I set out today with a heavy heart and a mind full of thoughts. Almost a year has passed. One year since I felt as if I’d been shaken like a rag doll in a playful puppy’s mouth, leaving me without a clue as to which end was up. One year since we lost my happy, healthy brother to a completely unexpected heart attack at the young age of 37, just two short days after my Grandmother passed away.
"Until now, I have held onto my story like a secret that only those closest to me can know."
So many times throughout my journey that we call the grieving process, I have had the temptation, the desire write. Writing is my outlet, my therapy, my most effective form of communication. But what do you do when you are so grief stricken that you feel paralyzed? Like your feelings are so tremendous that there are no possible words or sentences that can even begin to articulate what is going on inside of you? I’m still not sure of the answer; or if there is one for that matter. All I know is what I’ve done. I’ve waited. I’ve lived with the pain every day since October 6, 2014, and I’ve waited. I’ve waited through the days of shock when my body physically ached so greatly that at times I honestly worried that I too was having a heart attack. I waited through the days where the majority was spent lying in bed crying, and those where I had to redirect my thoughts about what actually, physically happened to my brother moments before he passed. I’ve waited through the days of fearing resuming “normal” life, because I knew life as I had once known it was over; I’d have to learn and accept a new “normal”. And because I knew I had to face the world; a world where others’ lives were untouched by what I was experiencing and where some would want to be kind and ask about me, hug me, reach out to me. I worried I didn’t have the strength to embrace the compassion being offered, and I knew I didn’t have the strength to be the smiley person I once was. I’ve waited through the multitude of answerless questions and the pointless attempts at figuring out, “Why my brother when he was so healthy and good? Why not someone who doesn’t care about their health or the jerk that abused one more innocent child?” Every day I waited, because what I realized is that there was absolutely nothing that myself or anyone else could do to ease my pain. I realized that I had to just feel it, and wait. Because each day took me further and further away from that initial pain.
So today, I sat out on a hike. I went to a place that we frequented as a family during my childhood. A beautiful place not far from where my brother took his last breath, and where we spent a long day searching for him. I was hesitant at first, to visit a place, alone, that I knew was so strikingly similar. Over the last year, I’ve found these places are a trigger for me. You see, the woods here in the beautiful Northwest are where I spent much of my younger years. Growing up on property meant building forts, racing stick boats down the creek, and weaving in and out of Doug’ Firs on the four wheeler with my siblings. When we weren’t at home we were vacationing…in the wilderness! Learning to love and respect God’s Country was a lesson my parents taught without words. So you can imagine why I find this place, these forests, so comforting. I learned something about myself today. I can be all alone in the woods and not feel lonely. There is a warmth, a feeling of belonging. It’s as if the trees, and plants and fresh air are all wrapping their arms around me in a giant bear hug. Out here, I feel closer to God. Out here I feel a connection to my big brother.
So why is it a trigger? Because my brother too loved the outdoors, and when he went missing in the woods behind his house, we went searching. For hours we searched. On horseback, on foot, up cliffs, down steep embankments, through trees and brush and poison oak, and ferns-oh the ferns! A day so painful, with such a tragic ending gave me new feelings to relate to this lush, green, oasis. It now brings with it scars and memories that play through my head like your worst nightmare or a scene from a horror movie that continues to haunt you.
The woods for me, are no longer beautiful, nor are they brutal. They are now, not so simply, brutiful. This term was introduced to me by an author who says she will never be fully healed; but rather, is always healing. She is a woman of strength and depth and a woman who I have come to admire. To realize that we are never truly healed, but doing well if we are at least in the process. So now, after a year of waiting, when people ask, “How are you doing?” in regards to my brother, I have the strength and words to say, “I’m healing.”
So we hiked. Me and my gentle giant, Gally, we hiked. We looked at the map and quickly realized that our only trail option that allowed dogs was the Rim Trail. At first I was irritated by this. What kind of State Park tells you you can’t take a dog on a trail? It’s nature people! I’m quite certain there are bears and many other critters living on and around the trail. Why not dogs? But that’s not the point, and I’m working on not judging and trying to be better about not letting things bother me on a deep level, so I said, “Well Gally, looks like we’re hiking the rim.” and off we went.
Walking along the trail, I forced myself to look at the ferns. Even though I’d grown to hate them. They, after all, were covering the forest floor so thickly that they made it nearly impossible for us to find my brother’s body. They reminded me of Fern Ridge, just behind my brother’s house, and of the day I spent with him out digging them up so that I could take them home to plant them in my yard. But I did it, I looked at them. And I forced myself to remember how I used to think they were so beautiful. And after a mile or so, I started to understand that the ferns didn’t do anything to me. In fact, if anything, the ferns did my family the biggest favor of all time. You know how as a child you can remember being at the fair? It’s been a long day in the hot sun, and all of the sudden you look up and see the ice cream cart, and other kids are skipping away with huge, frosty cones, and in that moment you decide that you too need an ice cream cone and there is nothing that will convince you otherwise. But now, as a parent, you know what is best for the child and you don’t let them have it because you know it’s not really in their best interest. Something dawned on me today as I forced myself to see those ferns for what they really are, and this is it: I’m pretty sure that in those moments of wanting so desperately to find my brother that Fall day, those ferns protected us from what we thought we needed. They were a physical shield that kept us in an emotionally safer place. Because of those ferns, strangers found my brother’s body- a body that no longer housed my my brother’s sweet soul (a body that had laid lifeless for nearly three days), not me, or my oldest brother, or my dad, or my husband, or my brother’s best friends; but strangers. And so, today, I can begin to see ferns in all of their beauty once again, and I can say that they too are brutiful.
About a quarter of the way through our trek, we reached a viewpoint. It was breathtaking (and not in the sense that I’m afraid of heights). I stood there looking way down at the water twisting through the ravine and in the distance I could hear people. They were below us on the Canyon Trail. The trail that went down to the bottom where you could actually touch the water. It was the trail I had hoped to take, the one where dogs are no longer allowed. But before I could even begin to be upset that we were forced to be on the Rim Trail and not down below, I thought, “Thank goodness we are up here to see such beauty from above. To get a new perspective on the canyon.” I remember noting that we were up so high, that if my arms were long enough I could reach straight out over the canyon and brush the tree tops with the palm of my hand. And maybe it was elevation getting to my head, but I thought:
Last October 6, I fell into the canyon (the lowest part of my life), and when you fall into a canyon and aren’t sure how to get out, sometimes you just have to wait until you are ready to stand, and then start climbing. You have to grip those ferns, putting one hand and foot in front of the other and climb, blindly. Knowing that each time you reach, you get that much further away from the canyon and that much closer to the rim. And you must realize that while you are climbing it is difficult to see the beauty around you-your focus must remain on the climb. And that sometimes it feels as if the canyon is pulling you down no matter how hard you try to climb out of it. And then one day, you are forced to take the Rim Trail, and you look down on the canyon and you see how far you’ve come. You see that time is healing you, and the view is so much better from the top. And while the climb was so grueling, it was well worth it. And as you turn to continue down the trail you see that the sun can actually shine on the canyon.