Monday, February 27, 2012


I spent the morning yesterday hiking alone in Forest Park. I started at Hoyt Arboretum which has acres of trails lined with groupings of tree plantings. I walked through hemlock, fir and oak groves and eventually came to the redwood and sequoia forest. The light barely filtered through the canopy and the giant red trunks seemed to muffle sound.

 I walked out onto a newly built overlook, wrapped around the bases of some of the giants and tried to crane my neck back far enough to see the tops of the trees but finally had to lie on my back on the damp planks to see the canopy. Being surrounded by these ancient living things felt holy.

After taking a few pictures I got up and brushed the needles from the back of me. It was then that I noticed the memorial plaques on the benches around me.

I began to read them. Some were simple and just listed the names of lost loved ones. Some included quotes. I read each one, photographed the ones that seemed to speak directly to me and then pressed my hand against the cork-like bark of a redwood. Something too big for my heart to hold surged up inside of me. The pain of loss, and the knowledge of so many loved ones missing from our lives. The fact that these giant trees have been witnessing hundreds of years of humans living, dying, fighting, loving. The reminder that Dave was missing out on this hike.

My eyes spilled over and I heaved a huge sigh. Spring is coming, I thought, and Dave won't witness it. If he'd been on that hike with me, we'd have discussed the Indian Plum I saw all around me, sending the season's first tiny green leaves up to the dim light of the forest. We'd have commented on the beauty of the pileated woodpecker I saw fly to the top of a giant Douglas Fir. We'd have watched in silence as a Douglas Squirrel climbed over the branch arching above me to watch me as he twitched his tail, nervously.

We, we, we. The loneliness of no longer being a we stabbed at me. The thought Why is it so hard for me to be alone? kept playing and replaying in my mind. The answer came, in my own deep inner voice that sounds like a patient teacher...because you never have been before.

I had 15 years of Dave wanting to spend every hour of every day with me. How do you get used to the end of that when it happens so suddenly? I believe I can adapt and adjust to just about anything. But this? This is going to take a long time. Maybe I'll never get used to it. Maybe we aren't meant to be alone for too long. Maybe it's written into our genetic code to find a mate.

But, despite that, I wonder if this is a test. In order to learn from this terrible loss, I have to learn to be alone. I think the key to this is to learn to love myself and that is where my lesson really lies. The ability to love myself. That might just be my entire life's lesson.

As I left the redwoods for the light of the deciduous groves beyond it, I wondered if I'd ever be able to. Now, as I type this, I think of Dave telling me a thousand times how he could never understand why I didn't see in me what he could see. Why do I doubt myself more than anyone else, even when the proof that I shouldn't be doubted exists? I still don't know. But I suppose, in his death, he's going to get me to see, once and for all, what he could see.

Why isn't it enough for me to witness the beauty of those redwoods all alone? Because half of me is gone and I'm growing a new half. Not to replace Dave, but to be whole again.

Maybe one day, I'll be able to go back to that redwood grove (or anywhere) and feel as though my own company is all I need to feel whole.


  1. Thank you for a beautiful post. I wish I had been on that hike with you. I too am finding that the things my husband told me or wanted for me are things that I need to include in my life now - but since he isn't here to tell me or remind me i need to do it on my own. Grieving, growing and just getting through life seem too much all at the same time. Oh well, one day at a time and we will get somewhere.

  2. "We, we, we. The loneliness of no longer being a we stabbed at me." This loneliness is so hard to overcome, no matter how many friends or family members you have, ultimately you are alone. I miss being a couple more than anything, I had no idea to go from the couple world to being a widow could be so difficult. I'm not sure I can grow a new half to be whole again, I'm afraid I will forever remain incomplete. I turn to nature like you do, and do find some peace in the woods. But then I return to a lonely home, and once again wonder what comes next. Let me know if you find that wholeness, Cassie.

  3. Cassie,
    What a great post today. I think I agree with you, in that we seem to be, or at least feel 'whole' when we met our spouses.

