Clarity. It’s an interesting word. If you look it up in the dictionary, it means “the quality or state of being clear…clearness of thought or style…the quality of being expressed, understood, or remembered in a very exact way.” In the past three months, I’ve experienced and lived the complete opposite of clarity, which is ambiguity—uncertainty, a lack of decisiveness or commitment.
On July 30, the rug got pulled out from under me. Mark passed from this earthly dwelling and hit the ground running with his bird dogs up in heaven, and left me with two little boys, a home, two vehicles, a hunting dog, and lots of plans. Those plans, which included specific life changes, including retirement, moving to his home place in Kansas, and beginning a new exciting chapter of our lives, are now shot.
It was like my arms had been cut off. Mark and I were two halves of a whole, we had a close, loving relationship that had weathered the test of time. From the day I met him, at age 22, I was in love. It took awhile to get him to come around (lol!), but for almost 25 years we were inseparable. Never an ill word, never a real argument that whole time. We could finish each other’s sentences, knew each other’s thoughts and dreams. A look across the room from him still made me weak in the knees, his smile lit up the room wherever he was. Our boys worshipped the ground he walked on, as did I (although I would never admit it to him face-to-face).
For the first few weeks after his death, I was completely numb. I went through the motions, greeting hundreds of people during visitation and two funeral services in two states. As I look back, I see that the one thing my life certainly did not have, other than Mark, was clarity. I did what needed to be done, put one foot in front of the other, and attended to the daily business that had to be accomplished. My goal? Keep Andrew and Benjamin in as normal a routine as humanly possible, even though our world had been turned upside down. We did the best we could, and still just go through the motions at times. I didn’t think ahead, down the road, it hurt too much to think of life without him, so I just existed.
As the shock and numbness wore off, I searched for clarity, for meaning to come once again into our lives. Trying to make a family out of three that’s used to being nothing but four is tough. As we struggled to find a “new” normal for the Howell family of three, all of those plans that we had made before Mark’s death were always hovering in the background, a reminder of what was “supposed” to be. We’d officially began the move to Kansas countdown, July 5, 2013 was to be Mark’s retirement date. In my mind, I’d already started to begin the sometimes-sad process of separating myself from friendships and other relationships, in anticipation of the big move that loomed in our future. I was looking forward to it because it had become our dream.
Do I still stick to his plan of moving to Kansas, even without him? I know what he wanted for our boys, to be raised in the country, on a farm, where life is definitely different from the city life of Wichita Falls, Texas. Even though I know that there is no rush, and that I don’t have to make any decision such as this for a long time, it has weighed on me enormously.
Here’s where the clarity part comes in. I’ve gotten back into my running routine, trying for 5 days a week, 3 to 5 miles a day. There’s something about pounding the pavement (concrete trail) that frees me and clears my head. The endorphins, coupled with the prayers and sweet remembrances of our life with Mark, enable me to have clarity on a more regular basis. I work out my problems while running, I cry for my husband while running, I pray for guidance while running. And as the issue of whether to move to Kansas or not lurks in the back recesses of my mind (whether I want to admit it or not), I play out all the possible solutions.
Friday morning, around mile 3, it hit me. Smack dab between the eyes, as I round “Howell Pond” (the small borrow pit on the trail before you arrive at Lake Wichita ), it is as crystal clear to me as the beautiful sight of the Canada geese passing over my head. We are at home. Yes, Wichita Falls is home. Everywhere I turn in this city, I see Mark. I see him in the beauty of the lakes in this area, in River Bend Nature Center, where he served on the board and as interim Director; in the countless number of kids fishing events he helped sponsor. If I want to raise our sons in a place that their father was well-regarded and helped to make better, then Wichita Falls is where we need to stay, at least for the forseeable future.
This has put my conscience and my worries at ease. I know, without a doubt, that I don’t have to uproot my family and move to Kansas. Kansas is a beautiful place, a place that our sons will always be connected to. It’s where we buried their daddy. No matter what the future holds for this Howell party of three, they will have the land, because it is their heritage. They will continue to visit it and grow to love it and appreciate it, as their father did. Maybe we’ll build a cabin on that beautiful pasture land, and visit there on a frequent basis. We will hunt on our land next fall, after we feel comfortable with shotguns and a bird dog with a GPS. Maybe at some point down the road we might consider moving there. But for now, we will remain Texans.
My boys whole-heartedly agree with my clarity-driven decision. They tell me, quietly, that they were not looking forward to leaving their friends. I assure them that we will stay, past the two-year deadline that we’d been working with prior to losing Mark. Because even though I am a left handed girl from Western Kentucky, I’ve lived in Texas since 1990, and this dry, dusty, hotter than hell city is full of friends and great memories. Uprooting these Howell sons from the only home they’ve ever known is not an option on the table anymore. And I hope Mark can understand and support my decision, even from his heavenly vantage point.