Grief-The Universal Emotion

I have, yet again, been thinking a lot about grief. My online dictionary defines grief as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” Then there is that bible study I remember from my childhood. A biblical scholar could probably name the book and verse, but I just remember the message. There was a mother whose child had died. She asked Jesus to bring her baby back to life. He told her to visit the village, find one household that had not suffered loss. If she could find one, he would bring her baby back. She toured the village, she was not successful. But she came back changed. She realized she was not alone. Loss, and grief, are universal truths. Loss is defined as “the state of being deprived of or being without something that one has had.”

After Jim died, I wrote about grief. I wrote a lot, almost everyday, at least a few times a week. It was a way to ease my suffering and my sorrow. It was cathartic. I also read a lot about grief. I subscribed to a widow’s blog, where different folks wrote once per week about their grief process. It was important for me to know that I was not alone. I was looking for a road map, a way to make it through a valley that in many ways felt darker than death. In writing and reading, I was looking for light in the darkness, joy in my sorrow. I found some. It helped.

As time and healing went on, I wrote less. Days would go by where I read the news instead of widow blogs. I came to realize that there was no emerging on the other side of grief, but I became more comfortable with it inside of me. I absorbed it, and let it just be part of who I now am. I also realized that I had nothing new to say. Loss and grief are universal truths. There was nothing I could write that had not already been written, and by someone trained to write more than evaluation reports.

I fell in love again. I married a man that I met when he was recently separated, and then divorced. I once had a friend tell me that of the two pivotal events in his life, cancer and divorce, the loss of love was much harder to bear. Cancer was not personal, his divorce was filled with painful regrets. I got to see this first hand with my new husband.  My personal grief did not go away, but it expanded to include his.

Everywhere we turn, there is loss and grief. I spent yesterday skiing at the Palouse Divide. It was the John Crock Memorial Cabin dedication. I spent some time following his beautiful widow down the trail. The late Nancy Taylor’s husband was up there with his new girlfriend, we swapped taking photos. Today is the 1 year anniversary of the shootings in Moscow that killed 3 members of our close knit community. There are multiple occasions going on in town for that event. Friends and family of mine made it through their first holiday season without a spouse or partner, parent or child, that they lost to death, divorce, or separation. Folks are newly diagnosed with terminal diseases or life altering conditions. Everyone is scrambling to find a new normal.

Grief is a universal emotion. If we love, we risk loss. We will lose the people we love, the places we care for, our old passions and livelihoods. We will lose our youth, our health, and eventually our own lives. I don’t say this to dismiss our keen mental suffering. It is a perfectly normal response to feel sharp sorrow. I also know that, just because I have been “on the front lines”, does not mean that I have any magic words to make your sorrow better, to take away your suffering. I just hope we can all take comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

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Never Forget

Family ForeverIt is Friday, September 11. 9/11 is a day that flags fly at half mast. 9/11 is a day most of the country, if not the world, will never forget. We stop for a moment. We think of where we were then, how the day unfolded, who we were with, what happened in the immediate aftermath and in the months to come. And why. The whole world is still pondering the why.

Giving Back6 years ago, on Friday September 11, a surgeon removed a good chunk of Jim’s left frontal lobe and confirmed a diagnosis of glioblastoma. I still ponder why. I remember what happened in the immediate aftermath and in the months to come. I remember my kids arriving and the friends that surrounded us with so much love. I remember how very long that day was. I remember collapsing, finally, into a puddle of tears on the hospital lawn late that night.

Better ManI have the day off of work. I think I will ride my bike on the trails that are Jim’s legacy. I will stop. I will never forget.

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I Ran

RunI’ve been told that as a little tyke, I was late to walk. Doesn’t surprise me given my basic lack of coordination and balance in any sport that actually requires that. I don’t remember, so I can’t tell you when I started running.

I know that as a young kid, I wanted to be able to go into the woods down the street like my brother. I was not allowed to. I would sneak out and follow him anyway. Then I worried about getting into trouble, so headed for home. I ran.

