perhaps this is a part of the healing process, but many of the posts are troubling; some are frightening in their description of despair and the feeling that life has lost much of its meaning.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. He later wrote that suicides were not uncommon under these brutal conditions. Two prisoners in his building were talked out of their intent to kill themselves. Others reminded them that they had important things yet to do. One had a child who had escaped to Canada and would want to join him after the war. The other was a noted scientist who had begun a series of books that only he could finish. When others reminded them of their duty to their future, they abandoned their suicide plans.

And that is key – our duty to the future. I do not know what cognizance the departed have of the lives they leave behind, but I would be saddened beyond belief if I knew that a loved one of mine was crippled with inconsolable grief by my going. It would seem to speak poorly of my earthly contributions to our happiness. Was the time we spent together so vapid and unfulfilling that he or she can’t summon up memories of shared joys to buffer the pain of my departure? If the spirits of the dead are permitted anger, I think mine would be angry.

For life is not a three-legged bag race. Barring some catastrophic event, one of a loving couple will die before the other. My wife and I brush on this topic now and then. One or the other of us usually mentions that it would be extremely difficult to carry on alone. But the answer to the statement that “I couldn’t go on without you,” is certainly, “Yes, you could; you must, really.” Each person will find the tools necessary to build a new life and directions for the path going forward. The tools are the good memories of years gone by. The path will reveal itself through them. Healing will commence, because it must; grief is not a career and doesn’t deserve that consideration.

So back to Viktor Frankl…how did he come through? Was he empowered by the knowledge that he had something important left to do? As a matter of fact he did. When he first entered the concentration camp he set three goals for himself. He first determined that he would survive; he made a commitment to use his medical skills to help where he could, and, remarkably – that he would learn something from the experience. His book, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” came out of the misery of Auschwitz.

Carry on.

 

 

Chuck Thurston lives and writes in Kannapolis, NC. His two volumes of Senior Scribbles (Unearthed and Second Dose) will be joined by a third in 2016: Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader.   ” Carry On” is an excerpt from that book.  His work is available from the Indigo Sea Press and Amazon.

I am indebted to Joel Barker’s The Power of Vision documentary which tells the story of Viktor Frankl.

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Excerpt From “Grief: The Great Yearning” by Pat Bertram

I never actually set out to write a book about grief, never planned to make any of my writing public (except for blog posts, of course), but I was so lost, so lonely, so sick with grief and bewildered by all I was experiencing, that the only way I could try to make sense of it all was to put my feelings into words. Whether I was writing letters to Jeff (my deceased life mate/soul mate) or simply pouring out my feelings in a journal, it helped me feel close to him, as if, once again, I was talking things over with him. The only problem was, I only heard my side of the story. He never told me how he felt about his dying and our separation. Did he feel as broken as I did? Did he feel amputated? Or was he simply glad to be shucked of his body, and perhaps even of me?

It’s been more than three years now since the following piece was written. I still don’t understand the purpose of pain, loss, suffering. Still don’t understand the nature of life or death. Still don’t know how energy can have cognizance, if in fact, consciousness survives death. The main difference is that the wound where he was amputated from me has healed. I don’t worry about him — at least not much — but I still miss him and I probably always will.

Excerpt from Grief: The Great Yearning

Day 115, Dear Jeff,

Did you use the phrase okie-doke one night at the end when you were saying all those jaunty things like “adios, compadre”? You must have. Every time I see or hear the expression, I start crying. Good thing it’s not in common usage any more.

I am hurtling away from you at incredible speeds. Maybe I’ll come full circle and meet with you again when my end arrives? I wish I believed that, but it makes no sense. How do sparks of energy have cognizance, character, memory? How would we know each other? At least I would no longer have to deal with your absence since I’d be absent too.

You came into my life so rapidly. One day you weren’t there, and the next you were. You went out the same way. One day you were there, the next you weren’t.

Yesterday someone told me that life on earth was an illusion and so you still existed. But if life is an illusion, why couldn’t it be a happy figment? A joyful one? What’s the point of pain? Of loss? Of suffering?

