Straddling the North Carolina- Tennessee border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a sea of lush forests, countless animals, and high mountains. It’s my favorite place on earth. I’ve been there countless times since I was young, and until Megan died, it had never been more than a few years since taking a trip there.
I know the park well. I know miles of its trails and the chill of its creeks. I know the tourist town of Gatlinburg, just outside its western border, with all of its restaurants, shops, and hordes of people. Though the area is constantly evolving, the mountains silently remain the same, as they have for millions of years.
This is where Megan and I had our honeymoon.
No matter what else happens to us in this life, no matter where we go or what we do, we will forever carry the memories of our lost loves in our hearts. Even other widowed people will never be able to exactly understand all the details of our past lives with our husbands or wives who are now gone.Read more
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.” - Jack London
I often find myself in the shadow of my past, looming over me like a great monolith, telling me not to change. As if it is saying “this is your comfortable, shady spot, protected from the winds and scorching sun. Don’t move from this, lest you find yourself exposed”
I write a lot about how strange and even unrecognizable my life is now. I can’t explain exactly how I got here, but I can tell you a little about what it’s like, just over three years after my husband died.
Here's the sucky thing about being widowed. Well, one of the many sucky things about it anyway. Holidays will always be hard. They will always be tarnished with lost love and that empty chair at the table. There is just no getting around it, and it doesn't matter how long it's been. I've been thinking about it a lot this year - my third since Mike died - because the more time that passes the more I realize that will simply not change. It's not like some future year I will just be blissfully happy without a care in the world or sadness and longing. It's just never going to happen.
My new car is awesome. I never drive it or think about it without a wistful wish that Mike were here sharing it with me, but it is still awesome. He would have loved it too. A brand spanking new car with bells and whistles like I've never had before. My Subaru was a 2003 and Mike's truck is a 1996 so I feel like I've been dropped headfirst into a technological future I had yet to experience. A touchscreen in a car? Cool. USB ports? Certainly. Keyless entry and ignition and voice activation? Really??
What's really nagging at me though for some reason is the odometer. When I got it, shipped on the barge from Oahu on November 9, it had 54 miles on it. As I am writing this, there are now 470 miles. I have been obsessively watching the odometer diligently counting the distance. It does not lie; it does not cheat. There is some kind of sadness, or regret somehow, in seeing each mile tick by. Each block I drive the engine works, its organs pumping and clicking and igniting, is another day closer to its end, and I can't help but think of the analogy to my own life.
Some weeks I feel like I’m just going to repeat myself. Because some weeks, nothing much changes. Nothing changes in how much I miss Mike, and nothing changes in how many changes I’m seeing happen in my life. I can’t stop it. Time is hurling itself forward at an increasingly rapid pace…at least, that’s how it seems, some days.
Last weekend, Sarah and I decided to take a drive around the west side of Cleveland. We didn’t have any real plan; just to head out to a small town on the Lake Erie shore, and see where we ended up. Shelby was staying with Megan’s mother, so we were free to have a random Sunday.
After having some lunch at an old soda fountain in a historic fishing village, we started heading east along US-6. It hugs the shoreline, passing through many villages and towns along its route to Cleveland. We observed and commented on all the large houses, the views of the lake between them, and the character of the various settlements. I had never been through this area either. Even though I grew up less than an hour away, I had never had any cause to drive around there. All in all, it was a relaxing, picturesque cruise.
Once we neared Cleveland proper, we decided it was time to start heading back towards home. I left this unfamiliar road, and entered I90, heading towards and through downtown. Weaving through the construction zones, we were forced onto an exit ramp.
Suddenly, I was on one of the most familiar roads I had ever driven on. This exit led to the hospital where Megan had been treated throughout the years, the same hospital where she died.
"They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak." from The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
This quote is from a story by Tim O'Brien about men who were in the Vietnam war. It is a classic story that speaks to the universal themes of memory and loss. As I reflect upon the year of writing that I have shared with you, and this, my last blog post as Monday's Writer for Widow's Voice, I am moved by these words.
In this blog, and as members of a community for which no one wants to qualify, we carry each other. We lift each other up and bear witness to the things that others can't bear to see. We carry each other through the most difficult and terrifying moments of our lives.
We sit with each other in silence when there are no easy words or platitudes to fix our sorrows. We stand together, as different as we are, in age, ethnicity, status, and country of origin, and help each other navigate this bewildering landscape of grief.
We know that the people 'out there', who have not seen what we've seen, cannot begin to understand what sits so solidly in our minds and hearts: that there is so much pain, and so much beauty; that we grieve because we loved; that we don't know how we are going to get through each day, but that, somehow, for some reason, we are still here; that gradually, so slowly, we begin to enter into the world of the living again,but that we will never 'get over' this loss; that there is nothing to get over; that we carry them with us, and will continue to carry them, for the rest of our days.Read more
I’ve noticed this past week how very loud my grief is in relation to all the other bits that make up the person of Stephanie. We all have our memories, milestones, accomplishments, regrets…all the things we did and that happened to us, combined with the sorts of personalities we are, making us the people we are now. But when you have this experience of your husband dying right in the middle of it…well, that one thing alone is just so frigging loud. His loss is like nothing else I’ve ever gone through. It is a constant noise in the background of my being, and sometimes it drowns out everything else.