365 days of loss

I woke up this morning at 3am and began to sob into my pillow while moaning my husbands name. John died a year ago WP_000220today.

All month I have been especially weighted down by the anticipation of May 28. All of the books, therapists, and fellow widows say the same thing – the 1 year mark is emotional, heavy, excruciating.

Why? Why is it so hard?

Today is hard because it has been a year and I’m still broken.

It’s been a year and my ache for him only deepens and widens. I miss him. I miss his full red beard. I miss that soft spot on the top of his right cheek that I always used to kiss, because that spot was never scratchy with stubble. I miss his tattered and beloved collection of ~15 different Pearl Jam t-shirts. I miss the way he used to squeeze my behind at every opportunity, and the smile he gave me when I squeezed his. I miss how he sauntered around a pool table in tight blue jeans.  I miss the big slabs of juicy meat that he used to cook and the soft moans of happiness that he made when consuming said delicacies. I miss his quiet confidence, the way he would put me in my place when I was being too uptight, the way he would get me to laugh at myself. I miss the way he used to look at me when he walked in the door after work – so happy to see me, still adoring me, still wanting me after 10 years. I miss how his strong torso looked when he chopped wood and how his rippled legs looked when he marched ahead of me on the trail. I miss coming into our bedroom after an early morning run to find him and one of our darling girls in our bed – asleep and cuddling. I miss our playful and abundant sex life. I miss the huge campfires he used to build, how hot he looked when he was on a ladder swinging a hammer, the way ‘babe’ rolled off his tongue when he spoke to me – “What’s for dinner, babe?”, “How was your hike, babe?”, “I love you, babe.”. I miss how cute he found me in leg warmers and pig tails. I miss him in every possible way. I even miss the stuff I didn’t like, because all of it was part of John and Us, and because he loved the Holly-package right back – all of the good along with all the faults and imperfections.

I continue to have bizarre (or not bizarre, if you understand grief) conversations with myself in my head. What would I trade for one more day with him? Would I trade 10 years off the end of my life? Yes, I would. Growing old without John is unappealing anyway, so a 10-yr shorter life in exchange for one day to touch his face and nuzzle into his beard seems more than fair. Other times I find myself dreaming of what it would be like to be with him – both of our spirits soaring free above Mount Rainier. Will he wait for me? Yes, he will. Earlier this week I sat on top of Mount Si, and 2 birds flew by – one in front, the other 15 feet behind, close but not too close. They were connected but yet a bit apart. I thought – that is us! He’s just a little farther ahead of me in life. Someday, when it is my natural time to pass, I will be a bird too and will follow him into the sky. It filled me with joy in that moment, to watch the birds and to allow myself to believe that he and I will eventually roam the skies as a couple again, above the mountains that we adore. I will never, ever stop wanting to be with him.

Today is hard, because all of the numbness has worn off. The numbness of true grief can last months, if not almost a year. Why? Because, should you fully feel the enormity of your pain right away, you might literally die from the hurt. In fact, I still often feel my organs will shut down because of all of the horrific darkness inside of me. Other widows tell me – “I can’t even remember the first 4 months, because I was so numb.” or “The whole first year was a fog” or “For six months I just kept telling myself that he would come home tomorrow and I would wake up from this nightmare.”. In “The Year of Magical Thinking” Joan Dideon wrote about how, after her husband died, she kept all of his shoes for months (even after getting rid of his clothes and cremating him) because “He was going to come home and would need his shoes.”

The first year is filled with much numbness, but also much hysteria and a simple focus on day-to-day survival. I bounced between a numb “everything will be ok” kind of place and “OH MY GOD my husband is dead, my children will never have a father, and I am completely alone.” Some days I would wake up so broken, so literally nauseated from the horrific awareness of my loss, that all I could do was set the intention to keep breathing. Believe it or not, sometimes “just breathing” took all of my energy, because it often felt (and still feels) like I’m choking on the grief, like the grief is so big inside of me that there is no room for oxygen. I’ll never forget how, every day for months, I cried as I drove the girls to school, because John used to drive them to school. It was all I could do to get through each day.

By the one year mark, I have figured out how to survive. I have found a “new normal” with the girls. I have hired an aupair and assisted my Mother In Law in retiring, so that I have help with the girls. I have learned to drive without crying (most of the time). I have gotten through the 6 months of 2+ hours a day of death related paperwork and administration – an exhausting and horrific process given the lack of a will, the lack of a body (no death certificate), and the ridiculous bureaucracy that goes along with insurance companies and the Social Security Administration. I still cry multiple times a day, but – I am surviving.

