Monday, September 13, 2010


Last night was a really bad one. Couldn't get to sleep, all these memories flooding my head, sobbing into my pillow, tossing and turning to try to shake the fear that grips me because I'm so alone now. I feel stuck in the acceptance stage of the grief process .... because I can't seem to accept this, can't seem to get my head around the fact that my Jim is dead. DEAD. Never coming back, gone where I can't follow. Last night I prayed that my breathing would just stop, my aching heart would stop beating and I would fall asleep and walk towards the light where I would see Jim again. So much easier then trying to do this life now without him.

Home. My hives are back, my lousy sleep patterns are back, all my fears are back. That was a gift the sweat lodge gave me .... my hives calmed down out there and after the sweat I slept better then I had in over two years. Fell right asleep and did not move until morning. I think I actually got two nights of that kind of sleep before all the demons came back.

Tiny sips of air ..... that's what was needed last night ....

Before the third round of the sweat the men brought in more rocks. A lot of them! Even Debbie, Stan's helper, commented on how many rocks there were. Molly started to go into a panic again and needed to lean over behind Deb so that she could put her head out the little door while they brought the rocks in. My claustrophobic friend had to slip out before the doors closed (she did return for the fourth round - two out of four when panic gripped her throat so hard she couldn't breathe at all - was pretty good actually!).

Debbie handed me a small bundle of sage with explicit directions as to what I was to do with this. Another deeply sacred ritual that I was being honored with, or this is how I felt. There was more praying and more singing and the heat was incredibly intense. My comrades shared after the sweat that this third round brought them all too close to the panic line, they all wanted to yell for the doors to be opened but my 12 year old warrior friend, who had come in at the beginning of this round, was the one who relieved everybody. He yelled to his uncle, Stanford, that he couldn't breathe and said the Arapaho word for "OPEN", the doors were opened and this little guy was whisked out into the cool evening very quickly. Everyone was grateful.

Back out into the cool night under the Wyoming stars. It was late so Daniel and his girlfriend had left to take their two year old boy home. I spent the break retrieving my fleece sweater from the dogs that were using it as their bed after stealing it off the bench I had left it on and then getting my water bottle from another group of dogs who were using it as their chew toy!

Before the fourth round Stanford spoke to me "Mary, we are going to smudge you". I know what 'smudging' is and understand it's power and importance. I was instructed to move closer to the fire pit (where it is surprisingly cool ... the heat from the rocks goes up, thus, close to the pit is the coolest spot) and told how to sit while, Marty - one of Stanford's clan - used a small pile of burning sage to smudge me, to bless me, to honor me and cleanse me of my broken heart. I am far too stoic and do not cry easily in front of others - I don't see this as a good thing mind you - but my tears in this lodge in front of those gathered were flowing unchecked.

A few more rituals were performed for all of us and then the heat came again. By now my clothes were drenched, my towels were all soggy and when the doors opened we could see the steam billowing out. Everyone sat a little longer in the sweat after this fourth, and final, round. Just chatting and feeling the cold night air flood into the lodge. When Stanford was lifted off his mat and put into his wheelchair someone said "Stew time!" We all laughed and made our way to the cars so we could change into dry clothes before heading into Stan's kitchen for the dinner that Willo, Terri and Eva had prepared for all of us.

There was one more ritual that I needed to perform before anybody else could eat. Stan had told Molly what I was to do. With my hearing impairment and Stanford's voice timber he and I found it hard to communicate sometimes so I was glad that he had spoken to Molly. She and I went back out to the sweat lodge to perform this last act of gratitude. When we returned to the kitchen everyone started to eat. Stanford asked me how I felt and I stopped for a minute to focus on this. I felt lighter, I felt open and expansive. He nodded his head and smiled at me. And, since I was struggling with a store bought salt shaker I added, "and stupid! I can't figure this salt shaker out!" Stanford laughed and reached for the shaker to tap the top of it and told me to snap that top off. DUH!

One of the amazing things about this sweat was how clean I felt after. I'm an endurance athlete and have done my share of sweating. Always after a long event I can't wait to hit the shower to wash the salt and sticky feeling off my skin, to wash away the human scent that is stronger. But after this sweat lodge I felt so clean, as though I had taken a luxurious bath. I even felt moisturized. Out west the air is so dry your skin literally puckers up if you don't put on lotion, but this night I did not feel this. My skin was clean, soft and needed nothing added to it. What a surprise this was!

My entire two weeks out west was devoted to Jim. He was with me during this sweat lodge, I carried him with me up to almost 13,000 feet when I hiked in Telluride - and cried the last switch back to the top remembering how he was always out ahead of me on these hikes. It was a hugely spiritual journey for me. I guess being home I'm surrounded by all that Jim and I once were and will never be again .... and my heart breaks again, over and over.

Loving you all back,


  1. One of the things I find with my Dad's death is that I lose him ALL OVER AGAIN every time I have an experience he would have enjoyed, or enjoyed talking about. It makes for a frigging long process.

  2. Mary,
    I feel I have no words to share that could make this sadness, this time of grief easier. I hold you wrapped in my arms. May they serve as a comfort.
    Love to you,

  3. Mary, I find myself thinking of my sister who said to me recently she still can't accept our mother's sudden and unexpected death this spring. She also said she "can't get over it." I don't know if what I said is of any help (to her or to you), but I said only that my experience is not that you "get over it" -- you never really do -- but that you learn to live with it. As for acceptance, as I told her, you can't force it. Maybe just accept, for now, the fact that you are still grieving deeply and missing him. That is, accept yourself and your feelings exactly as they are, including the sadness, longing, etc. And please be assured all those who love you accept you as you are and surely understand that you are still in grief. So are many of us!

    Bob M.