Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Year of Magical Thinking - A Grief Observed

The need for closure to Year One firmly calls
Even if my brisk hike may be slowed to some crawls
My awareness and perception have sometimes lagged
As I often Zigged when I should have Zagged
So for Dianna, I will take the path to Ramona Falls

I've thought long and hard and now I reckon
It's time to grasp opportunities as they beckon
I don't know what form they'll appear
But I'm ready to shed all my fear
As I move in to the unfolding year of second

365 times the sun has apparently risen and set. My view of the moon has gone from new to full a dozen times and twice have have day and night equally balanced. I have endured the longest night and survived the longest day, our 14th anniversary on June 21st to arrive on July 12th, 2011. One year ago I left Dianna on a Monday with a kiss and an acknowlegement of love and returned 4 hours later to find her gone, taking the only path she thought she had available.

My world and the shared world of her friends and family changed instantly and forever and I've been using much of the last year discovering how to accept, embrace, and move forward into this new reality. New friends have appeared (even today), old friends resurfaced, steadfast friends and family have offered a hand or hug and acquaintances have showed patience and compassion as I have I tried to make sense of something that doesn't follow rational rules.

The title of this entry is from reflections of fellow travelers Joan Didion and C.S. Lewis who lost their spouses. Joan Didion, whose husband John Dunne passed away at dinner after visiting their adult daughter who was in a coma, opens her book with the words:

Life changes fast
Life changes in a instant
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self pity.

What follows is a raw and revealing look at bereavement and the process of grief as she describes the "magical thinking" which makes a intelligent rational person re-visit choices and play out scenarios in the hopes that outcomes will be different. If only this.. or if only that.. She also says we feel the need to "keep the dead alive to keep them with us.."

CS Lewis married at 58 and lost his wife due to cancer after only 4 years and shares his fears and doubts as he comes to terms with his experience of grief. He describes the fear and inertia that is prevalant early on and the feeling that "staying busy" and not fogetting your beloved are your main tasks. He eventually comes to terms with the ideas that bereavement is as much a stage of marriage as the honeymoon and that the relationship between the living and departed has to be established as something new, not just relying on the vagaries of memory or the vestiges of photos or writing to keep the other "alive". He felt the more he focused on what had been lost with the parting, the less he could celebrate the gifts that had come from his relationship which now become something different.

I've had a lot of time to read and reflect and many people have shared the experiences in word and deed on how they have dealt with loss and it rminds me it is both a shared journey and a singularly unique path where others advice only takes you so far. As a result and in honor of my metaphoric journey, I arose on July 12th, headed toward Mt Hood, turned left at ZigZag and embarked on an 7.1 mile hike to Ramona Falls, the first hike Dianna and I took together.

"The dazzling, picturesque Ramona Falls stands like a fountain centerpiece at the front of a wooded cathedral. The water appears as if from nowhere a hundred feet above you and fans out like a wedding veil to the creek bed below. As it trickles and ricochets off the basaltic rock-face, it gives it a glowing, almost phosphorescent appearance. This illusion is especially noticeable when the alder canopy allows the evening sun rays to pass through, like a spotlight on a great work of art."

The hike is supposed to be a simple straight forward 3 hour hike but 1/2 hour in I noticed some branches blocking my path and hopped over and continued my journey, eventually encountering evil flesh tearing plants and a path that kept disappearing and reappearing. I stayed close to the river looking for the bridge and now am an hour out walking the riverbed. As I start to tun back, an angel named Heather and a St. Bernard in the guise of a black lab come to the rescue. She had followed the same path and we found our way back although my new water bottle was lost during the return trip. Right at the pile of branches, a well marked path hairpined down to the water and the temporary bridge. Heather is a fellow SW Portlander and fan of Hillsdale and we have friends in common, so I quickly felt like I had a friend joining me on my journey. The falls appeared even more beautiful and we took a snack break and "soaked in" the view. I had time to reflect on my trips with Dianna to these falls and then I was ready to head home. The path along the river has a lush Japanese Garden feel and look to it and with gravity as my friend we sailed down the trail. We came to a horse fence and passed through to find a dead end so we made our second mistake of the day and headed toward a marked hikers bridge, made a river crossing and started climbing toward what we thought would lead us back to the main river. After about a 500 foot elevation game and the better part of an hour I ran out of gas and we reconsidered our options and reversed course. In hindsight, we realized we were heading along the Pacific Crest Trail in the direction of Mt. Hood which was stilla bout 15 miles away. Once again we returned to find an obvious trail leading in the right direction and we finally arrived back at the trailhead at 6:00. We both felt we had experienced elements of "Into the Wild" and "127 Hours" but were grateful for the successful completion and I appreciated the metaphor of getting off track even if you have a traveling companion. Once again , I thank Heather for showing up when she did.

I was supposed to meet at Judys by late afternoon for a tamale feed and I showed up bedraggled by 7:15. Loren & Veneta had stayed so I was able to spend time with them and Judy & the girls. I returned home to a reinvigorating shower and then picked up a message from Rick S to join him at Dianna's bench at 9:30. Meg was also there and as the full moon arced across the sky we lit a candle for Dianna and sat in rememberance. Onward to the year of seconds...