As Sarah noted on Sunday, I stepped off into the mountains last Friday, disappearing into the wilderness on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s no surprise to any of you that have read my posts for these past two years that backpacking, in isolation, is the most transcendent experience that I personally can have. No matter how my wanderings unfold, they always mean something to me.
However, I haven’t really experienced anything new in the three plus years since Megan was first admitted to the hospital. I’ve went to familiar places. Places that I could ramble into, disappear for a few days, and feel the comfort and safety of a home away from home. Places that I had been to so many times that I could navigate every trail blindfolded and say “Hello, again” to every tree.
I recently heard an interview with Pema Chodron, a well-known Buddhist nun and author of the book When Things Fall Apart. This woman is chock-full of wisdom. And she got my mind turning about something this morning. In the interview, she talks about a graduation speech she gave recently, telling those brave young folks about to embark into the world, that the most important thing is to learn how to stumble well. To pay closer attention to our pain when we are stumbling through it, and allow ourselves to be fully in our losses and our pains so that we can learn what lessons they hold.
As I’m thinking about this idea, of stumbling well, I realize that the walk with grief is really one of stumbling greatly. Because, after all, losing your partner leaves you in a treacherous landscape, am right? Imagine for a moment what your grief landscape looks like. To me, it’s a mountain range. A vast place of ups and downs, with jagged edges and surprises at every turn. For you it may be a desert, or a barren, underwater world. These images of the landscape of grief can hold a lot of value for us.
Grief is not a minor thing in life. It’s not just tripping you up. It’s not just potholes and speed bumps along the road. Losing your partner is not stumbling and hitting the ground in front of you. It’s stumbling and suddenly there IS no ground to fall on anymore. It is falling off a cliff in slow motion… into a whole other landscape that you were not prepared to travel...
Suddenly, everything feels dangerous to you.
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.