When the Distance Changes

Life bucked me off for a couple of weeks.

I’d been going along checking my strides, regrouping, but basically knowing the course and the distances I had to hit to get over the arena jumps: kids packed off to school, house de-shambled, new work goals.  Farther off, another distance to be sorted out: aging parents.  That was more in the next field, to be dealt with later, at some imaginary point when – what – I didn’t need them?  Shaun is back on the other side of the country living with and taking care of both of her parents.  My dad, who has been in-patient for nearly a month, has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the liver.  My parents just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.  I can’t wrap my mind around what this must be like for my mom.  My dad doesn’t know he’s dying.  I’m not sure he’d remember (he has Alzheimer’s) if my mom decided to tell him.

I have no judgement on her decision.

The trauma of telling someone you love that they are dying would be crushing.  The trauma of having to repeat it the next day, or the next hour, and deal afresh with the waves of shock, fear, and disbelief staring back at you, would be horrific.  Doing this every day for who knows how long? Unthinkable.

Finding out today that my dad is failing quickly, has skewed my depth perception.  I feel as if someone picked the world up, turned it, and set it down 6 inches to the left.  Everything looks familiar, but somehow wrong.  Just wrong enough that I trip over, bump into, stumble and jerk across the surfaces of my life.

In contrast, my perspective on what is important has shifted and clicked into it’s real place.  What was I thinking?

All that other stress is little cross poles at which even I can scoff. This is foreign. I have to figure how to take a jump I don’t understand.  A jump so large I can’t see over the top, even mounted, with an engine beneath me.  I don’t know how many strides I need, I don’t know where the distance is or what point to sight on the other side to help me clear and jump beyond.  Worse, I can’t see the jumps that will follow this big one.  Will it be to the right or left?  What if it’s an In and Out?  Or a triple?

I have no body memory for this.  I feel blind.

In real life, I don’t jump, so this metaphor fits.  I have no idea how I’m going to take this leap, how I should measure my strides, how to adjust for the unknowable.  Where do I contain the energy and keep a pace, and where is it necessary to go flat out for the jump?

I don’t know.

I still have my daily arena jumps to cover.  My ‘real’ life (meaning the life in which the man who taught me to ride a bike, admit I was wrong, drive a car, do chores that aren’t mine, is not dying) keeps moving along, being funny, silly, warm, aggravating.

Here on the blog, I may be sharing the life I should be living, instead of the one I am, or some mixture of both.  I expect it will be a bit spotty in the posting, and I will definitely be seeking out the humor, fun, and goofiness around me.  I’m still not sure if I will post this or not.  I don’t want to infect my blog, to borrow a great phrase from Marissa (of Tucker the Wunderkind).

I want a place I can still be silly and goofy and curious about things without worrying that the act of wanting that now is wrong.  It may just be one of the more right things to do.


9 thoughts on “When the Distance Changes

  1. Marissa

    It’s a beautiful metaphor. When the jumps look a little scary to me, I just remember to trust that my horse is going to carry me through. And trusting in his ability to navigate it helps me summon a little more inner strength. Maybe that can be a part of your metaphor. As you continue to navigate these new challenges, I hope that something or someone will become a touchstone, and help you summon the additional inner strength you need. And I think the blog is a wonderful way to help you find the little bit of humor that many of us so desperately need in order to cope with really stressful and painful situations. Or to lead the life you wish you were living. Nothing wrong with a little escapism. Please take care Jane, we’ll be thinking of you.

  2. Halt Near X

    My dad died about five years ago, and we had a wake later that summer to celebrate his life. We ended up having to set up the grill and tables in the front yard, so I sat out there to keep an eye on the grill/tables/etc.

    Because it was a Saturday, naturally garage salers kept stopping. Since the grill was going, I offered to make them some hot dogs. It seemed perfectly logical to me, and it was the sort of thing my dad would have done, too.

    A neighbor was outraged and tracked down my mother, telling her how inappropriately I was behaving.

    My mother agreed that it was inappropriate — because if I was the one cooking, I ought to be paying the poor people, not charging them.

    The neighbor was not nearly as amused as we were.

    Your metaphor about having no body memory is a fantastic way of describing the feeling. For my family, humor and pretending to a sense of normalcy were, if not body memory, at least a theoretical knowledge of how jumping should work and an understanding that we could still influence the pace and impulsion of the horse on the way to the jump.

