Grief is a sacred journey

I Thought I Could

Tampa sunset on day before flight

Tampa sunset on day before flight

My flight home from Florida was threatened by another winter storm on the east coast. How I miss my husband Vic at times like this.

“It’s in the hands of nature and United Air,” he would say, “so we may as well enjoy the wait.” And he did. This warrior who willed his way through most anything surrendered. He did a few yoga stretches on the carpet near the boarding area and settled down with a book. He read while I paced around, sure we were doomed to stay at the airport forever.

Taking off over Tampa Bay

Taking off over Tampa Bay

 

I no longer have my sanguine travel companion, but I talk it through with him anyway. I know his lines by heart.

“Oh no, Vic. They’re going to cancel my flight. What if I get stuck in Newark for days?”

“Why don’t you relax and wait,” inner Vic says. “You could get out Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. You love this book.”

“But all the flights are canceled to Boston and New York City.”

“Are they canceled to Ithaca?”

DSC00658“Not yet.”

“So breathe and wait.”

On the way to the Tampa airport, I had a heartfelt conversation with my taxi driver about the feather in his cab, the one given to him by a friend who recently died. I got through security without removing my shoes or taking my computer out of the case.  This was new. Everyone smiled. I walked through the terminal, found a seat in the sun, and enjoyed my book. Many flights to northeastern cities were grounded, but not my flight. Not yet.

In Newark, I checked text messages for a cancellation. There wasn’t one, so I checked flight status. Ithaca. On time.  I boarded and watched the rain. It wasn’t freezing. Not yet.

“What if the car doesn’t start when I get there? What if the roads are closed by snow or ice? What if I get wet and cold with no boots or winter coat?”

DSC00668“It’s an adventure, Elaine,” I told myself in Vic’s calm voice. “You put a shovel, a broom, and your boots in the car. Besides, you could run from the airport to the car naked without dying.” I remembered how he dared our sons to circle the house buck naked in the wildest winter weather when we all had cabin fever. They ran and laughed.

I dragged my suitcase through snowy roadways at our small local airport. Sixteen degrees. My feet were cold and wet. The car was snowed in, but I got a back door open and crawled into the driver’s seat from the backseat. The car started.

At the Ithaca airport

At the Ithaca airport

I remembered my favorite childhood story, The Little Engine that Could. I think I can. I think I can. Even with cancer, Vic thought he could.

I wrestled on my winter coat and grabbed my shovel. I think I can. I scraped ice and snow off the windows, paid the parking lot attendant, and made my way to the grocery store. Roads were snow covered and slow.

“What if the roads to my house are impassable? I live 18 miles out of town.” That voice doesn’t give up.

I think I can.

I drove home slowly. The snow was thick, but I followed the few tracks of cars that had gone before. I pulled into the garage, shoveled the walk, built a fire in the wood stove, and filled the nearly empty bird feeder. Then I made myself a cup of tea.

Gangs all here

Gangs all here

“Hey, Vic. I did it.”

I thought I could.

***

I find traveling unsettling. What shoves you out of your comfort zone? How do you support yourself when that happens? To learn more about creating an inner dialogue to help clarify a confusing image or problem, see Jean Raffa‘s Active Imagination: A Tool for Self Discovery. For an earlier post about traveling without Vic, see Coming Home.

22 Comments
  1. Elaine–I love the way your photos also tell this travel story! Sometimes I wonder why we are tethered to such a cold and snowy place, when in under a day we could be in sunshine. But our love of the north–people connections and beautiful landscapes–keeps us here. Meanwhile, it’s definitely best to take one step at a time and not anticipate calamity, unless that helps in figuring out plans b,c,and d…. Alas, two heads can often calculate better than one, but it’s amazing to learn so much about our own capacity when we are thrown on our own resources. And, a boon to re-experience Vic’s calm reminders under stressful circumstances. Welcome home! Myra

    • Hi Myra,
      Sometimes photos remind me of the beauty of the world. Sometimes they give me a sense of humor as in, “this will be funny tomorrow.” Yes, I’m back home and can’t quite imagine leaving, but that will happen someday, too. I learn about not anticipating calamity since I can’t count on Vic to take that position for me. As I say, I know what he would say in situations like these. I carry my love around in my heart and a little common sense in my head.
      Yes, welcome home to the wild winter of 2015.

  2. I’m so glad to hear you arrived home safely. What an ordeal! I loved hearing about Vic’s response to situations like this, and love it even more that you were able to internalize it and use it to calm yourself. What great partners you two were!

