This weekend is the first time Mike has gone out backpacking alone with zero service since we met. On previous trips, he has taken a satellite device that’s let him send me messages that he is ok. However, unfortunately it only seemed to work half the time and ended up being more of a headache than a help. So on this trip, we decided to give it a try… zero contact for over 24 hours.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with my story, my fiance died halfway across the country, while on a trip. He was a helicopter pilot, and was on a ride along with another pilot when they hit a powerline and crashed - killing him instantly.
So… the whole leaving on a trip thing? Only my hugest trigger. The whole having to say goodbye as he gets in the car and drives off thing… not knowing if I’ll ever see him again? Yup, hugest trigger.
And of course I would meet someone new that loves to do just that… go out on trips into the wilderness alone, with absolutely zero contact with the outside world. Yep, because of course. Life has a sense of humor that way.
There’s no lying that is hasn’t been easy. Even though I know all he is effectively doing is walking, eating and sleeping - same as he does at home everyday - my mind knows better now than to just say “Oh nothing will happen! It will be fine!” Because no, I don’t know that it will be fine. I don’t know that he will make it home, or that I’ll ever see him again.
So I’ve had roughly a day by myself. Two nights without him to sleep next to. To my surprise, I have not in fact lost my mind. His daughter Shelby was with grandparents for about half of this time. I wanted that though. I wanted some time to myself. Despite the triggers fighting for my attention, I still love and value that alone time when he goes on a trip. So I watched chick flicks and gorged on Taco Bell Friday night, something I rarely do anymore. Saturday morning I sat around in my pajamas and ate donuts and watched Sex in the City - it was glorious and fat and fun. I went for a hike Saturday afternoon which was mostly good, but that was when the “what if”’s started to sneak their way into my mind… mainly because there were a ton of couples hiking on the trail I was at.
I couldn’t help but think, what on earth would I do if he never returned? What would my life be like? What would next week be like? Or next year? I didn’t panic or get upset, surprisingly, I found it so impossible to even imagine that reality. Just like before Drew died. I just could not imagine it.
I did my best to hear the fears coming up in my mind, and just tell them “well, I hear you, but we can’t do anything about it. So we’re not going to get consumed by worry and ruin our day just because of this thing we’re nervous about. People die or they don’t, and we can’t control it, so let’s just keep going with our day.” This notion that I don’t control it does often help me. That combined with ample activities to keep me focused on other things, I managed to do okay.
Shelby came home in the evening, and we had a great girls night together. We watched fantasy movies and made an amazing homemade pizza. We wrapped Christmas presents and drank cocoa and enjoyed foot spa soaks. It helped a ton to have her there to focus on for sure.
By the time I put her to bed, brushed my teeth, locked up the house and crawled into bed… the expansive amount of no contact really started to magnify. Being alone in the bedroom without him, new thoughts entered my mind. What if something happened and he was already dead out there? Our plan was that if I didn’t hear from him by 3pm Sunday, to call the Ranger service and tell them his camp location. What if by 3pm he is not only dead, but has been dying for hours and hours alone in the woods? What if that is the way I will have to remember it all?
I tried my best to shut out those thoughts. Put on a lighthearted TV show and fell asleep not long after. But when I woke in the morning, they were still there, hanging in the chilly early morning air around me, waiting for me to hear them again.
It’s never going to be easy when he goes away like this. But I also know I could never ask him to stop doing the thing he loves most just so that I don’t have to feel discomfort. It’s just part of the journey of choosing to love again. It sucks, but it's part of the deal, so I just try and roll with it.
Thankfully, I wasn’t awake 20 minutes before I got a text from him. He’d made it back to the car and was already hitting the road for home. Pheeeeeeeeew! That enormous sigh of relief flowed out of me and I whispered a thank-you to God or whomever out there was listening. Yeah, he could still die on the drive home. Or tomorrow. Or next week. And all of that is there and fresh in my mind too. But I just cannot listen to the "what-if"s too much or I'll lose my damn mind. I just cannot let them run my life or there will be no life to live. I don’t know if it will ever get easier to have these bouts of no contact from his trips, but I hope it does.
If I had to find any positive in this difficult experience, it’s that his absence gives me so much time to reflect on everything in a much deeper way than I normally do. This discomfort, while challenging, reminds me in a powerful way just how meaningful he is to me.