A Young Widow’s Journey to the Trail
At the young age of 33 I was catastrophically widowed. The horror of it all is surreal.
My eyes burst open at 3 a.m. to my little girl screaming out “daddy.” I am half awake, and for a brief second my mind shakes it off. Then I feel my heart pound as I reach over for him. There is a loud voice in my head screeching, “He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead.” Panic sets in, I freeze and feel tears pouring out of my eyes. This is my life. My “new normal.”
My grief journey is not a journey at all. Grief doesn’t come in waves. My grief follows me like a haunting shadow into every socially awkward situation all day long.
Grief creeps into my bedroom at night and keeps me up for hours staring that the ceiling. I struggle to find out who I am. My identity was lost when he died. What is left in this world for me now? There is no manual for widowhood. As a single mother now to three children that desperately need me, I must get myself together. I need to find a place for my grief to go.
Everyone says, “You’re so strong.” I am not strong. I am surviving. Death doesn’t give you a choice. The only choice I have now is to decide what to do with this pain. I want to feel strong and accept that this tragedy can empower me. This pain will be fuel for me to hike the Appalachian Trail. I will show my children that my life did not end with his death. So into the woods I go, to deal with my grief and to heal. I know I will feel strong when I finish this and that is what I desperately need.
Hiking has been my only outlet since his death because it sets me free.
It is my safe place. I can let myself cry in the woods, and laugh, and trip over roots and rough trail. I can kick rocks. There’s no judgment out there. I sit in the sun by the creek and relish the absence of “helpful” advice. I feel peace in my heart when I am alone in the woods, and sometimes I talk to my husband. His presence comforts me when I am away from the noise of the world. All of the emotional pain subsides, and for those few hours I feel human again.
I never dreamed of hiking the trail because I was living my dream. We were happily married with a beautiful family. Then death came and changed everything. My dreams changed too. There have been a million steps I have had to take forward without him. Despite all of the obstacles I have continued to move forward. Hiking the Appalachian Trail has given me a hope for my life and my future that I assumed died when he died. I need to leave. I hope the trail kicks my ass, and I get to finally take all this pain out on the world that gave it to me.
When I leave and I am out living your dream, please remember some of you are coming home after a long day of work to my dream.
You are able to look at the person you love the most in the universe and say, “I love you.” You can sleep next to them at night, to smell their skin, to hear their heartbeat. You get to cuddle up under the sheets and fight over the thermostat temperature. Before you go to bed, you can smile at their face, and think about all the wonderful memories you’ve shared with them. I promise I’ll live out this new dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ll do it for you, if you can live out mine and remember to love that person next to you at night, because death comes to all of us.
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