Today would be our 9th wedding anniversary, and the 15th anniversary of our journey as friends. Derek and I are still on that journey, but it’s a very different experience being in relationship with someone who doesn’t exist in the material world anymore. I still miss his physical presence. His was a very grounded, solid physicality. When he was with me, his attention made me feel like a star.
We walked into each other’s life in 2004, on the Camino pilgrimage in Spain, when I was working through the grief of my father’s death. I helped walk him through the grief of his wife’s death three years later. The steps we took together were literal and figurative, but it’s so meaningful for me to remember those physical ones.
On one occasion in a small European town, I remember tripping and stumbling on cobblestones, and his reaching out to catch me before I hit the ground. “Are you falling for me?” he quipped, a twinkle in his eye. Often, while trekking on the Camino, suddenly his imagine would pop into my brain, and then there he was. He always showed up at the right time, somehow magically knowing when and where to find me. I never had to wait and wonder. One year — it could have been 2008 or 2009, I walked all the way from Langdale to Lund on the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver. It took the better part of a week walking mostly on the highway for four to six hours a day, and Derek would meet me at the end of each stage, a huge grin on his face and admiration in his eyes. He loved nothing better than to support me (and I him). Today I drove part of the way along the same highway and the feeling came back to me instantly, this warm knowing, that after so many hours passing trees and lakes and hills, I would round a corner and he would be there just when I was flagging.
My destination today was Skookumchuck Narrows, the sea rapids where Sechelt and Jervis Inlets meet. The first time I made the hike there was with Derek. After getting out of the car, he held my hand that whole hour while I walked with my eyes closed. He had me reach out and feel different textures — dry tree bark, moist spongy moss. He had me stop and smell resinous pine needles and earthy mushrooms. We agreed that the forest smelled its own shade of green, like no other. He had me step up onto stumps and jump down. He had me listen to the different qualities of sound, surrounded by thick forest compared to a clearing beside a pond. How near to the rapids did we get before I could hear them? How giddy I became when I heard their faint roar in the distance.
When we finally made it to the rocky outlook the sound engulfed me. The intensity of the water was palpable. I opened my eyes and tears of joy began to flow. How glorious the colours — the amazing array of grey granite hues under my feet, the deep blue of sky above, and the white foam of racing water. I laughed and laughed in pleasure and awe. Today I stood there just like the first time, mesmerized by the coursing, surging tide. I thought back to that first time, and how little we had to say to one another in that moment, so full of gratitude and love. A moment later I was snapped back to the present — a black shape surfaced, and then disappeared. What had I just seen? I kept my eyes fixed on the eddies and began to get dizzy. A minute later, another shape emerged, ever so briefly breaking the waves before disappearing in the swirl. A dolphin! I watched for some minutes. It seemed to be at play but perhaps there were tasty fish below the froth. What strength it would take to keep from being swept out with the tide.
Eventually I headed back along the trail. Today Derek wasn’t there to hold my hand physically and guide me, but I felt him walking with me. I closed my eyes and felt my centre of gravity drop. I walked for half a minute along the rocky trail, lifting my feet high and noticing the shifting of my weight. It felt effortless. I had the urge to take long slow inhalations. It smelled like green. I laughed.