Well, it is that time of year again. The Fall color is disappearing. It is blustery, and rainy. I contemplate planting my kitchen floor in a cover crop rather than sweeping up the mud constantly tracked in by the dog. It is dark when I leave for swimming or running. It is dark when the workout is through. It is time to buy Halloween candy, then buy some more, because half of it will help me to put on the 2# of blubber insurance against winter illness. This year, the transition seems more abrupt. We went from 84 days of no precipitation and wildfires to snow in the high country. It is now warming again, which means most of that will melt, but at least the smoke is gone. Every year there is one 3-4 day time frame where the transition occurs, and we’ve just gone through it.
The change from sun to snow is especially hard for me. It marks the season that Jim was diagnosed and the reality of cancer seeped into our lives. I think of that Fall, all the community support, and the horror and hope of daily trips to radiation and weekly oncology. It also holds the memories of the last few months of his life. It all seems like a lifetime ago, and yet it feels like yesterday. Emerald was out on a field course with Wild Rocky Field Institute, where she is now employed as a work-study student. Jasper was starting to think about college, where he is now in the midst of midterms. I was wondering how much longer I could continue to work and coordinate all of Jim’s final care, and now I am back in the full swing of a school year schedule. That year the transition held off until just after Jim died. It was as if the universe knew that Jim seeing the snow, and knowing he could not play in it, would break his heart. The weekend after Jim died, we had a windstorm that toppled massive trees on the bike trails on Moscow Mountain. By the time of his memorial, travelers were dealing with impressive snow. An abrupt transition, indeed.
Jim always disliked October/November. Boating and mountain bike season were through, ski season still felt a long way off. Back in a school year schedule, there was little time for afternoon workouts, and weekend weather was often messing with his plans. When Jim needed to schedule elective surgery…a foot neuroma, a vasectomy…it was no surprise that they were scheduled for Fall. He got lights for his mountain bike, and oiled up his hiking boots for the mud…but he was never truly happy until the snow started to fly, and to stick. I always secretly liked this time of year. I liked the dark mornings, Orion again guarded my way. I could read on the couch guilt free. Jim, though grumpy, was home for dinner more. I had help, or at least company, in the kitchen. We went to bed earlier, and snuggled….because everyone knows that the best foreplay is help with the dishes. I’m pretty sure he liked that part of the season.
In the widow world, it is commonly known that the anniversary of your spouse’s death is hard. No matter where you are on the journey, those dates hold hard memories. It is not just a day, it is often the weeks leading up to it. They refer to it as the death march. The actual anticipation of that grief can hit you blind side. I knew this time of year would be hard….and so I did everything I could to fight it. I scheduled a conference in Boise, cause I knew that getting out of dodge always helps. I made reservations for a group of friends to gather at Burgdorf, because being sad is not so bad when I am in the nest of my friend’s arms. When I got home from my conference I went out to hear live music, and the next day decided that climbing up out of the mud and into the snow would be just what the doctor ordered. I thought I could get through this transition to the other side of the anniversary with some grace.
But, as I have said before, and will likely have to learn over and over again, “no matter where you go, there you are.” Putting my feet in the Salmon River and a snowy evening in McCall just bring back the history of my marriage. I adore live music, but when one of Jim’s old music partners sings “Wagon Wheel”, the hole in my heart feels huge. Seeing Sadie’s joy in finally being let off of a leash, watching the miracle of a whole pig being lifted from the ashes after 12 hours underground, romping in the snow to the top of the tippy top…doesn’t take away that I am still so sad sometimes. I left the mountain top rather abruptly. People don’t expect sad from me at this point in the journey, and I knew it was gonna get ugly. There was nothing graceful about my descent. I cried my way all the way back to the truck. Home, showered, dog fed, I crawled into bed to finish crying myself to sleep. Only to be awoken an hour later by a friend, insisting I eat supper, putting on clothes, going out with friends for a wee bit of dancing. Joy and sorrow are indeed strange bedfellows…and the transition from one to another boggles anyone that has not lived in the land of grief.
I still miss Jim, I miss the place in life allotted me by being his wife. This transition to the other side of grief, this transition to a life that no longer includes him, is anything but abrupt. I am learning to embrace it. I will likely always struggle at the sun to snow transition. I’m trying hard to be patient with myself. I am learning that people love me even when I am sad, and that it is all just part of letting go. As Mary Oliver says so beautifully:
To live in this world, you must be able to do three things:
To love what is mortal.
To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it.