Remember the Journey – Focusing on the Means

The following post was written three months after my late sister was diagnosed with cancer.  I wanted to share it here as the words I wrote then, when she was still alive, have become even more prevalent since her death and have greatly helped to inspire this new venture.  The lesson, I believe, is priceless, and will open the eyes of anyone struggling with grief, loss, depression or who are simply seeking inspiration to find meaning in their lives.

I can still remember the hot sun beating down on my face as I struggled to keep up with my dad and two older sisters; the smell of sweat, dry dirt and pine infiltrating my dusted nostrils.  My legs ached and scratched from trekking straight up the manzanita-filled, boulder-lined incline from the base of the meadow to the top of the pinnacles.  With each breath I longed to be finished with this day.  Why had I begged and pleaded for them to take me with?  Why had I agreed to “not complain one bit” when my dad had warned me about the strenuousness of the trail?  I was eight years old, hiking with my father, a seasoned outdoors-man, and my two pre-teen sisters, also decent hikers.  I just wanted to be included.  I’d always had a longing to be in the woods.  I’d always liked taking walks on trails, but this God-forsaken, high-desert scorched landscape, and these unfathomable vertical trails were getting the better of me.

Skip forward to later that day, as I sat perched on a rock about the size of a semi with a ridiculously huge smile spread all the way across my sun-burnt face.  I had a perfect three hundred and sixty degree view a mile above the Earth below. On one side, a vast, mountainous landscape.  On the other, a desert stretching all the way to the base of the Sierra Nevada.  This was my first summit.  It was a day that I will never forget, and a moment forever frozen in my memory. Eight years old, standing on top of my southern California world, feeling the wind blowing through my hair, cuddling up next to my dad and sisters; that was what it was all about.

I never complained on a trail again after that day, because I knew that the journey would be worth it.

It is thinking back to that day that gives me strength these days.

Almost three months ago, one of my sisters was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. (Simply writing the “C” word still makes me cringe).  For me, cancer is a word that is synonymous with unfair, why, how, no, and please. For years I have known folks who have had friends and family members get cancer.  Sometimes those afflicted would pull through, and sometimes they would pass away, but I never fully grasped the hell that is cancer until my beloved sister, a person whom I’ve always looked up to and who has always been a rock in my life, incurred the disease.  As many cancer support groups, books, websites and medical professionals remind us, it is not only the person that is battling the cancer who suffers, but those who love them the most who suffer right along with them, sometimes even more-so, as those folks use every ounce of energy to keep spirits up and positive, and happily do what they can for the person affected, all the while concealing their inner turmoil.

There have been days when all I want to do is curse the world and say “to hell with it all.”  Why did my sister have to be the one to get cancer?  Why?  Why?  Why?  And what can I do about it?

Hearing the news that somebody you love has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease is likened to a near-death experience; the memories you’ve had with that person suddenly speed-race through your mind.  Then, everything slows down, and you remember certain moments and times so clear it is as if those moments and times just happened in slow motion, seconds before.  One of those moments was that day at the pinnacles; the trip when I was eight, and thought I would die, until my heart become a part of the trail and the journey.

As we grow older, life happens, beautiful and terrible as life may be.  Our careers get in the way of our passions.  Our children take up any free hours that we once cherished.  Mortality becomes very real and ever present.  We stop taking chances and risks for fear of this mortality.  We wind up spending any glimmer of free time sleeping our lives away. We end up focusing on the end instead of the means.  And yes, I am guilty of all the aforementioned.

Learning to cope with my sister’s unfortunate situation has rekindled a dying flame inside my soul.  Throughout these past months since the disease became a part of my life as well as hers, I have noticed things again; the beauty of a sunset, the simple way in which an autumn leaf floats on the water, the innocent laughter of the children, the incurable longing I have for separating myself from civilization as often as I can and actually following through.  I’ve also found myself taking risks again and remembering things that I loved to do before I became another victim of focusing on the ends.  

And all of this has become evident because someone I love is battling cancer.

My sister was the person who plowed the trail before me so that I could make it through. Don’t I at least owe it to her to prove that I can do the same?  As a society who has become ever invested in our ends, let’s strive to enjoy the journey again.  Let’s not take for granted the little things we pass by on the trail.  It might be the last time we are fortunate enough to see those small, insignificant, beautiful details.

Thank you, Marnie.


Author: Mary Burgstahler

I'm a mother, sister, wife, daughter and friend. When I'm not writing or traveling, I work as a REALTOR in the Twin Cities West Metro. I enjoy a good glass of cabernet, hiking and camping with my family, taking on new challenges, and am always up for an adventure!

5 thoughts on “Remember the Journey – Focusing on the Means”

  1. Your story is a beautiful tribute to your sister. I am familiar with your sister from Sarai Killion Kiser’s facebook. My son is a very good friend of hers and I know her from them growing up in Yucaipa CA. I am facing possible cancer issues now, I am a cancer survivor 2 times. I have learned from experience that less is best. We tend to collect all those “things” that aren’t at all necessary for our happiness. I am living very humble and its challenging at times but all considered best. I trust in my Savior Jesus Christ. Thank you for sharing your life with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Cheryl, I’m so so so sorry to hear this news. But thank you for reaching out and sharing your kinds words and your thoughts! I’m so thankful for grief. It’s hard to explain. But people like you and the many people who know and love you are my reason for starting this venture. Trusting in God is, of course, the best we can do, but living a life focusing on love and how we can bring more of it into people’s lives doesn’t hurt 🙂


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