You’ve been gone one-hundred and fifteen days, and I still can’t make sense of it.

Adios, compadre. I hope you, at least, are at peace.

Click here to find out more about Grief: The Great Yearning

***

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.”

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Happy New New Year! by Pat Bertram

champagneWhen I looked at the day on my cell phone yesterday and noticed it was the 31st, my first thought was, “New Years Eve, already?” It felt good thinking that this year was over and that a new one would begin in just a few hours, but then the truth sank in — this year would not be over for another eleven months.

This has not been a good year so far — not the worst by a very wide margin, but not good, either. It began inexplicably with tears, and grief has been with me most of the month. (In less than two months, it will be three years since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and that anniversary looms large on my emotional horizon.)

It’s not just the grief upsurge that has made this a hard month — there have been too many disappointments and setbacks for such a new year. Friendships have ended, new hopes have not been realized, blog and book rankings have fallen. There have been some good things. For example, I was notified that Grief: The Great Yearning came in second place for a book award, but any pleasure in that recognition was destroyed when I got a follow-up email telling me I’d been demoted to third place. (I’m still reeling from that one. I’ve never heard of anyone being demoted before.)

I need a new start, and I’m going to make one. In a way, every day is the beginning of a new year, but today is also the beginning of a new month, which seems an auspicious time to begin anew. So . . .

Happy New New Year! Wishing you a great new start and much happiness during the coming months.

***

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.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing.

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Why I Write About Grief by Pat Bertram

I started writing about grief not only to make sense of my own feelings, but also as a rebellion against a society that reveres happiness at all costs.

To be honest, I never had any intention of getting personal in my online writing, but after my life mate/soul mate died, everything changed. I’d intended to keep my grief to myself and continue writing innocuous little posts, but I kept stumbling over people’s ignorance of grief. I found this ignorance in people I knew. (I will never forget those blank looks of incomprehension in people’s eyes when, sobbing, I told them about my loss. Sometimes they looked at me as if I were an alien species, or some kind of strange bug.)

And I found this ignorance in books I read.

One novelist dismissed her character’s grief at the death of his wife with a single sentence, “He went through all the five stages of grief.” Anyone who has gone through the multi-faceted grief of losing a soul mate knows that there are dozens of stages of grief (or none at all). You spiral round and round, in a dizzying whirl of emotions, not just shock and anger and sadness, but frustration, bitterness, yearning, hope, helplessness, confusion, loneliness, despair, guilt, questioning, angst over loss of faith, and you keep revisiting each of these emotions, hanging on the best you can, until ideally, you reach a place of peace and life opens up again.

Another novelist had her widow cry for a night then put aside her grief and get on with her life. Believe me, you can’t put aside such grief. It’s not just emotional but also physical, a ripping away of his presence from your soul, a deep-seated panic when your lizard brain realizes that half of your survival unit is gone, a body/mind bewilderment so great you can barely breathe. You don’t control raw grief. Grief controls you.

Not only did I discover that few people had any idea of the scope of such grief, most people selfishly urged the bereft to get on with their lives because they couldn’t bear to see their mother/sister/friend’s sadness.

There is something dreadfully wrong with a society that expects the bereft to hide their grief after a couple of months simply because it makes people uncomfortable to see outward shows of mourning. Seeing grief makes people realize how ephemeral their lives really are, and they can’t handle it (which leaves the bereft, who already feel isolated, totally alone with their sorrow.) It also cracks the facade of our relentlessly glass-half-full society.

Although I am a private person, not given to airing my problems in public, I thought it wrong to continue the charade that life goes on as normal after losing the person who made life worth living. So, over the past two-and-a-half years, I have made it my mission to tell the truth about grief. Even though I have mostly reached the stage of peace, and life is opening up again, at least a little bit, grief is still a part of my life. There is a void in my world — an absence — where he once was, and that void shadows me and probably always will. Although his death changed the circumstances of my life, thrusting me into an alien world, grief — living with it, dealing with it, accepting it — changed me . . . forever. It has made me who I am today and who I will become tomorrow — strong, confident, and able to handle anything that comes my way.

Would I prefer to have him in my life? Absolutely. But that is not an option. All I can do, all any of us can do, is deal with what lies before us, regardless of a society that frowns on mourning. It takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life after such a grievous loss, so the next time you see your mother, father, sister, daughter crying for her/his spouse, deal with it. Just because you’re no longer tearful, be aware that even though you have lost the same person, you have not lost the same connection. If it makes you sad to see her mourning, think how much sadder it is for her to experience that sorrow. Hug her, be there for her. Don’t hurry her through grief. She’ll find her way back to happiness in her own time.

***

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.”

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Grief: The Great Yearning by Pat Bertram

I never  set out to write a book about grief,  but I was so lost, so lonely, so sick with grief and bewildered by all I was experiencing, that the only way I could try to make sense of it was to put my feelings into words. Whether I was writing letters to my deceased life mate/soul mate or simply pouring out my feelings in a blog or a journal, writing helped me feel close to him, as if, once again, I was talking things over with him. The only problem was, I only heard my side of the story. He never told me how he felt about his dying and our separation. Did he feel as broken as I did? Did he feel amputated? Or was he simply glad to be shucked of his body, and perhaps even of me?

I wrote this letter to him exactly two years ago today. It shows some of the collateral effects of grief, such as the questioning, the yearning, the inability to make decisions. I did end up making a lot of decisions during that time. I decided to give up our home, get rid of about half of our things, donate his car to hospice. (I let them have him; it seemed only right to let them have his car.)

I still miss him, still hate that he’s dead, still question the meaning of life and death, still feel his absence like hole in the universe. I never expected to feel this sort of grief. Never knew it was possible.

Excerpt from Grief: The Great Yearning

Day 6, Letter

I started crying today and couldn’t stop. I had to go to town to break up the crying jag otherwise I might have cried all day. I’m glad you’ll never have to go through this. I cling to that thought—that your death spared you ever having to grieve for me. We did so much together, and now our paths have divided. I can’t yet follow you. Are you gone? Snuffed out forever? Or does something of you remain somewhere? Are you warm? Fed? Have plenty of cold liquids to drink? Thinking about what happened to you makes me sick to my stomach still. The days after your diagnosis went by too fast. I still can’t comprehend your suffering or your dying.

I sometimes hear noises out in the living room when I am in the bedroom, and my first thought is that it’s you. It comes as a shock when I realize . . . again . . . that you’re dead. I truly don’t know how to get along without you. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to get along without you. You were my life for so many years. I wonder what my future holds. Love? Success? Failure? Loneliness?

I still can’t decide if I want to get rid of almost everything we own or put it in storage. I know I’ll hate having reminders of everything I’ve lost, but perhaps there will come a time when our things bring me comfort?

I don’t know what to do about your car. Keep it? Sell it? Donate it?

I don’t suppose you want to hear about these indecisions, but they do loom in my thoughts. I talk to you all day, but when it comes time to write you, I can only think of such trivialities. Yet that’s what our life together ended up being. I wanted only the cosmically important things to be part of our shared life, yet it devolved into basic survival, errands, household chores. I’m keeping up with the chores. Sort of.

When I was at the grocery store, the clerk asked where you were, so I told her. She hugged me and cried with me. Not enough tears have been shed for you—no amount of tears will ever be enough—so those tears gave me comfort. Your life—and death—shouldn’t pass lightly.

Click here to find out more about Grief: The Great Yearning

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Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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Schuyler RIP

We lost a cat recently. He was one of the “legendary” one. Every lover of the domestic feline knows what I mean. These cats have strong personalities and compelling backstories, rather like the best kind of character.

Cat owners usually have a pair or more of the furry dominators in residence, and this is because   “You can’t have just one” is as true of cats as it is of potato chips. The standouts aren’t common. You may only host two or three of these in a lifetime of pet parenthood. It isn’t just that these special cats are sociable, interested  in the doings of their owners and in keeping them company. These cats possess an elusive, mystical aura.  

