Pushing My Limits

One recent Saturday morning, I hopped into my trusty little Subaru Forester, the car I call “Mountain Goat” for its ability to nimbly handle seemingly any road conditions, and drove to Westcliffe, a former mining town on the upper edge of the wide Wet Mountain Valley to attend an all-day workshop on creating websites with WordPress.

I left home at quarter past seven, as dawn light fingered down the mountainsides from the high peaks. I arrived in Westcliffe a bit over an hour later, ready to dive into the workshop. Eight-and-a-half hours later, when I closed my laptop, I had set up my gorgeous new website/blog and had the first of many pages finished. I was elated—and completely wrung out.

Sangre de Cristo Range at sunset

My eyes ached, my brain quivered like jello, and I was acutely aware that home was an hour’s drive away. A very scenic two-hour-drive mind you, with post-card pretty peaks rising from wide valley-bottoms, plus a winding river canyon. But not an easy one: the two-lane roads alternate between fast and straight, and narrow, winding and slow.

I was all too aware it would soon be evening mule deer commute time, when deer amble across the highway aimed for evening browse, oblivious of traffic.

I forced my gritty eyes to scan the landscape as I drove, alert for twin-hoofed travelers. I wasn’t five miles out of Westcliffe when I spotted some, but not the kind I was watching for: a herd of about 100 pronghorn drifted up the grassy slope, the last stragglers still crossing the road.

Pronghorn drift up a grassy slope after crossing the highway

I stopped to shoot a few photos. As I admired the sleek pronghorn, I felt a physical pang of grief that my late husband Richard was not with me to admire them. We shared a delight in all of the wild lives that inhabit these spectacular and harsh landscapes.

It felt like my heart was splitting. I pressed my hand to my chest. “I miss you,” I said out loud, and swiped tears from my eyes. After a moment, the pain receded; I put my camera down and drove on.

A pronghorn herd buck grazing, watchful of "his" does

The road swooped around a curve and wound through scattered pinon and ponderosa pines. I slowed for a tighter curve, and three robins flew low over the road. Then two more, with a third behind them.

The last bird suddenly turned and flew right into the car hood. I braked, but couldn’t avoid the bird. I felt the soft thud of contact and looked up to see the robin fluttering. And I didn’t stop.

Maybe it was the grief, maybe the exhaustion… Whatever, I drove on. And castigated myself.

Perhaps that sounds soft-hearted. It was “only” a robin, a common bird by all accounts. There are lots of robins. But only one specific bird that hit my car. And I didn’t stop.

It wasn’t until I reached home that I realized why: I simply couldn’t deal with another death. I hit my limit last Thanksgiving weekend when I helped the love of my life die as gracefully and mindfully as possible from brain cancer. My heart isn’t ready to weather another, be it robin or man.

Richard Cabe with one of his "tree-buddies" a massive sugar pine

Grief, I am learning, is no more linear than life. Both twist and turn, offering spectacular beauty and serious pain; the calm of long, straight stretches interrupted by hair-raising rises or drops; and without warning, events that sometimes simply fly straight at us.

We duck, a robin flutters on, and somewhere, if we’re lucky, love smiles.

When have you pushed your limits? What did you learn from the experience? Write about it!

18 responses to “Pushing My Limits

  1. Susan, I would not be so bold to say that I understand, but maybe I do. Raven welcomed me home to the big sky country of New Mexico after my father’s death.

  2. On spreading my husband’s ashes into the river, a circle of great catfish gathered and circled him. It was stunning and joyful. I go back irregularly but haven’t seen the fish behaving so again.

  3. Grief…otherwise i am speechless.

  4. Carol, thank you for your sympathy. It’s not easy to know what to say to another’s grief, is it? We do the best we can…

  5. Susan,

    What a service you provide in pointing out that:
    –grief is not linear,
    –it’s not 6 steps
    –there is no One Way to grieve
    –whatever happens and surfaces is just what is–and your own. –grief is Intimate.

    And, I would add that these major losses don’t just go away–with time or whatever. Gradually, they do weave into our lives. But, they are always there in our cells and our heart.

    In American culture, we just want to “Get on with it.” And, well-meaning friends often wish this for us. You are certainly “getting on with it,” while at the same time being alert to the subtleties of your heart.


    • Janet, Thank you for enumerating the issues so clearly. You are right that these major losses don’t “go away” and really, I think we wouldn’t want them to, because to lose the grief entirely is to lose the memory of those we grieve for. So it’s a good thing that they are part of us at the cellular level. I certainly am glad that Richard is with me that way. I’d be a different person without my experience of him. You’re right, too, that our culture does not have patience with the time it takes to do anything well, death and the process of dealing with it included. It’s a good thing I’m stubborn and determined to take my life at my own pace! Blessings to you and your dad.

  6. Susan (and Janet), I can’t add to the beauty or wisdom of your words. I can only acknowledge how deeply you have touched me: to my core. Thank you.

  7. Susan, Thank you for the gift of these words. They are profoundly moving and I find it such a privilege to share the deep joys and sorrows you write about, the pictures of Richard that keep his beautiful spirit alive, the beautiful modeling of the finest examples of life-writing, Sending a cyberhug to you, Mary Jo

    • Mary Jo, That cyberhug is a lovely gift, as are your words and your witnessing of this journey I’m on. Sometimes life offers us extraordinary opportunities to reach deep and tell a story that helps others. I wouldn’t have chosen this particular one, but it’s what I’ve got…

  8. Susan I hear you and understand completely….been there done that and walked away…and chastised myself because i am NEVER supposed to walk away…but alas i am human and have finally learned that part of taking care of others which for me is so much the furred feathered as well as skin, is to first take care of yourself…
    blessings dear one
    glad you made it safely back home
    i am so very proud of all you are doing and i know Richard is too

    • Dear Doc Chery,

      You’re absolutely right that the first priority is taking care of ourselves, but it’s still hard to let any life go untended. You know that feeling, I know! Thanks for the reassurance and support–all of it. Blessings to you and Maria and your wonderful family of furred and feathered ones, plus the humans too!

  9. Susan, with every piece of writing you offer us, you keep on showing us how. How to deal with grief and loss. How to participate in death and go on living with grace and joy. Thank you. Thank you.

  10. Susan A, I love your phrase, “participate in death.” I think that experience of life ending is what we’re missing as we pretend death won’t happen: we can’t participate in death’s lessons of unfolding and metamorphosis if we deny it a part in our lives. Death is part of our journey; to deny that deprives us of being able to fully participate in life. And life is for living, every blessed moment of it!

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