I believe that putting one foot in front of the other – day in and day out – is the only way to move through life altering pain and loss. The ordinary activity of showering, dressing, eating cereal in the morning, getting to work on time, meeting with clients all day, and returning home to get dinner and do dishes day after day, week after week month after month–.all begin to gel into a flow – a pattern of repetition – that begins to wear the hardened landscape of grief to reveal alternate paths of healing and letting go.
I experienced a devastating break up of a relationship about a year ago. It’s the stuff of country songs, really: “girl comes together with boy, boy is separated and says the marriage is over– girl believes boy– falls deeply in love– and boy decides to return to wife–(marriage wasn’t exactly over, it seems)– fine for boy and wife– but girl is left in pieces not knowing which end is up”. It’s the kind of story that happens over and over, millions of women have a similar story in their lives. But in the parlance of that proverbial country song: I’m not a girl. I’m an almost 50-year-old woman who had lived my entire life up until that point: single, self-reliant and having achieved relative contentment . I have struggled to find my way back to that person I was, and wonder if I will ever be that same person.
In my grief and subsequent depression, I had to relearn how to sleep, and eat as if these activities were foreign, requiring conscious intent and study to achieve. I had to learn how to get through each day without tears choking off my breath. Weeks flowed into months and in that time I learned again how to read, how to return to sewing and knitting and baking blueberry muffins. I even had to learn how to hold conversations with friends new and old.. As I continued to heal and winter settled in, at the urging of friends, I tried downhill skiing for the first time in 30 years and found, to my utter surprise, that I love it; As spring turned to summer I have learned again to walk along the banks of the rivers that surround me. I have had opportunities to travel to places I have never been to in the wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and have seen extraordinary sights: I have been comforted by the setting sun painting pastels into the clouds that reflect in the glass-still water of an almost imperceptably moving river; I was startled and awed by the strange call of a sand hill crane flying low overhead. Standing in the presence of life in the natural world that cares not a whit about me and my losses has allowed me to put my life in some perspective. Such quiet places of immense beauty have allowed me to reflect on the wisest words I heard from one of my oldest friends: in response to my saying early on almost a year ago “I don’t know how I can go on” she replied with such patience and wisdom: “you just put one foot in front of the other, that’s how you go on –and you keep doing it every day ..– just one foot in front of the other.” I guess I have found through this year of grief and loss as well as healing and renewal, that this, too, is what I believe.