Heavens To Betsy. Climbing and healing.

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drljefe

climber
El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 21, 2014 - 05:31pm PT
To all-

Please forgive the length of this story and the lack of filthy climbing shots.
It's pretty emotional and epic and about an easy route someplace you'll probably never go.
But it's something I needed to write and put out there as a release, a catharsis.
I hope you enjoy.







"What should we climb today?" , Eric asked.
I hadn't even thought about it, not in the days leading up and not on my solo hike in. I was just enjoying being out. Enjoying the moist earth, the views, the wildflowers and fragrances on the familiar trail. Just to be out again.

"We should do The Prairie Dogs", I said.


"The Prairie Dogs" was the tentative name we were giving to an unclimbed wall at the area where I spend all summer climbing. Eric and I had spied the wall from a distance at the end of last season and vowed to climb it this year. The skyline of the formation had some big chickenheads that, from the right angle, looked like a family of prairie dogs sitting up and surveying their domain.

At the beginning of summer I had big plans but the Prairie Dogs wasn't high on my list. I had projects!!! After a fairly lackluster end to last season, with dwindling partners and motivation and time, I was amping to work on some new hard routes. I had a handful of lines I'd top roped, installed anchors on, or just scoped out. Awesome, pretty hard routes that were logistically kind of difficult to rig for working or equipping as sport routes. But I was excited and spent the off season dreaming of those routes, visualizing sequences, remembering holds, acquiring gear, and waiting for the winter gate to open.
I even bought a cheap van to ensure I could spend each and every weekend close to the trailhead, cooking and sleeping in gluttonous alpine comfort, and with no excuses. The kind of excuses that come at 4:45am when you're cozy in bed at home and faced with an 1 1/2 hour drive and a 40 minute hike to get to a route you can't even do. I named the van "Morrison", Van Morrison. Together we would send… into the mystic.


Well the gate finally opened and once again I was short on partners. The usual suspects were focusing on remodels or r&r after a brutal work/school schedule, or just not into the hike. But I was on it, and any chance I could get to wrangle someone into helping with the logistics of the new routes, I took. We hung some ropes for next time but I still wasn't working on those PJ's. I did manage a nice little easy route with my Heartmate, though, we named it "Silly Goose" and it was perfect for her ability level, so that made me happy. But most of my time was spent alone, well I always have Rosebud with me.




One afternoon, as I waited for the sun to dip down below the ridge so I could hike out in the shade, I found myself investigating a face that I'd stared at countless times. It was right above camp and was steep and heavily featured. It was where we'd hide from the violent summer monsoons, the only dry spot around. My partners said they'd poked around up there but that the various lines went from "super hard to super easy", "impossible", and basically not worthy of a route. Well I pathed out a line of holds that looked like it would go and would make the most of the real estate the wall had to offer. I had a new project!


This route became my sole mission and I began the process of working it out by myself. It was a physical process, jugging, working moves, self belaying, and hand drilling on a route that was overhanging and traversing in nature. Combined with a 1200ft vertical deathmarch to get back to Morrison at the end of the day, I was beat by the end of each weekend, but energized.
And distracted.






Distracted.
You see, my sister Betsy's health was declining. She had been battling stage four cancer for the past two years, valiantly I may add. Finding a balance between spending time with her and living my own life was turning into less of a balancing act and more of a wrestling match. My new project had become a distraction, a way to get away from the fear and worry and sadness that had been consuming me. I saw my mom doing the same thing, finding ways to occupy herself, to distract herself from the thoughts of losing her daughter.

Here's a poem I wrote one afternoon, alone in the mountains, waiting for the sun to dip.
It kind of sums up what's kind of hard to say.

we straighten our bookshelves
organize drawers
we dust discard donate
a protocol of distraction
we walk miles alone
work the puzzle alone
not wanting to finish the puzzle
hoping it gets harder
that suddenly there are more books
more dust less holds
that nanometers get smaller
that our bended knees
our hands in prayer our songs
somehow work
that our tears were for nothing
but a salty kiss for Rose





I had been making progress on my project, now called the "No Kill Shelter". I was splitting the weekends by driving to Phoenix to be with my sister one day, and climbing the other. Balancing on the surface but wrestling on the inside. So when Betsy's health took a turn for the worse, there was no more wrestling. Family first, not my stupid project. No more balancing. My project could wait. Maybe I wouldn't even finish it this season, I didn't care anymore. It was time to focus on family.

I spent the next two months commuting two hours to Phoenix and being with my family and Betsy as she filled in the final chapter of her colorful story. It was so painful and sad, and yet amazing. The opportunity to sit with a loved one and connect, to mend, to laugh and cry, knowing time was limited, was a truly transformational experience and I'll feel forever fortunate for that time with her. As a family we bonded, we fractured, we healed, we strengthened. It was difficult and sad and special being with Betsy as she got closer and closer to the end of life.

