When my father died so unexpectedly from a massive heart attack, my world titled. Everything I did and said seemed unbalanced and skewed. A few weeks after his death, the school district wanted me to go to training in Sedona, Arizona with a group of wonderful women, and I cried nightly because I couldn’t make any decisions. A phone call from one friend who was also going on the trip convinced me to come along.
Sedona began my healing. Notice, I use the word “began” because recovering from grief takes years. I took the first steps to life without my father by boarding the flight from San Antonio to Phoenix. The trip there remains a blur in my memory, but I distinctly recall standing at the car rental kiosk with five other women, and none of them wanted to drive the minivan from Phoenix to Sedona. Being fall, darkness would accompany us on the drive for more than half the trek. Now, I’ve never minded driving, even to places I’ve never visited, but my mind felt cotton swaddled and addled half of the time. Perhaps that’s why I ended up driving? At any rate, I soon positioned myself behind the wheel with one friend as navigator.
Our exit from Phoenix went without obstacles, slowed only by the five o’clock traffic common to most cities. Having driven many times in Houston, Phoenix’s highways seemed fairly easy to navigate. Before long, we zipped onto a wide open stretch of highway. I remember conversation flowing around me filled with chuckles and “remember when” scenarios. A sunset exploded across the western sky, and darkness swathed our car as we sped along. For endless miles, our isolated van passed no other vehicle. The highway had few lights, with exits creeping up unexpectedly. My navigator, listening to the chat from the back seat, missed the exit we needed to take, and the next one didn’t appear for another five or six miles. We looped around, took a left turn instead of a right, and briefly pondered the possibility of driving aimlessly up and down desert highways like some Twilight Zone characters. Eventually, we rolled into Sedona’s warm lights and found our motel.
Snow and ice descended during the night. Not much by Arizona standards, but as a Texan, I felt uneasy as I moved behind the wheel of the rental. Taking things slow and easy, we made our way from our motel to the hotel hosting the workshop. The presenters crammed activities and information into us at warp speed, and by the end of the first day we each longed for the escape that shopping in this wonderful little town offered. We hit the specialty shops with enthusiasm. I longed to do a little hiking on some of the trails, but as the designated driver, I didn’t get go that first day. By the end of the second day of training, I felt as though I’d explode if I didn’t get to walk to at least one of the famous vortexes of Sedona.
When everyone else wanted to go see a movie, I opted to grab my camera case and head out on a trail that zigzagged beyond our motel. My spirit (numbed by so much grief and loss) found peace as I strolled along. I don’t know when I started crying. I don’t know when I stopped. I stayed out on the trail for over two hours, pausing when I needed to feel grounded. I took photographs of many of the views, yet I knew I couldn’t capture the healing energy that flooded through me.
Grieving has taken on a new meaning over the last couple of years, for I’ve learned we can mourn for the living as they struggle through their final sorrows. Within the next few years, I will return to Sedona to walk, once again, the trails that eased my wounded soul.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman