I have not felt like writing lately. This blog has a title and a theme. I started it as a way to help me process my grief over losing Jim to brain cancer. It was about surviving and thriving in that valley that is darker than death. I wrote to remember, I wrote to figure out how to live on, I wrote in hopes that my process might mirror someone else’s, and they would, therefore, feel less alone. I wrote stories of the past, I shared what was going on in my heart in the here and now. I did not write of the future, because I was not sure I had one. If I did, I had no clue how to picture it. I am no longer living in that dark valley, I am envisioning a future. My current life feels personal, a bit private, and oh so precious. It does not make for good writing, but the living has been beautiful.
A while ago, I was given an assignment. I was asked to write down the significant events in my life where I really felt a change. Times when I emerged a different person than I was when I entered. A timeline of my life. Phases interrupted by pivotal shifts. It was a good project, and one that I am still processing. My first “aha” occurred when I realized that my sister’s death was not a significant event, but rather lumped into all the experiences that resulted in me leaving Lake Tahoe and moving to Corvallis. This realization was a bit of a shock, but it reframed my thinking. What if Jim’s illness and death were just an experience at this time of my life? Just one of many parts that are making up this shift I am in the middle of now? What other things are occurring in my life that are pushing or pulling me in directions that I need to be paying attention to? I will always be Jim’s widow, but that is not all of who I am, and it feels like a lazy cop-out to rely on that for sole/soul identity. Who am I, and for the first time in a long time, where am I going? This was a good, and hard, assignment.
Under age 15, I was a child. I grew up in a secure, loving home with parents that introduced me to the joy of activity and passion for the out-of-doors and a good book. I had my first in a series of boyfriends, and I learned the wonders of kissing those boys. Within a year, my parents divorced, home was no longer such a happy place. I made plans, applied, and left home and boyfriends to be on my own as a college student.
I made life long friends while at the University of WI. My brother was there, and my sister eventually joined me. I fell deeply in love for the first time with a boy who asked me to marry him by gifting me a canoe paddle. Engaged and happy, I chose a career in physical therapy. I was contentedly finishing up my internships, when the bomb dropped. My fiancé dumped me, he no longer loved me, all plans for moving west together after graduation were off.
One of those lifelong friends offered me the unpaid but rent-free option of care-taking the Stanford ski team cabin in Lake Tahoe. With a bright orange Ford Fiesta and $600 cash, I moved west anyway. I quickly found full-time work as a physical therapist, and discovered the joys of skiing and mountain biking. I moved in with a boy and learned all about the give and take of living with someone. My sister came to visit and decided to move closer to me. She died in route. I became dissatisfied and bored with my sports medicine job. I realized that though my boyfriend was a great roommate and friend, that our life-long dreams were not compatible. I wanted a home and a family, he did not. Hard to compromise on those things.
I moved to Corvallis. I married Jim. We went into the Peace Corps where we were assaulted, effectively killing dreams of international work. Jim emerged from that experience convinced that teaching was his calling. Already deeply in debt from his undergraduate and graduate education, I put him through one more year of school. The only job offer he got was for a half-time position in Moscow. We left our beloved state of OR and moved to Idaho.
Within a week I was pregnant with Emerald. 3 years later, Jasper joined us. Jim bought a lifetime membership to the food co-op and I realized we were going to get to stay. We built a family and we made a home. Careers progressed, children grew, and community ties deepened. We struggled in our relationship, we worked through it, we were happy. Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer, our community gathered around and supported us. He died. I endured the chaos of grief and loss as I dealt with his death and launched first one, then both, kids firmly out of my now very empty nest. My children will always be with me, but they live in different states. This community and the canyons and mountains of Idaho will always be my home, but this house no longer holds my heart.
Every soul shift in my life was preceded by a period of great disequilibrium and loss was a common thread. Perhaps losing someone or something that I’d truly loved ripped open my heart, emptied it, and made room for the new. Perhaps entering that valley of darkness allowed the universe to tell me what was next, or just allowed me to listen. I am emerging from the valley. I am envisioning a future. There is light at the end of this tunnel and I am walking towards it. I am happy.