Now what? It’s been a year. What do I do with the fact that I only feel more sad and despondent over time? Therapists and other widows tell me – year 2 is harder than year 1. You get through the numbness and hysteria, you get your day-to-day survival mechanisms in place, and then – you have to face the rest of your life. Now what? Day to day life still ebbs and flows, but John isn’t here. I have all the help I need with my kids, but that doesn’t fix the fact that at night my 6 year old Melanie clings to my neck, crying, begging me to marry someone else so that she can have a dad again. I look ahead to the rest of my life, and it looks empty. JOHN IS STILL NOT HERE. My hurt, my ache, my sadness – they only continue to grow, they are not yet shrinking.

In fact, over time I have become less hopeful. In the first few months after John died, while I was numb, I often thought to myself “I will love again some day. I will marry again. I have so much capacity to love, I can keep loving John and some day love someone else.” Now, I’m much less optimistic. I believe I will love again, but find myself detaching from the idea that I will ever again enter into a life-partnership. It’s easy to love, much harder to make a life with someone, much harder to find a true partner whose puzzle pieces will fit together with yours over years and decades. John and I were partners, accepted each other fully, and were committed through anything. I had my happy ending and that happy ending – ended. I no longer believe I could have that kind of true beauty and comfort again. Don’t try to talk me out of that feeling. Part of my brain knows that happiness is possible, but my heart doesn’t agree and those feelings (be they irrational or not) are my reality. I sit with my feelings, as dark and pessimistic as they are at times. In “When Things Fall Apart” Pema Chodron says:

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what’s its texture, color, and shape? We can explore the nature of that piece of shit. We can know the nature of dislike, shame, embarrassment and not believe there’s something wrong with that. It’s better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears.”

I feel like a piece of shit. I don’t run from the stink. I don’t shut my eyes to the mess. I lean into my grief because there is no other way. I will feel all of my feelings, as horrific as they are. Running from the pain would mean running from myself, and it would mean running from joy. Joy and suffering are 2 sides of the same coin.

Still, there is beauty in all of the horror. I could not possibly be more grateful to have experienced True Love. I have no regrets. I would not trade my 10 years with John for 50 years with anyone else.  My relationship with my daughters has only grown deeper and more resilient.  Through my pain, I feel more connected to every other human being on the planet. Sometimes I wonder if anyone has ever been this lonely and I realize – yes, they have, and maybe even more so. I am alone but not alone. I feel empathy for others in ways I never have before. I am becoming a more beautiful person as I walk my path and live my truth.

When John died, a friend set up a Facebook support group so that I could ask for what I needed and members could pitch in©2015 Wenmei Hill. 238 people joined the group within weeks. Two-hundred-and-thirty-eight-people. Some of them I had never met before, but they heard of my struggle and wanted to help. Not only that, but a core set of friends went above and beyond had have been there for me every single day – from day one to day 365. Nika, Bev, Julie, Danielle, Juliet, Rose, Mary, Mellington, Darryl, and Cynthia – not once have you judged me, not once have you tried to dictate my path, not once did you turn from me when I needed you. When I called for you, you asked me how high I needed you to jump, and then when I was crying too hard to answer, you jumped anyway. The world is a beautiful place.

I still feel lucky in life, and in my broken state – I am only more beautiful.  John – I love you forever and beyond.


I am alone.treehouse

This past weekend, I took my 2 girls and my Mother In Law Mary on a 4 night camping trip to our off-grid land in Okanogan. The very last time John and the girls and I were together as a family was on our land this same weekend last year.

Every time I get ready for a camping trip, I’m painfully reminded of the John-and-Holly Campervan dance. I was the ‘gatherer’ – picking out the girls clothes, gathering the headlamps, making a pile of the boots/rain gear/pillows/sleeping bags. John was the errand runner and Tetris king, buying blocks of ice and groceries, packing the cooler so that it would stay cold for 5 days without having to buy more ice, arranging everything in the camper so that somehow there was still space for our bodies among the gear, food, propane tanks, and other tools. It was a familiar dance, one we could do with almost no words.

Now, I am alone.

