Trading ashes for beauty

The culmination of days, and weeks, and months of fear and trepidation of the dreaded anniversary of Scott’s death last Thanksgiving eve came, and where am I…where are ‘we’? I so desired to tie these chronicles up in a tidy little bow, all worked through from heinous nightmare to strong and brave wife and mother, surviving with impressive and encouraging faith and courage. Alas, I am not there and perhaps that is a better, more honest scenario. However, considering at the onset that I so wanted to die, to now be alive—actually regaining health physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally—is a begrudgingly honest and, hopefully, encouraging status for myself and those with me who still hurt so miserably.

So many swirling, turbulent, emotions dance about in me as I drive the 15 hours from Lake Stevens, WA to Powell, WY to spend Thanksgiving with only the three of us who were there on that atrocious Thanksgiving eve last year. I didn’t plan it that way and, thus, the profundity of its falling into this place makes me fall to my knees in recognition of, and gratitude to, God. Amaya and I get the new Highlander packed and ready under the careful, judicious tutelage of our loving menfolk, Dan and Mansuer. Already having fallen prey to a sweet memory of a tire chains incident on these mountain passes with Scott, I wondered how many other triggers would haunt me on this journey. We wanted to be somewhere so unique, unfamiliar, and distant to our frame of reference that we could evade reliving the nightmare yet again. Maybe, just maybe, we could even do more than just get through. Perhaps we could even enjoy ourselves and each other. We would all struggle this Thanksgiving, but Avari, Amaya, and I would somehow have to overcome the relentless trauma of reliving last year’s horror. Those sights, sounds, and smells that seem unwilling to allow reprieve from the excruciating pain follow the Highlander as we ascend to the first of seven mountain passes. I have felt fairly strong and hopeful after returning from Jamaica. The repetitive nightly mantra of tears, memories, and loneliness seems to have abated slightly, and there are whole days when I don’t cry at all. But going over blizzardy Snoqualmie Pass, Song for Sienna starts to play unbidden on my Pandora, and visions of snowy mountain Maine—its haunting melody recollecting happiness with my Scotty Darlin’ so sweet just a year ago, and now so forever gone—shatters my fragile glass encasement, releasing shards of painful tears. I try desperately to suppress the sharp intakes of breath so Amaya won’t hear, but she asks if I am OK and we both know I am lying when I say I’m fine. But as we proceed west-southwest, through Idaho and Montana, the topography gradually changes and there is a barely perceptible shift in mood as well.

Trees become more and more sparse and the rugged mountains dryer and more craggy. We generally follow the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, along the west side of the Beartooth Mountains into Wyoming, entering the Clarks Fork Canyon marking the division between the Beartooth Mountains on the north, and the Absaroka Mountains on the south. Scotty and I had primitively camped along the banks of this river in the Beartooth Mountains many years ago. It was spring and the river was roaring so that little could be heard beside it. Having been informed by my teasing spouse that there were many grizzlies, cougars, wolves, and other dangerous wildlife in the area, I sat bolt upright in our little tent all night, sure I saw the looming shadow of a grizzly over the tent, and quoted every Psalm I could remember, while he peacefully sawed the proverbial logs until 4 a.m. When his eye barely cracked open as I stared hard at him to will him awake, I told him if he would get up and break camp now, he could stop at every coffee shop for the next 100 miles. We laughed often reminiscing about that night, but the area was still unfamiliar enough to not evoke the overwhelming melancholy, and on we drove. The south fork meanders along the Clarks Fork Canyon, finally spilling us out onto the Valley Floor. It is a stunning place, as unfamiliar as the surface of the moon to us. The ragged mountains peaked with a dusting of snow flank the valley floor virtually devoid of green but, instead, specked with dry sagebrush covering both the valley floor and upper Line Creek Valley about 1000 feet above. It is a powerful scene of majesty, totally devoid of reference, and holds in its austere arms absolutely no painful memories. Instead, it invokes a tremendous swelling of profound awe at the creative power of my God. I begin to sing an old song, “Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word. And the skies are not cloudy all day.” Perfect.

We pick up Avari from the adjoining ranch where she is working to overcome the trauma of seeing her Daddy die, and the other, deeply buried traumas of her far past before her adoption. She had tried valiantly for months to manage her nightmares, inability to cope, and desires to die and be with her dear dad, but had finally held up her tattered white flag in a cry for help. God answered her cries in the form of this magnificent setting among the wild, superbly quiet and peaceful range, at a ranch for young teen victims of serious trauma. She jumped in the car, her shiny long braids, rosy cheeks, and pervasive smile telling the story of her progress. The pretty, cozy cabin we had rented also sat surrounded by bare, rugged mountains and tumbleweed rangeland, where five of the owners’ horses greeted us, delighting both girls. So far, so good. As we unloaded the trunk, I turned and my eyes roamed the grandeur, drinking in the absolute majesty and peace the landscape proffered, and I felt that oh-so-familiar sting behind my eyes. Only this time, the motive was not pain, but joy; a deep, inexplicable, bubbling sense of well being in my soul. I drank, and drank, and drank of it with my parched, aching heart, until I thought I would burst with the fullness I felt welling up deep inside me. So this was the “Joy that surpasses understanding” mentioned in Isaiah 51:11, and Philippians 4:7, as well as so many other places. This must be what God meant when He promised to change our “mourning into dancing” in Psalm 30:11, giving us “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, and the oil of joy instead of mourning.”

“The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from the darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:1-3

Thanksgiving turned out to be one of the most peaceful, joyful, meaningful ones of my life. Together the girls and I had been given the ability to surmount what seemed like an insurmountable hurdle, the hinds feet to scale the rocky high places, hearts to grasp God’s previously elusive joy, and a peace that surpasses understanding.

This year was the most blindingly bereft, excruciatingly painful, tortuous nightmare of my life. It has left my heart and my mind permanently broken, only pieced back together in an odd and different configuration so they function at a reduced and altered level. Relationships too, broken between and within, forever grievously reconfigured into less than what they were meant to be. The dull ache is present when I open my eyes upon a new morning, and still there when I lay back down alone in the dark and lonely night. Swells of sweet, poignant memories still bring that heart constriction followed by the tears, but in the midst of the pain, there is now a semblance of joy. Every now and then, a memory of you, Scotty Darlin’, will envelope me and I will be surprised by the escape of laughter from lips for which the sound has become so unfamiliar. I know I must finish my race, keep my faith, and follow the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Just as the sunset unfailingly sets in the west, I walk into those daunting years day by day, alone. I lay in the dark of the night and conjure up what these twilight years were supposed to look like, my hand and life safely, faithfully, lovingly held by yours. I revisit the dreams of just the two of us finally being free to travel the world, perhaps sail around it, embracing all the new adventures with relish, the unaltered spark of love in our eyes. I watched that light leave your eyes as they closed on this world a year ago, so only my eyes now gaze at the future remaining here on earth. I wish, and always will, that you were still here with me, yet I know that now God will hold my hand. I know now that, though my life is not what I hoped, dreamed, and anticipated it would be, it will have happiness in it. That happiness will forever be tempered in a way it never was before in my effervescent, exuberant take on life. I may not be able to regain footing on bridges badly burned, but new bridges will be built. Just as the body, in its miraculous way, rebuilds new though smaller blood vessels to replace broken and clogged ones, new and unfamiliar roads stretch out before me.

I stand on the brink of this second year without you, feeling my heart lurch and my eyes sting a bit as I prepare to step into it. I know you are not here but I reach out my hand anyway and say……..
“Shall we, my love?”

2 thoughts on “Trading ashes for beauty

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