Journey to the Land of After

April 21 2005 marked a day when our lives changed forever. Before and After were words we had used in the past. We had talked about “before our children were born” or “after they graduated from high school.”

April 21st was a starkly different kind of turning point. That was the day my husband Bruce died from a brain tumor. All that was BEFORE forever changed.

hiking Monument Valley
The odd and ancient shapes in Mounument Valley made me smile at last.

Three weeks after Bruce died in my arms I drove across the U.S. on a solo journey, trying to find the new me, but mostly experiencing the ruggedness of the land.

I wanted to feel alive and being out in the mountains or by frozen streams or in desert heat was a link back to life.

During that trip I wrote Journey to the Land of the After. The book chronicled the unexpected lessons and people I encountered as I traveled the western United States adjusting to life after loss and trauma.

Each day as drove I tape recorded thoughts and impressions, the cassette recorder propped on the passanger seat.  At night in a motel I would transcribe what I recorded.

Picture 28
The sound of my voice on the recordings was raw,  unmasked of attempts to be brave.

Listening to the tapes I heard and sometimes sobbed again at the raw emotions.

Yet I also smiled at the moments of wonder in my voice that more and more emerged on the 4000 mile journey.

I tucked the manuscript away on a shelf at the end of that first journey. Too many journeys were ahead of me.  Too many days of learning to be alone without being lonely awaited me.

Thousands of drawngs and hundreds of stories from the last 15 years are stored on shelves all over my home, waiting for ????
I pulled out the manuscript this week and began to read of those long ago days of desolute sorrow and the beginnings of my healing.

I sighed, especially reading the first entry in the book. (I have shared it below.)

Yet I also felt respect for myself for living through and beyond the loss of Bruce, my partner for 37 years.  It reminded me I can face and will move through other challenges life inevitably will offer me.


Chapter One


Azalea to Portland Oregon May 2005:  This trip today is a practice run.  I almost didn’t make it to the car this afternoon.  Last night I had wanted to die.  

The thought of driving anywhere, of packing clothes and of even seeing my children, seemed more effort than my body and my soul could ever imagine. 

Yet I knew staying home was not the answer either. My soul would be weary just turning on the kitchen tap.  I would go.  I needed to go.

Bruce Brink
Bruce was a gentle soul. I took this photo weeks before he died. His smile lingers on.

I have been on the road for two hours now. It is odd to be here in the car, driving down a freeway that I have driven many times in the last 20 years. 

I used to look across the car at Bruce as we drove this road. Now I am a driver and he is a memory.

I see places and trees that Bruce and I watched change and grow. Yet this time is the first time for me. Everything about it, every tree, and every step of the way is a first. 

Bruce died three weeks ago and at that moment everything around me and who I was changed.  The world became strange and alien.  My eyes see what should be familiar, but my brain and my emotions do not understand.

This is a journey I did not expect or want.  I am angry.  I’m sad.  I’m confused and I’m numb. 

Before Bruce died, he told me that he would be there with me.  He said he would be the warmth on my back.  He would always be with me. 

I do feel his presence, but I want to hold his hand.  I do feel his warmth, but I want to be held by his arms.

I know I am me and I like who I am, but so much of what I have done over the last 37 years and who I have become has been interwoven with who Bruce was and what we have done together. 

Now he has died.  Now I am living a life of “after” and I don’t know how to do this.

I did learn during that journey and the years that followed  about how to be the new me in the new normal of life after loss.

In the book I wrote of how I met Bruce in 1967 while cruising Colorado Blvd in Pasadena. That made me laugh with a few groans.

Shaun and RAy and the gold claim
Dating these days means gold mining not cruising


Should I write a sequel I would need to write about dating again after 40 years and meetups.

I would write about falling in love again and traveling across country with Ray, a dear later-in-life love.  All of that is part of the “after” I could not fathom those first weeks after Bruce died.

I am not sure what I will do with the 700 page manuscript. Just holding it, thumbing through the pages is a gift from me at age 55 to me at age 70.  We are resilient. We can create a joyous Land of After. 


Paper, Scissors, Glue and a Vision


I took a class this term on creating vision boards. I had never made one before or even heard of them.

“The board, once you create it, will talk to you,” the teacher explained.


And just how do I make it?

I  looked around me. I was surrounded by magazines and glue and 15 other retired men and women, all sitting at tables at Southern Oregon University.  I did not know it then, but an adventure was beginning.

“Find pictures that speak to your inner joy,” the teacher said.

We ripped, cut, and snipped out pictures from magazines. We laughed like kids in kindergarten as we turned pages and smiled at what we found.

I kept clipping and ripping out words and phrases in the magazines


Some of my classmates cut out photos of beaches, mountains, birds, art work and more.  It was the words in the magazines, not just what they said, but the feel of words that seemed to attracted me.

The teacher gave us heavy weight matt boards, glue and fancy edged scissors.

“Play around with the layout of the photos you like,” the teacher said.  “Take a picture with your phone of the layout,”  We laughed, the child in us enjoying the freedom of being messy and creative.


First version
I tried to use magazine pictures.


I had found some wonderful pictures in additon to the words. I layed them out in different patterns on the board. Sigh. The pictures did not talk to me, only the words did.

I took my board home for a week until the next class. Maybe it would speak to me at home.

MOre dooddles on a vision board
A box of old doodles was a treasure trove of pictures


I found some of my primitive, first doodles in a box in my bedroom closet. I had done thousands of them since I first discovered I could do art at the age of 52. They were awkward, messy and some quite weird.

Yet they called to me.  “Cut me out, cut me out and paste me on your board,” so of course I did.

It was fun to revisit my first efforts at drawing. Each one had a story to tell about where and when I drew it.

The problem was, I had so many doodles I needed a bigger board. I pasted the orginal board onto three more boards. Now I could cut and paste lots more doodles. I was delighted.

I added more and more doodles.


I sat on my bedroom floor cutting out doodle afer doodle. There were paper scraps and pictures everywhere, much to the delight of my Shtizu dog who ran through them.

I lay them out on the now bigger board in different patterns and took a photo of a design I liked. Then I began pasting. My fingers stuck. Paper got glued to my jeans. and my doggie got glue in her tail.

Super fun!

THen came color vision board
More and more color


Color said “what about me?” Of course I said yes and I painted and dabbed and added pastels too. I painted and pasted and painted more until 3 in the morning.

The next week I added more spots of color and shade each time I passed by the board.

I was gleeful…and messy.

Photo Editor_SS3gMR

THE VISION MESSAGE? One day, if you want to hear it, I’ll share with you the vision message that I got from this board but I thought you might like to look at it and create your own message.