Then I learned about stranger danger, and was petrified to walk home from diving practice alone after dark. My parents refused to give me a ride the 1.5 blocks home in a safe suburban neighborhood. I ran.

A group of girls would gather after dark at the high school track. They would talk about boys. I ran.

I went to a track meet in high school and watched a young lady run the mile. Knowing I could at least beat her, I went out for the team the next year. My coach thought he had a new Freshman. I was a Senior. I ran.

I worked at a camp in the summer, and would head out after all the staff was supposed to be in bed so I could spend more time with my boyfriend. At about 2 am, after one more kiss and knowing that in less than 4 hours we’d be in charge of 10+ kids, we parted ways for bed. I ran.

In college, I did not know anyone. My roommate was potluck, and most of my high school friends stayed behind. A friend from that same camp told me about 10k runs…and that there were very few women runners. I ran.

I had a friend in PT school, who also ran. We would solve all the problems of the world in the three miles we could fit in between classes. We ran.

Another friend signed up for the 20 mile race from Madison to Stoughton, but then had a schedule conflict. She asked me if I wanted her entry. I ran.

I worked in Glacier Park for a summer with my fiance, and met 2 girls that had to stay in shape for X-Country in the Fall. We met early in the morning, and often hiked late into the evening. We ran.

I worked at another summer camp, and found, during training, another counselor who was training for a marathon. We ran.

When my engagement broke up, this same friend told me about a cabin in Tahoe that needed a caretaker for the winter. The snow was hip deep most mornings. I ran.

I met Jim in Tahoe when he was a biathlete recovering from back surgery. A few years later, after much healing, he wanted me to move to Corvallis where he was in graduate school. I was torn between that or the Mid-West where I had family and friends (including another boy). I knew that if I moved back to Chicago, it would not be safe to run there in the morning. I chose Jim. I ran.

We had little tykes, and I just needed a 30 minute break from their beautiful faces. Jim would man the fort. I ran.

Our border collie got older, and could not mtn bike anymore. We ran.

The dog died. I missed someone/something counting on me for a run, so I asked a couple of women I knew if I could join them on their shorter marathon training runs. I got another dog. We ran.

The women finished their marathon and the group morphed and changed. We settled into just 2 of us, and then we were 3. We ran.

Jim built trails on Moscow Mountain. It kept him away from home a lot. Most of the trails were too steep or technical for me to bike. I ran.

Jim got sick. It was incredibly stressful. knowing I had 2 other women and a dog counting on me to just show up kept me sane. We ran.

We talked. We ran. We cried….well that made us walk sometimes. We met at the same place and the same time 2 days per week no matter what the weather. Folks called us….dedicated, when they really wanted to say crazy. We ran.

Jim got really sick and started to need more and more care. I timed all his drugs so that I could be pretty sure he would sleep until 7 am. We ran.

Jim died. We ran.

I visited my kids in far away towns. I always brought my shoes. I ran.

I met Greg. He was into yoga and horses and lived in the boonies outside of the wind farm. I ran there, but I also would drive into town to meet the girls. We ran.

I learned that new love was fabulous and comforting, and that it was truly OK to be in love and yet have separate passions. Greg did not have to run. I had my girls. We ran.

We moved and in the process I started having knee pain. I listened. I stopped running for 6 weeks. I went on the river. I tried to bike and do yoga. My knee felt better, sorta. I had a wedding coming up. I was a little stressed. I found out that running uphill felt great, so I had Greg drop me at the Palouse river on his way to work. I ran.

The girls came out here to go with me until I could do 4+ miles again. We ran.

I decided to get my knee looked at. I got over my PTSD of the Gritman MRI center and had a picture or 10,000 taken. I met with the orthopod yesterday. Wanting it be at least slightly symptomatic for the appointment, I agreed to do the usual 4.7 miles on mostly pavement with the girls the morning before. We ran.