Schuyler came off the hard streets of an adjacent comatose steel town. He was about two years old when we found him at that Humane Society, with a tail broken in several places and a bad hip.  He called to us, then reached through the cage bars to hook my sleeve. It didn’t take my husband and I long to realize he was the one. We learned that he had been dropped off by some people who couldn’t keep him, but thought well enough of him to try this last resort method of finding him a home. I was working on Revolutionary War  novels at that time, and already had a “Hamilton,” so he was named for another favorite character: “Major General Philip Schuyler.”

He was skinny and roman-nosed. He would always favor one back leg, but when our Vet first checked him out, she said he was basically healthy. “Just feed him up, and he’ll be fine,” was her advice. As you can see from the picture, “feeding him up” was not a problem.

There were three other cats here when he came, but he quickly promoted himself to what the German’s call “Furst” a/k/a  Top Cat. I don’t remember much fighting, but his long Tom-Cat-hood and streetfighting experience probably gave him the edge to psych out his new mates. Schuyler quickly became my husband’s favorite. He spent most of his fourteen years either in his lap or curled up beside him.  He greeted Chris when he came home from work, and said good-bye, too, every morning.  Sky stayed with him tirelessly while my husband endured a slow recovery from cancer surgery.

He was a pretty cat, the kind you’d see in a Flemish painting, curled on a bench in a black-and-white tiled kitchen scene. He had pink paws and a pink nose and shell pink ears. One of my online friends, seeing his picture, observed that he had “TES.” I had never heard of TES, so she explained that her cat also had this condition. She said it meant “translucent ear syndrome.”

Sky was a hunter, as you’d expect from an ex-stray, and merciless to mousies and voles. Many mornings we found them laid as offerings on our front steps. He had a musical purr. He also had a great fondness for doughnuts. We quickly learned that we had to hide these inside a cupboard, because if we simply set them on the counter, they’d be on the floor in the next second, the bag torn apart, the contents spilled and hastily gobbled. So much for the notion that cats don’t enjoy sugar!

Sadly, he’s with his mates now, in our pet necropolis. This autumn, I’ll plant daffodils on his grave. RIP Schuyler.

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Tripping Down Memory Lane

Everything I write has a memory connected to it. Like a retro song heard on an oldies station, words I’ve put on paper evoke where I was at the time I wrote them.

Some of my earliest writings as an adult were done when my kids were young. As a young widowed mother with two early elementary children, I can see the emotions of that time coming out in some of my words. The overprotective nature of my parenting shows very clearly. The sorrow of the time does, too.

Moving on as my two rugrats emerge into their rebellious teens, my writing takes a sharper turn. It was like I channeled their angst into my own stories. Their teenage search for identities became a focal point in my tales by way of the confusion of a flawed protagonist.

During that same time, I went back to school for my degree. I’d never really questioned my beliefs, but something about college, even when you’re sort of all grown up, something about the atmosphere makes you wonder about the world beyond the one you’ve been taught. I questioned, I stopped believing in certain things, and formed my own opinion. This time reflects in a slightly agnostic tone in many of my stories from those years.

An upheaval in my extended family shows in the style of my writing during the early 2000’s. Chaos was king during that time. Situations were masked and nothing was as it seemed. The world was not what it looked like – an undercurrent of unease ran through my tales.

Over the past few years, a grimness pervaded my words. I look back now and realize it was precognitive. I was being prepared, through a type of emotional channeling, for the worst year of my life. I can’t say whether this was a good or bad thing, this precursor of events to come; it simply was.

Last year, I wrote with a heavy heart and the common theme was untimely death. My nonstop grief was evident. Some of those writings are locked away; I recall them, but I never want to look at the words I put on paper. I’m afraid I’ll unleash a monster that will sweep over me and drag me in the wake of despair.

Today is another day, however. I will write. It’s a part of me and, although I’ll always immortalize my own feelings through my writing, it won’t stop me. I refuse to let my writing cripple me; instead, I will embrace it, pat its back and send it on its way.

Whether you’re writing or reading, do you remember where you were in your life when you look back over stories you’ve written or read? Please share some of your textual milestones.

J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and about thirty works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch

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