Grief is an enigma. Ups and downs, twists and turns, it hides in crevices before it surfaces again without warning.

Part 4: Accepting the Scrambles, Savouring the Summits 

We had nowhere we needed to be. I simply wanted to absorb; to digest the surreal. Base Camp felt different after the summit. Everything felt different. 

Rest did not come easily as my mind continued to dissect the highs and lows. A couple slow mornings and sunshine made the transition away from Ama Dablam comfy.

The pandemic kept few doors open and people unseen; just the two of us, we hiked deeper into Khumbu, closer to the giants of Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest. The 3 Passes, a trail many spend years planning and preparing for, would be our cool down. Not clinging to rigid plans or anything at all, considering weather and energy, we took one day at a time. 

Like the strong winds of the changing season, one moment I was conversing with Dad as if alongside, the next pinching myself in wonder, debating fact or fiction within all that was the month past. While the pattern continued among the highest of the Himalayas, the trail was the only tool I could grasp. Usual morning writing was unreachable, a mountain that felt too complex and overwhelming. Though I believe there is no right or wrong, sitting meditation was work that I felt too distracted to find nourishing. The trail would serve as an avenue to acknowledge, and attempt to quiet thoughts yet followed as many peaks and valleys as the Khumbu we wandered in.  

Arriving back in Kathmandu after mountain escapades always takes some adjusting though this would be an unprecedented transition. My daily handwritten letter to Dad that had started at the beginning of lockdown would no longer be delivered as had become routine. Though knowing continuing to write could be helpful, I struggled. I shied from encouraging accolades of Ama Dablam that would come among local friends, as proud and thankful as I was, the digestion felt in need of more than any celebration. I felt celebrating Dad was more important than praise of any peak.

Daily journaling was sporadic, morning meditation forced and stretching while the kettle boiled felt like a historical routine. Once I get my visa sorted I will regain focus; once I get back into the mountains the sentences will flow, when my training gets consistent the spark will ignite. Too much time craving, anticipating and expecting than keeping in the moment, December was a different mountain. Mindfulness remained out of touch. 

Like layers of snow building on a slope, I anticipated an avalanche. A powerful breakdown following the building of feelings grief and loss I seemed to be resisting. I continue to question the resistance with wonder of the acceptance that came with too much ease. Impermanence has been embraced from the hands of my traumatic brain injury yet like the shooting stars I see as night falls I question. Will the trigger fire harder when I get back to the lake, back to the couch where we share coffee, photos and lighthearted laughs? Will I fall among the pines when I walk along to get the newspaper or flood the dock with tears?  

Dodging doubt and December deadlines, my Nepali visa worked out, time came on my side. From the immigration office to the national park permit office, I was off to the Annapurnas in less than a handful of days. This time back to a familiar backdrop yet alone. Training, writing and intent to work through layers of confusion, my expectations were high.

Humde, Manang

I headed off on the trail today curious, to see what was possible out of nothing. No set distance, time or route and no motivation. As always, gear ready before bed, with big ideas though mindful of mountain weather, committed to getting myself out the door, not trying was not an option. 

This morning, getting myself out the door felt like a daunting massif. I have fallen hard on the shoulds that I alone am shouting. I should be training hard, writing with ease, sleeping well and repeating. Not one such expectation could be ticked.

Based alone in a minuscule hamlet in the Annapurnas, with full-on winter and all things COVID, the locals could be counted on my hands. Basically a few good men there tending to the animals and freezing water lines. Between chia and dal bhat, there is some wood chopping, arrow shooting and animal feeding. Otherwise the Annapurnas are asleep; one of the world’s most stunning massifs to myself. If I am not playing on among her peaks, I am not doing enough. Less than 6 hours is being lazy and wasting training time. Falling behind as friends set off on record setting summits and ski tours, convincing myself that rest is productive sits as well as the diagnosis of a black eye;  cannot fathom. 

Grief is an enigma, an amorphous yet in my face all at once. Ups and downs, twists and turns, grief hides in crevices where it lies dormant before it surfaces again without warning. 

The Annapurnas are hosting a stage of acceptance; grief’s elusiveness is part of that. Like adjusting to vision loss and all that has come in the wake of my TBI, I will adapt. Life’s mountains, the ascents and rappels, the summits and the scrambles have prepared me for this.

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  1. John and Nora Cavers says:

    Nora and I really appreciated reading your note today. Thanks for being so open. you are such an inspiration to us. You are in our thoghts and prayers daily Jill.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      I find it encouraging to know you are along my every trail and connect to the vulnerable tales I share John and Nora ~ thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and sharing the light you find from the Mountains of My Mind.
      With gratitude,