It’s been said that experiencing divorce is like experiencing a death. Discovering infidelity – waking up one day, married, and then finding out your spouse is having an affair with her neighbor, his co-worker, your best friend, the waitress at Denny’s – is like a near death experience.
Your death, not a death.
Then, in my case, first comes the Pocket Call then comes divorce (after the whole first comes love then comes marriage then comes the dudes in baby carriages). So I get to experience my death and death by divorce.
But I only have one little black dress, and it’s not quite funeral proper. I’d be the relative everyone whispered about…Can you believe she wore that to a funeral?
I’ve never been one to mourn, so it comes as no surprise that I would fumble with the protocols.
My Dad died when I was 23 years old. It was an awe-inspiring experience I’ve only just been able to appropriately describe. I understand now, after years of reflection, that when I stood at his bedside, after his spirit had left his body, I was fully, totally and completely present in the moment, without Ego. No outside thoughts crowded my brain. I wasn’t thinking, What should I be thinking?, What’s going to happen to me?, How will life change?
Nothing at all was in my brain.
My heart, however, was completely open, so full of love, and in a state of awe as I stood along the parade route to witness a man walk from human to spirit and off the planet.
In that moment, for the first time in my adult life, I was fully present, without Ego.
Throughout the week of viewings and the funeral my focus was on those coming to pay their respects and on my Dad and Mom. My whole family focused on making others feel heard. We felt comforted by comforting them. I imagine that’s a natural way to soldier through such a challenging time – from Melanoma diagnosis to death in four weeks.
Whatever we were all doing, feeling, thinking, complaining about before my Dad’s diagnosis vaporized the moment we found out that he was going to die. Death was on the horizon. And that has a way of making us humans tethered to each second. It doesn’t necessarily remove the Ego from center stage, however. Yet, I recall feeling serene (maybe a tad in shock), humbled, very loved and courageous.
The man I expected to be there for at least a few more decades made an early exit, but I knew that I would be okay.
Didn’t hurt that no one came up to me at the funeral and said, You’re Dad isn’t who you thought he was.
That would have turned a heavyhearted situation into an horrific one.
There are a handful of comments made to me by The Genius post Pocket Call that standout. One being, We played by the rules. We agreed to never leave our spouses.
It took a few days for the full understanding to sink in.
Wow, they were going to stay married and carry on this affair forever.
Wow, that’s really gross.
They made the decision to hijack my life. They acted like God and made the call as to how my life was going to unfold. I would never know that my entire marriage was a sham. A lie.
Unless she showed up at his funeral to tell me how I had been mistaken. He didn’t love me. I wasn’t his wife, she was.
One night I realized the impact of my narrow escape – I could have hung up on the Pocket Call and missed the opportunity to reclaim my life from two people who didn’t have the right to decide how it played out. Instead, I pulled the phone back to my ear and so began this journey.
I’ve never had a true near death experience, but we’ve all seen the 20/20 interviews or stories in Time and People magazines about those who have left their body and then reentered, forever changed. Type A’s morph into subdued, gentle beings – more Yogi than gunning for the next victory. Fearful ones become centered and at peace. Compassion, unconditional love, gratitude for the experience of being human, a desire to live a life without regret, to live every day fully as there may not be another. And an understanding of how truly special it is to be human. All transformations described by those who have nearly left the planet.
Some then choose to do something extreme in life.
Like climb Mt. Everest.
My adulterous version of a near death experience was the only explanation I could offer to my Mom when she quizzed me for the fiftieth time about why I want to risk life and limb, risk actual death, just to climb a mountain.
And for goodness’ sake honey, why would you ever want to be so cold?
We sat in her living room on my most recent trip back east. I had just subjected her to the third episode of Everest: Beyond the Limit, a Discovery channel show that follows my future expedition leader, Russell (my Father’s name) Brice, as he manages the climbs of those smitten with Mt. Everest despite her reputation.
My desire to climb Mt. Everest became more than just a long shot on that trip. More than a dream. Immersing myself in six hours of coverage, watching a team go from base camp and all the highs of being on the mountain to the summit, and then witness the descent, most looking as if they’d gone to war as they emerged from the death zone alive but battered, left me feeling settled about this goal. I will one day be on that mountain. I turned to my Mom and said,
Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not going to make it an ego climb.
But the fact that I want to climb her at all is remarkable. I love going uphill. My tanks are deep. I can climb for days.
But Everest is Everest. There are a hundred ways to die easily on her.
I could sneeze and fall backwards.
I get scared just by sneezing while I’m driving.
But what really intimidates me about the climb is the snow, ice, and way below freezing temperatures.
I despise winter.
Well, I love the season, from afar. I appreciate the beauty of it. Sweater dresses with boots are so fun. I just don’t want to be in it.
But most of all, I despise wind. Wind used to make me angry.
But this near death experience has altered so many of my views and how I appreciate things that I bet wind won’t upend me anymore. And while I do not like the cold, everything is temporary. I like the feeling of pushing through the uncomfortable to better appreciate comfort. I don’t fear death.
But I’m not hunting around for ways to die.
