Life and loss

In my last post, I wrote about my despair at what is happening in the US. I thought that blogging every day might help me navigate it. I had good intentions.

That night I woke up in the wee hours (hello menopause) and looked at my phone. It was 4:30 and I had a text from my brother, who had gone to New Mexico just the day before, summoned by my father in a dream, to be at Mom’s bedside:

Mom … is resting in peace. 

What? Is she sleeping? Is she dead? I didn’t know. Yes, I did know. How could she have gone? She, who hung onto life with every fiber in her being?

I got on a plane at 7:00 — my superior packing skills come in handy at moments like these — and went to join him. My two other siblings also boarded planes from their own corners of the Earth.

As I sit here writing, a month and a half later, waiting for a prospective buyer to come and look at our house, a petal falls from a tulip in a vase on our table. Another. It’s raining outside. It has been cold and wet for weeks. Nothing is blooming. It’s all gray sky, gross mud and green slime.

The first night in Mom’s house, unable to sleep, I wandered around and felt her presence there, and it scared me. This last year had been excruciatingly difficult for her. In fact, since my father died seven years ago, she had been suffering, both physically and emotionally, without interruption. We did our best to accompany her from one medical intervention to the next, from one crisis to the next, one hospitalization to the next. I want to think that she is finally at peace. But that night her spirit was still roaming the halls of her house, unwilling to relinquish everything she had built and held on to with such tenacity.

For a week and a half my siblings and I worked to dismantle the edifice of material things she had surrounded herself with to help her feel safe in the world and to shield herself from her emotions. Mostly it went well. We were able to get outside to wander the hills we hadn’t walked in so many years, because we had been inside caring for Mom. We ate at our favorite restaurants multiple times. We threw a party in her memory, inviting everyone we could think of, where we all shared stories and memories and photographs.

My own emotions regarding my mother are complicated and difficult. I tried so hard, for so many years, to understand her, to be compassionate, to forgive, to let go. I am a mother myself, after all. But still, I don’t think I tried hard enough.

I don’t feel very much. I’m sad, but not devastated. The sheer volume of wound care material in her bathroom was testament to the fact that her body was not able to hold itself together. Her death was not unexpected. In fact, it is a relief that she is no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer trying to find another way to fix her body.

When will I realize she’s gone? When will the tears start? I thought I understood grief. But now I know that I know nothing at all.

You were already grieving all this year when your mom was so ill, my well-meaning friends tell me. Maybe.

But all I feel is a bleakness, a weariness with the world, a fatigue that can’t be fixed with a new vase of tulips, a cookie, a mindless game on my iPad. Not for lack of trying, mind you.

I think what I need to do is wait. Wait for the sun to come back out. Wait for the buds to swell and burst. Wait for the tears to finally come. Wait for my joy to return.

PCT Days 14 & 15 – Double zero in Sisters

August 6 & 7
Miles hiked: 0
Total Trip Miles: 263.9

Sleeping in a bed, my head on a pillow.
A shower in the morning.
A cup of coffee (or two!) with milk in it.
Long chats in the garden, with nowhere to go.
Watching the Olympics on TV.
Eating wonderful food in restaurants.
Reconnecting with family and sharing memories of my dad.
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PCT Day 13 – From one pass to another

August 5
Miles hiked: 20.5
Total trip miles: 263.9

We wake up bright and early and head back over to the PCT from our awesome campsite at North Matthieu Lake. Soon we’re walking on lava, winding in and out of ancient flows, making our way to the road and MacKenzie Pass. We’ve gotten an early start because the forecast is for a hot day. Yesterday we saw a very sunburned southbounder, who said hiking over the lava flow in the heat had been unbearable. From MacKenzie Pass I figure we have about 5 miles of lava walking to do, and early morning is the best time to do it.

We can see both Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson in the distance to the north, and the Sisters to the South. We make our careful way across the eerie, desolate landscape, trying to not twist our ankles on the rocky trail.

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Home again

I’m baaack!!

500 miles, ~90,000 vertical feet, 29 days …

We survived the epic adventure! We finished the Colorado Trail! Our bodies didn’t break, we didn’t get hit by lightning, and (unfortunately?) we didn’t see a single hungry bear.

We emerged in Durango on August 17, five days ahead of schedule. I haven’t written about the hike here on Gydle yet (UPDATE: yes I have, and you can read it all here) because it has taken me quite a while to 1) process the experience and 2) re-engage with regular life. When your existence is pared down to walking, sleeping and putting food into your mouth, normal life is so complicated in comparison. It boggles.

I don’t know if the hike “changed” me – but coming back, I feel the need for some change. So I gave Gydle a fairly major facelift. I hope you like the new design.

Because I found other peoples’ blogs about the trail so useful and interesting when I was planning, in the posts to come I’m going to tell the story of our hike, doing my best to leave all the interesting parts in and all the boring bits out. Plus a few photos. If you’re not interested, just bear with me. It will all be over soon and I’ll be back to my usual obsessions.

But first, a video:

Boy was I glad my man walked those 500 miles with me! And we would definitely walk 500 more!

Connection

After these first few months volunteering in the hospital, and now in the hospice, I am starting to come away with impressions. Things that stay with me, things I find myself thinking about offsite, things I am trying to learn how to digest.

The most important one is connection.

When you’re vulnerable like this, in the hospital or dying, things get pared down to the absolute essentials. Bodily functions, simple things. I got a good night’s sleep. A dish of ice cream.

The people whose suffering haunts me the most are those who don’t have anyone there for them. They are alone, navigating a system full of strangers, at a time in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable. Their suffering is amplified because of this. Continue reading

Volunteer

One of the things I have wanted to do since coming back to the land of English is volunteer with a hospice organization. Hospice, in case you don’t know, is caregiving for people who have a terminal illness. When there is nothing that can be medically done to turn a disease around, when there are no more treatments left, then patients and their families are eligible for hospice care. A hospice team – in a facility or in your home – makes sure that you are comfortable, as free from pain as possible, and supports your family as you make the transition out of this world.

Volunteers are a part of this team, doing nonmedical stuff like listening, bringing water or coffee or tea or warm blankets, wheeling patients outside for fresh air, and generally trying to be helpful while at the same time not making things worse than they already are. I just completed a 26-hour training program for hospice volunteers. My first shift at the hospice on the UBC campus is tomorrow afternoon.

The reason I wanted to do this? My dad.

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Thanks!

IMG_0915Happy Thanksgiving, Gydle people! One of my favorite blogs, Gone Floatabout, written by friends with a serious sailing affliction and unparalleled wizardry with a camera, mentioned that some of the blogs they followed are posting the 50 things they’re most thankful for this year. Seems like a good idea. After all, it has been scientifically shown that being grateful is good for your health.

One of the most popular TED talks of all time is by a super-smiley guy named Shawn Achor. He says that if you spend just a few minutes a day thinking of just three things you’re grateful for, you’ll be much happier. Imagine how you’d feel after listing fifty!  Continue reading

Reality check

Think for a minute: When was your last existential crisis?

Who, me?  you say. Existential crisis? I don’t have existential crises. I’m a rational thinker. I’m practically an engineer.

I think everybody has existential crises, whether we recognize them as such or not. They’re in the high points, in the low points, in the situations that push you over an edge into a new thing. They’re moments in which you get a glimpse of the uncertainty at the very root of everything that is, and wonder about what your place in it could possibly be. You, this little wad of flesh and bone and bacteria. Continue reading