grief

Six Funerals and a Wedding

Two years ago, although occasionally mired by a rainstorm or two, our life was pretty much rainbows and puppies, sunshine and ice cream. I’m not going to lie, we had it good.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Couple photo

A Sunday kind of love.

 

I had somehow happened upon the life of my life, despite being tucked in the woods as he was, and we fit together seamlessly. I felt like the knight who had rescued Rapunzel (or however that went) and off we had ridden into the sunset.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher's Kingdom Sunset

Olive grove sunset

 

And then the sun didn’t come up.

Two years ago in August, we lost our dog Cinda Lou in a terrible, and preventable accident.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Cinda Lou's Kingdom

Cinda’s Kingdom

 

Eight months later, the Chief’s mother died suddenly in a car accident the day before his 40th birthday.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Family portrait

Donna, Chris, The Chief & Mychal

 

Less than two weeks later, his grandmother Jane passed.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Grandma Jane

Sweet Jane.

 

A few months later on a cold morning this Winter, I received a call that my godmother Ellen had passed away suddenly. She had gone in for routine surgery and never come out. She was a beautiful jeweler and we were designing the wedding rings she was going to make for us. Suddenly, she was gone. The news hit me so hard it took my breath away. I sat there catatonic as a meeting for work started. I just stared forward, numb.

Times were dark. It felt as if the world had closed itself off to us, as if we’d hit our limit on happiness. We had been so lucky. Maybe too lucky.

We waded through the pain and stumbled as we reached its new depths. We tried to hold one another close but felt alone. We fought endlessly, our anger at the world had nowhere to go in a tiny wintry cabin and so it found its way towards one another. Still, we remembered how it once was.

And then, a ray of sunlight.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, The sun will come out

Sunshine morning on the olive ranch

 

Somehow, almost suddenly, The Chief and I came together again. The anger lifted. We softened. I hadn’t realized how far we’d gotten from one another, how cold our new normal was. Grief has a way of sneaking you away from yourself, away from your loves without your even realizing. It leaves you alone.

Yet we could finally see we weren’t alone. Our sun was back. We cuddled again, sat entwined on the couch again, lingered in one another’s embrace again. The sadness was still there but for the first time it wasn’t blinding, we could see past it. We could find the beauty in what remained and the excitement for what was coming.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chief’s dad, Christopher was part of that beauty. We grew very close in the month and a half we spent together in California after Donna and Jane’s passing. His consistency made me feel so safe in a time where it felt like our world was collapsing and again he was there when Ellen died and it felt ready to collapse again. Despite the immense pain he felt in the losses, he always found a way to be kind. When issues would arise or plans would change he would simply, softly say “Ok, dear” in a way that made my hardening heart melt ever so slightly. He was a steady port in the storm and I clung to him.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher's Kingdom

Christopher’s Kingdom

 

Two months ago, he died of a heart attack.

The anniversaries of Donna and Jane’s passing had hit us hard in the week leading up to his death. One year gone already. Gently, we navigated through the reminders, trying to remember the good instead of fall deeply into the pit of sadness. Two days after Jane’s passing anniversary (which also happened to be her birthday and Cinda’s birthday) the call came.

The man who had become a beacon of hope for our newly blossoming family, who had tied us all together when the seams started to fray was gone.

He was a man full of surprises. As an ex-military man, full of discipline and prestige, I was intimidated by him at first. I would set alarms just to make sure I woke up “early enough” because I feared he’d think me lazy if I slept in. When I did manage to get up, the payoff was wonderful as I’d get to accompany him on his walks. Every day he walked the property to check on his thousands of olive trees and despite his love of solitude, he welcomed my presence to become part of his norm too.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Take a walk

One of many family walks in the orchards.

 

He was methodical and principled and repetitious to a T but just when I’d think I had him pegged, he would surprise me again. He would send me random texts to say “Hi” or “What’s your weather like today?” with a picture of a bluebird morning at the farm. I once received a text from him with a picture of himself, sweaty as can be, in front of a hot yoga business. Since it was pouring rain, he couldn’t be outside and get his exercise and so, he tried something new. I loved that about him. He didn’t care what anyone thought, he didn’t have to stay put in any idea others had about him. He was his own person, through and through and I will forever wish he were with us still.

Despite his ashes in our living room, his death still feels unreal. I still expect a text from him to remind me not to worry, that he will do all the cooking at the wedding and to offer other help I didn’t know I needed. I still wait for a call to randomly check in and tell us he loves us.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Christopher

C.E.K.

 

These days, the simple ringing of a telephone strikes fear in my heart. I feel fear constantly and picture death and destruction in even the safest situation. I fear for the family and friends I have, for our Leto, for The Chief, for myself. I fear for the worst for I know it’s face, I’ve stared right into it’s eyes and still it doesn’t back down.

Yesterday, the phone rang again, this time to tell me that my grandmother Gam had died.

I had just worked up the nerve to tell of the loss of my father-in-law, to write about him here, to tell his story and what he meant to me. I was not prepared to write two obituaries. It feels odd and unseemly to group two of the most important people in my life into one post, yet they are interwoven, all of our losses are.

