i miss your face like hell
The only constant is change, yea? The past few days, I’ve felt myself hustling. Hard core. Going through some shit I didn’t quite understand–this restless energy taking over–even as more change happened in my life…good change that let me breathe. Or helped me recognize the woman in the mirror.
But I’ve been feeling this discomfort–no matter what I do–this malaise and dis-ease–which prompted me to do a lot of self-care. Lots of writing, photography, baths, favorite foods, books. Breath.
I kept thinking, “If I could just cry…”
But I didn’t have it in me. So I kept on, doing what I do.
Tonight, I felt this severe urge to disconnect–which is my way when I most need to connect. I know this–but I also know when I’m not in a charitable place and when I’m most capable of more suffering for no reason. So, I opted to delete things on my phone and avoided people as much as I could. But, of course, the dumpster fire of Twitter lured me back for a minute or two–just long enough to see a random tweet about Trail Ridge Road being open again. The signal that summer is here. The signal that I can visit her again.
Every single year since I scattered her ashes, I’ve gone on that pilgrimage there. And when I could see Never Summer in the photo–it was like the Universe telling me…finally…this is what that is.
So, given that hint–I checked. Oh, okay.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I finally let all of her go on that road in RMNP. And this is the first year, I can’t be there. And I may not be able to visit for a while. And once again, I didn’t say goodbye before I left Colorado. It was inconvenient, and I let someone else’s impatience decide for me. I have never felt more displaced and more not me than the last few months out here…so it is particularly painful to not have my holy place there for me to escape to.
It’s amazing how the mind and body remembers things like dates on calendars. But this is actually a good thing, I think. I most need to be loving to myself right now, and I passed the test.
In case some of you don’t know the story, I’m reposting the entry I made on my old blog about that day. Reflecting on that day has released some of the shit I’ve been carrying lately. I hope it helps someone else, too.
let her go, 6/7/2010
When I started recording my Mighty List, it was some fun little activity I did to waste a few minutes of “extra” time. It, of course, became much more because I am not a half-asser–and I do love me a damn list. Especially a list of dreams. But, beyond that, my Mighty List became something to hold me accountable…something to make sure I didn’t waste time…something to help me finish the things I wanted to finish and recognize the things I had accomplished.
And that urge to make every second of my life worth something started a long time ago, but it intensified when my Mama died. Both of my parents died in their 50s and 60s. I’m 31 today, and that means that half my life could be over. And as good as my life really, really is…I would be really unhappy if I died today. I know these thoughts are kinda morbid, but these are thoughts I have fifty million times a day. Most days, I kinda wish I didn’t think about them. But I am too aware of how mortal I am, and I just can’t forget that time is slipping through my fingers. Which is why I am often a woman of extremes–that half-assing thing. And there is really only one thing I ever half-assed. This weekend, I fixed that.
Memories of my father’s funeral are mostly details. My photographer’s brain captured stills that piece together some sort of story of a life cut much too short. There’s a limo picking us up. Me in a dark, navy dress–my hair in braids and bangs. Mama in a navy dress that met her knee. There are blue carnations and my child’s Bible–which I put in Daddy’s hands. I remember kissing his forehead because Mama made me. There’s a woman singing Amazing Grace and The Old Rugged Cross. I remember the latter vividly because it was Mama’s favorite, and she would sing it to me that night as I fell asleep. I remember Fort Logan and the flag and the guns.
I don’t remember crying. Not once.
We talked about funeral arrangements a lot when I was growing up. I’m not really sure why, but Mama always seemed to know she was not long for this Earth. She always told me to hurry up and have grandbabies because–otherwise–she would never know them. And she was right. She will never know them, if I ever have them–which, oddly, now–I think I might.
For years, Mama said she wanted to be buried. Crown Hill, I believe. She was afraid of being burned alive, which is silly because–well, my Mama was sometimes silly. But her fear was real and dead serious. I am often exactly like that. Silly in my very real fear. And oh-so-many very real fears I have. Non-descript sometimes.
