I remember waking Aaron up on August 5th with annoying words, gentle kisses, and not so gentle prods from my elbow. I (now) freely admit to waking him on purpose – I was 34 weeks pregnant, hungry, tired, and hungry. We went through our normal routine of showering, dressing, and trying to figure out what I did with my keys. After dropping my watch off for a battery change, we headed next door for lunch. He sat as close as possible – in this case, he sat to my left instead of across from me at our table.
We’d forgone the social norms from the very first date. We scavenged the internet while eating salad and pizza for a new recipe. On the way out, we made plans to come back a week later to let the little ones try out their new play area. I’ve always tried to have fun during the usually mundane – and our family was pretty good at doing just that.
Aaron laughed when I said “Here, have a pizza my heart” – and shook his head in both awe and astonishment. He chose to go with the ever-so-comical “Honey, do you need Super or Super Plus?” from two aisles over. In addition to our weekly grocery needs, we picked up a few peppers from store and that evening we made hot sauce with Carolina Reapers. Luckily, our first attempt at making our own turned out well, and our confidence so high, we purchased a few bottles, with the intent of sending some to his family. The rest of the night was simple and beautiful – and by our standards, completely normal. Aaron rubbed my feet while I browsed a book of toddler-friendly projects he bought the day before. We brushed our teeth before heading to bed, and once we were settled, snug, and secure – he kissed me goodnight for the very last time.
The Death of Days, Details, and Deliveries
I don’t remember the name of the restaurant we visited, but I do remember the warmth from his hand as he held mine at lunch. I don’t remember the spices in the hot sauce we made, but I’ll never forget the suffocation I felt once the bottles, that you’d never use, were delivered. The truth was nothing could stand in our way. And, nothing ever did. We were bounding down a path of happiness we had never experienced or expected. Together, we were so incredibly, ferociously, and passionately in love. Even death did not stand in our way. Instead, separating us by annihilating the path beneath our feet, thoroughly eradicating every aspiration, and exterminating any ambitions we ever had. As two people whose careers revolved around being aware of all infinitesimal details – we should have factored this in as a possibility. We missed a big one, didn’t we?
It has been more than 365 days since our last day together, and despite how hard I cry or scream, he won’t stop being dead. For 12 months, my mind, heart and bones have been mostly tired and weary – but I guess that’s the result of accomplishing the agonizing feat of ‘an alright day’. My life evolved from a joyful, euphoric existence into something ineffable – when his stopped over 525,600 minutes ago. “I” died the same day, in the same hospital, with my husband in ER Room 13. The devastation was immediate. My mind and heart was defaced and damaged – my essense, the part that made me “me” – was all but decimated.
Did you know, I used to be young, before I became a widow?
Picking Up the Pieces
When I was a child, I knocked a 1000 piece puzzle to the floor. I remember very vividly, the small section that remained together, and around it, the hundreds of pieces scattered all around the kitchen floor. Finding myself, after a loss this magnificent, is comparable. Part of me remained intact, but most of me was scattered and re-arranged, or missing entirely. Over the last year I’ve been picking up my pieces.
Slowly, I’m building myself back up. I pause often during the moments of crucial growth – which side of the bed is mine? How do I explain death to an almost non-verbal 4 year old? How am I going to honor a man that deserved the world? Where do I spread these ashes that sit here, in between the two photos we had on our fireplace? One of your late mother, and the other of your and your siblings after her funeral. How sad, fitting, and ironic that I wouldn’t have to put your picture up there. You took care of that for me.
Running Out of Distractions
Immediately after his death, I searched for distractions. I signed up for magazines, joined a few widow groups, and started to write again. For almost an entire year, his ashes have been a source of constant, stable and guaranteed distraction. If I had nothing else to take my mind off of the fact that Aaron was dead, deciding the location to spread his ashes was a terrific diversion. Big Bend had always been a contender. Aaron and I were supposed to make a trip out there this year for his birthday, on July 30th. What we originally intended to be an equally rigorous and romantic hiking trip, evolved completely. The terrain would remain rigorous, and Aaron would still be traveling with me – but not how we planned it. I knew by spreading some of his ashes here, I would be resolving some unfinished business. This trip that originally had no purpose, became one of the most important trips of my life.
Love at First Sight
I drove 500 miles, aware that each of them brought me closer to not only Big Bend, but to a moment I wouldn’t forget. It felt like such a great weight to carry. I was happy to do so, but more often than not I questioned whether my journey would suffice as “honoring” him. I needed to resolve my inner struggles. Regardless, the few teaspoons of remains I’d brought with me – a mix of my love’s bone fragments and ashes – would be in my hand within 48 hours.
Driving into Big Bend was humbling and heart-warming. For 50 minutes, I drove 35 miles from the entrance at Persimmon’s Gap, to the Chiso’s Mountain Lodge in Chiso’s Basin. Every minute brought new sights and sounds that eased my mind, and when I thought I had seen the most beautiful sight the park had to offer, I found myself in the basin. The mountains I had been examining were now surrounding me, witha terrifying, majestic beauty. In that moment, I knew Aaron would have loved this place.
Confronting Fear: Emotionally, Mentally – and apparently, Physically
My first encounter with black bear was in the first 5 minutes of entering the basin. While exiting my car, two people were standing a few feet away to my right, pointing at a female black bear and her cub led than 100 feet away. They were not oblivious to us, but did act as though we weren’t there and continued up into the mountain. My second encounter was more unsettling. I was on my way to Emory Peak, the original location I had chosen to spread his ashes. About halfway there, I turned a corner and down the trail, a little over 50 feet away, were an adult and cub – possibly the one I had seen the day I arrived. There was a bear bell on my hiking pack, and bear spray. I stopped as soon as I turned the corner, and even though I was positive the bear didn’t notice me, I kept staring at it as well as I could, all the while walking backwards down a rocky, uneven trail. Once I was in the clear, I hauled ass back to my car, ashes in tow.
Now, what was I going to do? It was the first anniversary, and I had to spread his ashes. I couldn’t come up with a game plan, so I took a chance. I wanted to take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive before leaving. Since my plans had changed, I drove, only stopping occasionally to take photos. About an hour into my drive, the wall of the Canyon came into view. It was as rugged and resilient as it was glorious. I remembered seeing pictures of Santa Elena canyon while planning my trip, but didn’t think to make it a focal point during my visit. Once I stopped at the small pull-off made for Santa Elena, I knew this was the place. This is what he would have wanted.
The moment seemed to last forever. A year later, and 500 miles away, I was enduring the actions, motions, and feelings from the year prior. My heart was seeping through the words I was attempting to speak. My turmoil was glaringly obvious – the stain from last nights makeup finally washed away by the tears that flowed down my cheek.
I held onto him as long as I could. My hand relaxed, and he began to slip away – once again, in an instant, he was gone.
The update I shared with friends and family: