It is almost Christmas, and I have spent most of the last ten days on my own, in silence. At times, I have thought that I should make an effort to visit with people, make connections, socialise. I just don’t seem to handle it well. Even a short trip to the shops on the High Street brings me to tears—couples hand in hand, brightly coloured lights, fresh trees for sale, Santas in the windows, ribbons and bows, carols blasting through the speakers—all this celebration and excess is out of sync with the way I feel, inside. I am awkward around people. I don’t know how to act. What do I say? What greetings do I employ? Merry Christmas? Happy Holidays? I don’t even want to think about the New Year. I want to crawl under the covers until it is all finished.
The one time my world makes sense, these days, is when I walk, alone, into the hills. I set my boots onto a muddy path, my face exposed to the biting wind, and watch my breath stream in and out. I hear birds rustle in the trees above me. I see rabbits hop into the underbrush. I take note of the droplets of water, hanging, like tears, on naked branches. I feel the rain, sleet and snow pelt against my skin. I put one foot in front of the other. I don’t have to worry, or plan, or think. I only walk, and breathe. When I am outside, among the elements, it feels that perhaps I do have a place on the planet. I find a sliver of hope that, perhaps, one day, I will heal.
I am currently in the midst of reading my third book about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. This trail, which spans 14 states from Georgia to Maine, is 2,172 miles in length and takes six months to complete. I am obsessively researching the proper equipment to purchase, which parts of the trail are the hardest, which shelters are best, what critters I may encounter on the trail, both irritating and dangerous. This, I do, while finding it difficult to venture out of the house, some days.
Perhaps my walking this trail is a wild fantasy that will never be fulfilled. I have a mortgage to pay, and a job to go to, and a need for comfort. I am not sure this almost 58-year-old body could even withstand such an endeavour.
Yet, there is a part of me that wants to mark this monumental change in my life in a monumental way. It doesn't feel right to have gone through the trauma of watching my husband die and to return to my regular, mundane existence—to trudge to work and to shop in stores and to pretend that I am the same. I am not. Nothing will ever be the same.
I want to have an outward expression, beyond these words, of the depth of my grief. I read somewhere that it is a Jewish tradition to tear one’s clothing, over one’s heart, after a death. I want to do this—tear my clothing, beat my chest, rub my face with ashes, shave my head—something, anything, to mark this sorrow.
I loved the life I had here, with him, walking these hills, Sunday drives, our nights together. I still love the place where I live and the world he gave to me—stone walls and terrace houses, the remnants of century old mills, stately churches and castles, the beautiful, windswept moors, the ever changing landscape—shadow and light, snow and wind, water and rock.
But it is wrong to proceed with this life as if nothing has changed. I feel a need to purge, to cleanse, to let go of the me that was, before his death, to slough off the old me, to make myself anew.
I don't know if I will have the heart and the strength and the courage to do this thing. But, I have done it before. I have changed my entire life. The last time I lost two people, my mother and sister, I moved from Florida to England. This move is what brought me to my husband.
Now he's gone. And my world has, once again, shifted. And I can't continue to walk around like it hasn't.