He says it would be good to scope it and clean out the debris of the torn meniscus. He also says that degenerative arthritis is setting in. Minimal now, but will get worse much quicker if I run. He’s advising that I stop running.

I don’t know how to do this.

orthopod note

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Grief Regression and Progression

I am coming off of a sad week. I’ve said before that grief is cumulative, and I still agree. Every loss brings up previous loss. Living with an open heart welcomes in the beauty and joy of this life, but it also allows in the pain and suffering.

On Tuesday, I finally got over my PTSD of the Gritman imaging center and went in for an MRI of my left knee. It had been bothering me for a few months, but with a wedding and endless house projects leading up to that, there just wasn’t time. Got a call later that day to find out my mom’s dog died. Less than a week before, he was still leaping 6 ft fences in a  single bound. A few days of lethargy, one missed meal, and a lick on the hand rather than a mid-air slurp of my nose alerted my mom that something was definitely not right. A trip to the vet, a large mass, most likely cancerous, bleeding into his abdomen. He never came home from the vets. I cried.buddies

On Thursday, it was Jim and my wedding anniversary. Being newly remarried, I was not sure what to do with this day. I woke up sad, I ran, I went to work, the day passed and I think I was the only person to remember the date. I got a message that afternoon that one of the babies I work with had died that morning after a long and heart breaking illness. The combination of relief and grief is especially hard to process.  I cried.August 2006

On Friday, I had breakfast with another widow here in our community. She is just a few months out, and we talked about details like how long you wear your wedding ring and credit cards. We discussed the whole PTSD of emergency rooms, MRI images and hospitals. How our kids are handling their grief, and the pros and cons of staying put vs moving as far away as possible. We talked of the “sanctification” of the dead spouse, and how difficult that is when you remember the bad times alongside of the good. Breakfast ended. We went our separate ways with a promise to meet again soon. I cried.

This weekend, I lost myself in chainsaw work and yoga classes. Making and eating good food. Hugs from my honey and conversations with good friends. Touched base with both of my kids and spent time with all the furry creatures in my life. It’s hard to remain sad when I am so surrounded by such abundance. Happily Ever After?

This morning, I got my MRI results. Torn meniscus with bony and cartilaginous bruising. As I suspected, but a bit of a bummer none-the-less. I did not cry, and I will run tomorrow.

For today, I will go to my little guy’s funeral service. I will stop at my mom’s and pick up all the scrap lumber she salvaged from her 6 foot fence extension to turn it into a chicken coop in the Spring. I will realize that just like Jim was not a saint, neither am I, and that, perhaps, is a harder realization than anything else. Just because I lived through his death does not make me immune to future pain and suffering. I am no more equipped than anyone else to have the right things to say or do in the face of someone else’s sorrow.  Just because Jim and I made it “til death do us part” doesn’t mean this current marriage is happily ever after without effort, resettling of priorities, and thoughtful communication. This afternoon, I will continue battle with sweet briar roses, I will kiss that sweet man when he comes home, and I will do a little research to be better prepared for my upcoming orthopedic consult on my knee. I will sleep in the arms of the man I married, and feel blessed far beyond what I deserve. Just Married

Perhaps the greatest comfort of all is in knowing that we are all individuals and we are all human. I cannot take away the pain and suffering of another, but I can stand by and bear witness.  Everyone walks through the valley that is darker than death, they must walk alone, but everyone walks it. Grief is as unique as the circumstance, yet universal. It is the price we pay for love. I will cry, but I will also laugh.

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Snow CountryGreg and I are in Utah. He is here for work meetings, and I tagged along. We are staying in snow country for the first few days, and will descend to sunshine and 80 degrees by the weekend. I brought gortex and hiking boots, shorts and flip flops. Greg needed the car today, so I went for a long walk…and then I slept all afternoon. We are staying at a ski resort. It is beautiful, but too warm for good snow. Strangely, I feel no compulsion to ski. Perhaps it is the crappy snow. Perhaps it is being suddenly thrust into 9000 ft of elevation with its corresponding fatigue. Perhaps, gasp, I am getting older. Perhaps I am just plain tired. Perhaps I just want my partner by my side as I explore new places, sights and smells. Whatever it is, it feels good to be gentle with myself for a day.

