I wish I could tell you that grief and loss get easier over time, but it doesn’t. In many respects for me, it is worse than it was. I have more time to think, and the more I think the more often that confused and angry state of mind takes over. It goes away over time and is replaced with just a profound sense of loss. I will say that I have learned to adapt when I teach. At my school we teach fine arts to autistic adults and older folks with memory problems. This requires a certain mindset that eluded me for a time. We always work on the idea that process is more important than product. This works well in our work and is an idea that I embrace in my own healing process.
I am out quite a bit in wild places, either on the C&O on my bike, or traveling off trail with my cameras looking for animals to photograph, or sometimes just to see what is over the next ridge. It has always been part of my way to spend time alone in wild places. It is a sort of anchor for my mind and soul (part of my healing process now). There is a drawback to this though, Arthur and I were spending a lot of time together “walking our cameras” in the wilds as I was teaching him to love and enjoy nature. This brings back many memories.
On a trip hiking in Green Ridge State Forest Arthur was enjoying his first pair of really good waterproof hiking boots; since it was hot I was wearing light boots that were well ventilated. The trail we were on had many stream crossings with extremely cold water. My feet got wet on the first crossing. I was in front and Arthur called out to me from behind, standing in the stream. I turned and he just pointed to his feet with a grin and said “ new boots, waterproof”. After multiple stream crossings, he would just point to his feet when he got in the stream and grin as I sloshed about. I can’t cross a stream now without thinking of this trip and that wonderful grin.
Odd things happen as well. He and I spent a day exploring the roads in Green Ridge by car and stopping at all of the interesting places that caught our attention. All we had for navigation was a really bad copy of the map of the park that Maryland Department of Natural Resources puts out and it took us no time at all to become thoroughly lost (admittedly mostly on purpose). Arthur’s solution to this was to turn the map upside down and tell me to make random turns.
We had an absolute blast! We saw bears, rattlesnakes, turkeys, deer, and kept running into the “German Precision Camping Team”, as we named it, (three SUV’s, two black Audis and a Porsche, flying down the dirt roads in close formation loaded with camping gear). Think they were lost too. Much joking in bad German accents followed. For me this was one of the best days Arthur and I ever spent together.
I often cut through Green Ridge to get to a section of the C&O that I help to take care of. It’s a long drive through beautiful country. If I am alone, and this never happens when someone is with me, the Pink Floyd song “Wish You Were Here” comes on the radio. Every. Time. The first few times I listened with tears in my eyes, now I crank up the volume and sing loudly (if poorly) and bother the wildlife.
Mistreatment and False Belief
Part of what made Arthur choose to take his own life was mistreatment by others. This is not the whole story but it appears to have been a major part. Over the last two years I have seen the intolerance of people who are “different”, whatever that means, become much more virulent like a rampant disease. Ignorance has become acceptable to many in our society as has abuse of power. A person should not have to justify their presence at a place or business based on their skin color; we are all just varying shades of brown anyway. Immigrants are not evil invaders, and despite all of our current problems, America is still the best country in the world to live in, why wouldn’t people want to live here? We citizens should take that as a high compliment.
Besides, everyone who is in this country now came from somewhere else, including First Nations people. When I see news reports of internment camps for refugees and the separation of children from their parents, it reminds me of some of the teachers, and friends I had the honor and privilege to know when I was younger.
Those men and women had crude numbers tattooed on their arms.
They survived intolerance and bullying on an industrial scale. The path to the thinking that led to that particular atrocity not all that long ago is a short, steep, and slippery one. Keep in mind we Americans, with the help of our friends, ended it at great cost of lives and treasure, because it was the right thing to do.
As Above, So Below
Try your hardest to not fall for the lies and deceits that spring from those that are false leaders and support the ones that are truthful and honorable and see their jobs as a trust placed in them by the people. This also applies on a smaller scale. Those in your community, your work, or your school that want to push you around, tell you what to do, or control how you think should be questioned and stood up to.
Constructive public discourse and debate at any level of our society seems, sadly, to be a dying practice. Selfishness, the need to control others, spewing intolerance, and excessive greed seem to have replaced it. This is not who we should be as Americans. In your life you should try to exercise compassion and tolerance for others, make up your own mind about things. Speak up for those who have no voice and fight if you need to. Do not let fear and despair get the better of you.
Depression and despair are insidious enemies, like a bully, they sneak up on you and attack when you least expect it. Bullies also prefer to attack in numbers to intimidate and conceal what they are doing just as depression builds upon itself. The combination of despair, depression, and fear can and often does lead to mental instability, self doubt, delusional thinking, and reassigning blame. We as a society help this along by making mental illness something that is almost a taboo subject. This thinking is what makes so many people that suffer from depression hide it from others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel you need it. Suicide can possibly make your pain go away, but the pain it leaves behind for those that love you keeps getting stronger.
Should you or someone you know need help here is a list of resources:
Crisis Text Line
The Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 and you can text with a trained crisis counselor.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-8255 press 1
Text to 838255
If you have an interest in traveling on or volunteering in The C&O Canal National Historic Park please consider joining the C&O Canal Association at:
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Association Inc.
P.O. Box 336
Glen Echo, MD 20812-0366
Or contact the Park directly at:
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park Headquarters Office
1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100
Hagerstown MD, 21740-6620
And please always practice Leave No Trace principles.
Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics at www.LNT.org