Old Wounds

Since Teresa passed away I have found myself drawn to nature and have found that a lot of healing has come while sitting next to a river, watching the sunset over the ocean or walking through the forest. There is a comfort being among trees, watching the sun set; seeing how the river flows because they have seen so much more than me. The sun has set over the ocean for millions of years. The river has flowed in it’s path over an unknown amount of years, carving it’s bed and adjusting it when the land around it makes it necessary to do so. The trees grow taller and wider for decades, if not centuries; it’s rings continuing to be produced while many other beings have come and gone.

The sun. The rivers. The trees. Their life spans are mind-boggling and their size beyond comprehension.

I like to be among them. I’m grateful to walk among the trees; to sit by the river as it flows by, to stand in the sun’s rays – feeling it’s warmth.

I’m grateful when I’m present enough to hear the lessons they have to share with me.

I had a couple of dreams recently while going through a period of feeling stagnant, struggling with the duality of enjoying the holidays with my kids and missing Teresa and finding myself revisiting past regrets.

The first dream was about opposing needs and wants and started in the form of the two main characters of the show “Lost”. In my dream the characters, Jack and Locke, who represented opposing forces in the show, were both bloodied from their fighting and made to sit together until they could understand each other. As I woke up thinking about this dream and what it meant I was drawn into thinking about trees and the idea of growth and wounds. I was thinking about the amount of energy it takes for a tree to grow and that, if it has a wound (or is experiencing something that requires its energy to focus on) the tree has to tend to that wound in order to remain healthy. More of it’s energy for that time is going to be focused on healing (or concealing) the wound in order to ensure its long-term health and vitality. While it’s energy is being focused on the wound it’s growth in height and width may be much less significant when compared to other years as it knows the wound must be tended to in order for more growth to occur in the future.

I see growth rings that are smaller but still there. I see the wound that needs to be protected. I’ve read that trees conceal their wounds, they don’t heal them.

As I mentioned I was feeling like I wasn’t growing anymore, I wasn’t moving forward in my personal growth. I felt like I didn’t see the path anymore, not like I did this summer. I was a bit lost and a lot frustrated.

I was (am) still healing. The wound is still there and always will be. The growth, however imperceptible, is also happening but it doesn’t always feel like it. Like the tree I need to tend to the wound, I need to hold it in a safe place within me, in a place that comes from love and acceptance not regret and holding on. I’m not looking for the hole that is in my heart from Teresa’s absence to be filled, the hole will always be there, but I need to remember to allow myself the time to heal the places where the regrets live, where the grasping lives so that I can then hold her absence safely inside of me and continue to grow when the energy to do so is there.

This holding the wound inside of me isn’t meant to hide the wound, to not talk about the hurt that is still there since Teresa passed but is meant to hold it in a space within where it is held in love and safety. I’m grateful that Teresa chose to spend 20 year of her life with me. Shifting from regret to gratitude is part of the inner healing that needs to happen in order for the outer growth to be more perceptible.

Some of this inner healing began while sitting next to the Washougal River in August of 2020.

I had rented a cabin in the state of Washington and it was the first time I had been by myself for more than a few hours since Teresa passed away. I had brought all the supplies that I needed so that I wouldn’t have to go anywhere and spent most of my time walking along the river bank or just sitting next to the river. I found myself noticing the nuances of the river; the places where it churned and seemed to get stuck – the shallow, rocky places. The water frothed in these rocky spaces and moved at a more frenetic pace. Just a bit farther on, the river widened and became much more deep so that when the water that was frothing and moving fast reached this space the froth and speed dissipated. It was still there but there was enough room at this part of the river to hold those forces in a way that led to calm and ease.

I watched this as I thought about how life felt since Teresa passed away. It had been less than a year at that point but I remember how much I wished that there was a pause button for life. Just let me stop everything for just a little bit; I just want to catch my breath! I just want time to sit with what had happened and try to make sense of it without having to also work and do laundry and worry about bills, etc. I just want the time; I just want the space.

Those shallow, rocky places in the river were those moments for me (I just want…) and the deep, calm water is what I wanted while life was on pause. But, like that river, life doesn’t stop. You can’t hit the pause button – there is no pause button. The river flows, always. It hits the rocky shallows and froths at times but soon after there is a moment of peace and calm, a chance to slow down a bit and recover, to gain strength knowing that you made it through a rough patch and will make it through the next one as well when it comes.

The river taught me this lesson. I needed to see that regardless of whether I wanted to pause life, I couldn’t. I needed to learn that there will be times in life that will move fast and be full of hard spaces just as there will be times where life slows down enough to allow for rest and reflection. I can gain my strength when the deep calm waters of life are around me and I can use that strength to sustain me when the rapids of life are at hand. In both cases there is the reminder that life continues through the bad and through the good. It goes and I needed to learn to let go and go with it.

It’s a year and a half later now and I’m still trying to fully understand the concept of letting go. This past weekend I was thinking a lot about Teresa and the harder times we went through. The times where the regrets live the most; the times that were left unresolved.

As I wrote about in my post about my road trip, I was able to leave some of these regrets behind but perhaps not as far behind as I thought. The idea of letting go seems simple but for me it has proven to be difficult. There is an association that letting go is forgetting which I know isn’t true but even the possibility that it might be true is enough sometimes to retighten my grip.

