Saturday, January 3, 2015

Me & Cheryl Strayed

Mammoth Cave National Park, 2011
 I hike. I'm a hiker. I have gone through a lot of pairs of hiking shoes and boots. And, socks. I once became friends with someone on the trail when she gave me her dry (dirty) socks to put on my feet because my socks were soaking wet.
My love of hiking was instilled in me by my mother. Our family vacations were spent tent camping. Mother would take off and the three of us kids were left to scramble and keep up with her. We followed like ducks in a row.
She was my Girl Scout leader. People thought because I had so many badges that she was easy on me but in truth, she was harder on me than any of the other girls. I really had to prove myself.  The sleeping bag I remember from my Girl Scout days was brown and had mallard ducks printed on the flannel lining. These were the kind of bags you would put in the washing machine. Mother would hang them out on the line to dry and I remember how the bag felt and smelled - the flannel kind of rough - not soft like it is, now. When we tent camped, everything smelled delicious of sunshine and grass and dirt and Off! bug spray.
Pink Dust in the Grand Canyon, 2008
 I haven't hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, but I've hiked a lot of other places.
Grand Canyon, 2008

Rocky Mountain National Park, 2005
The scene where Witherspoon is climbing the huge rocks and working to get her pack through, I leaned to Doug and said "that looks like the boulder field." The boulder field is on Long's Peak - a huge expanse of boulders that you have to maneuver your way over, around and through.
Random Internet pic of the keyhole/bounder field on Long's Peak
 Long's Peak is a fourteener - but I called it quits in the keyhole. The keyhole is at 13,000 feet, which was quite an accomplishment for me. You can see just past us in the photo, how it looks as if you are entering Mordor.

Me and Doug sitting in the keyhole on Long's Peak, 2005
 You find out a lot about yourself when you push yourself to the limit. I've always been at my happiest times when I'm out there in nature, dirty, grimy, struggling to climb a mountain or to paddle a canoe into the wind or to slither through a hole in a cave. It is during those times that I've been more than me - that I am me, but that small self who is just a tiny element out there in nature. I've been happiest when the rain is falling on top of the tent or the waves are lapping at the shoreline and it is pitch black dark and all you can see are a million stars.

I read Cheryl Strayed's book when it came out in 2012. I knew I had some things in common with her as I read it. Other parts, not so much. I didn't know when I read it that I would lose my own mother two years later.
I gave her book to someone I thought was my friend at the time. I would later learn that person was never my friend when she abandoned me when I lost my mother. She accused me of being self-centered. I agreed that I was and told her that if she could experience a loss such as mine and not be self-centered, then she was a better woman than I.

I cried when I saw the previews for the movie, and knew it would be difficult to watch. One person who wanted to go with me to the movie was my friend, Julie. You know how when one person goes out of your life, another enters? When the person who was never my friend left my life, Julie walked in. She wanted to go see the movie with me and I would have clung to her and cried. My daughter knew I wanted to see it and we talked about going together. In the end, it was good that we didn't. I probably would have alarmed her with how much I cried and for how long. In the end, it was Doug who sat beside me. Doug being his rock self. He had seen it all before. He was here for the day in day out crying of the first three months following her death.

In the book and the movie,it is implied that Cheryl Strayed's mother came to her as a fox.
 My mother has come to me as a great blue heron. It sounds crazy, but there have been so many times in these past nine months since her death that a blue heron has appeared. My mother's dying wish was to live to see my daughter's child born. Mother died on March 5, 2014 and my second granddaughter was born on June 8, 2014. Almost two hours exactly after the baby was born, a great blue heron circled overhead. After three months, I had started to realize the appearance of the great blue herons. I looked up into the sky and said out loud I know you know, mother - I know you know Aly is here.
Someone who loves me very much was recently asking me questions about the grief I've experienced since mother's passing. I don't know that I have many answers. One thing I've experienced is the feeling of being untethered. In the womb, you are tethered to your mother by the umbilical cord. And despite the fact that the cord is severed phycially at birth, I don't feel that cord is truly ever cut. Now that my mother is physically gone from this earth, I have been questioning my identity - who am I now that my mother is no longer physically present in my life? My dad asked me if I was making too much of it. I said what if I am if it is a comfort to me? I was discussing the appearance of the herons with my massage therapist and she asked me if I had looked up the meaning of the heron and I told her I had not. She answered "well, everything has meaning," and she loaned me a book on spirit animal meanings. It said that the heron was showing me how to look deeper into aspects of my life that will bring out innate wisdom and to teach me how to become more self-reliant - how to ground myself in the earth and my spiritual beliefs and how to become comfortable in uncertain situations and to be watchful. I found all of this to be incredibly interesting.

In my struggle, I've also done some stupid stuff. I didn't do heroin or have multiple partners stuff, but I've treated myself in a distructive manner at times. I've made some bad decisions and acted upon them. I've lost my self-control. I try to rise above at this point in my life - to take the high road and most certainly have not in a few situations since my mother's death. I have cried and wailed and have become angry and I've said things I shouldn't to people I shouldn't have. And throughout, my mantra has been forgiveness and peace. Forgiving myself first. Forgiving others and striving for peace. That is all I can do.

So much of the movie is so raw and real as to death and the way you miss someone. So many things ripped the band aid off for me again. You see things and they remind you. It comes slamming back. And you can hear the hospital sounds and smell the awful antiseptic, sickening smell of illness and death. The little green mouthwash sponge thing on the stick. Toward the end of my mother's life, I was the one she would allow to swab her mouth for her.

In the movie, when Witherspoon falls to her knees in anguish in the middle of the trail - that was me this past summer, gardening with all I had in me - sobbing, tears falling, clawing at the earth, ripping weeds, one moment angry and strong and the next leaning forward on my hands and knees, falling forward, watering the earth with my tears. Doug saw all of that. It would break his heart and I would wave him away.

 My healing from the loss of my mother isn't yet complete. Some people tell me it will never be. Some tell me the second year is even more difficult than the first. I do know that the most growth comes from the most difficult times.

Last photo of mother and me
I hiked this past summer on mother's birthday, July 12. It was a beautiful day and I hiked at one of her favorite spots at one of her favorite parks. I felt her presence with me.
I'm thankful for the raw story of Cheryl Strayed's Wild and the movie. Now I want to go back and read the book again. I know there are those who think I'm too open at times. This is the life of a writer. Tonight, we got into the car and Doug spoke. I said I don't want to talk.
All I wanted to do was run home to the keyboard and write.
Cheryl K. Bennett

1 comment:

Jenna Amundson said...

What a beautiful honesty you have.

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