Holding On In Tumultous Times

“We have to find find those things that make us feel most alive, and hold onto those.” Chris Fagan, Adventurer

The above quote is from a Mother’s Day episode of She Explores: Women in the Outdoors podcast with adventurer Chris Fagan who shares openly about the strategies she had for coping with her husband’s cancer diagnosis. Although the episode was recorded pre-pandemic, host Gale Straub encourages listening with a Covid-19 filter for resilience lessons.

What makes me feel most alive these days is staying active through treadmill walks on crummy weather days and hikes on good weather days. Today is Day 66 of social distancing and yesterday I took my 16th hike. Getting out on the trails and seeing nature springing to life reminds me that everything has a season, and this too shall pass. Right now, it seems endless…and hard.

I’ve always been a planner, so the ‘not knowing’ is what has been hardest for me: how we can safely resume working with others without fear of infection; when we’ll get an effective vacine; how and when we’ll have effective contact tracing; and when we’ll ever be able to heal the fissures of distrust and hate that have come to define our political discourse.

On my last hike, I listened to an On Being episode where host Krista Tippett and musician/artist Devendra Banhart read passages from When Things Fall Apart, by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. The first passage Krista read from the book was “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Although the book was written more than 20 years ago, it’s never been more relevant given world events. As Chödrön says later after that passage, “Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”

When I’m feeling anxious in the days to come, I’ll remember these take-aways…Give in to grief, because there is a lot to grieve now. Make room for every small relief you feel, the roof over your head and the food on your table, because so many are struggling. Move through your misery, because it too shall pass. And breathe in joy, that you are still alive in this moment.

Writing the Hard Stuff

I wrote fiction for NaNoWriMo 2019 because my memoir writing has been in a slump. During November, I noticed a February writing workshop in Portland, Oregon with two of my favorite memoirists, Pam Houston and Stephanie Land. Their topic? ”Getting the hard thing, the meaty thing, the painful thing, the unspeakable thing down on the page in a way that others can have emotional access to it.”

Interesting.

My mother passed 34 years ago succumbing to hypothermia on a frigid February North Dakota day. February also claimed the life of my step-brother who passed unexpectedly four years ago. The last straw was two years ago when my father passed on February 2nd. February has weighed heavy on my bones since my mother’s passing, but I once my father passed, the gloves were off. I dubbed the month FuckUary.

So when I saw the title of the workshop ”Getting It Onto the Page, Getting It Out In The World,” I didn’t hesitate. I signed up and made my travel plans.

I’m under no illusion that the skies will open and writing nirvana will commence, but I’m open to being a sponge. This weekend, I’m reclaiming February from the clutches of grief.

Regardless of the outcome, that will be a win in my book.

Giving Thanks for the Memories

I tried writing a post for Thanksgiving yesterday, but I finally gave up. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to be thankful for, yet I was filled with a sense of melancholy that I found hard to express.

This is that time of year when my thoughts inevitably turn to days gone by and those no longer with us at the Thanksgiving table. The memories surround me. I ate the Thanksgiving dinner my wife prepared at the sturdy ball and claw oak table that was my paternal grandmother’s. The same table where she changed my diapers, taught me to play Crazy 8s and Go Fish. The table that bears the dice dimples from countless games of 6-5-4 with my father.

I know I’m blessed to have had so many happy memories of holidays spent with loved ones. Lots of people are not so lucky, which I was reminded of when I saw a blog post from Sark called Happy Thanks~Grieving While Wildly LivingShe beautifully captures the complex emotions many of us feel and shares her “love and transcendent wishes for people to be able to deeply grieve while wildly living.” Thank you Sark for helping put into words what I could not.

So on this, the day after Thanksgiving, I’m filled with gratitude for all that has happened over the last year and memories of past Thanksgivings. I also recognize that grief will sometimes sit beside me at the table and I’m okay with that…it reminds me of those who have loved me. I live wildly as their legacy.

 

Grief Comes in Waves

I’ve learned grief isn’t something you get over, it’s something you learn to live with. You never know when a new wave is going to strike without warning.

My guilty pleasure is The Voice, and I usually watch it when I’m walking on my treadmill. Today I watched the Top 13 perform, and when I heard contestant Marybeth Byrd was going to sing the beautiful, heartbreaking “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill, I was immediately transported back to the days following my father’s death. I was one of the family members giving a eulogy, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through it.

Every morning and evening that I drove his Subaru Forrester the 30 minutes to and from town, I had this song and one other on repeat so I could embrace and settle into the grief. It helped. I did some gut-wrenching, ugly crying and was able to deliver the eulogy my father deserved.

Which brings me to today, nearly two years later. When Marybeth’s tribute package rolled, she spoke of her beloved Grandfather who passed the night before she left for her blind audition. Marybeth no sooner began the song when grief rolled through me again. I damn near fell off my treadmill.

I recently attended a book reading by my friend Gordon M. Berg, author of Harry and the Hurricane. The book details the true account of his seven-year-old father living through the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. His father rarely spoke of his experience, and Gordon only learned the details after his death, when his mother told him.

Gordon ended his talk imploring us to ask our loved ones “What is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, and how did you get through it?” That is one of the many questions I wish I had asked my father.

Who is someone you’d like to ask that question? Do it…before it’s too late.

Circle of Life & Writing Goals

This isn’t the blog post I had planned to write for this NaNoWriMo month. I wanted to get a jump on my writing early in the month, instead I received a late night call about the unexpected death of a family member, earily similar to the call I received three years earlier about the brother of the deceased.

Life is like that. We have plans, then life makes other plans for us.

Our family has experienced a lot of loss in the past three years, and dealing with death is never easy especially when it seems random and unexpected. In death as in writing, we search for meaning. We mine our memories and remember the good times, the earlier years, the days of innocence.

The truth is, none of us are getting out of this life alive. That doesn’t make anyone’s passing any easier for those of us left behind. Death sucks.

Needless to say, I’m way behind in my writing goals this month, but that’s okay. I was where I needed to be ~ with my family, mourning an unexpected loss. But I refuse to concede NaNoWriMo defeat so I’ll keep plodding along, stringing one word after another and I’ll be happy with however many I end writing, because it will be more than what I started the month with.

A Final Salute

My heart is in North Dakota today as they lay my Uncle Lester to rest at the Veteran’s Cemetary.

My mom’s youngest brother, his handsome military photo and those of his brothers in uniform graced a wall of honor at the home of my grandparents. It was that wall and their service that inspired me to join the military.

Rest in Peace Uncle Lester, and give Mom a hug from me. ❤️

The Allure and Hazard of Thing-Naming

I turned my rental cello in yesterday.

Growing up I didn’t name inanimate objects and I’m not sure I knew people did that until my daughter named her first car. Turns out a lot of people name their possessions.

At one point over the past year and a half, I remember giving her a name. I was attracted to her curvy, voluptuous figure and she seduced me with her deep sexy voice. We began our journey slowly, my fingers unsure and my hands untrained. With practice and discipline, we began to make beautiful music together and my partner called me her Cello Bella.

I turned in my rental cello yesterday and was caught by surprise when tears came to my eyes. I hadn’t expected that. I had made peace with my decision to focus my limited time on writing. As I caressed her one last time and expressed my gratitude for being my musical companion for the past year and a half, I wracked my brain trying to remember what I named her.

“You took good care of it,” the technician said after the inspection.

“Thank you, she was my baby,” I replied.

After finishing up the paperwork, I drove away and was glad I couldn’t remember her name because leaving her would have been that much harder.