The Moscow HouseNow that the Moscow house has sold, I finally feel free to dream about the new abode. Waking up every morning to the sound of thrushes, outside chores that involve my body and my mind, coyotes singing every afternoon as the sun descends beyond the ridge, and waking up in the night to true darkness rather than mistaking a street light filtered through the curtains for the moon. On the plane to Utah, Greg and I worked on lists. List of things that we dream of for the place. Lists of those things the contractors need to do, those we will do together, and those that we alone need to take care of. Lists of what needs to be done this summer before the wedding, what can happen late summer, and what can be put off for another year. As we were driving from the airport yesterday, Greg’s coworker asked about our plans for a honeymoon. It wasn’t on either one of our lists.

The kidsAs a kid, I got sucked into what the media said love should look like. Fall in love. Get married. Go on a honeymoon to some exotic local, preferably with sugar sand beaches and drinks with umbrellas. After the honeymoon, settle back into a cute house, have a few kids and live happily ever after. It was a nice dream, and remained largely intact, tempered only by the addition of getting through college and getting a real job first. Then the guy I had fallen in love with, the guy I was engaged to, the guy I had made plans with for that honeymoon and that cute house somewhere out west, abruptly dumped me. Whoa, I had to revise my dream.

Then I met Jim. I did fall in love. We did get married, and we joked that we had a mortgage, a station wagon, a dog, the two kids, and would grow old bizarrely together. We worked our way out of debt, replaced the station wagon with a truck, buried one dog and adopted another, and fed those 2 kids until they were all grown up. We learned that happily ever after meant a lot of hard work, and I learned that illness and death can bring a pretty abrupt end to the dream of growing old together. By the time we met, I knew that I would go stir crazy lying on a beach, and that sugary drinks gave me an instant head ache. I had moved West, and that meant family and friends were traveling from all over the country for our wedding. We did not want to say good bye to all of them after just one afternoon, so we took 13 of them down the Rogue River on a 4 day float trip. We rowed and cooked food. Our good friend Mikey staked out the honeymoon suite at every camp. We drank beer instead of Mai Tais, and some of the beach camps had sand.

Rudd RdIt is different to fall in love after 50. Different to be with someone that does not share my history. Different to be widowed, and have a partner who grew up with another woman. I understand that happiness takes work, and I welcome that. I hope to grow old with Greg, but I know, acutely, that there are no guarantees. Folks will be traveling from all over the country for our wedding. We will not want to see them for just an afternoon and then say good bye. After a year of building and bleeding money in that process, I feel no need for a trip to an exotic locale, and anything more than a single beer or a glass of wine just results in night waking and hot flashes. Since the first of this year, I have been spending all of my spare time readying the Moscow house for sale, and Greg has taken on the lion’s share of decisions for the new place. If we are lucky, we see each other early in the morning, and have dinner together long after dark. To me, having just one place, and sharing that place with our loved ones is all the honeymoon I need.

Inside Rudd RdGreg is on his way back to the resort from his day long meetings. He has dinner tonight with the guys, where the talk will be all shop. He has advised, and I have concurred, that it would be best that I not join them. I’ll grab a salad and a single glass of wine and head to bed early. Tomorrow, the guys all leave and we have a few days off to explore and be together during waking hours. Having him by my side as we hike, drive, eat, and sleep is all the honeymoon I need.Multitasking

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The Wallowas-Nowhere and Everywhere

I went into the Wallowas over New Years this year. Jasper was on a 3 week break from OSU, home for the holidays, which is about 2 weeks too long for a young man of his age to be idle. There were many mornings I awoke only a few hours after he had gone to sleep, and many nights I fell into slumber listening to the tapping of his country dancing boots on the kitchen floor. Jasper needed some real exercise, I needed some time away from trying to balance building a house with nesting in the one I have. We snagged an invite to the Wallowas….and we took it.

