Learning to Dance with a Wooden Leg

“The death of a beloved is an amputation…At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.” 

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

The anniversary of my first solo trip around the sun is fast approaching. Facebook reminds me of the everyday things that were happening last year as we moved, unknowingly, toward the head of the line where together our tickets would be punched, but where we’d board separate flights. How could I have known that that morning I would come home to discover that Dave had left his body…bad knees, painful legs, and bad heart…behind in his favorite chair, coffee still warm in his cup, to journey to an unknown realm without me?

I was still posting photos from our latest adventure. Dave loved life. He lived without an agenda taking each day as it came and finding joy, wonder, and delight all around him. Traveling expanded our world, giving us even more opportunities for pleasure, adventure and amazement. While we were able we went as far as we could, as often as we could, for as long as we could. When his mobility declined to the point that he could no longer join in on walks in the city or short hikes in the National Parks, Dave would happily find a bench and wait patiently for my return. Knowing that he would be waiting gave me confidence and courage to take my limited hiking skills and head out alone on unknown trails.

Suddenly there was no one waiting for my return, no one waiting to see my photos, no one waiting to hear of my escapades, no one waiting with a warm car…no one waiting. I had to decide whether to store my trekking poles or learn to move forward on my own.

Scenes from our last trip…Colorado and Utah, September 2018

One of the greatest challenges of grief and loss is learning not only to live without the one you’ve lost, but learning to live without the person you were when you were with them and learning to live as the person you have now become. I, only half jokingly, wonder if that is why senior citizens are asked whether they’ve fallen recently. With each loss we have to regain our equilibrium without the stability of what once was. With a part of ourselves missing we have to teach ourselves a new way to find our balance.

Stability often eludes me, but I am learning to live my life with that wooden leg that C.S. Lewis talks about. There are times that are really difficult, the nights are especially sucky, and tears still come unbidden, but now and then I hear Dave’s voice encouraging me to find joy, seek adventure, and laugh as often as I can.

Bloody Marys on the Deck
Basalt, Colorado, September 2018

If I have died; and you refuse to live because I am gone, I died two times. But if you take the joy I always had in life, and live it for me in your own, and past on to others then I’ll know that the world will stay a better place for I was here awhile.

Nadine McLaughlin ‘Death Wish’

Years ago…almost two decades now, Dave, my friend, Suzette, and I went out to dinner. It was Suzette’s suggestion to try a new Ethiopian restaurant that had just opened in her neighborhood. Dave and I agreed to give this new cuisine a shot. We all knew we were in trouble when we were met at the door by a waitress who asked, “Would you like a booth or a basket?” Basket? Basket? What the heck did that mean? We opted for the booth. It was pretty much down hill from there. We ordered the Ethiopian Feast for Three. When the meal was brought to our table the chicken portion was represented by a single drumstick. The rest of the meal was also rather scant, but easier to share. On the other hand, none of us liked it at all. Thus, to paraphrase Woody Allen at the beginning of Annie Hall…the food was terrible and there wasn’t enough of it. Life too, can be painful and hard, but most of us still want more. Even with the pain, darkness, and the aloneness of grief, life is still worth the living.

One Afternoon In Maine, October 2019

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Ecclesiastes…and of course The Byrds…remind us that there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

About that dancing…Anne Lamott says that the loss of a loved one “is like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly…that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but,” she says,” you learn to dance with the limp.”

A few years ago, as part of our church’s Coming of Age program…think Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation…the youth and their adult guides were exploring the idea of death. One of the facilitators asked the group, “How many of you are grieving the loss of someone or something?” Nearly everyone raised a hand…adults and teens alike. I’m approaching an anniversary, a date on the calendar, but I am surrounded by people…friends, family, and strangers…who are also just putting one foot in front of the other and moving slowly down the same path. We link arms at times to steady those for whom those wooden legs are new and as yet untried, but we all move toward the time when even momentarily we can leave our weeping and mourning to laugh and dance.

I know this anniversary will be difficult. I’m sure there will be weeping, the ugly cry, runny nose and the whole shebang, but I also know that I’m learning to dance. The dance may not be pretty considering the whole balance thing, the limp and wooden leg, but…there is still dancing and laughter. Dave is waiting patiently for me somewhere…but for now I’ll journey on by myself…dancing and laughing whenever I can and recognizing there is still a time to mourn and weep when I can’t.

Following My Own Path
October 2019

14 thoughts on “Learning to Dance with a Wooden Leg

    • I’m sure you know exactly what it’s like to dance with a wooden leg and a limp. My heart aches for Pat as he begins this journey, but someday he’ll dance too.

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  1. I am so glad I opened your blog.Thank-you for sharing your creative gifts in writing musing, feeling and communicating to us about your new life and your journey of grief. You bring Dave to life for me. I hope he is enjoying the ‘heavenly choir practice’.

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  2. What a lovely tribute to Dave, Sally. And what joy you two have had together! I love the images of learning to dance again, albeit with a wooden leg. It’s as I imagined it would be. You are surrounded by friends and family who love you, the new you, as you are now. -Sarah

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  3. So meaningful Sally. You help so many family and friends deal with loss no matter the type of loss they may have, your thoughts and passages inspire all who read. Love you Cuz.

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  4. Eloquent reflection, Sally, for your loved one….and the repeated scenery of the autumn woods reminds me of my favorite poet -other than Will Shakespeare and John Keats:

    “…Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    and I, I took the one lest traveled by,
    and that has made all the difference.”
    Robert Frost. “The Road Not Taken”

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    • Thanks. I thought of you the other day while sorting through old papers. I found a copy of the words to the Lake Louise song. I remembered a lot of it but was nice to be reminded of the parts I had forgotten. I added it to my stack of “important” things to keep with the intent of sharing it with you someday. It’ll be awhile. ❤

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  5. Eloquent reflection, Sally, for your loved one….and the repeated scenery of the autumn woods reminds me of my favorite poet -other than Will Shakespeare and John Keats:

    “…Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    and I, I took the road less traveled by,
    and that has made all the difference.”
    Robert Frost. “The Road Not Taken”

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  6. You are an amazing lady, Sally!! You have a gift with words, thank you for sharing so eloquently. Know that you are loved!!!!!!

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  7. You are an amazing lady, Sally!! You have a gift with words, thank you for sharing so eloquently. Know that you are loved!!!!!!

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