If I continue with the analogy that grief is a winter season, then I can tell you the exact day of my spring equinox.
Like any spring, there were warming days – Ted’s memorials, time spent with friends here and elsewhere, heartfelt conversations, and lots and lots of hugs, only to be followed by the hard frosts of lonely nights, seeing a couple engaged in an activity that had once been associated with my life with Ted, watching TV without my feet being rubbed, and the hollowness of losing that person who had stuck with you through thick and thin.
Grief is the cold wind that finds the cracks under the doors, the open flue of the chimney, and the uncaulked window and makes you clutch your arms around yourself to keep from shivering to death. It comes at you in so many ways that you cannot initially begin to know where the drafts are from or how to remediate the issues.
Slowly, you begin to notice the biggest issues – literally and figuratively – and begin to address the ones you can and get help with the ones you struggle with.
My spring equinox story goes like this: After a few months of traveling and memorials, I had an opportunity to spend a week in Yellowstone. It was with the friend who had originally taken Ted and me there on our first trip to the park four years ago and with whom we had returned with a larger camping assembly of framily (you know, the friends who are family) two years ago. I had known that Yellowstone was one of those special places where I would take and leave some of Ted’s ashes, I just wasn’t sure I was ready to head back up there when I was first invited.
Here’s the thing, my mind had been working hard to convince me how hard it would be to go up there and spend this time without Ted. It wasn’t until I realized one day that all of the arguments to not go, were in my head and when that generally happens, it is the opposite I need to do and follow the heart, who knew that nature is always a good place to heal. So, I told my friend I would go and started the planning of a week in Yellowstone with just her and I.
We were driving separately: 1. because I committed to attending a sweat at the Wind River Reservation that my cousin was setting up (just a few hours outside of the park and on the way home, so that fit right in and is another good story for another day). 2. because we both have a lot of stuff and for a week of camping, one should be comfortable. My tent use to sleep the entire family and the dog, but now it is my personal camping condo. I have my cot, a bedside table, a reclining camp chair that I can read in if I am up when the rest of the world is not, rugs where needed, and storage bins for necessary items. My car alone was plenty full with the EZ-up and tent and chairs on the roof and food and everything else inside. No way we could have fit both of us in one car.
Another sometimes necessity for any long road trip is a good book or two on audio. The drive to Yellowstone Canyon campground from my house is around 10 hours, so while I like a good amount of silence for the meditative state a good road trip will put you in, I also like a good book as well.
I put out the text to some of my audible pals asking for some recommendations. A catalog of choices was thrown my way ranging from hot steamy sexy erotic novels, to historical, to just fun reads. I rejected anything with romance – not wanting to be hit over the head with what I am now missing, and used my 5 credits to get a book or two from their list and a few that just sounded nice at the time.
My friend needed to take her pup up to her family who was spending the weekend at other friends hunting cabins and lodge in northern Colorado, so we left the night before and took one of the cabins there to facilitate the pup drop off and reduced the second-day drive by a few hours. It was a perfect transitionary space to go to between home and a week in Yellowstone and got me a few hours into the book I had settled upon for the drive up.
It was the book that when I was browsing through Audible’s selection, had sounded nice and sweet and something that wouldn’t stir at an already troubled psyche. It was a children’s classic that I had never read. It was “The Secret Garden”.
I’ve had many books be transformative for me as I really enjoy letting the words create this other world that we can sink into. I like to ponder the occasional turn of the phrase that strikes me and like a good jerky, has me pausing the play and chewing on it until I know I can digest it and move on. The Secret Garden drew me into the characters and ultimately reminded me of the magic we all have inside of ourselves. Listening to the book peeled back the layers of my grieving heart and somehow reminded me that I was still that same person that had gotten the crazy, fun, innovative, handsome Ted to love me and that my magic was indeed still there as well. There was a point in the story where the little boy feels so alive and thankful in life that they all begin singing the doxology. I was right there with them, all of a sudden knowing that life was still amazing and that while I had been feeling like Ted was the one stoking my internal fires all these years, I knew that the fires for all of us burn and the people in our lives can’t take any of the fire with them when they leave. I cried as I sang the doxology with them, but it wasn’t tears of pain, it was seeing those clouds part. I might have even had a fist pump or air high five with the universe for giving me this book and the time to experience it in the way that was needed.
It was also in these same moments that I felt Ted’s spirit go from being so very far away from me to resting deep inside of me. I realized in that moment that it had felt like a fight this entire time. The only times that we didn’t speak or that I had put up any energy to keep Ted away was if we fought and that extreme was not often. Suddenly, I recognized that all of this time, it felt like we had fought or something, and with an unexpected shift in my heart, we were once again together. It was a watershed if not tear shed moment of another kind to be sure.
So, that was my spring equinox.
Upon arriving in Yellowstone, it was raining but as soon as we checked in, the rain stopped and we were able to put up our tents, and the EZ-up over the picnic table, and get all organized just before the rain once again settled in. I recounted the transformation that I had experienced on the way up, we cried and laughed, did a shot, and knew that if Ted had any say, he had helped in giving us the rainless window in which to set up camp.
Throughout the week, we went on to recount many stories of Ted from previous years and both sent some of Ted over the upper falls as it was and is one of the special spots we shared in each trip there together. We each picked our own spots, silently said another goodbye, and sent a bit of Ted over the rushing power of the downward falls all the while also experiencing the lightness and positivity of the mist rising, kissing you with droplets that pull away that are hesitant to descend.
Little side story from just after sending Ted over the falls.
As it happened, we were completely alone with no other visitors at the upper falls when we had our personal ceremonies with Ted’s ashes. Just after we finished and I took the picture above, a few people showed up. One was a young man in full motorcycle gear with a helmet still on. He was taking some pictures when I told him to give me his phone and I will take one with him at the falls. He said that he did not like getting his picture taken, so “No, thank you”. I said that a wise woman once said to me: “go ahead and take the pictures now because you will never be as young as you are today”. He laughed as he took off his helmet and said that was funny because it was his birthday. He then relinquished the phone to me and I snapped a few photos. He went on to tell us he was hobbling because he had broken his leg and under all of his gear was a big leg brace. He recounted some of his journeys thus far starting from his home in California and said he just stopped in and wasn’t even spending the night. I opened my arms and announced that I was going to give him a hug for his birthday and that it was from his mom where ever she might be as I know she is thinking of him on his own version of a personal walkabout. He allowed the hug and returned it with good strength and warmth. I have to believe it was another synchronicity that will stay with both of us.
So, that was my marking of spring in my seasons of grief. My flipping of the switch. Yes, I still get sad, and yes, my mind can still talk me into feeling alone in a world where I know better, but those days don’t feel as hollow as they once did and I thank the Universe for putting a particular book and people and situations in front of me when I have needed them.
And Thank you all for helping get through this year as well.