Last week I received a yahoo group email from the moderator of our competitive trail ride group that had the simple subject line of "loss." It's amazing how such a short word can mean so much. I didn't want to open the email, knowing it couldn't be good news, but I did anyway.
I'll get to the contents of the email later in this post, but first, I have to go further back in October.
Two years ago, my circle of friends and family had a fall filled with loss. It began on Halloween, when my friend Sarah's mother died. Sue had been a mentor and friend my entire life. The next week, a farm employee died of cancer. The week after that, a neighbor died of cancer. And then Katrina was murdered. That month was hard on so many of us, and still is.
This summer, they held the trial for the man that murdered Katrina. He was found guilty, and his sentencing was scheduled for October. Long before the appointed date, I received an email that went out to all friends and family about writing a victim impact statement. I knew I had to do it, but the process brought all of that loss back to the forefront of my mind, and I was avoiding it. Thanks to some prodding from my good friend Debbie, I sat down and wrote my statement in the eleventh hour. It wasn't the best thing I have ever written, and it just brushed the surface of the loss of my friend and mentor, but it was done. I trusted that others would better convey the amount of loss we all felt, and they did. I flew to Peru with First Descents, and while I was away, the sentencing took place and the murderer will be spending a long time in jail.
I came home from Peru to some upheaval in my personal life, and even though it is good upheaval, there is a sense of loss. I don't know if that feeling comes from not completely processing everything surrounding the sentencing, or accepting that with the good upheaval comes the realization that a chapter in my life is closed and something I put a lot of time into is gone. Whatever the cause, the sense of loss remained.
And so, I opened the email from the yahoo group with trepidation. One of our fellow trail riders, who had ridden for the US Endurance team in Malaysia and other places had died after battling cancer. I didn't know Kathy, but I had seen her at many rides and liked watching her ride. Her husband, Tom, organizes the Pine Tree endurance ride in Maine. Her mom, Janet, is an integral part of the team that puts on the Crooked River rides in May in Maine and the October Maine rides. I had talked to both Tom and Janet in the past and liked them both. I spent a long time talking with Janet at Crooked River this year, and she spoke of Kathy, riding and so many other things.
Kathy was at Crooked River in May. I remember being surprised to see her. I knew she had cancer and was on chemo, but you wouldn't have known that to see her that weekend. I remember going riding while I was on chemo and being a total passenger on a few rides while John babysat me. I had a ton of respect for Kathy, coming to the ride to support her family and friends who were riding and volunteering.
Her death brought on a deep layer of sadness. Cancer had taken another kind, vibrant person from the world. I can't imagine the pain and loss that Tom and Janet are feeling now. You can try to make sense of situations like this, but there is no sense to be made. Rather than trying to make sense of it, I've been replaying two images of Kathy in my head, because that is the way I want to remember her.
Everyone who rides horses on trails for any distance is pretty accustomed to the fact that you have to ride on the road in traffic at some point or another. Despite this fact, Janet still felt terrible about sending us 1/2 mile down a busy road at Pine Tree last year. As I was riding down the road, there was Janet, practically in the traffic, trying to keep horses and riders safe and slow the traffic down. The traffic wasn't paying her much attention and it seemed like a precarious situation.
John heard the horses coming up behind him before I did, and as he tensed up, I turned around to see what was going on. There was Kathy, trotting down the road towards her mother. She rode her horse in between her mother and the cars and stuck her horse's rump into the oncoming traffic to slow them down before scolding Janet to go somewhere safe, that we were all capable of riding in traffic. I don't remember if Janet listened or not, but the image I want to remember of Kathy is that cool confidence, riding down the road on a hot horse, to protect her mother. Later I saw her in ride camp and smiled as I went by. She smiled back and it was a content smile. One of Kathy's friends posted on facebook that she hoped Kathy was out there riding like the wind now and that is what I hope too.
The day after I opened that email, there was more sad news, my friend's father had died after a long illness. Mr. Macewko was only 65, but had served in Vietnam and the effects of the war took their toll on his heart and lungs. As I slogged through this past weekend, trying to wrap my head around everything that had gone on in the past few weeks, the sense of loss was profound. Sitting at the funeral yesterday morning, the hardest thing for me was to watch my friend and her mother facing their loss.
I'm not sure if its a good way to deal with loss or not, but like I did with Kathy, I've been focusing on one memory of Mr. Macewko, trying to hold that in my head. I have many memories of Mr. Macewko, from 4-H, FFA and college, but one incident has always stayed with me. My senior year of college, and Natalie's junior year, we were both active with the Block and Bridle club. Leading up to our "Little International Livestock Show," another club officer had been in charge of the show program. Something happened to his computer, and the afternoon before the show, we had no show program. Natalie and I ended up back at her parents house, using her dad's computer program to redo the program (with over 100 people showing and numerous sponsors with ads, it wasn't a small task). At four o'clock in the morning, her dad came downstairs to get ready for work, he looked at the two of us, still working away, and gave us his trademark grin before heading off to work.
I know the days and months ahead are going to be tough for the family and friends of Mr. Macewko and Kathy. I remember being sucked into the black hole of grief when Katrina was murdered, worrying about her son and coming to the harsh realization that life really isn't fair. As I've been processing everything that's gone on in the past couple of weeks, I've been holding onto the image of Kathy's smile and Mr. Macewko's smile. Because life isn't fair, and loss strikes hard and repeatedly. But Kathy and Mr. Macewko lived each day to the fullest and truly enjoyed life. Katrina did too. I feel like one of the best ways to honor their memory is to remember their vibrant spirits and live my life with the same smile and kindness they shared with us.