A few weeks ago, basking in the glow of the silencing of my Ego, I made time to plan my climb of Mt. Rainier. Not to short-change Rainier, but Everest looked over my shoulder as I read up on the 2014 season. My comment to my Mom drifted into my consciousness.
Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not going to make it an ego climb.
Climbing Everest had always been about the ego for me, and probably for everyone who takes on the challenge.
I climbed Mt. Everest! I summited the tallest mountain in the world! Take that! Look at me – brave enough to spend two and a half months freezing my ass off! Everyone will be so amazed when I tell them!
Now I just want to shed tears of gratitude all along the route, quietly climb her and quietly live to hug the dudes when I finish.
(We can’t get her unstuck, Russell. She’s alive, but all her crying has her frozen to the mountain!)
So, it seems real now. Vanquishing my Ego has removed the one obstacle keeping me from Mt. Everest. And climbing Rainier, my first glaciated mountain, is step 1 to getting there.
But doing it in July is a bit wimpish. And it won’t get me any closer to Everest.
When I attempted to climb her this year, I was met with a big, fat No Vacancy sign. My only opportunity was to take a window in October, not my preferred month of July. The man with whom I was speaking said, If Denali and Everest are your goals, you are going to need to do a winter climb. Might as well start there and save yourself the expense of doing it twice.
A little nervous laughter and then, I’ll think about it.
I only want to freeze once, was my first thought. Which is not the right attitude for taking on the altitude of Everest.
My timid self decided that 3 days on Rainier was enough for my next climb. I’ll get the exposure to the crevasses, the ice bridges, the self-rescues with an ice ax. I’ve never even held an ice ax. I don’t even know if I’m spelling it right. Is it axe?
That timid self is just a costumed version of my Ego.
As I read up on the winter climb of Mt. Rainier, I became hungry for it. A desire to meet the challenge, to spend six days above 10,000 feet learning skills I have only seen performed on camera, transformed into an intention.
I’m going to do a winter climb of Mt. Rainier. I’m going to love being in the snow and ice and hunkering down with a few others, one of a handful on the mountain at a time when she is most alive.
You have a certain snapshot of who I am through HGM. I feel compelled, for the purposes of your entertainment, to paint the right picture here so that you can fully grasp how nuts this would seem to anyone who knew me as a youngin’.
Slipping scared me.
I never took to winter sports because I hated the idea of having my feet come out from underneath me. I don’t even like rocking chairs. My siblings skied. I stayed in the lodge with my Mom, or at a rented home singing out loud to Ramblin’ Man by the Allman Brothers while I rifled through my brothers’ record collection – something they would never let me do had they been there.
I went skiing once. Those same brothers told me to (A) sit on the T-bar and (B) never taught me how to stop. I fell off the T-bar. When I finally made it to the ‘summit’ I went all Moses on the bunny hill, parting the throngs like the waters of the Red Sea. The lodge stopped me.
Ice skating took me from a person with feet to a person with cinderblocks for feet. All the grace that blades brought to the the human gate was lost on me. Walking on ice in high heels was a more fluid sight compared to me laced up and ready to wipe out.
Curling would have given me trouble.
My winter sport options would come down to one: ice fishing.
If I liked the cold.
Which I don’t.
I didn’t grow up in Utah or Idaho or Montana, where extreme winter sports is mandatory and people are born with seal skin. Winter sports for me was being freaked out to sled down the hill in front of our house because my brothers ran the hose on it turning it into a bobsled course. I didn’t skate on our neighbor’s pond. I was the goal.
Not the goalie.
My brothers the hockey players. Cocoa my salvation.
I went to college in a frigid location. And spent the bulk of my time there in the bathtub. It was the only place I could get warm.
I was not a risk taker in my youth. I plotted each week to avoid having to climb the rope in gym class. I have an ear ache. My hands hurt. I have to pee.
I never once had to climb the rope.
Thank God. Because I couldn’t.
Even jumping rope intimidated me.
But ropes are the only way to get up Everest.
In sum, no one would have voted me most athletic or outdoorsy or anywhere even close to Person Most Likely to Climb Mt. Everest.
When I got married I never thought I would be the person most likely to be betrayed.
The winter climb of Mt. Rainier isn’t about summiting the mountain. It’s about learning to live and move on the mountain. If I get to summit that’s just a bonus, but definitely no to be expected. And for me, climbing Mt. Everest is not about summiting her. It’s about living on her. It’s not about getting to the top, but being in the moment, on her. That mountain and me – we’re destined for a delicious, albeit frosty, encounter.
I’ll be taking you with me this March…only you don’t have to bundle up.
Making peace with winter isn’t the only side effect of my version of a near death experience. Each day I feel like Alice in Wonderland – how am I going to change today? What odd occurrence is going to leave me delighted, grateful to be alive, or in tears – which is what happened yesterday as I wrote this post. (And which is why it was delayed a day. I had much to ponder.)
I tweeted that I was near tears, having just written the part above about my Dad, while sitting next to a man in a public place. I wondered if he would notice me silently crying and chalk it up to hormones. Without realizing the hilarity of this comment until right now, I turned to him (after drying my tears) and said, Is it hot in here or is it just me?
I was actually sweating.
Then, within minutes he had me in tears and was fighting back his own.