Journey to the Land of After

CHRONICLES OF THE UNEXPECTED
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.

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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.

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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

A BEGINNING I NEVER WANTED

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 Match.com 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. 

 

Seeing each other with kindness in a time of political strife

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THE STRUGGLE TO SEE HUMANITY IN A POSITIVE LIGHT

I have a file folder in my brain marked “humanity.” It is the ever changing source of how I think and feel about humans.

The file folder was mostly empty when I was a baby. It contained images and words about the people who cooed at me or held me close or fed. Humanity was smiling faces.

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As I grew older the file folder grew too.  People, media, books and news offered more images and information about human beings.

At first I let it all be filed in my Humanity folder.  . . riots, the Beatles, teachers, politicians, friends, advertisements and more. In time I began to understand that not all things I heard or saw or read were accurate or life affirming.  I began to select what I would let into my file folder.

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I moved away from the city to our home in the forests of Southern Oregon in 1972.  Each year my folder had less and less first hand information about crime and hate and pollution.

What I read and saw and chose to experience as a country woman shaped me and shaped my view of humanity. My file folder labeled “humanity” was filled with examples of kindness and generosity.

I was an optimist who saw the decency and intelligence of human beings, even though I worked in child protective services.

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There were sad things that happened in my personal life and in the world at large, especially in the last two decades.  There were wars and earthquakes, forest fires and poverty “out there” in the world beyond my land.

My house burned down in 2004 and my first husband died of a brain tumor in 2005. My son Robin was shot and killed in 2011.

You would think that the world events and the personal losses would have destroyed my rosy eyed view of humanity. All those did shift my view, but mostly my file folder was still filled with positive “paper.” (Or gigabytes in the computer age.)

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AND THEN
the political and societal events of the last five years, mostly in the United States, began tumbling out of social media, news, people’s mouths and actions, on political signs along the road, in protests and in ugly ugly conflict.

I began struggling these last few years to make sure the Humanity folder in my brain was not being overwhelmed with images, stories and facts of human beings at their worst.

I realized I needed to deliberately look for the intelligent, creative and decent traits of people and groups.

I began taking more time and care to choose what I watched, read and listened.

I intentionally chose to only let people into my brain who added to the quality of my life.

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AND YET
more and more I was struggling with a mighty battle. I wanted to stay informed and involved but I was saddened by a side of humanity I never wanted to see. Sometimes I was flat out stunned by actions or words or beliefs.

My file folder on Humanity was battered and darkened.

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AND THEN COVID19 ARRIVED

Project1In the time of “before” I already had decided I did not want my thinking, my spirit, my view on life and people to become discouraged and cynical. I wanted to see the beauty in humanity. I wanted to see the possibilities.

I wanted to want to be connected with all people.

With the arrival of Covid19 it no longer was a matter of me wanting these things.  I desperately, passionately needed to seek, see and nurture the light in every person. I needed to intentionally see all of us as one family.

 

women by the fenceAND SO I AM COMMITTED TO

. . . staying informed with verified facts
. . . listening without an internal knee jerk dialogue of “wtf are they thinking.”
. . . deliberately seeking out evidence of the kindness, creativity and intelligence of individual people
. . . breathing deeply and loosening my jaw muscles and tense shoulders at the first exposure to what I let distress me. (signs, posts, briefings, actions etc)

AND I WILL REMEMBER THAT
my view of humanity is determined by what I CHOOSE to let into that file folder in my brain.

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AND SO I CHOOSE, EVEN IF IT IS HARD,
not to become angry, cynical, disgusted, disconnected, and divisive.

I CHOOSE TO BE LIGHT.