My sister died on August 24th, just a few days shy of her birthday. It's so hard to hear myself say, but it was a relief. She was no longer in pain.

[Click to View YouTube Video]

Then another reality sets in. Aside from losing a loved one, there is much work to be done. Legal stuff and memorial preparations can leave little time for grieving or reflection. Fortunately, my sister's partner had lots of help but she also needed her space and time alone before the memorial. I wasn't needed in Phoenix to help but spent all my time with my mom, making sure she wasn't alone.

So we had date nights, me and my 82 year old mom. The evening after Betsy died we decided to take the new light rail for a ride and get some dinner. At each one of the light rail stops there is an art installation of some sort. The sculpture at the stop where we boarded is of a large bald head, comprised and shaped out of thousands of steel letters. Next to the giant head is an electrical box on top of a pole, plastered with the same letters, blown from the lips of the giant head. This installation is curated by the university's poetry center and the electrical box is actually a light ticker that reads out a different poem every day.


After dinner my mom and I stopped to read the poem it was displaying.
It was from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"

"I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you."

Our jaws dropped and tears fell. This was one of "those" moments.

Even with months of being able to process her inevitable passing, I was shattered by Betsy's death. It would be another week before her memorial and the first weekend in months that I wasn't to drive to Phoenix was here. My mom had plenty of support and a mound of well wishing notes and flowers to sort through. I knew where I had to go.


"Really?, Eric said. "Prairie Dogs? You want to go for it ground up? I haven't climbed in months, so you're leading if you want to go climb that."

"Yeah, me either bro. Let's go check it out!"

We had looked at the route from a distance last season, not the whole route, but a beautiful plated patina face that begged to be climbed. It looked to be about a pitch off the ground but we had not been to the base to see how we'd get up there. When we reached the base we were stoked to see a low angle seam leading straight up to the patina shield. Sweet!


There really is no feeling in climbing like taking off into the unknown. Every route you've never done is the "unknown" but when there is no guidebook showing you the way, telling you the difficulty or the protection available, it really is a different experience. Even if it looks easy, it may not be. It may be loose, or run out, or whatever. You have to rely on instinct, gut feelings, experience, and gumption.

So I took off, finding small but good protection in tiny pockets in the seam. Up ahead there was more protection and the climbing looked to stay easy so I kept going. What a treat it is to watch the way unfurl in front of you. A route that was meant to be climbed and waited millennia for you to come along.


After sixty feet or so I reached an obvious belay below the patina and brought Eric up. From up close and directly underneath, the face was much steeper but I was encouraged to see that the protection would be bomber and the holds solid and plentiful. Woohoo! The business!


I weaseled up a ways and dropped in a good stopper. And I mean dropped, it doesn't get any better. But you know what? I put another one in just cuz! It was time to establish myself on the steep wall, good hands but awkward feet. Just a few moves and my feet would be on the good holds and I could get some more protection in. Bam! No problem. I slung a big head and continued. Soon I was firmly established on my feet below the prairie dogs and let out a big hoot.



Now it was glory climbing time!


A hundred feet of chickenhead hiking later and nearing the end of my rope, I found myself at a comfy ledge. I got some ok pro and wedged in recliner style. Here I was, looking out over my hometown, finally climbing again, on a beautiful day.


I brought Eric up to the ledge, he reclined too and we enjoyed the view and talked about the pitch.
I'm an emotional person, and pretty open and expressive with my feelings. I started to tell Eric about how good it felt to be climbing again and about how difficult the last two months, two years actually, had been. I started crying. It was a messy cry, a happy cry, a release cry. A full on catharsis.

I realized that for the first time in two years rock climbing no longer felt like a selfish pursuit and that today I was reminded at how healing it could be. That being outside, far from a road, hundreds of feet off the ground on unexplored terrain, in a place I felt so comfortable…was what i needed. It was no longer a distraction, it was feeling it, facing it, expelling it, growing from it.

Less than a week after my sister's death and I just took a few huge steps in healing.
I'm so lucky to have an understanding partner who allowed me to let some sh!t out on that ledge, to let go, to sob, to say goodbye.

All the routes at our area have dog themed names. We had named this one Prairie Dogs before we had even climbed it.
On that ledge, after I stopped crying and thanking Eric for his friendship and understanding, I told him I had a special request,

I'd like to name the route

"Heavens To Betsy"







This route is by far not the best, or hardest, or most striking first ascent I've ever done.
But it sure is the most special, the most meaningful...
a reference point in my life and in my climbing career.

Thanks Bets, all my love, forever.

See you soon.




Thanks for reading
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
Sep 21, 2014 - 05:38pm PT
Sorry for your loss Jefe.