In a way these regrets have become an anchor point for me to the past. They tie me to what was and ground me to a time when, like these last two years, life didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It should have then, but just didn’t. It was a difficult period of time for Teresa and I, and I wish it had been different. Returning to this time again and again, I fail to remember all of the good times we had together. All the joy we experienced in our first kiss; saying “I do” to each other; buying our first home, starting (and adding to) our family.

I return to the tough times because they are not resolved and they have emotional burrs in them that making letting go more difficult. I get stuck on them. There were conversations that should have been had, feelings that should have been expressed and emotions that needed to be released. But they weren’t. They never got smoothed over, thus the burrs. I return to these times because I can’t get what I want out of them and it ties to me the past in a way that prevents me from moving forward.

It’s like being in a whirlpool. I see all around me, at the edges, the good stuff both in the past and in the present but I am drawn downward to this point where my regrets live and froth and won’t move forward. I use it to anchor myself to the past so that I don’t move forward in the present. The questions is: Why?

Around the time of my dream about wounded trees and TV characters, I experienced a feeling of stepping on a different path. I was standing outside on my deck at night and life just felt different. There was a different texture to it and I stayed outside a long while by our garden; the place that Teresa loved to be and the place where the plants she planted are still growing. It was peaceful and I didn’t want to move in fear of shattering it. I knew what I was supposed to be understanding but maybe didn’t want to.

That night I had a dream that the four of us were together and we were in a plot of land planting a garden. There were a number of families around us doing the same. We all did our part and we worked hard to get everything planted. When it was done I stood back away from everyone and saw so much empty space in our garden and said, “Is this enough? Shouldn’t we plant more?”

I stood there crying while Teresa walked up and put her arm around me and said, “You’ve gotten so good at this. I’m proud of you.” I cried even more and kept looking forward. She then asked, ‘Is this what has been bothering you?”

It wasn’t until a day or two later, as I was relating this dream to a mentor, that I understood more of what Teresa was asking. What was bothering me was that I was looking at what had been planted and thought I needed to do more, the empty space bothered me.; it said to me that I could have done more, I didn’t do enough. I needed to fill the empty space because it represented the next part of my life, the blank slate, that will inevitably be experienced without Teresa here with me.

That’s what was and still is bothering me. That is where the healing needs to continue. That is where I need to stop fighting the whirlpool in order to escape it. To allow these feelings, this iteration of me to feel what it needs to feel while being held in the deep calm and resolve of my current state. I’ve anchored myself to the past, to this part of my past, in order to stop myself from moving forward now. That was a scary time in a lot of ways for me and part of me is pointing to that and saying do you want to go through a scary time again? Remember how it felt? Remember how you failed? Remember how you couldn’t handle those times, when you couldn’t be present because you couldn’t be perfect? Don’t you want to stay safe where you are and not try to grow anymore? This is known. You’ll get hurt. You’ll fail. No trust.

I don’t want to be grounded in that moment because it feels safer than moving forward. Instead of holding onto the regrets I want to hold on to the forgiveness inside of me, the love, and keep stepping forward into the unknown, even if it is scary at times.

I want to embrace the wonderment of the unknown.

When I was at the cabin by the Washougal river, there was an area across the river with hiking trails and a trickle of a waterfall that I wanted to explore. I don’t swim and nobody knew where I was so, after probing the river here and there, I decided that it was more prudent to not try. And maybe it was at that time and in those circumstances.

But now, as I continue to move forward in my life I can see that area across the river that I want to start exploring, I want to see what is over there. But how to do it?

It starts with me wanting to go there, wanting to embrace the unknown. With that intention I then need to take that first step, trusting myself to find a way. As I take more steps and that trust builds I can then see that I am doing it and love myself for doing it. And as I lift my head up to see how far I’ve gone and how far I have to go, I then see all the help that is available to me as I take step after step forward.

My family and friends are standing there with their hands reaching towards me offering to help me keep my balance as I walk on the slippery rocks below.

As I hit the places where the currents pick up there is a support system that I can take hold of and keep myself from being swept away, a support system that has included those who have counseled me. Those who have taught me new ways of seeing life and have allowed my to cry copious amounts of tears while they share their healing gifts with me.

When the currents subside I hear laughter and splashing and, perhaps, a moment of bickering, as I see my sons on the other side and know that I’m doing this for myself in hopes of being a better example for them.

Making my way to the other bank I find myself hitting unexpected deep spots where I lose my footing and plunge into the water, only to be brought back up to the surface each time by the love and care that Teresa always showed me as I sunk and fell in our life together.

Through the support of others I can make it to within inches of that far shore and the unknown but it will be up to me, and only me, to take that first step out of the known and into the unknown.

My foot may not have stepped onto that new shore yet but maybe it has been raised out of the water and is poised to do just that. I look forward to that moment; to the unknown and I know that when I reach another part of the trail that is too hard to traverse that help will be there when I need it.

I’m grateful for that help. I’m grateful for the many people who have helped. I’m grateful for the rivers and the trees for letting me learn from them.

At some point, when it is time to stop, to rest, while I watch the sun set over the ocean once again, I hope to be able to reflect back and not only give thanks to those who helped in my healing, those who walked with me, those who gave a helping hand when they could and those who held the lessons for me until I was ready to hear them, but to give thanks to myself for taking that last step that only I could take. If, in that time of reflection I notice that others have been sustained in some small way on their journeys by the breadcrumbs I left along the trail that would make taking that step all the more meaningful.

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