This week I’ve noticed (again) how pain and happiness seem to go hand-in-hand. The older I get, the more they seem to be inextricably intertwined.They are like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich or how a right and left shoe work together to create a pair.  Personally, I’d prefer to have just the happy part of the equation. I’d like to skip the pain part. But that’s not the way it works. And I’m finding that after a painful spell I often find something new that’s gleaming.

This past Sunday, I drove 60 miles to Worthington, MN to join some of my mom’s friends at a special church gathering with a potluck afterwards. These were dear friends of my mom’s that shared her intelligence, curiosity, sense of humor and empathy. I hadn’t seen them since her funeral in January, so I was looking forward to it. I was grateful they had included me in their plans.

A Fun Start to the Day

My morning started out joyfully. Holmes and I had an adventurous walk on the golf course. He greeted every worker and lightly scampered through sand traps, leaving not even a footprint. I had him on a leash near water, so we avoided any unexpected swims. Once we got home, Holmes confidently stepped into his new, $9 baby pool from Target. This is a much better way for him to get his water fix than him swimming in the Big Sioux River. In the shower after my walk, I thought about how happy I was.

Soon thereafter, I loaded my potluck broccoli and potato salad and headed to Worthington. My mom lived there for almost 25 years, so I have made this drive on I-90 countless times. I was listening to one of my favorite singers, Carrie Newcomer, and she sang a phrase about people dying that caught my attention: “untethered souls floating out to sea.” And all of a sudden, I burst into tears. I cried and cried. It wasn’t a gentle cry, nor was it short-lived. I didn’t have any Kleenex along, but I found a hand towel in my car door pocket to wipe my face.

I kept driving, but thought that maybe I would need to turn around and not go to this event. Maybe I just wasn’t up to it. It might be too hard. I’m used to seeing my mom in Worthington. I usually see her friends with her. But she wouldn’t be there. I thought I’d drive to Luverne, the halfway point on my trip, and then decide whether to continue.

It’s been seven months since she passed away, but recently I’ve been missing my mom with an increasing intensity. The intensity reminds me of the Kool-Aid powder I would sneak a taste of as a kid before water was added to the pitcher. It’s sweet, but so strong that it doesn’t taste good.

At the same time, I’ve been thinking about the ending chapter of her life. The ending sucks. I don’t approve of it. She was supposed to live another 15 or 20 years, not die at age 70. My indoor mom, who was never sunburned and never even had a tan, wasn’t supposed to die of metasticized mucosal melanoma. She avoided chemicals all of her life. When she first began to have pain in her bones, but didn’t know it was the beginning of bone cancer, she went to the chiropractor. He suggested that she consider getting a new mattress. She began looking for one, but wanted it to be organic. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. A person that wants an *organic* mattress shouldn’t get cancer.

If I was the editor of her book, I would send a note back to its author saying, “Ending is really bad – doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. Please go back to the drawing board.”

Should I Turn Around?

By the time I reached the halfway point on my drive, I was feeling a bit better. My face was red and puffy. All my make-up was gone. I hoped my sunscreen was indeed waterproof. But my mom’s friends wouldn’t mind. Like her, that’s the last thing they would care about. I kept on driving and suddenly, I was taking the first exist to Worthington.

Thank goodness I kept driving because I had a wonderful time! The service was at a sincere church in the middle of a Pioneer Village replica. After the service, my mom’s friends and I talked about how much we missed her. We also visited about good books we’ve read, recent trips we’ve taken, and favorite TV shows we’ve watched. They said nice things about my salad (which really wasn’t that good). We enjoyed each other’s company. My mom’s friends were becoming my friends.

I’ve learned that grief comes in waves and as time passes, the waves are further apart. One of these waves hit me on my drive to Worthington. But here’s what I know: walking through pain can lead to a New Beginning. Walking around pain does not. Avoiding it only postpones the reckoning and leads to anxiety and irritability. We need to keep walking forward, through the muck, and keep our eyes open for the new.

My life is full of New Beginnings these days. Our puppy, Holmes is a New Beginning. My mom’s friends becoming my friends is a New Beginning. My three projects are all at new stages and feel like New Beginnings. Unfortunately, one may need to suffer through pain to get to a New Beginning, but the reward is there.

I’m glad I didn’t turn my car around on Sunday. I would have missed out on a heartwarming time. It was a New Beginning.