Sure I have the help of my au pair Camila and my MIL, but it’s not the same. I woke up at 3am on the morning of our departure, packed for a while, got the girls to school, finished packing with Camila’s help, and then got on the road with the girls and Mary. John used to do all of the road-trip driving, because he loved to drive and because he was a better driver than I am. I hate driving, always have, and loved that I could relax in the passenger seat. Of course, now all the driving is on me. I sat up there, driving the huge campervan for 5+ hrs, miserable, tense, exhausted. It’s illogical for the driver to be the depleted stressed out grief-stricken woman who can only sleep 3-4 hrs a night due to anxiety, but that doesn’t matter, because there was no one else to drive us. I am alone.

As usual, the girls were SO delighted to arrive. They love our land. They feel free there. John and I used to joke that we knew how happy the kids were by how many unprompted spontaneous I-love-you’s we got. That evening, there were many such happy outbursts of love. The kids wanted to be there.

On my end, the land symbolizes peace, but it has also come to represent burdens, hard work, and dashed dreams. Without John’s help, it’s a ton of effort to make a trip like that happen for the girls and Mary. Without John here, there is much less joy and much more work. My MIL Mary is a beautiful human being who spent time with the girls when I was busy setting up camp, read Melanie to sleep every night while I built up the fire, and had the intention to help me in every way she could, but even her undying spirit cannot compensate for her tired and grief stricken body. She doesn’t replace John. No one replaces John.

A few of John’s friends decided to build a treehouse for the girls, as a tribute to him, because it’s the kind of thing he would have done for them. I almost wept with gratitude at the idea, because this is exactly what my girls need – more adult men who are role models, who care about them, who do the kinds of things that John would have done, things that I wouldn’t do. But then, there was a mishap and, during construction, Isabella fell from the treehouse – 10 feet down, landed flat on her back on uneven/sharp ground. Based on her symptoms, she seems to have a cracked rib and something seems wrong with one of her arms – it hurts when she moves it, but there is no visible trauma on the outside. As I ran over to the tree, in a panic, once I heard the scream, I was reminded – I am alone. Still, the girls are happy. After she recovered, she begged to go back and continue to watch the treehouse construction in-progress. Children are amazingly resilient.

I woke up at 4am on the last morning, with anxiety as usual, and began to quietly pack up camp while everyone slept. There is always so much to do when we host guests on our land and when projects are in motion – lumber and tools to put away, camp kitchen and tables to break down, power generator to be run dry of gas and stored, sheds to lock, sun shade to break down. My poor MIL – she woke up, ate breakfast quickly so that she would be ready to help, and then promptly got heartburn and had an asthma attack. I am alone. Friends helped break down her tent (and more) while she sat and rested, so that I didn’t have to do everything, but still – I am alone.

We had a plan on the drive home to have Mary sit in the back and read to Melanie while Isabella sat up front with me. Often when the girls are together in the back they will squabble, and this would fix it. Poor Mary got carsick, though, and couldn’t read, so I had to listen to Melanie ask every 5min “Are you feeling better yet, Mammie? Can you read now?” Melanie is nothing if not persistent.

We got home and Mary found she was running a fever. I told her to go rest instead of helping me unpack (she goes downhill fast if she doesn’t care for herself while sick). I tried to get Isabella and Melanie to help unpack and unload, which they did a little bit, but Isabella’s body was genuinely hurting a lot from the fall the day before and so I gave up and did it myself. I am alone.

The dead-husband, sick-MIL, and injured-Isabella combo threw me against an energetic brick wall. There I was apaper cranesgain, at the bottom of my well. So I played my sad music, wept for a while, and then made dinner for the girls, because I had no choice. I asked Isabella to set the table and gave Melanie a bowl of beets to carry in.  She promptly dropped it – broken glass, beets, and olive oil all over the dining room floor.  I’m amazed that I didn’t burst into tears again.  I held it together, cleaned it up, made more beets, got the kids fed, and then set an intention to end the evening with something fun.  So, after dinner I suggested we play Uno while eating tortilla chips and sour cream. The girls were delighted and said “That was so fun, mama. Can we play cards and eat chips as a family every night?” Then, Isabella sat and made paper cranes. She told me that her class was making over a hundred paper cranes in honor of John, and that on Thursday (the anniversary of his death) she was going to get to bring them all home. She said “Mama, my teacher Mrs. Quinn is so nice. It was her idea.”

I left Isabella to work on the cranes so that I could put Melanie down for the night. From her bed, Melanie grabbed my neck extra tight and said

“Mama, I don’t want you to ever leave. I don’t want you to ever go to heaven.”

“Melanie, I’m not going to die until I’m old.”

Then she became almost frantic

“Mom! That’s what dad said, and he still died! I need you, mom. You CANNOT die.”

