• Mary Anderson

A Certain Kind of Grief

Top of Texas Pass. Photo by Mary Anderson

Mary Anderson completed the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail on September 14, 2021. She wrote this post as she was approaching the end of her trek. Stay with us as we continue to follow Mary's posthike journey and to publish news about her upcoming book and other projects. —Sara Tucker


By Mary Anderson

I sit eating lunch by a river running out of the mountains. It is so beautiful that I want to share it with someone. I check my satellite device, hoping for a sense of connection with someone. When there are no messages I feel myself swamped with the overwhelming pain of childhood loneliness. It is difficult for me to see and remember the beauty when the pain comes rushing in.

It led me to think about grief. Losing someone close is painful. My father dropped dead when I was barely 13 years old. At the time I did not grieve. He was not a great father for me, and when he died, I was terrified to no longer have him to protect me from my raging mother.

i would give a lot to have the kind of relationship I could really grieve over. How lucky to have the kind of connection in one’s life that causes pain at its loss. The pain is no fun, but the memories of sharing love are precious. The fact that one had the kind of relationship that can be grieved is a special gift.

I think about the partner I have lost who has not died. He disappeared without a word to me that he was leaving. He took what he wanted, stopped paying the bills and left. I discovered that for three years he was planning on making a move. This has left me with a kind of cruel grief. I feel I have been robbed of the loving memories that would soften the edges of the grief.

Memory is important. It can be double-edged, but balancing grief with the loving memories can make it more tolerable. Rather than left mourning the love of my life, I am left wondering what, if any, of my happy memories are real. Certainly for the last three years of our living together I was living a lie I did not know existed. Trying to remember that my part of the loving equation was true even if his wasn’t, hasn’t helped. It reminds me too much of the times I loved as a child only to be sexually abused. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I have no real happy memories as a child. And now I am left wondering if the same is true about my marriage.

When my son was little, I used to hold him and tell myself to make conscious memories about those special moments. Having post-traumatic stress with serious dissociation made it important that I consciously imprinted memories into my brain. It has been helpful for me to step outside of the present moment and work to make memories of the good times—or times I have triumphed over difficulty—really conscious so I could draw on them when I needed the reminder. In the moment I feel as if I have been robbed of the good memories from my marriage because i know they were built on his deception.

I’m beginning to think that the pain will not really go away. Hopefully it will dull over time. For now, distractions help me get through each day. Just like physical pain, when those distractions are not there, the pain returns. Nights are often the hardest, as anyone with physical pain often knows. It is when the painkillers are most reached for.

This got me thinking about the role distraction can play in overcoming grief. We don’t want to really be distracted from remembering someone we love, but neither do we have to sit swamped in our pain. Some distraction is a good thing. Maybe rather than stopping kids in school from being distracted, we need to encourage them to use distraction in positive ways.

Recognizing the core reason for seeking distraction, such as grief or boredom, really acknowledging and sitting with the feeling, and then consciously choosing distraction could be a great life skill.

I don’t really have any answers to much of anything. But I do think hiking and writing have been good distractions for me. It takes so much focus to get through a freezing-cold night that I have less time to grieve. I imagine art, reading, or a myriad of other things would also work. I wonder if part if the trick to coping with the wrenching emotional pain of grief and loneliness is to find one‘s passions and “hike on.”

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