Blessing Train

family Grieving story

The Earth is really a place of great feeling, we’ve just been raised to hold ourselves back from it.

The kids and I crammed into a tiny sleeper cabin as our Amtrak train rattled its way to Klamath Falls Oregon last week. True loved her freshly made up sliver of a bunk, falling right asleep. Tadg is at the age where he has a thousand questions about everything, it takes a while for his mind to wind down. If he finds himself short of important things to ask about he’ll find something silly to ask:

“Daddy, if you had a train made of food what kind of food would you want it to be… lasagna?”

After a few minutes of these he told me he thought he couldn’t sleep on a train, then he face-planted onto his pillow with a thud. I followed shortly after. At about 2am the smell of fires seeping in through the air vents woke me up. Forests fading into grey smoke spun by, barely lit by a full moon struggling to shine through in this year of greatest fires. Its strangely powerful to see so much of our lands burn from those tracks, like you’re watching some great fate unfold with every passing clack and shudder. You’ve awoken to a secret between you and the trees alone. I think trains love to keep secrets and then deal them out when you least expect it.

The next morning they seated us with another passenger for breakfast so we would fill the table with a party of four. She was from Boston, not far from where my Dad grew up, she could have been his younger cousin. A mostly cheery soul she was game for wherever the conversation might take us. “Is it OK if I order pork sausage?” I must look Jewish, or vegetarian, or Jewish vegetarian. I was waiting for her to stumble into the next obvious question, so I was prepared.

“So, where’s Mom at?”
“She passed away, not long ago in April of this year. From cancer.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Its really OK, we’re used to talking about it. Thank you for asking.”
{Long thoughtful pause from someone who has been touched by profound loss too.}
“Yes, thats the best way to handle it … talking about it.”

All the while True and Tadg are chattering away about their breakfast or cows or rivers passing us by. She was uncomfortable, but not for long. She understood without being told that this was our first journey like this, a vacation without Momma. Now was about happy, not so much about the other stuff. Grief was fading on the tracks behind us … not really but it was nice to think of it that way.

I forget that I’m a widower. Maybe its because Terry’s spirit is not so far away, maybe its because the kids are so ridiculously happily over the top so much of the time. My life is about keeping up with two escaped mental patients who are having the time of their lives, not about being an aging parenting oddity. Its always strange when someone reminds me that we’re somehow different. The kids don’t seem to notice at all.

A silent version of “where’s Mom” happens almost every day. A person serving us food will look at us with sympathy – “Dad is stuck with the kids while Mom has a day off, eh?” Or an older woman seeing an old Dad alone with kids – “so you have them for the WHOLE weekend divorced Dad? Must be tough – serves you right, LOL!” I don’t mind, its nice to pretend sometimes that we’re just having a weekend or afternoon out together. The kids certainly act like they’re on vacation with Dad most of the time.

I warned them I would be hugging and kissing the person we were visiting. “Eeeywwee” True said, dutifully fulfilling her job of finding everything having to do with adult intimacy gross. They had spent time with her before, but not this much, and had not seen me be affectionate with her. I asked Tadg if he was OK with it. I got a smile, a small roll of the eyes and a yes.

There were a few times, when Terry was sick, that I thought I had nothing left to give. I was just so tired. But somehow I’d settled into a space where effortlessly things got done. I stepped out of the way and whatever was left of me was totally capable of showing up. Being pushed that far past what I thought I could do carved new spaces in me, taught me to let something deeper take over. Am I big enough for all the love I’ve been so generously gifted? I surely am if I just let it be. Maybe thats always how it has been.

I remember thinking how strange it was when I was a kid, that scientists thought only human beings had “real” feelings. All of that stuff animals did was just behavior designed to get food. How ridiculously defensive of us. Clearly my dogs loved me. Clearly the Ocean had moods. The sky was talking to all of us, while we blithely pretended otherwise. Trees emanated something akin to affection throughout the forest, how could you not feel it?

The Earth is really a place of great feeling, we’ve just been raised to hold ourselves back from it.

How many of us can really cope with being swallowed whole by love? I have had experiences with spirit that feel that way, and definitely with the kids. Now with a new love. There have been times, in the last few weeks, that I’ve realized love and joy are always swirling around me, embodied by these beautiful people I’m miraculously connected to. How did I get so insanely blessed?

We beat Asha to our stop by a few minutes, long enough to learn everything about the Klamath Falls station and listen to the kids complain about having to wait for 3 more minutes. It was such a long road, so many quiet steps to get here. I was ready to have a chance to be enfolded in the arms of happiness. I was not disappointed.

To hold as you are held, to feel promise again, is more gift than I can speak to.

I’ve done so much holding of others for the last few years, that being held by someone who feels for me in this way is like being delivered to a new world. Its not that all the hugs that led up to this moment didn’t matter, its that this spacious embrace is filled with a new gentle, seductive terrain to discover. It is a wholly different world, one where I can truly breath.

For this weekend however, it is not a world seperate from children.

