Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lesson Learned along the Trail...and Journey

Over these past months I’ve been experiencing first-hand what can only be described as the many faces of grief, each face being a different factor you have to deal with. To give a few examples, there is:

-the loss factor
-the longing factor
-the raw miss of Dane factor
-the “crap factor” of things you have to do (i.e., headstone)
-the fear factor of the future

I’ve likened these faces to a horse race: every day, sometimes every hour, these faces are racing each other, each striving to be the dominant feeling. In the first few weeks of losing Dane I felt like these faces were flashing across my mind like a strobe light. As time has gone on, each face settles in for awhile, a couple days, or a week, before another takes the lead. Right now the dominant face of grief seems to be this: the feeling of being torn from Dane, with all our “millipede” connections dangling like fresh wounds. It manifests itself in the sense that, as many couples feel, I was one with Dane; we became a blended entity and now I am so very not one. And it’s not a simple loneliness (I really haven’t been racked with loneliness), but a heightened awareness of simply not being with Dane. I’m the one, of the two of us, who is still here. She is on the Other Side and I am very much not. And it’s not simply a spouse lamenting the loss of a spouse; it’s Bear lamenting the loss of Dane. As I’ve mentioned, we had declared our love to be a top five love of all time. So now, what does the surviving half of that love do?

This made me ponder a question that Dana seemed to answer for me when I was on a recent trip to one of our favorite places in the world: the ranch of Burnt Fork Ministries, a wonderful place lovingly stewarded by our friends Randy and Kay. Here was the question: What would Dane feel/think if she was aware of the heartache that I was experiencing? What might she say to me?

I went to Montana with three distinct purposes: to see some great friends, to hike some beautiful trails, and to explore the night sky (my newfound hobby that is helping me connect with something that’s been around a lot longer than my and Dana’s love). What better place to explore the night sky than in a state nicknamed “Big Sky Country”? And it lived up to its billing. In fact, you might say I got to hike the day and the night: walking scenic trails through canyons and along mountain streams by day, learning constellations as I hopped from one formation to the other through and around the Milky Way by night.

Many merciful and gracious things happened to me and came to me on this Montana trip. I’m planning to post it in small bits. Here’s the first small bit:

On one particular night, a night that seemed emotionally heavier than the other nights, I stared at “our star” in the Big Dipper and posed the question I’d been pondering: What would Dane feel/think if she was aware of the heartache that I was experiencing? What would she say to me?

I was surprised by what entered my mind and my heart: I pictured Dana in her splendor thinking about that question. In fact, her current surroundings of splendor have everything to do with the response. I’m going to write as I heard the response, in Dana’s words:

“Bear, about your heartache and your pain: I’ve seen where this all leads and it
really doesn’t matter how much you hurt. I’ve seen how and where you will end
up. It doesn’t matter how hard things are for you now. It will be worth the
pain. Bear, of all the crap I endured to try to beat that crazy cancer, it was
worth that pain. It’s actually not even on a comparable scale. It doesn’t matter
how much worse things get for you on Earth; it doesn’t matter how much deeper
the heartache gets; it doesn’t matter if you get a bad disease yourself. In
fact, just to stress the point: I won’t even waste time trying to comfort you.
All I can say is, it really doesn’t matter! I can’t wait until you see how worth
it it all is!!! I SEE it. I SEE the forever! It’s real! Bear, it’s worth the
pain. It was worth all my pain/suffering. It doesn’t matter how hard it gets. It
WILL be worth it.”
I don’t quite have words yet to describe how this answer has comforted me. I can truly say, it has settled me down. When a face of grief tries to own me, I can look it in the eye and say, “It doesn’t matter how bad this gets; it will be worth it.” Maybe it’s just that our final reward is so much more certain to me now.

And this past Tuesday with my Bible study gang, we ran into this Scripture passage, James 1:12:12:
Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is
mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life
and more life. (The Message version)

And I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks
like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new
life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small
potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for
us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here
today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever. (The
Message version)

You gotta love a version that uses the phrase “small potatoes”!

And as if to put an exclamation point on my “conversation” with Dana, on my last day of hiking I had this experience:

One of our favorite hikes near the ranch in Montana is the Bear Creek Overlook. (I know, “Bear”; but it’s not just because of the name.) I squeezed this trail in as a second hike on the last day of my visit. The overlook is one of the most breathtaking mountain scenes I’ve experienced, and I’ve experienced more than my fair share of mountain scenes. The picture at the top of this post does not do it justice. I spent an hour at the overlook. Then on my way back down the trail, I passed two guys going up the trail on their way to the overlook. They asked how much farther they had to go (a common hiker practice; we all want recon and perspective). I told them about 30-45 minutes. They took a few steps up the trail and then one of them asked back, “Is it worth it?”

I know. It was God-stamp timing.

Without yet making the cosmic connection between their question and my question, I loved being able to say, with almost a giddy certainty, “definitely!” I had personally weighed the effort (the switch-back trail) against the payoff (the magnificent overlook) and could confidently declare that it was worth it. I KNEW they would enjoy it.

It wasn’t until I got near the bottom of the trail that I realized the connection between that conversation and the “conversation” I had with Dane. I had given those two hikers the answer that Dana had been giving me about my journey. Dana would say to me with absolute, giddy certainty that the journey is worth it! She’s seen the trail and she’s now seen the payoff.

It’s definitely worth it.