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.


  1. Barry, I love the connection you have made with this life and our life to come. Isn't that what's it's really all about? It reminds us all of the journey that we are on, that we are not meant to be here, but to be with our Creator. For that reason alone, yes, it is all so worth it.

  2. Bear,

    Thanks for the update. You have no idea how encouraging your postings are. We just got home from vacation on Maui and EVERYDAY we saw a complete rainbow. It was a reminder to me that no matter where I go, no matter how far away from home I might be, His promises are real and follow me wherever I go. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you as you continue on this journey. I have to agree with Dana, it's worth it :-) Be encouraged this day my friend.....

  3. Barry, thanks for adding depth to my day. All of life is sacred, we just are unable to see that most of the time. Your wrestling with all of this reminds us all of that truth. Peace to you on this leg of the journey.

    love, o.

  4. Barry, this is from the Carepages site of a mom who lost her two little boys over the last few months, to a horrible, rare genetic disease. Grief can be all-consuming at times when you've lost a part of yourself! I pray often for you, and for the parents of lost little ones, especially, that God will continue to hold you up when you can't hold yourselves up. Dana would be proud of you!

    Grief is more than just a constellation of feelings in response to a loss.
    Grief does not fade with the passage of time. We do not realize our losses in an instant; we realize them over years. We do not get over it, but instead go through it, not just once, but many times.
    Grief changes form and eludes definition.
    Grief is physical.
    Grief sits on your chest, punches you in the gut, squeezes your throat, winds everything up breaking-point tight, and sucks the energy out of you.
    Grief is holding your breath, or breathing fast and shallow like a scared rabbit.
    Grief is lazy and lethargic.
    Grief is exhaustion that cannot sleep, hunger that cannot eat, and tears that will not dry.
    Grief is feeling rundown and getting sick over and over again.
    Grief is feeling so lousy all the time that you cannot tell whether you are sick or depressed.
    Grief is a field of fog and distance where we wander lost and aimless.
    Grief is unexpected composure, lucidness, and productivity that seem out of place.
    Grief is forgetting and then remembering again that someone is really dead.
    Grief is feeling their presence, seeing their face, hearing their voice-even though they are dead-or being frustrated because we cannot.
    Grief is a protest, a temper tantrum, a refusal to give up without a fight over something that is already gone.
    Grief is an intense negotiation over events that have already happened, a barrage of what-if's and if-only's.
    Grief is a hope turned backwards in time.
    Grief is yelling at the beautiful sunrise because it means time is abandoning your loved one.
    Grief is a plea to undo what cannot be undone.
    Grief is rejected offerings and ungranted prayers.
    Grief is retracing the steps that led our loved one from this world.
    Grief is wanting to bear witness to and comfort the pain and suffering they experienced.
    Grief is feeling guilty because we did not stop death, could not revert death, and cannot change death.
    Grief is an accountability session.
    Grief is damage control.
    Grief is knowing we do not deserve to be alive any more than our loved one deserves to be dead.
    Grief is wondering why fate chose them and not us.
    Grief is throwing your hands up into the air and collapsing onto the floor into despair.
    Grief is unabashedly wailing and drowning in your own snot and tears.
    Grief is an inventory of what has been lost.
    Grief is a dim spotlight that illuminates the void where a life once was.
    Grief is sometimes a vow to fulfill wishes of the dead.
    Grief is panning through memories over and over searching for jewels.
    Grief is believing every pebble is a gem.
    Grief is celebration.
    Grief is saying thank you.
    Grief is admitting that there was no gold in the pan.
    Grief is a confession of regrets.
    Grief is saying you are forgiven or forgive me.
    Grief is saying God forgive you because I can't.
    Grief is saying screw you for leaving me.
    Grief is turning ordinary objects-a hairbrush, a note, a pin- into Sacred vestiges.
    Grief is sitting in bed crying in the middle of the night saying God I miss you. Please, if you are there, give me a sign and hearing a bird sing a happy tune in the darkness and knowing that song was your answer.
    Grief is being able to distinguish better what is really important and meaningful after all is said and done and choosing to do more of it.
    Grief is the yearning, the reaching, and the unrequited love that hides behind our losses.
    Grief is a tribute to the depth of your love