“I will be very careful, Melanie. I will make sure I don’t die.”

“NO climbing big mountains, Mom.”

“Ok Melanie. I will be safe.”

then, she immediately launched into this (again, somewhat frantically), as if she had been thinking about it for a while –

“Mom, what if you get married again, and then divorced, and then we will be EXTRA SAD.”

“Does that scare you, Melanie, that I will get divorced?”

“Yes mama (almost crying). Because then I will have lost a dad and a step-dad. Then I would have to get a step-step dad.”

“I could just not get married again.”

“No mama, you have to get married again. If you don’t get married again then how will I get a little baby brother or sister?”

“Melanie, I’m not having any more babies.”

And then Melanie’s face clenched up in pain and she literally began to sob.

“Mama that’s not fair! I need a little brother or sister. Mama why not? Why?”

So I just held her. I tried to distract her, saying that really we never know what will happen.  I grabbed at straws and appeased her by saying that maybe some day I will marry someone who already has kids, and those kids can be her brothers and sisters. It was painful on so many levels, because I’m not even sure I ever will get married again some day, because I’m reminded again of just how alone I am.

I have so much help and love – my friends, my family, my MIL, my au pair. But still, all of that together does not equal John. I am alone, and no one can fix it. I settle into this loneliness, meaning – I accept that this is my path alone and that there will not (and should not) be a savior who will fix it. I sit with my loneliness. I don’t run from it, I’m not numb to it, and I do not reject it, because the loneliness comes from love, and because the only way out is through.

I am sorry for all of you who must continue to see me in this state. I know you all want to fix it. I know you feel helpless. I know it isn’t fun to spend time with someone who is often so depressed. Thank you to those of you who continue to honor my path, who continue to love me, who continue to sit with me in my darkness.  Last night I was so low, I just wanted to text someone and say “I hate my life” or “I can’t imagine ever being happy again” or “I miss John so much I want to puke”.  However, I did not send any of those texts, because – what does someone say in response to such dark grief bombs?  I shield people from my darkest moments more than they realize.  Still, while I was in my dark place, wanting to express my true feelings to someone but not feeling able to, a message came in on my phone through Facebook.  It was my friend Charles, who I haven’t seen in months.  He said “It’s going to be a tough week. Know that I’m sending you lots of love. If you need anything, just shout.”

Thanks Charles.  I didn’t need to shout.  Your little bit of love was right there when I needed it.  I am completely alone, but still – I am loved in my state of alone-ness.   I am held.   I am despondent, but also fiercely strong.   I am going to make it through.  I repeat that, more for myself than for all of you – I am going to make it through.



I am a warrior.

When I was 16, I received my black belt in Shaolin Kempo. I remember the day my teacher Evan taught me to break boards – “Aim not for the board, Holly, but past the board, so that your force goes through.” He put me in the adult classes and, because there weren’t any young women black belts, I sparred with big, strong, older men. I learned early on that their limbs were longer than mine, and that if I let them keep me at arms length then I would lose. So, once a match started I became a tenacious animal and would get right in close before my opponent knew what hit him. I would pummel him at such short range he couldn’t get at me with his longer and bigger body, and most often, I won. Warriors don’t stay on the surface, they lean in and move through.

When I was 18, I went to MIT. My true love was math, but I decided to major in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering partly because there were a lot of jobs in the field, but mostly because it was known to be one of the 2 hardest majors at MIT. That was my way – to take the most challenging path and fight my way through. When you are a fairly intelligent person, you can skip the hardest problems in High School and still get an A. At MIT, however, on a daily basis I faced problem sets that were more challenging than anything I had experienced. I learned that the only thing to fear is fear itself, meaning – I had to completely let go of any emotions relating to things being “hard” and could not let myself be intimidated by any problem. So, as other students did, I found my way – I would take a difficult problem, break it into sub-problems, solve some sub-problems myself, work with other students in the class to figure out other sub-problems, see the TA during office hours for help with sub-problems that the other students and I couldn’t solve, and then stitch all the sub-problem solutions together for one big long solution to the original problem. It was normal to have 10-16 hours of homework a day. I slept very little, and in fact there was a saying at MIT – “Work, Sleep, Play – choose 2.” I left MIT with a BS in CS/EE, but I’ll always tell people – what I really took from that amazing school was the ability to solve problems. MIT taught me that warriors face the impossible without letting fear or emotions stop them from persevering

When I was 20, I met my illegitimate half-brother, Greg, for the first time. My father chose to deny his existence but my mother told me of the scandal once I was old enough to ‘understand’. Greg found me, called me, wanted to meet his siblings. My father told me to turn my back walk away. I was told that if I validated him then he might come after the family for back child support and it would be my fault if we lost our family home. As expected, this warrior said “fuck you” to her parents, flew across the country, met her wonderful half brother, and then dealt with the carnage. I was called a family traitor for years. Turns out, Greg only had love and needed no money. My other siblings eventually met Greg, but they did it later and more quietly and were not called family traitors. It is the warrior that blazes the trail that gets shot in the chest.

