Heading to Montana and Alberta, I feel tremendous relief. Then I feel sharp guilt over the fact that relief is the first emotion that comes to mind.
It's a confusing cycle.
Caanan assures me it's understandable.
Maybe I'll believe him over the coming days and prove it by not perpetually torturing myself with guilt at the first inkling of relief, space, breath, peace.
Being in nature should help.
We'll see – it's complicated.
This has happened before, so I should have seen this confusing emotion making its way down the road. When my dad died, I also felt tremendous relief. Relief over the fact that his struggle with cancer was over, relief for my mom, relief for my family. Collective relief.
And now my mom has died in nearly the same way. An uncomfortable battle with cancer, hospital time, hospice time.
Months ago, when things got really bad, I thought the universe was playing a cruel joke. "We can't watch this happen to another parent," I said to Caanan. Somehow we – along with my siblings – managed to summon up the strength to deal with the uncertainty, the worry, the pain of seeing a loved one struggle.
We're grounded, realistic guys. We know life has hills and valleys and that neither triumphs nor tribulations should be taken too seriously because you never know what might come next. Heck, we're even comfortable – probably too comfortable – with death.
It's the suffering that gets us. Watching someone suffer is, to both of us, about the most loathsome hand that life can deal. Now, thankfully, that is over. I don't know how many more times I could bear to hear my once strong-willed mom wake only long enough to say, "Why can't I just die?" What do you say to that?
We were with her during what turned out to be the last night. We knew it was bad the moment we walked in the room. She wasn't able to talk; she was different. We held her hands, stroked her freshly washed hair and told her happy stories of what we and other family members were up to.
We tried to appear unshaken. Calm.
Before we walked out the door that evening, I told her to dream of Dad.
And that was that.
As we're racing off to our favorite place in the world, where the prairie meets the mountains, we want to say thank you. To all of the friends, family members, loved ones and strangers who have been kind to us over the past months – you made our days brighter and gave us strength.
You didn't even know it.
We knew, to make it through this period, we needed to compartmentalize. We didn't want this ominous, black cloud hanging over every activity, every conversation. So we told no one.
So... thanks for the Skype calls, the coffee dates, cheery e-mails, laughs, hikes and happy hour excursions. And for the random stuff... from the bartender who bought us drinks, to the person who randomly gave us flowers – you made a difference.
You didn't even know it.
I guess this is why, in part at least, we are doing our 31 Things mission this month. You never know just how much an act of kindness might mean to someone. Join in!