I wish I'd known her.
murcy

Gym climber
sanfrancisco
Sep 21, 2014 - 05:41pm PT
Wow, wonderful.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Sep 21, 2014 - 05:43pm PT
understood. a worthy tribute.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
Sep 21, 2014 - 05:44pm PT
You are a good man Jeff, thanks for sharing.

With time it will hurt less, good for you for taking the first healing steps.

Cyber hug,
Ezra
bob

climber
Sep 21, 2014 - 05:52pm PT
Great share Jefe. Thank you thank you. Hope to maybe see you soon.

Bob J.
anita514

Gym climber
Great White North
Sep 21, 2014 - 05:56pm PT
My condolences to you and your family.
Thanks for sharing this touching and very private write up.
steelmnkey

climber
Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Sep 21, 2014 - 05:58pm PT
Again, so sorry for your loss.
Glad to see you're walking the path you need to walk to heal.
She will be in your heart forever!

MisterE

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:02pm PT
So sorry Brother.

Sending big love your way from both of us.
klk

Trad climber
cali
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:06pm PT
sorry about yr sister. that's rough.

i had some rough times when i was in az, but still miss it.
thebravecowboy

climber
hold on tight boys
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:14pm PT
Thank you for sharing. Thank you for showing us that there is a way to do it all right. You are a good human, Jefe.


I liked this:
What a treat it is to watch the way unfurl in front of you. A route that was meant to be climbed and waited millennia for you to come along.
I am stealing it.
WBraun

climber
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:25pm PT
Within my heart I cried also ......
Capt.

climber
some eastside hovel
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:36pm PT
Well worded. Very sorry for you and yours. A proud tribute and a proud line.Sending positive vibes your direction.
nah000

climber
canuckistan
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:43pm PT
thank you.

peace.
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:47pm PT
“May the four winds blow you safely home”
All of this is great
A wonderful tribute and a gift to us
I hope that it brings some healing
I read it twice
I am always in the presence of royalty here
“Thanx JEFE!”
I want to add more ....Gathered Like Lost Words..bang the drum and tap the tamborine



Also a love of my life who was also taken too soon, asked me not to look at the pictures I had taken of her, as her sickness took hold,
She wanted to be remembered as that sparkling eyed lovely healthy young girl before the fear and disease crept in and changed her eyes, the windows to her soul. we cried. and I still do.
Crimpergirl

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:47pm PT
Beautiful. Thanks.
the albatross

Gym climber
Flagstaff
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:51pm PT
That was a sweet, wonderful, sad story. Thank you for sharing. It has been a dull month for many of us.

I think it was Kahlil Gibran that wrote something of this:
"What is sorrow but joy unmasked?"

Great tribute to your family and keep rocking on.

Albert

neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Sep 21, 2014 - 06:54pm PT
hey there say, jefe... oh jefe... oh my... thank you for sharing your deep heart love for betsy... and your pain...

we learn from shares, you know... you can make others grow, due to sharing betsy's last journey with you, and your new journey without her...

and the trail of climbing, inspires others to go on--with who we are...
yet, to incorporate all that we learned and loved, from our lost-loved-one, INTO our future, but in new ways...


i love how you spent time, after with your mom...

as to this:

Distracted.
You see, my sister Betsy's health was declining. She had been battling stage four cancer for the past two years, valiantly I may add. Finding a balance between spending time with her and living my own life was turning into less of a balancing act an more of a wrestling match. My new project had become a distraction, a way to get away from the fear and worry and sadness that had been consuming me. I saw my mom doing the same thing, finding ways to occupy herself, to distract herself from the thoughts of losing her daughter.

when my daddy was dying, i just had no desire to do the spark of life things like painting, crafts or cards, but:

i found myself busy making, of all things:
SOCKS-- more and more socks, ... i just kept knitting...
it was like my mind, spirit and body, were fitting it all together, stitch by stitch, and my mind kept busy...
that was last winter...
now, this winter, i will wear all these socks, thinking of my dad, as if he were close by... sad, but somehow, a good thing...


and, i get to call my mom, twice a day now, since chappy helped me get long distance with the faster internet...

i can be of support to my mom now...



'heavens to betsy' may your inspiration from her, move through your
life, in many nurturing ways, to others...

i love the photo, you put here, of her... like she is leading you onward, to find a way, through this hard sad time of loss...


god bles, jefe... and to your mom, as well, and other family members...
RyanD

climber
Squamish
Sep 21, 2014 - 07:08pm PT
Thank you for sharing Jefe.
You highlight a great reminder of how finite & beautiful this life is.
My deepest condolences.

RIP Betsy.






tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Sep 21, 2014 - 07:12pm PT
WOW!. So Sorry for your loss.
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