knee deep in weeds

notes on a simple life

the passenger seat

Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.
C. S. Lewis 

I am warm and snug in the passenger seat, anticipating an amazing weekend with some amazing women. I gaze out the car window, taking note of familiar landmarks and pit stops as they slide by, and can't help but think about how many times I have driven this stretch of road over the years. 

I often had the boys with me; carseats in the back, then booster chairs, eventually graduating to seatbelts and then one day to the driver's seat: first for practice and later to give me a break.

But, I also made the trip often by myself. Sometimes to be mothered, to be held and taken care of, to leave behind my family and allow myself to be pampered a bit as a daughter.  Later, I made the trip alone to spell my sister as our parents' health declined and they needed care, mothering them as our roles reversed. 

I remember vividly two life changing drives six or so years apart. . .
Both times I am harried and anxious, and all alone. I drive towards first my mother's death, and then my father's; both who were actively dying, but waiting for my arrival to do so.

I reach my mother late at night. She is all alone, my father having just left her peacefully sleeping. I settle into the chair beside her bed and reach gently towards her hand, careful as always to not hurt her. It is not long before I understand she is gone, slipping away from me without fanfare. I make calls and sit with her in the quiet, waiting for the others to arrive, thankful she is no longer in pain. 

My sister is with me as I sit close to my father. She paces and I sing and hold his hand. We talk to him telling him over and over how much he means to us, how we remember this and that and how Mom is waiting for him. We assure him that we will both be fine and that it is okay for him to let go. The afternoon light turns to darkness and he slips away peacefully.

Both times, I walk out of a room a different woman. 

I watch out my car window and sense that what I need can't be found in the places I have been looking but rather in the tangible.  On highways I have traveled all my life, or pathways that lead to places that fill me up; pathways to the ocean, to the mountains, to simplicity and beauty and back to my roots. I grasp now why I felt such a pull to go on this trip and to take this drive in the passenger seat. 

I realize how part of my desperate search for some tranquility and peace of mind over the past years has partially been to fill the void left from my parents' passing. I told myself often that they had lived good lives: had had a beautiful marriage and were happy. And truly when the time came, they both were ready.  But I never fully acknowledged how their passing had left such an ache inside of me left me along with pain that I never really faced. 

My mother's passing coincided with my cancer diagnosis and other family pain and over the course of the next six years, before my father's death, I wallowed from one doubt to another. I lost confidence and joy and no longer trusted my decisions nor my body. I spent so much time wrapped up in all my doubts and fears I never properly cried or morned. And here I am, some fifteen years later just figuring this out. 

I believe the real reason for this trip was about the passenger seat. It was about taking time to notice and remember the familiar road, along with memories of past trips and all the miles that made them. It was about uncovering that broken bit of myself which had been buried under layers of grief that I didn't even know was there, and letting it surface so healing could truly begin. 

I left her car, a different woman. 

Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.
— John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

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