"It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves. - Sir Edmund Hillary"
I’ve walked in nature my entire life. I’ve hiked, and camped in woods, deserts, jungles, alpine mountains, swamps, boreal forests, and caves. I’ve lived, overnight, in snow, thunderstorms, ungodly heat, wind, and cold. Mosquitos have eaten me alive, and bears have walked through my campsite while I lay in my hammock. I’ve been alone for days, with no cell phone service, and I’ve slept surrounded by 100 other people in the trees, each with their own stories.
I must have built a thousand fires, and stared at them for hours, each one like a new episode of my favorite TV show. I’ve laid on my back in a blueberry heath in West Virginia and watched stars frame the Milky Way, on nights so clear and cold that you hold your breath, because you don’t want the condensation of your own breathing to cloud the view.
I’ve also parked the car at a city owned garage in downtown, and walked through the concrete jungle. There are trees there just the same. Snow still falls in cities, and weeds still grow in cracks. The architecture is different, with even the most elaborate buildings paling in comparison to the beauty of a simple cliff face. Although nature is there, and is not nearly the same, it still has its benefits.
I bought my house almost 11 years ago. It was our “starter home”, and Megan and I were married a month after we moved in. We did what most couples do. We painted the major rooms before moving in, and left some of the rooms for me to repair and remodel after we were situated.
Megan had a style of her own, that I was, being the husband, largely beholden to. I didn’t disagree with her tastes, which could best be described as “Americana”. It wasn’t mine, but I also didn’t find it gaudy or overly feminine. The walls were painted in a natural tan, with deep red as an accent wall in our living and dining rooms.
Until a few weeks ago, I still hadn’t changed anything in the house as far as decoration, colors, or even the knick-knacks she had meticulously placed. For one, I had no reason. It was decorated...good enough. Secondly, there was a small amount of resistance in me to any drastic changes. This was our home, and any changes would make it feel less so.
Until I realized that this house had not felt like my home since the day she was admitted to the hospital.
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.
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.
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.
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.