Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

House of Alone

There is loneliness, there is longing, and then there is something deeper.

In the morning, a year after Evelyn’s death, I hiked the steep trail that began behind Camp 4 and switchbacked up the side of the canyon wall to 6600 feet, crossed over the top of Yosemite Falls, and hiked higher on the trail along the north rim of the valley.

I was aware of the steady movement of my body over the landscape, the cadence of my feet, and the rhythm of my breathing. Three hours into the hike, the chatter of my thoughts had finally settled and I was left facing my emotions.

Leaving the forest, I emerged onto bare, exposed rock and scrambled down the iffy path to North Dome at 7500 feet. From its pinnacle, I surveyed the valley spread out before me: Half Dome across the valley on my left, Glacier Point straight ahead, and Sentinel Rock and Taft Point to the right. I saw where the rivers coming down Tenaya and Merced Canyons joined together and nourished the green meadows as they made their way toward El Capitan.

While I was functioning again, life still felt empty without Ev. Sitting on top of the dome, I sorted through my feelings, trying to identify today’s main emotion.

I was alone, both on the trail and at home. I missed Evelyn — her daily presence, the inquisitive look in her eyes and gentle touch of her hands, the little things she would do, the scent of her perfume. I missed the life that we had built up together, the one we had worked hard to get to this point. By myself, eating meals, washing dishes, even watching TV were chores. I missed the person I was when Evelyn was around because I smiled, felt strong, confident and witty. She understood my jokes, and encouraged me to try things that I wasn’t sure I could do. I missed the person I was becoming because of her.

For months I’ve been coming to Yosemite on my days off to hike and get away from grief at home. After endless hours on the trails, I was beginning to figure out who I was going to be on my own.

I was lonely. It wasn’t just that I missed Evelyn, which was true in a significant way, because she had been part of my life for eighteen years. I also missed being in a relationship with someone where there was give and take, and where love stretched us.

Sometimes my feeling was melancholy and I felt depressed or listless. Sometimes it was saudade, which is a deeper melancholic longing, a desperate feeling in your bones that you have to be with the one who died. Mostly it was longing to feel my heart again, and I wasn’t sure I could do this alone.

The reality was that, with Evelyn gone, there was no place I needed to be, and no one was waiting for me to come home.

My only responsibility now was to find out who I was as a single person. I had became part of a team of two people who relied on each other. When one faltered, the other was there. When one was sick, the other played nurse. When the car broke down, the other one came and brought us home. Today, if I need help, I have friends to call, but I no longer have my one person who was always there. I am on my own.

I sat on the top of North Dome until my body decided it wanted to be in motion. I hiked up the bare, hot rock of Indian Ridge behind the dome, reached the crest at 8400 feet, and sauntered down into the thick shade of the forest.


In a creek, I cooled my feet, then continued on my journey to find out where I was going.

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11 comments:

  1. Before my husband died but while he was sick, we would talk about the things we wanted to do, the places we wanted to go. Now I had been to London Ontario where he was from but he had never been to my hometown. After he died and after much talking to myself I went on part of a trip that we had planned to do. The thought that I had no one who missed me while I was gone or who was going to be happy I was home or greet me when I got home was sobering to the point of almost mind numbing pain and grief. I am alone, there is no one who GOT me like he did. No one to share a meal with, no one to laugh with.

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    1. The feeling of being alone, after years of having someone who was always there, is a stark realization. I'm sorry, Sallie. Gone is someone who understood us and accepted us as we were. Now we have to decide whether to break in someone new, or go it alone for a time. In either case, life will be different.

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  2. Enjoyed that hike, Mark. The solitude in nature has also helped me to escape grief at home. In my case it is being out on the water. Sailing on a boat gives me time to think, be away from the chaos in my present life and be calmed even by the simple ripples from the bow. Even though my wife also loved being on the water, this was one escape I have done alone for years so it is not uncomfortable without her next to me. It bridges the happy times we shared while comforting me in my aloneness, It may be the sunrise of a new day or at night in calm water with stars above reminding me they will be here long after I'm gone. The isolation on the water brings out my inner well being. So I throw off the bowlines and sail away every chance I can.

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    1. I didn't mention it in this post, Peter, but Evelyn loved Yosemite, too. I often came without her because she didn't like to sleep on the ground. So your image of nature being the bridge is perfect. Comfortable being in nature alone, but also remembering the times in nature when we were together.

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    2. Another thought about nature and healing. Judy and I loved gardening and last fall when the gardens faded I was certain I could not plant again without her. Now, with encouragement of dear friends who also love gardening, I CANT WAIT to get seed packs and start seedlings in a couple weeks. I wisely saved many seeds from Judy's last garden and that will be wonderful to see them bloom again some day. Life goes on - in the gardens.

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    3. I'm glad you saved the seeds, Peter. Just in case.

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  3. Oh, I understand completely! Even when I wasn't lonely, I felt so alone. I still feel very alone sometimes, & have blogged about it on several occasions in the last year, 6 years after Lev died. Going from couple to half a couple is like half of you is missing. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. "Half of you is missing." Well said, Ella. Even when we are okay being alone, sometimes we still think about how much nicer it would be if someone were here. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. I am told that grief is something that we carry and never goes completely away. I hope your burden is lighter now . . . mine is very recent and therefore, very heavy.

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    1. What you have heard is true, William. Grief never completely goes away, because we will always love the one we lost. But your burden will become lighter. Mine has, and I carry it with me both as a tribute and also as a reminder for how fragile life is.

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