memory and loss

How do we reclaim spaces and moments that we used to exist in and define ourselves by? Loss takes with it pieces of our daily lives---pieces that sustained us and brought joy to our lives---whether we lost a home, a community, a relationship, or a person. I’ve experienced moments of mild unease or anxiety in returning to places that used to be “home,” or meeting up with people who used to feel like “home,” re-doing activities I used to do in relationships that felt like “home.” However, there is power in reclaiming these as my own; there is power in actively creating my own home. During this chilly winter season, I have been reminded of how reclamation is a powerful part of my own healing process.

Nearly seven years ago, on a typical sunny day in Colorado, my father was killed in an avalanche. He was skiing inbounds at a resort, following the rules. Without much conscious thought, I put my love of skiing (and winter outdoorsy-ness in general) in a metaphorical closet, nervous to tempt fate and to unsettle my own emotional healing.

My most recent story of reclamation happened this past weekend, among friends, high spirits, and blistery icy slopes in Maine. Leading up to the trip, I approached downhill skiing as something “I used to love” or that “I can still do moderately well.” Since my father’s death, it ceased to be a defining factor in my life. I had skied a few times in the years between that day and this past weekend, the most significant being a visit to the run he died on. The blue and white sign at the top of the run now reads “David’s run.” But, that experience, was more a sense of visiting---visiting the place he died, visiting his world---it wasn’t mine.

In Maine, I chased guy friends, who will always ski faster than me but are willing to pause to let me catch up, down the icy slopes. In some moments I felt transferred back into childhood, peacefully enjoying my skis gliding over powdery snow. In other moments I struggled, silently cursing the ice and shrubs sticking out of the snow. A sense of bliss followed the entire experience, aided by the surprise of still knowing how to ski and the forging of new friendships---where we share values related to being outside. Values that represent “home” for me. I am not sure what exact transformation took place or on which ski run, but skiing felt comfortable and peaceful. I can welcome the world of skiing and the community it encompasses back into my life.

Central to the outdoorsy world I grew up in, my family spent holidays at a YMCA camp tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. The camp is set between downhill ski resorts and hundreds of miles of cross country skiing. It is a gorgeous winter heaven. The year after my father died, we retreated to one of these cabins for a painful and lonely Christmas. We passed the holiday estranged from each other, engulfed in our individual grief. The camp felt haunted by childhood memories and impossible images of the future without my father.

It was six years before we plotted our return this past December. Together, we visited a sign the camp constructed in memory of my father. This year, the same space felt peaceful and healing. I felt my family take a collective deep breath and embrace this space, which was once ours and now is ours again. Reclaimed.

Curled up by the wood fire, I smiled as my mom and sister took out old card games, which contained records of highest and lowest scores throughout the history of our family playing the game. They lightheartedly reminisced about my dad’s competitiveness and my grandmother’s love of dominos with joyful memories of past holidays. As the pain withdrew from the memories over the years, we stepped back into our relationships with each other and again became a family that visits the places where it grew together over and over again to make new memories.