My Gam is the reason I feel comfortable calling myself a writer at all, and only because she called me one first. She was the person I was most afraid to tell I was moving to Alaska because I was afraid she’d think I failed her. I was so wrong. She beamed at my choice, prized my passion and applauded my leap of faith. She once told me that if I loved The Chief, I had to love all of him. I hadn’t realized that this was how she had loved me, all along. She was smart as a whip, did the crosswords every day and could hold a conversation with anyone. She was an avid reader, a teacher, a lover of art and nature and jazz and a constant help to those in need. She stood up for herself in a time when women were expected to be quiet and continued that strength until she passed. When she had had enough of you, she would tell you “I’m ready for you to go”. She adored The Chief. He was the only man I ever brought to meet her about which she said “I like him”, with a special emphasis only she could put on “like”. I can hear her say it now. That was a very high regard. She gave us her blessing and when she found out The Chief was planning to propose, she immediately offered him her wedding ring. I wear it now and forever.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Grandma Jeanne and us

Giving her blessing. Don’t mind the black eye, apparently it runs in the family.

 

I adored her. She was a force to be reckoned with and I will deeply miss her.

I hope, ever so much that these are the last obituaries I write for a very long time and that instead this place holds happiness in its tales of the Last Frontier. I hope with all my might that a phone ringing won’t always make my heartbeat quicken and that in every way I won’t always fear for the worst. I hope The Chief and I can continue in kindness and gentleness and hold tightly to the even keel we once had and that our wedding in September can move us forward, together in love and lightness. I hope our ancestors gather around us to celebrate in spirit. We love you.

I wish for you that you and yours are safe and sound.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Giant Dandelion Wish

A giant wish.

 

With love,

 

from Alaska and a couple of hand holding, “don’t embarrass me, Mom” pups to make you smile.

 

Beneath the Borealis 7-8-19, Six Funerals and a Wedding, Husky and Malamute holding hands

Best friends caught in action.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Back in the Saddle

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by horses. I spent hours in the stables chatting away with my beloved friends, sharing stories and carrots and sometimes just a wee bite of their oat mix. They were my world and to answer the burning question I know must be on your mind, yes, my birthday parties were pony themed and I’m so sorry we didn’t know one another then so that I could have invited you.

Riding horses was my life. However, as any lady or gent of the pony parade knows, riding horses isn’t always about riding. Sometimes, it’s about falling.

From the first time I set foot in the arena to the last, emphasis was always placed on preparing to fall. We practiced finding a safe landing to the inevitable via what my instructor called Flying Dismounts, a special surprise situation we would find ourselves in at least once a lesson. There I’d be, focusing on doing a flying change (where the horse, in mid-air, like the magical beasts they are, switches which foot goes forward first in a canter. Try it, I dare you. I’ve never tripped myself harder) when all of a sudden, my teacher would crack a whip while simultaneously yelling “flying dismount”. The whip would hit the horse in just the right way to break his concentration and buck he would and, ideally, off I would fly, totally in control, landing gently and effortlessly on the ground in one, unharmed, piece.

Ideally.

More often than not, the Flying Dismount looked less like a flight and more like I’d been shot from a catapult aimed straight at the ground. I’d flail through the air and meet the arena soil before I even knew what had happened. Dazed, I’d stand up, find my horse, listen to my instructor’s critiques and pop back into the saddle. I was like those clown faced blow up therapy punching bags that just pop right back up at you after you give them your hardest hit. Pop! There I was.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Julia Sings the Blues (Leggings)

The closest picture I can find of me on horseback, at present. Back in the studio saddle.

 

 

Now, this may seem like a rough lesson for a kiddo but the thing is, riding really can be just as much about falling as it is riding because if you ride enough, you’re bound to fall and when you fall, a little grace never hurt. And so, fall I did, gaining a small bit of grace as the years went on. Back then, the ruling was that in order to be a great rider you had to have 7 non-instructor induced falls and I was quickly making my way towards that magic number.

Once, in a moment lacking, perhaps, my best judgement, I decided to ride a horse in a nearby field whose owner I neither knew, nor consulted. Obviously, the room for disaster was minimal. What could go wrong? A nearby bee heard my confidence and decided to sting said unknown pony in the rear. Ah, I forgot to mention too that it wasn’t just myself I entered into this surefire sob induced drama. I was also “babysitting” a neighbor who was a few years my 8-year old self’s junior. She rode in front of me and for the few minutes we trotted about, it apparently didn’t occur to me to mention the old Flying Dismount maneuver.

Bee in play, horse in panic and us bouncing around uncontrollably like a bunch of pre-teens in their first mosh pit, the outlook wasn’t good. The horse was at deadspeed (as fast as it can go), which for a moment was thrilling since I’d never before reached that elusive speed, until I realized I was not exactly in control of the situation. It was time. “Jump!” I yelled.

