Updated: Jul 18, 2018
I knew deep down, I had to be there. I knew there was only one path that would lead me to him, to his last moments, to the spot where he left this world. I was scared. Anxious. My guts churned. We hiked in the brutal heat of the midday sun and made our way to the ridge line of Matthes Crest, my head and heart bloated with memory, emotion, sickness, and silence.
One year. One trip around the sun. One giant series of events that shattered the world I thought was reliable and constant; the world where my life seemed full and connected. Good friends. Good family. Good job. I had my man. We had our adventures.
Happy, hippie, hopeful.
We hiked in 5 miles and started to climb on the same granite he held, the same pathway along an 11,000 foot sidewalk in the sky, sometimes several feet wide, sometimes as wide as a knife blade. I found myself mesmerized by the altitude, the dry heat, the sparkling white beauty of the granite, repeating a moving meditation in my head over and over again: “there is only the task at hand. One foot in front of the other. Hold on. Hold on. Hold On.”
Both sides of the ridge dropped away as if they’d been cleaved off from some massive geologic butchering. From up so high, there’s this sense of grandeur that enlivens you from your toes to your skull. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to take a flying leap and soar over the pink Sierra landscape like so many dreams I’ve had when the story ended differently- the story where Brad floats safely back down to earth and I hug him and smell him and everything is going to be okay.
We reached the South Summit and I took it all in. El Cap loomed in the distance, and off to the right was Cathedral Peak, perched grandly like a massive throne in the sky. We rappelled down to the spot I’ve mulled over, studied, and cried thinking of in so many moments over the past year. I wiped the sweat and salt from my face and sat in the dirt. "One day, I'll be ash and dirt too", I thought. Tiny purple flowers lined the granite and I took out his hair from the bag I’d been carrying every day for a year. I never wanted ashes. I never wanted that nauseating white stuff they give you to put in a vase and place in a sterile spot to remind you that our bodies can be reduced to nothing. No. I never wanted that. So I took his hair. I don’t know if it’s weird. I don’t care. I just needed a living, organic piece of him to remind me of his laugh, his big ass smile, his ALIVENESS, and to keep me from going insane in those early days. I’m not sure what’s right or moral or healthy or poetic, but I took his hair and I buried it in the sand. “Back to the earth. This is a good place to be. This is your heaven and I’m placing you here because I love you.”
I sat and watched the sun sink lower on the horizon and felt a sense of peace that I haven’t felt since I was a little girl laying in the grass by the river watching bugs float above me in the sky. I remembered being small. I remembered the warm sparkle spots behind my eyelids that glowed red orange and pink even with my eyes closed, and I remembered when I believed in a world where I would be taken care of:
"mom and dad will catch me if I fall."
I opened my eyes and sat upright, feeling accountable for the present and responsible for my thoughts. I felt confused, but not broken. My heart ached, but it was full. Peace crept in...
It seems that at the moment you are most in awe of all there is about life that you don’t understand, you are closer to understanding it all, than at any other time.
The only way I have been able to continue climbing (literally and metaphorically) is because of you. My community, my family, my bad ass, beyond-belief, insanely solid friends. In the most unarmored time in my life, I could have easily been hurt by heartless people and mindless situations. The opposite has been true. And oh my friends. My friends. I tear up thinking about all the ways and all the times that the unbelievable goodness of my community has brought me to my knees. My people are also funny as hell. In some pretty dark days, I’d get texts like this:
Hey Jain, you’d be so proud of me.
Oh good. Why?
I’ve been doing a lot of yoga.
That’s awesome. Feels good huh?
Yeah. I’m doing it naked. Right now.
Ooohkay. Cool. Thanks for letting me know.
I'm gonna send you a picture.
I’m good... Oh wow. Thank you for that.
On it would go, and literally for months, I was living on a steady stream of phone calls, messages, and check-ins from the truest, most wonderful, hilarious humans on planet earth. It may sound dramatic, but I am alive today because of this network of people giving a damn and I hope that in my lifetime I’m able to repay at least the tiniest fraction of the love that has been sent my way.
There is a universe called G-R-I-E-F, and we don’t have a language large enough to encompass it’s depth. Within this universe, we learn about penetrating and exposing our hypocrisies. And later on in the process, we realize it is not the dead nor external entities that are watching and haunting us; we haunt ourselves and become hyper aware that our own shadow is watching. This is where I have learned myself most deeply and have had to ask myself over and over again, “have I ever really unmasked, stripping out of this suit of armor, this shirt and skin and flesh and veins, right down to my aching open heart?” I’ve started to realize that this process of dismantling, un-doing, giving in — is the realest learning available to us in this lifetime.
It is not an easy path.
It is intensely brutal.
But it’s real and raw and softens us to love.
And what has this suffering taught me? I have learned just how rich I am. I have learned that compassion is the ultimate descriptor of wealth: having an anti-poverty attitude, and waging daily war on want is the path I need to be on. This way of being implies larger-scale thinking and a freer and more expansive way of relating to myself and the world. It is compassion embodied and I will be learning this for a lifetime.
I’m not sure what the future holds and I’ve heard that for many people, year two is even harder. Stabilizing emotions begin to come back online, the ability to imagine a future is just slightly more clear, but the world has changed. It hasn’t righted itself; there is a mistrust of the groundlessness of reality now, and you are just aware enough to know it. I realize it may get harder before it gets easier, but I don’t believe I have to succumb to any kind of pressure about who I need to be and some sort of mandatory timeframe imposed on me for healing. Neither do you.
I’m not sure that missing Brad will ever stop. It has softened in some ways and has become an ache, rather than a dagger but I don’t imagine the missing will stop because love doesn’t just stop. We miss because we love – backwards and forwards in time, pouring out in all directions, distilling brokenness and hopelessness with the beauty, the mystery, and even the joy of new life.
I don’t know if people read anymore. And if you’ve made it this far, well, wow. Awesome. Thank you for reading. Truly, thank you from the bottom of my guts. A year ago I wasn’t sure how be alive anymore. And I had forgotten how to write. Scratch that - WHY to write. I was desperate to find meaning. Connection. Anything to communicate this devastation. So I threw out my thoughts onto digital pages and vomited out paragraph upon paragraph just to feel something other than pain. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. And I hope it’s obvious - neither are you.
I love you. A hundred times over. I love you. Thank you my friends.