The Wallowas are a loaded place for me. My first trip up there, I was pregnant with Emerald. Less than a month later, the owner and his head guide were caught in an avalanche, and Jim scored a guiding gig for the remainder of the winter as they healed from their injuries. My second time up that 7 mile skin track, we towed Emerald in a sled and I was pregnant with Jasper. Emerald was in the middle of potty training, and pulling her out of the sled, out of her snow clothes, and trying to perch her over an outhouse was what I mostly remember. After that, hauling 2 kids up there until they were big enough to at least carry themselves was out of the question. So Jim guided over the winter school break, and I got a free trip in exchange, sometime in the Spring. I skied with more mellow folks. I learned to appreciate snow that didn’t have danger written all over it. Then Jim and I scored a solo weekend, just the 2 of us in the basin for 4 glorious bluebird days. It kept us married for quite a few more years. Finally, the kids were big enough, and we embarked on a trip that the kids will always remember for the snow that was truly rain, and dad’s quote, as the thermometer registered 40˚, “It’s not rain, it’s graupel!” The only thing to do was make anatomically correct snowpeople, sleep, and play games. Suited the kids and I just fine. We went higher in subsequent years, and never ran into groppel again. The last time up there for me, I was carrying Jim’s ashes, asking his ski buddies to help me hurl them into the basin beyond, and I was so worn out, I couldn’t climb anything for fear of falling, and never wanting to get back up. I knew when I said yes to this trip, that it was a loaded place for me.

Jasper and I headed into the Wallowas. It was very cold the morning we left, and not being of very large stature, I could not stand around. I helped one of the new kids adjust his bindings, and then I took off. I’ve always been a weak link on the climb, and figured they’d catch me, as I am slow. After a couple of miles, I realized that no one was behind me. I fretted a bit about leaving M+J with all the kids….til I realized that not a one of them was under the age of 20, and therefore, there were no kids. I slipped into a walking meditation, that lasted for 7 solid miles. Drinking water to keep it from freezing, one foot in front of the other, making yellow snow (drinking enough will do that), and eating a bite when the energy got low, I hit the yurts. This time, I fed the fire. I dug out the sleeping yurt and the outhouse and the sauna. The porters had been up before us, stashed all of our food, had set trail, broken open the ice on the creek, and collected our water. It really wasn’t that hard. I was warm and toasty when everyone else finally arrived.

We had a couple of glorious days of skiing. The snow was perfect, the pace was slow, the slopes we chose were never dangerous, and the camp time was cozy and full of chatter and music. There was no graupel, but there was also no digging of avalanche pits on slopes I could barely stand on, let alone ski down. There was no fear, only gratitude for being in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges I know, with people I love. The last night there, I went down to the creek to recover the dipper we used to collect water. I don’t haul water anymore, that is what 20 year old boys are for. The moon was out, the diamonds were dancing on the snow. I wept, and I did not know if they were tears of sadness or of joy.

Jasper and I had to leave a day before everyone else because he had a flight to catch. He could not miss the first Monday of school, that is when his dance classes are scheduled. As just the two of us descended the 9 miles back to the truck, I realized something. I thought Jim would be everywhere in those mountains for me, and he was nowhere. When Jim knew he was dying, he stated, “You will look for me everywhere, and I will be nowhere.” I am just beginning to fathom what he meant.  When I finally caught up to Jasper, I tried to express this to him. He said, “Yea, it was a great trip. I learned early in life that the best part of any outdoor adventure is the camp, the cocoa, the stories and the music.  AND, we had great snow without the fear and the faceplants!” I realized that Jim is the Wallowas, and the Wallowas are Jim. I don’t have to miss him, those mountains are going nowhere. And, the best parts of Jim are embodied in his son. Tears of gratefulness.

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Being a Girl

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