When you have kids, and you start seeing someone, you’re all really dating her. Thats just weird. I knew True would hit her pretty hard, not really the tactful suitor. “HI ASHA!” True bounded up to give a hug, announcing herself so loudly she seemed to create echo’s without there being anything within blocks for sound to bounce off of. Tadg said hi and hung back a little. I was most worried about Tadg. He doesn’t ask for a new Mom, he was so well Mothered by Terry, I can’t imagine most sons are so well loved in an entire lifetime. But he was friendly enough, and game to fish and learn how to shoot a .22 (something Asha and I had promised him.)

The smoke blessed us by leaving early. We road through the mountains leading from Klamath to Ashland to Applegate, watching the last of the haze fade away by the time we pulled up to her home on 13 acres. My kids are more at home among trees than anywhere else. The second day we were there my lungs felt like they were being fed by clear air for the first time in ages. Sleep came deep and often… for me at least.

True turned up the volume on everything that weekend. Screaming, charming, galloping, crying, laughing, rough housing – she was in rare form. “Stop hitting your brother in the butt, and put the board game down!” The devilish grin was never far from her face. She took me aside several times trying to convince me that all I had to do was kiss Asha and then I could marry her.

“Sugar-Bear its a little more complicated than that, takes more time.”
“Pleaaase Papa, then we’ll have a Momma.”
Later, “come on Papa we have to buy her earrings, thats how you do it!”

She managed to hone in on the only giant pink fake gem earrings in the otherwise tasteful store in Ashland. In hindsight its not surprising as they were so gaudy they were visible from space, she probably spotted them on the train as we crossed into Oregon. Eventually, in frustration that a wedding had not already resulted from all known techniques, she resorted to a simple, practical proposition:

“OK, so you’ll just be our Mom for this weekend, right?”
“OK sweetie, this weekend.”
Job done.
We’re all hoping for a lot more.

Tadg and Asha hit it off so well I thought we’d lose them both for the whole weekend. At one point they left to get groceries, shoot more targets and check out a hunting and fishing outdoor store. So much time passed I thought I’d get a text telling me they had just reached snow pack as they were tracking a herd of caribou, don’t wait up for us!

I knew my time with Asha would feed me deeply, and still leave me hungry. We talked and dreamed and loved. We were there to soak in each other, to feel the kids, to feel her home and land (gorgeous), to sense the edges of each others lives. I got to see her son again, always a pleasure. He’s finding his way into the world so quickly, I may barely get to know him.

We got ready to say goodby by weaving plans, promises and endearments that would stretch across state lines.

I guess I didn’t want us to leave, I ignored the time until it was almost too late to make the train. Asha pulled up just as it arrived. Our sleeper car was at the front of the train this time, we parked near the back. I ran ahead, yelling behind me that we all had to get down to the other end of the train {oh God now I’m yelling everything like True does sometimes!} I stopped and looked back to see a Mother holding a car seat running with two kids down the tracks towards me.

There they were – Mother, Son and Daughter.

A family, heading towards me at breakneck speed.

This is so much to take in.

True always seems to get her way, doesn’t she?

A slow train ride back will be good.

We packed everything into our room, True showed off her bunk.

One last kiss before Asha jumped off the train.

No goodbyes, just see you soon.

Not soon enough.

I didn’t sleep more than 2 hours at a time that night. The visit lit a fire inside me that would not let me rest. The time to be tired all the time is over. Time to be awake again. We had more daylight on the way home, watching the Sacramento Delta shine, playing cards and chattering about seeing Bella and the cats. We were all excited to get home. Leaving but not leaving.

Bella greeted us with her doggie hugs. First she jumps up and paws you, growling like a grizzly. Then she wraps her arms around your hips and holds tight, pressing in to nuzzle you more. Coming home that day she wouldn’t let go for at least a minute. So good to be home in her furry paws.

The next morning I woke to feel Terry right next to me.

I walked down to the house and she was there without pause, just sharing her love with me, just a warm presence, as if she was right there. I made myself stop and sit and feel her there with me. Can I hold all of this? Nope, but it surely can hold me.

I’ve been purging more from the house, trying to keep only the things I know we can carry forward. There’s a lot of grief in that. Letting go of this sweater, finally throwing out the baby bottles, letting go of the books she wanted to keep. Its a little easier with the forward momentum of train tracks ahead of me. I made sure to tell the kids about Terry.

“I woke up this morning to feel Momma right with me.”
Tadg: “Cool!”
True: “I want to feel her!”
“I know honey, we’ll all get our turns. You never know when it might happen. Until then you’ll just have to trust she’s in our hearts and we can share that with you. Maybe pick some flowers to set by her stone again.”
She’s not satisfied, still holding out.
Good for you girl.

The Sidhe have been sensing the shifting in my heart. They’ve been telling me its time to open my heart to them again. Its different this time, they expect me to work a little more on my own, not just wait for everything to fall into my lap. They know that new space in me as well, know its potential, know the responsibilities it might bring. I look around at the land and feel them saying, “well, what are you waiting for?”

Letting go and opening up, hasn’t that been what its always been about?

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.

%d bloggers like this: