Driving North from Eureka with Scott
Blustery Day in Northern California
When I was in my early thirties, I managed a small private horse ranch in the mountains overlooking the Napa Valley. Everyday except for my days off, I saddled up the owner\’s horses, one by one, and rode them up into the mountains on two to three hour rides for their daily training and exercise. My fellow employee and friend \”M\” rode the horses right alongside me every morning until the afternoon when our last ride finished.
In the morning, around 7 a.m. I would hear a knock on my trailer door, there would be \”M\” with my coffee, coconut shredded frosted donut and a pack of cigarettes from the run down the mountain \”M\” would make every morning to drop off her husband for work. I smoked half pack cigarettes a day back then, quitting the habit a year later, when I left the ranch.
Our horses saddled up, our outback hats on (it rained frequently), long rain coats, jeans, boots and layered tops, we started the long walk towards one of several properties we could access to ride up into the hills. During that long walk before having to focus on the challenging uphill terrain, \”M\” would tell me the story, the same story, that would change from time to time, details added, memories surfacing of her toddler, her toddler who drowned at a family picnic. It was an accident. Every morning, as the horses hooves tapped the pavement until we reached the soft dirt a half hour away, I would listen to \”M\” replay what happened the day her daughter died and she died along with her. When I felt comfortable enough, I would ask her questions to keep her talking. Somehow, I knew, deep down, during that time, that \”M\” needed to talk.
As the months went by, the stories of her daughter turned from the tragic life altering, horribly painful beyond description death to stories of who her daughter was, what she loved, her love of animals and horses, her personality so much like \”M\”s. She was her first born.
I lost touch with \”M\” months after I left the ranch. I will never forget the days we rode, we galloped, we jumped dead logs in the deep forest by the running creeks, the abandoned antique fruit orchards we gleaned from, the stalls we cleaned together while the rain poured down and lightening crackled and hissed keeping us barn bound, the days we skipped the trails, and lunged the horses for each other to practice riding bareback, laughing at each other as we slipped off trying to perform a gymkhana move. I will never forget \”M\” and her two year old daughter.
Being with \”M\” taught me at a still young adult age to listen. To listen to someone\’s pain, no matter how many hours, days, and years it may take to heal loss. And now that I think of it, we never do completely heal loss. We learn how to live with loss.
Yesterday, I asked my sister. \”Do you think my blog is sad, is there too much grief?\” She said \”no, I can\’t see too much grief, it\’s part of the blog. I\’ve always lived with loss everyday, it\’s part of me, so I don\’t see it as being separate.\”
I thought to myself. Wow. She is right. I have always lived with loss. In fact, when I look back, my relationship with Scott was a relationship of living with grief. We helped each other everyday through our personal losses. Both different losses. Big losses. Small losses. We were always doing our best to heal each other\’s losses. Ours, was a relationship of service, helping each other to heal, and find the purpose and joy of living as much as possible while living with the sadness of what was no longer here, no longer possible.
I think one of the cruelest things we can do to each other, is turn away, not listen to another\’s pain, judge another for their pain, thinking they should be over it already. Sometimes, we are in so much pain or can\’t be there for another\’s pain. That is understandable. When we can be there, when we can be there to share in another\’s pain, listen, ask questions, be a soft place for someone who is missing and grieving, that can be the greatest gift of service we can give. Just listen, not fix, just listen. Sometimes I\’ve been really good at this, sometimes I have failed miserably. I am learning, everyday.