It has been an incredibly warm winter here in Ohio, one of the warmest on record. Christmas came and went with not only a lack of snow, but mud and rain; something we are not entirely used to in the waning days of the year. By no means is every Christmas white, but it is almost always cold.
I can remember the weather final few weeks of the year, and the first few of the next so vividly not because they fall around the holidays, but because on January 6th, 2011, I was pacing hurriedly around in the snow, trying to calm myself, as Megan received her double lung transplant. It has been a day of happiness ever since.
To briefly cover her backstory, on New Year’s day that year, in the late evening, Megan shuffled out to our kitchen, and blew her nose. Her lung collapsed. At 9:30 PM, I was calling 911, waking up our daughter, and watching my wife be put onto a stretcher. After an ambulance ride to the local hospital, and another to her primary hospital in Cleveland, she was stabilized. We sighed in relief, and hunkered down for another one of her month-long hospital stays.
I generally try to write my posts in advance, which gives me a bit of time to pore over them and change things up here and there before it goes public. This week, I did just that, writing a post about the five year anniversary of Megan’s lung transplant, which is Wednesday, the 6th, and what it meant to me.
Then, at the eleventh hour, I decided that I didn’t want to write about grief, or changes, or missing or mourning Megan. I didn’t want to spit out emotions and metaphors about losing her. I want to write about something happy, hopeful, and fun. Lord knows that we can’t just sit and mire in our grief forever.
On New Year’s eve, 2014, I was deep within the pit of grief. Megan had just died a month and a half before. Shelby was at my grandparents, and I sat alone, on my couch. It was a horrible, lonely night, I cried myself to sleep, and that’s all there is to say about it.
One year ago, everything was new. I was newly widowed, and a new single parent. There were new emotions, new challenges, and new triggers around every corner.
I had heard about Camp Widow, and I had a new idea. I would peek out of my armored shell of grief, and go against the grain of my own personality. I would force myself to be a new person, even for just a few days. My new year’s resolution was to stand up, wipe the snot off of my nose, and just do something new.
I never was much of a social person. Megan always had to drag me out of the house to be around other people, and even when she succeeded, I was usually grumpy and unsociable. Who knows what lit this new fire in me, but I resolved to put myself in what was sure to be a complete train wreck of a weekend, validating my outlook that it was better and safer to be a loner.
I think I may be starting to sound like a broken record with all of my “nature” posts, but regardless, I’m writing about it again. I’m even stealing the title of Sarah’s post on Sunday, and rolling with it. Seeing as how we’ve both written about something we did together, I see no shame in making a “Part 2”
It feels odd, seeing as Christmas is just a few days away, that I am not deep into grief at this moment. Perhaps the distraction of getting ready for the holiday, having a young daughter, enjoying life with Sarah, work, or a million other things is keeping me from falling into the dark pit of despair and mourning.
Really though, it’s nature. Sarah and I have decided, and followed through with it, to go on a hike at least once a week. Northeast Ohio is blessed with a national park, state forests, numerous well-run county parks, and very varied terrain in a relatively compact area. This past weekend, we traveled to Mohican State Forest, resolving to spend a night in twenty degree weather. We’ve talked of going backpacking since we met at Camp Widow, and finally, we did it.
There exists in Cuyahoga Valley National Park a small waterfall called “Blue Hen Falls”. For thousands of years, this ripple of water has been flowing over a sandstone ledge in 3 ribbons, proceeding on its course towards the Cuyahoga River.
Spring Creek, it’s namesake being a natural seep about 1000 yards upstream, isn’t a spectacularly big watercourse. It’s no deeper than a few inches, and the falls are only 15 feet tall or so. There are no grand dams, shipping canals, or ports. It has been unaltered by man, and in my opinion, no improvement can be made upon it. It is beautiful and perfect just the way it is, and it feels as if it’s my place whenever I am there.
I shared this special place with Sarah last weekend. There were other people hovering around, visiting the falls, walking their dogs, or just taking in the views, but still it felt as if it was my place to share with Sarah. There are other, more imposing waterfalls in the park. There are a multitude of other streams, both large and small, taking different courses, flowing differently, and sometimes being altered by the progress of civilization through the years, but this small creek, no more than a trickle in comparison to many of the others, is still my favorite.
I enjoy road trips. Given the time, I would happily drive across the country and back just because I can. This past weekend, Shelby, Sarah, and I drove 7 hours or so from Ohio to upstate New York to visit Sarah’s sister and her family. Being an odd person, a 400 mile drive through fairly boring terrain excited me in and of itself.
We talked the entire drive. Shelby was in the back seat reading, napping, and occasionally piping up with one of her “Shelbyisms” or a random fact that she learned in school. I had a playlist of all different types of music playing, and had the cruise control set just so. There was no traffic or weather, and the roads were smooth.
Somewhere between Erie and Buffalo, my playlist brought up “Let her Go” by Passenger. It is a beautiful song, and ultimately, one of my favorites, but it is also a HUGE trigger song. My finger almost immediately moved towards the skip button, but I caught myself. We had just been talking about Sarah’s forthcoming post (found here), so we were both already in a little deeper thoughts, and I decided to let it play.
In Zoar, Ohio, there is a tree farm that allows you to cut your own Christmas trees. Shelby, Megan, and I had been here a few times to shuffle through the snow, walking around so many firs, pines, and spruces, to pick the perfect specimen for our living room. Once located, I would proceed to lie on the ground and begin sawing. A few seconds later, I would be loading that tree onto a sled, and dragging it up the hill to the workers that would shake the loose needles off and bundle it before loading it into my truck.
It hadn’t quite sunken in yet when Sarah, Shelby and I did just that this past weekend.
We would get the tree home, and I would cut the bottom inch off of the trunk before bringing it into the house. I would load it into the stand, adjust all of the bolts that held it upright, and give it a few good shakes to make sure it was stable. If I was satisfied that it wasn’t going to fall over and crush a dog or child, I would water it, cut the twine off, let it unfurl, crawl under, adjust it away from the wall, and maybe give it a turn to hide any thin spots.
We did that last weekend, and it still hadn’t hit me.
I can no longer say “one year ago, Megan did this”. She’s been gone 369 days. Today isn’t anything special or significant in the grand scheme of things, but it is interesting to me how the one year mark mentally appears to be a weight off of my shoulders in a sense.
I have experience now. I’ve been through Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries without her. I’d like to say that I know what to expect now, and that those dates can’t be any worse than the first year. I’m smart enough to know that I can’t predict that though.
Last year, I was a mess. I fell apart at my parents house on Thanksgiving day. No reason or trigger happened...it was just “because”. As soon as I got home, the dread of how I was going to get through Christmas morning began. All I could think of was Shelby running down the stairs to see the gifts under the tree that morning, eyes full of happiness, and Megan not being there to see it.
Thursday marks one year since Megan’s death. It amazes me how hard that is to think about. It is just another day for the rest of the world, but for me, it is bringing heightened emotions, and random relapses into heavy grief.
As much as I sat and thought about what I wanted to write today, I couldn’t put together a clear line of thought. I simply want to wallow in my grief, and allow myself to scream through written words, and see what comes out.