It didn’t go well. We both ended in rocky thistle patches and walked the mile home with bloodied knees, elbows and faces, crying at the top of our lungs. Truth be told, I was crying mainly out of fear as the repercussions of my not-so-bright idea came to full clarity and the screams of the kiddo that was my responsibility got louder. I competed with her cries, dead-set on not getting in trouble.

It did not work.

Yet, even that fall, I think perhaps it was number 5 or so, didn’t bother me. It was all part of the game. I was racing towards number 7, hell-bent on getting that badge of honor and fearless in my endeavor.

 

 

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Pop up, poppy Page

 

 

Until…

the next fall.

The next fall was unintentional, non-teacher induced. It counted and I was closer to my 7 but I didn’t jump for joy because this time, I was unconscious. I had been riding one of the bigger horses, a departure from my favorite white pony named “Killy”. My Thumbelina stature made me feel look like a mouse on an elephant but the power of the horse made me feel powerful too. I went for it, full-bore.

And so did he.

Spooked by something only he could see, he reared up as we rounded one of the four corners of the arena. Feeling very brave, I aimed to stay on. He, aimed for me to dismount.

He won.

Bucking his hardest, I finally lost my grip and went flying into the air, landing headfirst into one of the 16-inch by 16 foot logs that created a barrier in the arena. The last thing I remember was my helmet cracking and the visor snapping off and then?

Darkness.

When I finally came to, the first thing I did was laugh and the first thing I heard was “Time to get back in the saddle. Every good rider has to get back on”.

“Pop on up, buttercup”, I thought to myself as I nervously laughed my way through the pain, but a therapy doll I was no longer. My body wouldn’t let me.

I was terrified.

Thankfully, Mama to the rescue, the lesson ended early. I promised to get back on as soon as I felt better. I just needed rest, I reasoned. But the aching in my head was not what was holding me back. I’d been stepped on and bounced into the ground more times than I could count from lessons and unintentional lessons of falling but I’d never felt that fear. And I’d never failed to get immediately back in the saddle.

Eventually, shortly after, I made my way back in. I rode the horse that had bucked me and made my peace with the fear, but it didn’t leave. It sat beside me, monitoring my movements and dealing me visions of doom. I was back in the saddle, but I had seen the other side and I was changed.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Goldenrod

 

 

The past few months have dealt The Chief and I more bucks than I thought possible. Every time something else would happen, we’d say “Well, it can’t get any worse than this” and then, it would. Don’t try that tactic, it doesn’t work. And so, we stopped saying it and as thing after thing after thing piled on, we eventually had to laugh our ways back into the saddle. We laughed, not because of the humor in the situations, of which there was none, but because of the sheer shock.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Anchorage Art Museum

The exhibit I unintentionally went to during the ups and downs. Well, that pretty much pins the tail on the donkey, Anchorage Art Museum.

 

 

The Chief and I lost two family members back to back, so fast that we found ourselves in the same funereal attire before it could make it back into the closet. After that, we were continuously kicked while we were down, financially, physically and emotionally. The small things didn’t matter compared to the loss but they made it feel like we would never come up for air. If that horse had trampled me while I had been on the ground, that might have been a close second to how we have felt these past few months that I haven’t written. It’s been a haunting hiatus but also one filled with immense love.

Our little neighborhood has been hit hard this year. A surge of sadness abounds in such a small area and our love for one another links us so that our pain, is theirs and theirs, ours. Yet, we’ve been able to lift one another. While we were gone to California in the familial tailspin, our neighborhood came together to hold us from afar. They tended to our seedlings, watering them and keeping a daily fire in our house to protect them from frost.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bell Pepper Seedlings

Bell pepper from Ali. When a friend brings you a pepper gift, why not try to make her one too?

 

 

They kept our freezer frozen by running our generator. They kept our hearts from splitting from our chests when the struggle to keep them in felt far too great to bear. Those whom we love, from here, from near and from far have found us when floundering and steadied our stride. To our friends and family everywhere, we are forever grateful.

Like that fall off the horse, these blows too tried to force fear and for a while, it worked and sometimes, it still does. Every time the phone would ring, I would panic. Every moment felt like an opportunity for disaster because disaster was all I saw. Yet, that fall wasn’t meant to teach me fear and neither was this, it was to teach me respect. Respect for that which is greater than me, that which I cannot control and perspective on that which I can. Respect for the relationships I value and the beautiful story we all lead.

Respect for life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Double Yellow Squash

What hides behind? A double yellow squash from the saved seedlings.

 

 

To feel pain is to know we are alive and I don’t want to live at half-mast. I was blinded to the beauty all around me while under the spell of pain but I have awoken. Let’s move through, shall we?

Thank you for your patience in this time off and thank you for joining me again, back in the Beneath the Borealis saddle. Here’s to entries of joy.

 

To you and yours,

to life,

with love,

Julia

 

//This post is in honor of the three females who raised The Chief. To Donna, Jane and Cinda, I am eternally grateful. We miss you dearly and feel you with us daily. Your touch on this world lives on.//

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Grandma’s beauty still blooms.

 

And thank you, M for the push to start again and for the fabulous snow pants I will wear with pride. I appreciate you.