    We cultivate and nurture that wonderful relationship and we were fortunate enough to have it for a good while, but just not long enough. Our other halves died young and we are left to pick up the pieces and go on and try to figure out how to feel whole again. I believe you when you say that you think it is written into our genetic code and that we were not meant to be alone for too long.

    I think I too could have gone on that hike alone and enjoyed it to a point, but would have continually been thinking that my other half should have been there, right alongside me looking up at that canopy in awe. I hope this day finds you well.

    1. We see ourselves for so many years through the eyes of our spouse, and live up to those expectations. One of the unexpected shocks of being widowed to me was how it immediately affected my self esteem. Who knew? I went from being a respected wife and mother, which I totally identified with, to a widow with grown children. I was my hubands' favorite person in the world, and afterward, one of the herd. You go from feeling cherished, in a heartbeat, to feeling like you don't belong anywhere, including in your own home. A foreigner in a strange land. What a difficult journey. We have had the safety net between us and the rest of the world stripped away, and been forced to see how cold that world can be. I am at 28 months, and have not been able to find any comfort since I lost my husband. Not even in my own bed. I keep trying to do things on my own as well, I think to prove to myself I am still alive, but like you, they end up in feeling more lonely than ever, and longing for that comfort and companionship and trust that only a long relationship can provide. I have no answers, I wish I did. It is a long and dark road.

    2. Absolutely. It's having the safety net stripped away.
      I'm bound and determined to prove I can find a new identity and become my own safety net, but it is a long and dark road for sure.

  4. Cassie,

    Thank you for this post... I, too, would welcome a hike with you through Forest Park, but I certainly know the feeling of "being enough". I, too, am struggling with the concept of being alone. I am so fortunate to have friends, family and other support all around me (I know not everyone is in that position), but ultimately, it's just me. Me at home, alone. Me, going to bed alone. Me, waking up alone. Alone, alone, alone.

    And I agree with the post above.... My Greg was always complimenting me, telling me how great I was at things, how cherished I was.... and what did I say back? "Oh, thanks... but you are obviously biased." What kind of response is that? How I long to change that response now. To be appreciative of his compliments, because I yearn for them now.

    I have been trying to work on being "okay" with being solo, to embrace (on some level) this new norm I am presented with. But I still struggle with it constantly. I've even contemplated seeking out someone to date, but I realize it's really becaue I miss my Greg, and want to fill that large empty void that I am left with. Not the best way to start a relationship, to be sure.

    Sigh. It's very tough work, this grieving. I keep hearing people tell me that the pain will subside, that moving forward will get easier. And I am sure they are probably right.. but as my one year mark comes up in April, I wonder if it gets harder before it gets "easier". That's certainly what it's felt like recently.

  5. Shana,
    My guess is that is does get harder before it gets easier. But just like the muscles in your body having to tear to grow stronger, we have to go through hell to emerge stronger.

    1. To Shana, just read your post, and want to share my experience. I'm at two and a half years. I had grief counseling and was told the second year would be harder than the first. But it wasn't. For me, the first year was the worst. After a year and a half, I noticed a shift. I felt a little better, and the lethargy started to lift. It gets a little better as time goes on. You haven't hit the one year mark yet, so be patient and give it more time. I'm far from feeling great, and think about him every day, but try to remember that 28 years of marriage vs. two and half years doesn't compare. But the pain does dull, and as your energy slowly comes back you slowly feel like doing things here and there and re-enter life. If I can feel better, anyone can, because my husband was the reason I breathed. I think those surrounding us, who haven't been through it, don't understand how long it takes to even feel back to normal again. It takes time. My goal has been to hit three years and not be totally suffering, so I had a year of grief counseling, I journal, and I don't let anyone rush me. Plus I have had to let go of some relationships where people have pressured me. I know I can't handle anyone hassling me now so I don't keep those relationships, have to protect my mental health at this most difficult time. Keep the faith.