On Sunday, on the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death, Tyler and I traveled to Starved Rock State Park, about a two-hour drive from Chicago. Although it was difficult to think of what I would want to do to mark this day, I felt it would be appropriate to spend some time outside. My mom loved the outdoors and was an astute observer of all things in the natural world. She loved birds, trees and flowers; she was forever noticing subtle details of leaves, grass, bark, feathers. She liked to photograph these things up close. In his new house, my Dad has a framed series of photos of mushrooms. “Did Mom take those?” I asked. “Who else?” he replied.
Things at the park were not perfect. As we began our hike, we shared the trail with what seemed to be about 200 Chinese tourists with smartphones and cameras. I grumbled about how crowded it was. “We drove two hours to get here, but it’s quieter at Montrose Beach,” I muttered angrily to Tyler. No one on the trail — not the dogs, not the children, not the Americans, not the Chinese — was behaving the way I wanted them to.
And in a way, that’s been the story of this whole year of grieving. I know that nobody can really take away my pain, and nobody can ever replace my mom. Sometimes, what that feels like is that no one understands me and everyone can go ____ themselves.
But even as my “get away from it all” hike got off to its difficult start, there was a part of me that knew I should be grateful. The trail was beautiful and the weather was mild. My loving partner was beside me; he was even enduring my grumbling. And most importantly, my body and mind were still working. I was walking. I was breathing. I was alive. To be drawing breath, here among the living, isn’t something to be taken for granted. As my mom lost her ability to hike, and then to walk, and then to eat, and then to breathe, I know she deeply grieved for the fact that she would never again take a walk like this. She would never again hike, pain-free and whole, on a riverbank, feeling the soft breeze of the water.
“We have to enjoy this for her,” I said emphatically to Tyler. I don’t know if that’s really true, or if it’s even possible. But I said it. And I tried to do it.