    Not everyone understood what we were doing, and some, like that neighbor, were appalled by how we dealt with our grief. But it worked for us, and the more we gave ourselves permission to do what we needed to do instead of what others expected us to do, the better off we were.

    Plenty of people told us it was ok to grieve; I wish more people had told us it was ok to seek out normalcy and that we shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting that. Do whatever you need to with the blog; if it feels right, it is.

    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      I love the hotdog story…and that it was the sort of thing your dad would do. Thank you so much for sharing it. It helps. That’s a big deal.

      I went to watch roping practice Thursday evening, and it gave me the emotional and physical rest I needed. Listening to the girls kid around, watching some serious roping (and phenomenal riding), laughing at Daisy using a ‘manual’ cattle prod (a broken stick) to move the steers through the chute.

      Two things happened. I somehow got a better grip on my personal circumstances because of it, and now I want a dressage horse that can easily round up cattle with the rider riding in a halter with the lead on only one side. I swear that QH piaffed the steers over.

  3. Lisa

    Lovely post, lovely images.

    Life, I imagine, really is like jumping that course, the one you didn’t get to walk first.
    You simply have to take the jumps as they come, each a surprise, each a bit different, but each an integral part of the whole.
    Some are straightforward and almost easy; a crosspole, an in and out, a vertical. Some, however, demand a bit more skill, a little more collecting in the corners, a steadier hand on the rein; an oxer, a hogback, or a wall.
    And every once in a while, you’re faced with something that sends shivers down your spine. Something that might make you want to pull on your reins and slow the flow, something that might want to make you forget your leg in the corner, forget that you have to ride forward into it, if you’re going to make it through.
    Every once in a while, maybe, you’re faced with a joker or a nasty triple combination and you close your legs, leave the rein light in your hand, and ease your horse through it.
    And when it’s behind you, you know that life is there to be lived and you are only ever faced with a course you can manage.
    And when it’s behind you, you know that the depth of your sorrow can only be measured by the heigth of the jumps, and the joy they have brought you.

  4. dressage rider

    I’m so sorry to hear about both your parents. I understand what you’re going through. I live three hours away from my mom and she’s dying as well. When she shared the news of her diagnosis we all started joking around, much to my nephews horror. It was our way of dealing with the stress. Then we asked her to help us with the planning. It’s easier when you know what your parent wants.

    It also helps you to vent on your blog. Regardless of how many readers you have, I’m sure you started the blog for yourself. So stay true to yourself and vent. Your readers will still be here. Silently sharing your grief.

    1. theliteraryhorse Post author

      I’m so sorry you are going through this with your mom.

      Thank you for such a kind and generous response. It’s going to be a difficult time, but it will also have it’s gem moments. I’ll be collecting as many of those as possible.

      I’ll probably ricochet around the blog a little bit. Hopefully not too far out there, but if I am, I apologize in advance!

  5. Jon

    I lost my Pop a few years back to cancer. My attitude, my outlook on life was shaped largely by him when in my youth.

    For quite a number of years, Pop was solo taking care of four of us, I the oldest. Big time outdoorsman, winter time was ski time for us all. During the season, Pop ran one of the ‘ski’ trucks that would haul skis up in the morning to the local hill for folks (long before racks came into being) and then back down in the evening. That meant early, very early, rising and long days for him and us.

    Howling cats on a garbage can pale in comparison to four bleary-eyed, grumpy, whiny children in the wee hours of a Saturday morn. Getting us fed, bundled up and into the truck stretched the bounds of mortal fortitude, I’m certain. Expecting four little helpers to burst forth at each stop, enthusiastically picking up skis, boots & poles in harmonious song-song rhythm akin to dwarves headed for the mines? Absurdity.

    Yet . . . Pop prevailed.

    He was a fairly gentle and patient man, but a child’s rite of passage includes testing adult boundaries, and we did. As Pop reached his wits end and tension began filling up the cab, we could sense the gathering clouds darkening the horizon, braced and held our breath for the tempest’s surge.

    But Pop would turn the tables on us. He would set his jaw, shoot us his steely-eyed “LISTEN UP” look and say . . .

    “Kids, LET ME TELL YOU something,” . . . “When it’s TOO TOUGH for everybody else, it’s JUST RIGHT for a Langstaff.”

    Almost forty years have gone by since those days, but those words remain Words I live by.


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