    • Ah, ordeals could be much worse. I remind myself that I’m warm with no physical pain and have bathrooms, water, good books, and passable food. And I have my imagination and sometimes a sense of humor. Lucky to make it home that night.
      My two days with you in Lake Maitland were spectacular, encouraging, stimulating, and fun. The unconscious approved and my dreams said yes.
      Thank you, Jeanie.

  3. OMG Elaine. I could identify with this one. Traveling is not easy these days and it is definitely more of an adventure going to and from Ithaca this time of the year. Traveling solo gives me too much time to go through all the What-Ifs in my head. I bet it feels great to be back with Willow though. Wish there was a way to bring back the sun and good weather. Welcome home. And cheers!

    • Grateful for sunshine this morning. I know it won’t last long. Traveling on my own makes me feel vulnerable, and I can’t hear what’s going on. Those airlines announcements could be in any language at all, although I occasionally catch a few words and numbers. I’m learning to ask whoever is next to me in the loading area to let me know if I need to know anything they’re announcing. But when I make it through and am snuggled in with a wood fire and Willow, I feel like I learned something on the journey itself as well as the time spent at Camp Widow and with a dear friend.

  4. The best thing about your posts is that they flow fluently and infuse rather than drain me of energy like some. My favorite lines:” I remembered how he dared our sons to circle the house buck naked in the wildest winter weather when we all had cabin fever.” And, you could run from the airport to the car naked without dying. (You know of course Vic is with you every step of the way.)

    One of my friends, leaving a writer’s retreat on Monday flew from Virginia to Albany, New York without a hitch. She was surprised – and joyful – making it through before cancellations.

    • Marian, I didn’t have to run naked from the airport to the car, but thinking about those cold winter nights with Vic and my sons made me laugh and know I would be fine. Vic loved to push the envelope with the kids in these silly ways and probably half the fun came from my protests–and now we have the family stories.

      I know who that friend was! I imagine your writer’s retreat was wonderful. I look forward to hearing more about it. I’m settling back in although the suitcase is only partially unpacked. Had to do a lot of errands for my mother-in-law yesterday, but mostly she wanted to be with Willow.

  5. Welcome home, dear Elaine. My prayers were with you. I thought you could, too ♥

  6. Beautifully written with the repetitions of the Little Engine and the mature calm of Vic running all the way from beginning to end. What a powerful voice he still has!

    So glad you have warm memories to help guide you through the cold winter.

    Travel stories can be boring and whiny. Not yours!

    Hope you are enjoying Willow and your cozy cabin.

    • Thank you, Shirley. I keep Vic’s voice alive because I turn toward grief (and love) rather than trying to escape from it. We all need a supportive inner masculine (that’s the Jungian in me referring to the positive animus).
      I hope you have a blissful Lenten season. Ash Wednesday is Feb. 18, so you must be preparing. Or did you already quit sugar? I have done that for years at a time and need to do it again. You inspire me in that way and in many others.
      Blessings.

  7. HI Elaine, I’m happy to hear you made it safely home last week. Vic’s spirit was with you all the way,giving you strength and determination. Your photos say it all. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks, Kathy. I feel Vic as an inner voice more than anything else. Because of my Jungian background, I think of this as my inner positive masculine constructed of experiences and memories of Vic. A good traveling companion when there is no outer person for reassurance.

  8. Your “whispers” brought you home safely Elaine. They always do. I was sorry to miss you in Florida but my nostalgic tour with my sister was a once in a life time experience. I have so many stories in my head to write now that I don’t even mind the 70 degree temperature difference.
    Stay warm friend.

    • I’m glad you had a great time with your sister, Kim, although I missed seeing you and sharing silliness in the photo booth. Jill got sick and headed north after the first day. I felt a little lonely at CW. My peak experience in FL was spending time with a Jungian writer Jean Raffa and designing a workshop on mythology and grief to be given next winter. This subject brings together two big interests and connects me to a new area of writing.
      Tomorrow I’m scheduled to give the service at a Unitarian Fellowship 45 minutes from here. Expecting 6 inches of snow, -10 degrees, and strong winds blowing the snow around. Roads may be closed in the morning, but we’ll see. What a winter.

  9. Glad you made it home all right Elaine. I also hope you had a nice trip. I just returned last night to minus 25 and was grateful to get home after seeing so many that once again couldn’t get to Boston and many parts of the Maritimes. 🙂

  10. What a beautiful story, Elaine!

    I find myself in my marriage being the one reminding Nathan that everything will be okay and that is not a role I expected to be in.

    • Thank you, Rachel, and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Reassurance went both ways in my marriage–and I was grateful for that balance that developed over time. I know my comforting voice was just as strong in him as his was and still is in me.

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