That changed for her when she got sick. Maybe, it was the confirmation that death could happen at any time. Or, maybe, the silly fears she’d always had were replaced by gigantic, looming ones that would make anyone shit their pants. Her illness changed her irrevocably…shocked her into quitting a 40+ year smoking habit in a single day…made her small and dependent. Violent and angry, too. And the easy smile that was always on her face was replaced by that wide-eyed plea for me to save her from this shite reality.
So, maybe, burning would be okay. Better than this.
It was the what if thing we did while waiting for doctors the first time–before they discovered it would be best to pull out all her teeth so the doohickey wouldn’t knock them out during anesthesia. It gave us an extra week, and it let her have a final birthday. The best week we had of those last two terrible months. And somehow, that week changed all of it…made us able to settle things and trust each other. Made us able to say goodbye without ever uttering the words–though I will always hate myself for not managing that simple thing.
And that’s how we began the talk about what would be her upcoming death. I remember she was eating the black bean salad I created just for her when she got sick. In her cow slippers and the blue nightgown I bought for her for that year’s birthday. She had fallen in love with both instantly and never wanted to take them off. They were in the bag we packed for her hospital stay, but she never wore them after she checked in.
I was her guardian, just as she had always been mine. And it felt odd to me to be the one to take control of her life, but it was also natural for me because I had always been her protector–just as much as she was mine–and she had taught me well. In two short months, I had demonstrated as much with my insurance wrestling. But I needed to know what she wanted, so I could make good decisions. She didn’t want to be resuscitated, but we talked more and she rethought it. I told her I probably wanted to be cremated and told her of a friend of mine and how she wanted to be scattered in the ocean. And that’s when we talked about her own cremation. Rocky Mountain National Park was the perfect fit. We had spent many days exploring there with Daddy. It was a second home for me.
At the time, I was still speaking to my ex-fiance…who was a pretty avid outdoorsman who climbed fourteeners. I love nature, but I’m also terrified of heights and had an ongoing knee injury. We talked about him and I climbing up and scattering her ashes together. But, as our friendship fell apart, that became impossible to fathom. So, several months later, I planned to do the damn thing by myself…which, apparently, is kinda not good. Since, you know, people die on that mountain. And to make it even better, I decided to go to Madagascar just before that…and ended up returning late the night prior to it…due to a terrorist thing that delayed my flight from France. The whole thing was really symbolic for me, though, so I was not going to give up. Remember that whole half-assed thing?
I ended up joining a group of people, although I wasn’t really part of their group. It was that alone-together thing that I so often gravitate toward. For me, climbing the Peak with Mama was symbolic of how we’d always lived our lives together. It was really difficult for a girl terrified of heights who never climbed a damn mountain before, but somehow–I made it up there.
But I only scattered half of her ashes.
I told everyone I had, though, because–well…I’m proud…and I didn’t want them to know I just couldn’t let her go.
I know. (Stupid).
So, the rest of my Mama has lived in storage spaces and closets–in a little, black, plastic box–in a suitcase–ever since. And every time I looked at it, I would break down.
And then, last year happened. And I celebrated Christmas for the first time since she died. And I felt joy like I did when I was five…when both of them were alive and December was just another month for candy canes and spending too much money on crap we don’t really need. And twinkle lights.
Something inside me healed, and I realized that I had to finish scattering her ashes–as I had intended to do so many other times. I decided to go to Anne McCue’s concert in Big Sur in October…and I could do it then. Anne McCue’s music reminds me a lot of my childhood, and Big Sur has always been a place I return to again and again–like Estes. And it, too, holds special value for my family. It was one of Mama’s special places. Perfect.
As time passed, though, I kept feeling stuck with life–kept feeling the past pull me back and undo the progress I’d made. And I realized that some part of me was a little girl, mourning her mother. For sanity’s sake, I needed to do this sooner rather than later. So, I decided to scatter her ashes in another part of Rocky Mountain National Park–that way, she’d be all over the park…and I wouldn’t have to climb the mountain to say hi. But I wasn’t really sure where I should do it. I had a few ideas, but I wanted to do what felt right rather than think about it.
I planned to do it a few weeks ago, but weather and finances meant the trip was postponed. I was seriously getting antsy about everything and needed a roadtrip in the worst way. On Thursday, I rented a Jeep and scheduled a bunch of marathon roadtrips–scattering Mama that day and then celebrating it by doing something I really love. At first, I wanted to go alone. But then, I worried that the stress of doing it would make me accident-prone. And then, I thought about what I wanted from this–what I needed.
