It was my first Mother’s Day weekend without my mom. I knew it would be tough to endure. I wanted to conquer it. Make it somehow easier. You know, make it light and matter-of-fact.
"Oh, it’s mother’s Day and since my mother is dead I don’t have to cook brunch or buy a card or flowers. It’ll be easy."
I was trying to trick myself.
I went backpacking with my Summit Sister, Laura. I was going to go anyway…with or without her. But as it was she came for one night and I had a night on my own. So it worked out well.
We hiked up the Deschutes River from the state park. It was unusually hot weather for spring. Along the river it was tolerable, but by the time we had to march the old railroad road up along the black cliff walls, we were melting in the heat.
There was no breeze.
Our 30 pound packs grew heavier, the air was dry, the sun intense. By the time we hit 6 miles, I was done.
Spotting one of the outhouses that dot the river banks for the rafters, I shot down the steep embankment heading for shade. All I could see was the river and trees and grass. I longed for the cool of their canopy. Laura and I scrambled through the sage and tall grass, stumbling to the trees on the the river bank, climbing in under the branches onto the rocks; I shed my back pack and sat down with a sigh. Soaking my bandanna and shirt in the river, I leaned back against my pack, enjoying the cool, wet cloth against my over heated skin.
It was heaven.
I shivered as my body readjusted and began to normalize.
After a good long rest in our private oasis, we scouted out our best camping spot.
It was a sandy area by the river’s edge with trees and a large fire pit. I hung my Kammok, we set up our tents and we were set, ready for a nice evening of calm, beauty and peace. We collected fire wood, though we never lit a fire. It was just too warm. I swung lazily in my Kammok reading a good book.
White birds, much like sea gulls, darted up and down the river, swooping high and low, around each other like children playing tag. Wild Canadian geese sometimes floated by. The river was lush and green all along its banks, with cliffs and jagged rock, sage and grass climbing steeply up each side.
We took a nice, slow stroll exploring along the river banks in the cool of the evening.
Crickets began to sing. The sun went down and the stars came out. Exhausted from the day, we dozed on and off in our tents; popping our eyes open each time we rolled over on our mattresses looking for the Big Dipper which hung just above us in the night sky. We followed its nightly travel. And a train would rumble by in the pitch black night just on the other side of the river filling the dark with its noise for a time and then the rush of the river and crickets would take over again.
As I began to wake on Saturday morning, my mind was filled with memories of the last four months of my mother’s life. I took this weekend away hoping to deal with my emotions of my first Mother’s Day without my mother on my own terms. Without my control, the memories of her frail dying body lying on a rented hospital bed in her bedroom came rushing back, and once again, I wondered if I could have altered the outcome, if I could have done something different or better than I did. My heart hurt, but my mind said I’d done my best.
And once again, I let it go.
After drinking our marvelous coffee and eating breakfast, we went on a short 2 mile day hike up the river discovering two old abandoned box cars.
Then Laura headed back to camp, so she could pack up, hike out and drive home to her family. She was to celebrate her mother and be celebrated as a mother the following day.
I was now completely alone and I continued on up the river for another two miles. Every couple miles there was another outhouse and a pull out spot for rafters. As soon as I saw one, I’d head down to the river to get out of the intense sun. At about the 10 mile mark, I discovered the perfect grassy spot with multiple trees and a cool breeze. I spent a long time soaking my feet and body in the icy water. Listening to the river and wind in the trees, watching the “river gulls” play and scanning the cliffs for big horn sheep.
I breathed in the peace.
On my way back to my camp, I crossed paths with a Boy Scout troop. Young boys with giant packs on their backs and two men who were the leaders; baking in the heat, but acting, as men and boys often do, as if they were fine. I privately worried about two of the boys who were obviously struggling, sending a quiet prayer on their behalf. We chatted for a few minutes and they continued on their way up river.
As I returned to my “home”, I rejoiced knowing I could do whatever I wanted. There was no one but me to consider. So I dunked in the river, rearranged my tent and Kammok to better locations, grabbed my book and some snacks and swung up in my Kammok reading the rest of the afternoon away.
It felt like paradise.
Every once in a while, I’d look down at the sand and see the farewell note Laura had written there for me and smile.
It was glorious.
Once again, the evening air filled with cricket song, the wind picked up, the sun went down, the stars came out and peace continued to flood my soul. Although, I was suddenly startled by a large bull snake that decided to visit me at the river’s edge, I knew he meant no harm and I marveled at his beauty as he leisurely slithered away.
I tried to sleep in my Kammok, but it was too windy with the sides whipping around, loud and un-rhythmic. I ended up in my tent with the Big Dipper filling the mesh window smiling down on me throughout the night.
I was utterly alone, with myself and my God.
I have girlfriends who are worried about my solo trips, only because they love me and feel it isn't safe. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn't enjoy solitude or who isn't comfortable in the wild what the appeal is. There is something about being alone in God’s Creation that is empowering. I love taking care of my needs only. I love having everything I need right there in my pack and if I don’t have what I need, I improvise or go without.
It’s burden free.
And though I am by myself, I don’t feel completely alone.
I sense the eyes of God upon me constantly.
Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, appeared with cloud cover and cooler temperatures. I relaxed all morning in my Kammok finishing my book, waving at the occasional rafter who floated by. Often they acted surprised to see me. By 11:30 am I was packed up and ready to hike the 6 miles out to my car.
I said good-bye to my place and turned for the trek home.
The pack felt right upon my back, my legs felt solid beneath me and I picked more flowers to tuck in my sun hat as I’d done on the previous days. I felt beautiful and whole and strong and a new idea began to fill my mind, an idea of a possible future for Don and me.
Was this where God was directing us?
I was excited to share my thoughts with him soon.
Coming home to my family was joyful, filled with hope and peace and power.
Jordyn fixed us a delicious dinner and gave me a pot of tulips. Don had red wine waiting for me. Josh and Jordyn made chocolate dipped strawberries. Jasmine had left a card and gift. I had lengthy, loving conversations with my Joy and Jubilee. And we sat and ate and talked and drank and laughed and shared the evening away.
I felt so loved.
And then I heard my brother’s voice message, wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day. The grief over the death of our mother was tangible in his voice.
Once my tears began to flow, they wouldn't stop.
This was what I had tried to avoid. This was what I wanted to escape. I cried hard and I cried long missing my mother, knowing what she’d given me and how she’d failed me, sensing the hole that was left without her. Wishing I’d said more, had worked things out better with her, but knowing I did my best. There would be no more opportunities.
I ached for my brothers, my father, my children. And I was surprised at my intense emotions. I had gone away for the weekend doing what I loved so that this wouldn't happen.
What was I thinking? We cannot escape our fractured souls. The brokenness is real and raw and painful. It seems to take over for a time and once the tears were done, I fell into a deep sleep in my soft bed relishing the smoothness of my cotton sheets.
And God once again patched my cracked soul while I slept.
In the morning, I remembered who I am.
Once again, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a beautiful woman surrounded by a loving, healthy family created by a God who fills me with strength and hope and peace and a future.