The terrains of my grief

South Oregon Coast, Bullards Beach to Brookings

Those of you who’ve followed this blog know my time on the saddle carries me over many emotional places. The long hours on tour are ample time to reflect, reminisce, ruminate. Especially as I’ve returned to this itinerary, this route so many times. I ride without thinking of which directions I need to take, which destination I will seek for the night. Thus freed, there is only time left for me. 

Starting a tour during an extended pandemic brings its own challenges. Gone are the normal warm coffeeshops to find respite from cold and weather. People have greater reluctance to draw near for conversation or curiosity. So the sense of isolation brings my focus even closer, ever inward.

Riding is a real struggle this year, I will not minimize this fact. In addition to my lack of conditioning and training, I’m carrying extra weight physically, gained over almost two years not riding. Hills are longer, harder than normal. Even the flats seem tedious, painful. My seat is getting less painful, now into my second week of riding. Go slow is my mantra. 

I’ve been continuing a weekly Zoom workshop which I started before the tour. Each Wednesday, a dozen or so kind folks gather virtually to write about grief. The sponsor is You’re Going to Die, a group in San Francisco dedicated to conscious mortality. I’ve connected with YG2D online during the pandemic, through Zoom open mics that engaged sixty to one hundred participants.

This writing workshop is hosted by Ned and Chelsea, offering a space to explore the terrains of grief. As I’m on the road, camping, there has been the technical challenge of adequate cell signal. Tonight at Humbug Mountain State Park, this means I must settle myself out on the beach.

I find a long which will serve as a table, then another smaller one to sit upon. The sun is setting as the session begins. Chelsea’s heartfelt songs always set the perfect tone and mood. Then Ned comes on, his opening comments always touched with his own grief and tears. He has each person check into, then offers simple prompts. Then we have time to write and an opportunity to share.

My tears some so easily. What is it about such a space? Permission to be real, to let the pain exist. So much effort to contain in this culture. Here, the container is open, allowing the tears, the denial, the anger, even the wonder. So much I’ve learned from Ned and YG2D over the past year, and over these four writing sessions.

Grief is a process which needs space and time. The depth of sorrow is a measure of the love. Everything we cherish and desire will leave us, or we will leave it. I’m grieving years of loss, people who have left me, times I’ve acted in ways that harmed or neglected my loved ones. The well is deep, but not bottomless. 

I’m asked to imagine grief as a body of water, a stream, a river. Here, watching the sunset over the vast Pacific, my grief is the ocean. Vast and deep, endless or so it seems. And at the same time, the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. How is this possible, to experience such pain and joy at the same time? Can it be any other way?

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