It’s kind of easy for me to intellectualize things that I should feel something about. And it’s not that I don’t feel–it’s just that I am really good at burying those feelings. It would have been pretty easy for me to not scatter her ashes. I could have postponed it times infinity. Mama wasn’t disturbing anything, really. It was comfortable.
A few years ago, I started making choices to be uncomfortable. Because that discomfort made me stretch. I’ve learned that stretching is good, and once I get going, I stretch like no other. The life I want–the joy I felt in December–that was not because I decided to be comfortable. It was because I did something I truly hated doing–but I made my peace with it–stretched until it didn’t hurt so much. Staring down pain–picking it up, getting used to its nooks and crannies–diffuses it. It might always hurt, but it can’t rip you a new one if you know where the barbs live.
And this was about a choice. The choice I have made every day for years now: to live.
Being me, of course, it had to be symbolic. So, I decided to invite my roomie/most recent ex along just for maximum discomfort. While we are as close to friends as exes can be, we have not had the easiest time reconciling our differences lately. But we care about one another, and I needed this to reinforce the fact that I can make choices that create change in my life. This is a new day. And I wanted a new day with this person that I cared about–because what has been so very uncomfortable doesn’t have to be. But it was also symbolic in that, for all of my life, it was always me and my Mama…and now, she’s gone. So, instead of it being just me–I am choosing to allow other people to be in my life and take this journey with me–even if they confuse or hurt me. I am choosing joy from now on.
Thursday morning, I picked up the Jeep from the rental place and headed to pick up a blue carnation. Then, I drove out to Ft. Logan and asked Daddy to help me find a good place. It was a muggy, overcast day. We got to Estes in the early afternoon and made our way through its nooks and crannies. But nothing felt all that right. We kept looking for cliff-y spots, but there were always too many people…or it was ridiculously windy. On the way back, as we followed Trail Ridge Road, the clouds started parting and the sun beamed out–bright blue sky and a huge rainbow. The rainbow hovered over a big cliff area called, Volcanoes of the Never Summer Mountains.
Now, the thing is–the day my Daddy died, there was a huge rainbow. Last December, when I visited Daddy’s grave, the sun was ridiculously bright after days of absolute sludge. And there were huge clouds everywhere. No one was around. It was windy, but not as bad as before. This was absolutely the spot. It was like Daddy was telling me.
As I started scattering her ashes, the wind picked up, so I decided to move to another area where the wind would blow away from me. (Later, we would discover that the end of the rainbow literally stopped at the spot where I scattered her ashes). On the walk back, I saw the name of the area–Never Summer–and it was perfect for my Mama, the December baby who hated summer.
I didn’t cry till I was inside the car, and then it was just for a few minutes. I cried more as we left, and the enormity of literally letting her go hit me. But I was able to feel okay about it–like, okay…yes…this is right. And it was.
Most of us think, at some point, we will bury our parents. It makes sense, and I guess, if anything is preferred–it’s that. I never really thought that. I thought my father was the tallest man on Earth–though he was probably about 5’7″. I thought I was Wonder Woman, and if anyone could stop them, it would be me. Even after Daddy died, I never really believed Mama would die. Or if she did, she’d be 105. I thought I had some sort of Get Out of Jail Free card because I’d lost one parent when I was six. The fact that she died almost exactly on the day he died, twenty years later? The irony is not lost on me.
I was always their protector. As shitty as that is to think about. My parents were fragile people, and on some level, I will always feel responsible for them. Now, I have tried to put that in proper perspective. I am not your guardian or your keeper. But, on some level, I absolutely believe we are responsible for each other–for our collective lives and the world we exist in. Every day. I am trying to be just as protective of my own life, but I struggle with it sometimes.
While it feels right that I left Mama on that mountain, I don’t like it. Just as I don’t like that, somehow, that force of nature was reduced to a pile of uniform bits of white sand. I don’t like that people will breathe her in. That they will sit on her. But I do like that Mama will finally be in a place that would make her happy and that she is no longer in pain.
One day, maybe, I can say the same.
(Click to view larger).