I’m not a natural-born hiker or climber. Given a choice, I’d rather be in a hammock or comfy chair with a good book. But, living the life we have for these past 4 years, I’ve been doing a lot of hiking with Handsome Husband, as we’ve explored the beauty in our travels.
So, yesterday, I suggested to our daughter, son-in-law and son that we climb Camelback Mt, right outside of Phoenix. It ranks as a difficult hike but I knew it would be beautiful at the top, so we set out with sunblock, water (it was pretty damn hot), and enthusiasm.
Handsome Husband and I hiked Camelback when we were here over the winter, taking the Echo Canyon trailhead, and, yeah, it was incredibly steep.But we (I should say I, because he never seemed as challenged by the climbs as I was), celebrated an accomplishment that day. One more time, prior to our leaving Phoenix, he climbed it again, by himself, taking another trail, the Cholla. Now, I know, yes, he did it even while his lungs were compromised by growing tumors, and while his legs hurt from the tumors there. He didn’t know the cancer had returned and he was nothing if not determined, so he climbed through the pain, though I remember him being beyond exhaustion when he got back home that night. I wanted to climb again, in his memory, this same trail.
I have the same sort of determination he did. He always cheered me on when I climbed and I’d be in competition both with myself and to show him I could accomplish whatever climb we were on. Same here, though he wasn’t with me this time. This was my first hike, my first climb, without him. But I had other family to keep me company and I just focused on the next step.
And, yes, you know where I can go with this rocky, hand over hand at times, legs reaching up, long way up, climb. Piercing sun, no shade anywhere along the way, up, up, up. This is grief, I thought. Hard, unexpected, making your body shake with effort, uncertain, dehydrating, endless, fear-inducing, with a limitless horizon right before your eyes. Cholla Trail was all of that, and more.
About 15 or so minutes from the top, with it in my sight, I stopped for a break. I could see the top from where I sat on a heated from the unrelenting sun rock. It was pretty much a straight up, clambering over large rocks, climb. I’d been struggling for the last few minutes. Light-headedness, legs shakier than they’d ever been, some nausea. Things just weren’t right with my body and, if I continued the climb, I could easily envision tripping and falling. I told myself to breathe through it, suck it up, and climb. For godsakealmighty, I told myself, Handsome Husband did it, with cancer! So I could damn well do it too. But every brain cell in me said that I needed to not do that final steep climb.
I knew, too, that if Handsome Husband were with me, he’d say to use my brain. Something was going on with my body that had never gone on before and I knew it wouldn’t be safe. So I told the others to go ahead and I started back down the trail, and I’m very glad I did. I barely made it to the bottom, fighting dizziness and shakiness all the way. Once at the bottom I found a rock with a 1/4 inch of shade and sat down and concentrated on not throwing up and passing out.
A couple of things here: In spite of hydrating myself, I think I probably had heat exhaustion. That was exacerbated by a bombardment of memories of me and Handsome Husband with each step I took, so I was fighting off the grief. I haven’t pushed myself in any way, physically, since that day I took him to the ER, so I’m out of shape. Yeah, it was too much, too soon. I’m an independent, strong woman, I know that. Everyone who knows me knows that. But sitting there on that rock, as I fought off the dizziness and nausea, I also fought off falling completely apart emotionally. This was the first time I’ve not felt well in 24 years that Handsome Husband wasn’t around to respond, to love me through it, to efficiently ensure that I was okay. I breathed through that thought, thinking “This is my new life and I hate it with every fucking hurting bone in my body”.
Climbing the Cholla trail yesterday was too much, too soon, a lesson for me. I push myself. I always have. I set my sights on the horizon and work towards it. Which is all good and okay, but maybe, with this grief that has invaded every solid inch of my body, heart and soul, I can do a shorter climb for now. Maybe I don’t need to push and stretch every part of me yet. At some point, yes. I know Handsome Husband would encourage me to do that for the moment, to let myself just be where I am. He knew, he knows, how strong I am and that I’ll get there. But he’d also tell me that it’s okay to rest, and listen to my body, and heed my body and what it’s telling me.
Grief is a long, hard climb. There’s a horizon out there that’s open. I need to glance at it every so often, when I can, just to know it’s there, but mainly, at this point, I just need to keep my feet moving, and my eyes in front of me. Just move.