kcmayer skiingYou are never prepared for death especially your mother’s.  This is a BIG one. I approached this situation as I do any big challenge by developing a strategy.  I asked my coach for help and she suggested I read Good Griefthis month’s recommended reading. This book paints a picture of a colorful array of feelings you can experience ranging from guilt to anger to depression and offers heartwarming stories to make you realize that expressing rather than avoiding the feelings is the way through. In addition, I increased my daily meditation practice from 15 minutes to 20-30 minutes and allowed myself to weep, scream, and wallow in sorrow along with sharing my sadness with my husband and friends which provided me with welcoming compassion, humor, and support.  I also increased my acupuncture visits from monthly to weekly visits as these treatments help me sleep and lift my spirits.  But my trip to the mountains and participation at the Windham Mountain Fear program really helped me with my grief in a way that took me by surprise.

I wasn’t sure whether to go on my annual women’s ski trip to the Windham Mountain Fear workshop.  I had just buried my mother on Friday and contemplated if I really want to go skiing on the following Tuesday when I felt like crawling into a hole and hibernate. However,  I have attended this program for over a decade and am friendly with many of the instructors and participants so I thought the fresh mountain air, exercise, and supportive environment would be a boost to my morale.

The fear clinic is run by Mermer Blakeslee, a recognized expert in the ski industry for her work with helping fearful people, includes three days of brief lectures and skiing in small groups with women-only ski instructors who have been trained by Mermer. Mermer wrote a critically acclaimed book, Conversations with Fear, which I have read many times and recommended. The purpose of the workshop is to teach you both the skiing skills that will help you navigate steep and challenging terrain along with the mindset to manage fear.  I am an advanced intermediate-skier who enjoys skiing on blue intermediate and advanced single black diamond groomed runs.  At the same time, I am fearful and don’t tend to venture beyond the same runs unless I am pushed.  This program has forced me out of my comfort zone by challenging me to ski terrain that I would never do on my own. But given that I was grieving a huge loss, I already felt like I was in my “yikes” zone meaning getting up in the morning was enough and I didn’t need additional challenges, thank you very much.

The workshop began as it always does with everyone introducing themselves and stating why they chose to attend. Through my tears, I shared that my mother had just passed away and I wasn’t sure why I was here other than to get away for a few days.  The instructors and participants were very supportive and I felt better just by saying it publicly. It also felt great to be outside and swooshing down the slopes. We started slow doing easy groomed slopes; in the afternoon, Mermer joined our group and she said we were going to do the Wall, a very steep double black run followed by another double black diamond run, Wolverine, after that.  The conditions were typical of the East Coast – a mixture of ice, snow, dirt, and an occasional twig or rock peeping through. Having never skied these runs before, I took a deep breath and told myself I could do this. I was encouraged to go slow and an instructor stayed with me.  Slowly, I made one big round turn and then another, breathing and taking my time, and digging my edges into the crusty and slick surface. When I got to the bottom, I looked back up at the steep hill in awe, feeling exhilarated for just having skied that!

The next day, we began skiing Intermediate blue groomers; then, we skied on the advanced level terrain park which includes rails and 50 foot snow mounds for skiers and boarders to jump off.  We skied up onto the first steep jump and suddenly, I hit my “yikes” zone – I froze and side stepped off it. The coach was patient and said everyone including herself has a “yikes” zone.  She encouraged me to try it again.  I skied up to the next steep jump, slowly taking my time and skied off it.  I felt inspired and braver!  After gaining confidence, when my coach asked me if I wanted to ski a steep double black diamond run, Wedel, that I had never done before, I said yes! She said I have the skills to ski big. Much to my surprise, I didn’t panic and rather, I enjoyed the challenge so much we did Wedel again!

When tragedy or failure strikes, our comfort zones tend to shrink.  But what this skiing experience made me discover is that what I need during this mourning period is to be gently pushed outside of my comfort zone versus sink into the coach and eat bonbons. The key word is GENTLY.  Facing my “yikes” zone on the slopes reminded me that I am still ambitious and capable of great things.  Swooshing down that double black diamond made me feel alive again.

Once I returned from my ski trip, I realized that engaging in challenging exercises is a key for me to move through this grieving process, so I increased the amount of competitive tennis I played from once a week to twice.  My original resistance of embarrassing or hurting myself was gone. When I shared that my mother had recently passed away with my tennis coach, he shared how his family thought it was strange that he drove to the nearest tennis court within hours after the funeral of a relative a few months ago. He struggled to play through tears but eventually worked his way into a more positive mood.  I was impressed at this young man’s wisdom and felt energized around my choice to be running around chasing tennis balls during the fast paced drills.  I found that although tears did well up for me too on occasion while skiing or playing tennis, when I was challenged, I actually performed well and my negative emotions were overridden by joy and ambition. The following Saturday while playing against a powerful male opponent, a surge of energy somehow took over me, as I found myself serving up several aces and easily winning!  Just for the record, I rarely ace anyone at this stage in life let alone a strong athletic man.  My opponent walked off the court saying he couldn’t believe I beat him so easily and wanted revenge!  Wow, game on! …and days later I am still smiling…amidst the sorrow…




3 Responses to Swooshing and swinging my way through grief

  1. Thank you for this heart-felt article … which I posted on my website VOICES OF WOMEN WORLDWIDE INC. & VOWW-TV to share what you have to offer in silencing the pain of loss … My sincere condolence for your personal loss … Vinanti

  2. Dianne Nersesian-McGuire says:

    Hi Kathryn,

    I always enjoy your newsletters- but so sorry to hear about your mother. I appreciated reading about how you are dealing with the grief- thank you. I moved to RI with my family last year, and I sank into deep feelings of grief over losing much by leaving NJ. I have been reading a book called “Letting Go” and was also recommended a book called “What Remains.” Grief does come in waves- and I agree it is helpful to face it and express it. I am even playing tennis now myself, and I love it! Peace be with you during this time. Best, Dianne

  3. Michele Durant says:

    Bravo, K, for a beautifully written article on sharing your experience during this HUGE rite of passage. Thank you for being courageous enough to share with us what this has been like for you and what you are doing to “deal with it”. Your mother is proudly looking down upon you! Love and Light to you for continued strength and support for what’s to come.
    In gratitude,

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