You know that feeling. The feeling you get when you turn the page, and there is nothing on the next one. Or perhaps, that moment when you reach a fold in a map where the trail ends (of course, the paper ones before smart phones made them electronic). Or perhaps that moment, like the one Cheryl Strayed faced in the movie Wild. My daughter, Kyla, and I watched this yesterday afternoon as the rains cleared in Austin.
Kyla’s history teacher had suggested Wild as a possible backdrop for her trimester project in his class, rich in natural beauty, rooted in history with John Muir and the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as a personal story that is incredibly powerful. There were some intense moments in the movie, moments that can make a dad uncomfortable, moments that you would prefer a daughter could watch with her mom to explain. However, just like buying bras, these are our moments now. These are the moments that a daughter and her dad handle together now, because like Cheryl, Kyla lost her mom.
There is a great quote about dads from Cheryl’s book, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,“ from which the movie was adapted. “The father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse to ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so. If you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself.” As the kids and I move forward into year two of our grief journey, some things are becoming clearer, others less certain.
One thing that is certain is something Taylor, our son, said in his interview with KXAN this past week: “You could not tell she was dealing with breast cancer. We never focused on it,” said Taylor. “We kept pushing forward and we kept doing things, and I figured after her passing I needed to do something. I couldn’t sit around.” Much like Cheryl when she took her first step on the trail, we don’t know where we are going. As Cheryl put it, “I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.”
The kids and I aren’t sure of where we are going. I don’t think any of us are really. However, as I have written for over a year, I do know the fuel for our journey. Love. For 25 years, I filled the tank of love with my beloved Maureen. For 16 years, she and I filled it together for Taylor. We filled it for just over 13 with Kyla, and a little short of 11 years for Katelyn. The great thing about love is that it is a fuel that never runs out. It is also a fuel that runs in both directions, as Cheryl notes in her book. I am not just teaching the kids to be warriors. They are teaching me. And, like Cheryl, I feel compelled to write.
As I think about Barton Ballard’s suggestion to watch this movie, I am realizing that there is much for me to learn from it, not just Kyla. Kyla teased me at the end, noting she plans to start her paper with something like this, “I watched the movie Wild with my dad. He spent a lot of time crying.” I did spend a lot of time crying. I can not put into words, no matter how long I write, just how deeply I loved and love Maureen. As I watched Bobbi in the movie deal with her lung cancer (one month rather than Maureen’s 11 years), I saw in her the beauty and strength with which Maureen handled her journey. I think a lot about Maureen’s journey. I think a lot about what was going on inside my sweetie. But like Taylor said on KXAN, “You could not tell she was dealing with breast cancer.”
So, as the kids and I face uncertainty, we are going to do things. In the words of Robert Frost used by Cheryl on the trail, “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” Like I told Taylor just before his interview with KXAN, this isn’t just about the things we do. This is about inspiring others to do things, too. We each have amazing gifts as human beings. We are each endowed by our creator to do great things. If each of us does our “one thing,” then we will, as I say frequently, “change everything.” This isn’t about us. This is about all of us. We will share our story with courage, like Cheryl did, In the words of Brené Brown, we will live wholeheartedly.
Over the next few weeks, as we embrace our uncertainty and head into the holidays, we will become more intentional. I found this napkin sketch by Carl Richards from his “Your Money” column on Brené Brown’s site. It captures our thinking perfectly. Ask what is to be done next, do it, repeat.
We have three things to be done next: 1) the writing of the book, The Love of My Life, now with a co-author, Taylor, my son, 2) Taylor’s Habitat for Humanity house in Maureen’s honor, and 3) my traveling to India with A Fresh Chapter in March 2016 to take my experience with cancer as a caregiver into the lives of others. As we follow along with the napkin and begin to repeat, we will capture our love at the website, The Love of My Life, and the doing at Team Powdered Donut (not yet launched). As we embrace uncertainty, we expect these websites to become community ones, places where not just our stories of love and doing are captured, but instead places where all of our “one things” are captured, because together, love can indeed change everything. That much is certain.