When I was 21, after graduating a semester early from MIT, Microsoft relocated me out to Seattle. Warrior Holly charged right in and developed a couple of nicknames – Tiger Lady and The H-Bomb, among others. I continued to take no prisoners. I was often given projects that were big sticky messes and I would turn them into finely oiled machines by using my MIT approach – don’t get overwhelmed, break the problem apart, solve what parts you can, recruit help and advice for the parts you can’t, keep digging in, make it happen, don’t give up. I worked very long hours, but it wasn’t a big deal because it was still easier than MIT. After a couple years and a couple of fast promotions, my boss (who worried a lot about my workaholic nature) said “Holly, you don’t even realize… you could literally work half as much and we would still love you.” I knew how to be a warrior but didn’t know how to let go.

I developed serious carpal tunnel and repetitive strain injury from constant computer use. I began to lose use of my hands. I couldn’t open doors or jars without pain. In fact, to add insult to injury, I couldn’t even masturbate without pain. I saw various doctors and physical therapists, but still – I couldn’t let go. Warrior Holly pushed through and was awarded an extremely prestigious position working directly for a Group Vice President who managed a division of 10k employees. It was a grooming job – the job they give to the up and comers who they want to make into someone important some day. My arms continued to ache every single day. I struggled with daily tasks. When I carried a grocery bag home, I hung the handle loosely over my arm instead of grabbing it with my fingers, because my hands barely worked.

When I was 25, I had an image of my future. I saw myself having babies that I would not be able to hold because my arms wouldn’t work. I said “enough”. I quit my job and decided to take a year to travel by myself. My grandmother said “how frivolous of you, to quit your job and not work.” Others said “How could you give up such a prestigious job and opportunity?” My father called me up and said “Holly you should have talked to me before quitting. I would have listened and helped you to figure out how to make it work.” My father has a large ego and delighted in bragging about my achievements, so it was painful for him when I gave the job up. I said “Dad, you didn’t call me to listen. You called me to tell me what to do.” As was my way, I followed my gut. Warriors follow their own path without needing anyone else to understand.

When I was 26, I traveled the world. I spent over a month in India by myself – doing yoga, sitting on beaches, being chased and almost eaten by wild dogs, getting harassed by locals who were shocked to see a white woman by herself, and riding a motorbike on rough roads between rice paddy fields. I spent 6 weeks in Thailand laying in hammocks, visiting ruins, training in Thai massage, learning to pound out my own curry paste, and watching sunsets. I ran all over Greece and Turkey and also visited people I cared about all over the US. This warrior woman walked the earth by herself, without fear. Or perhaps I should say – there was fear, and I faced it over and over. Fear did not own me. Warriors become even stronger in the face of fear.

When I was 29, I had a baby with the man that had become my husband. Labor did not go well. When I was in early labor, a family member was visiting. We had conflict, she yelled at me, my labor stopped, we had to ask her to leave. My body was never able to go back into labor naturally. Once I was 2 weeks overdue, they induced. My body was confused and did not take to the unnatural interventions. I refused all pain medication, because I always do everything the hard way. This warrior labored for 40 full hours without medication before they started losing the baby’s heartbeat and cut me open. I was devastated and promptly fell into a very dark year of post partum depression. Sometimes warriors get beaten down, but they always get back up.

When I was 33, I began to climb mountains. In fact, I had just been cut open for the birth of my second child, but still – 9 weeks after my second C-section I was hiking up a local trail with my baby strapped to my chest. I was determined not to succumb to post partum depression again and hiking was going to be my path away from the darkness. I hiked with Melanie twice a week. I made myself do it even when I had been up all night nursing, even when I didn’t want to go. Warrior mama wasn’t going to give up. I liked hiking and decided I wanted to climb Mt Rainier some day. Once Melanie went to pre-school I didn’t have a baby strapped to me when I hiked, so I filled my pack with sand bags and water bottles. Eventually I was hiking regularly with a 50-60lb pack. I took a 10 day mountaineering class in order to learn self arrest, glacier travel, and crevasse rescue. I joined a guided trip on Rainier to attempt the summit via the Kautz glacier, but we were turned around at 12k feet because of crumbling conditions and 2 avalanches that we narrowly missed. I was mad. I wanted the summit but knew that that day wasn’t the day. This warrior wasn’t going to let it go. When warriors fail, they lick their wounds and try again.

