When my husband and best friend of 32 years died of cancer in 2013, I was lost. Both introverts, we’d spent almost all our time together; he was my life. Missing him beyond belief, I needed to grieve yet I was vibrating with stress, processing his end of life and my role as his caregiver.
As a former lawyer and generally organized person, I got through the paperwork and estate matters pretty quickly. I moved on to the deferred maintenance to our home that came with caring for a cancer patient.
But then what?
I didn’t have the wherewithal to do much, making any big decisions was impossible, but I could return to the walking habit I’d enjoyed before he got sick. So most mornings at ten a.m., I’d park at the grocery store and walk on the paved trail that ran through my suburban town, going past the high school and small businesses and into open space. Having a routine helped, going the same time each day, having specific walking clothes, setting an intention the night before.
At first, I operated on auto pilot, not really seeing much of anything, just needing to move and be outside. But after a few weeks, I started to notice things, like the orange poppies providing pops of color and the Redwood trees offering shade. I’d see the same people on my walks, smiling women who said hello, and dog walkers whose charges sniffed at my feet. Walking came to be the best part of my day; being around other people anchored me.
Months later, I joined a yoga studio and started taking writing classes, finding community and making new friends. Eventually, I had a few people to walk with so I wasn’t always by myself. Life began to feel a little less bleak.
Weekends were the hardest. I missed my husband the most on those days, so I joined a few hiking groups through meetup.com. At first, I was so out of my element, huffing and puffing up the hills, carrying a small fashion backpack without enough room for adequate water and snacks, struggling to keep up.
I started walking on the hillside trails near my home to improve. Over time I got better, getting the right gear, upping my endurance, and more importantly, finding new people to hang out with. I started looking forward to weekends instead of dreading them.
Hiking with a group of friendly folk, catching up with the regulars and meeting new people, I felt more connected. It’s hard to look out over a hillside, take in a panoramic view, and not feel that life still holds promise.
A couple years into my loss, I decided to travel a bit, going on a few trips put on by my college alumni association. It felt odd being on my own in a different country. My late husband hadn’t wanted to travel so I’d never before left the United States. But I could fill the unscheduled time strolling through new destinations and getting up early for solo walks to enjoy the peace.
As the years passed, I got more serious about writing, taking classes and workshops, finally getting an MFA in creative nonfiction and writing a book. When things felt challenging, I knew to take a walk to regain perspective. And when I started dating again, walking was a great way to blow off steam.
Ten years after my loss, I have a new partner. We’ve been together almost five years, connecting on exercise and health. A year and a half ago, we moved to a bayside town that’s terrific for walking with water views and peaceful streets. It’s about a mile and a half from my house to the downtown pier where he and I often walk together. I’ve even found a couple local groups for walkers and hikers.
When I first lost my husband, I didn’t know how to go on without him. Just leaving the house felt difficult, marshaling enough energy through the fog of grief. But over time, I created a new life, and it started with taking a walk.