I went back a month later and had a successful summit via the Winthrop glacier. I limped home with scabbed and bleeding ankles. My friends said “Oh your poor feet!” to which I grinned, shrugged, and replied “It’s just skin. Skin grows back.” It was the hardest thing I’d ever done and I was drunk with endorphins and euphoria for days. I vowed to climb Rainier every year.

When I was 39, I became a widow.

An avalanche on Mount Rainier took my husband and the father of my children off Liberty Ridge, 3300 feet straight down onto the Carbon Glacier. In an instant, I became broken and lost my life as I knew it. In my darkest hour, I’ve found that being a warrior means all the same things that it meant before –

Being a warrior means that even though I’m beaten down, I get back up. When I wake up sobbing in the morning and my dark passenger of grief tells me that I will never be happy again I still get out of bed and face my day through the tears, ache, and despair. Being a warrior means that I keep breathing. The pain of my loss often fills my chest so completely that I feel I will choke on it, vomit it up. I cough and sputter on this rancid smoke from the battle field, but still – I keep breathing.

Being a warrior means that I do not regret being on the front line and taking a bullet to the chest, because in this case the front line is true, unconditional love. I loved with every fiber of my being and it is because of this beautiful, tender, all encompassing love that I am so ripped apart. Being a warrior means knowing that some day I will be ready to love again and will volunteer for the front line that storms the castle, even if it means my heart will take another bullet. Warriors take a bullet and get back up. I get back up.

Being a warrior means softening and accepting help. When a warrior is down, she lets her squadron carry her off the field and tend to her wounds. I’m damaged, broken, wounded from the greatest battle of my life, a battle that isn’t over and will never be over. Warriors are so tough and strong that sometimes it kills them to admit they cannot do it all, but I admit it – I cannot survive this journey alone. When I am so filled with grief that I can barely care for my children, I allow others to care for them. When my traumatized children cry and beg me to marry someone else so that they can have a father again, I hold them. Afterwards, I let someone else hold me as I sob and break down from the pain of knowing that I cannot give my children their innocence back. I hang my vulnerability and needs out in plain view. Every single day I am almost crippled by the instinct to harden, to shut off from the rest of the world, but I don’t give in. I soften. I open. I let you tend to my oozing and raw wounds.

Being a warrior means that I do not shrink from the challenge, no matter how hard and scary it might be. I go to all the hard places, the places I went to with him. I go to our favorite trails, our favorite campgrounds, and gaze upon our favorite mountains, even though doing so fills me with so much grief that I feel I will literally vomit. However, I do not let fear or grief own me. I face these spots that remind me of all of my pain, because they also remind me of all of my joy. On my wedding anniversary, I climbed a mountain that gave me a full view of Mount Rainier – the mountain that took John’s life. I sat there, for an hour, gazing on the mountain that is both my husbands death bed and the place where his soul now flies free. I meditated with my eyes closed and opened my heart to his soul. I allowed him to fill me with light and love, so that I might have the strength I need to keep getting up every day. I do not let my fear cause me to run away. Running away from grief would mean running away from John.

Being a warrior means that I lean in and move through the pain, rather than locking it up inside. I cry all the tears, write all the words, and feel all the feelings. I do not stay on the periphery of my opponent, I lean in to the center. I do not aim for the board with my palm, I aim through the board and allow my force to flow through. The way out is through. Being a warrior means being true to my path. I sit in my darkness even if none of you understand my ways or can cope with sitting in the darkness with me. Being a warrior means knowing that life is messy and that one can’t always be graceful through it all. I face the mess. I face the rest of my life, not knowing where it will take me.

Being a warrior means baring it all. I stand before you, naked, on top of a mountain. Having been on the front lines, I’m bullet ridden, bleeding, covered in filth, hair ripped out, with shrapnel buried in my burnt and charred skin. Some of you can’t handle me in this state and find it too overwhelming to be on the battlefield among all the gore. Still, I stand here on this mountain, naked, in my most damaged and horrific state for you all to see, because this is my truth – I am a warrior.