Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road by Neil Peart

Imagine sending your nineteen-year-old daughter, Selena, your only child, off to college in the morning, and that evening the police show up at your front door with some "bad news".  Imagine the officer suggesting to you and your wife, Jackie, whose eyes have presently "gone wide" and "her face turned white" (because she already knew), that "maybe you'd better sit down."  Imagine the officer telling you and your spouse it was a "single car accident," she "apparently lost control," she was "dead at the scene."

Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for RUSH, and one of the most literary and imaginative minds in the history of rock, didn't have to imagine it, having endured that agony the night of August 10th, 1997, when life as he'd known it abruptly and irrevocably ended.  His wife collapsed to the floor with the news.  Unfortunately, for her sake and for Neil Peart's, she never really got back up off the floor. Shattered by the sudden death of her daughter, Jackie was so inconsolable that not even Neil, her husband of almost twenty years, could comfort her, though he tried and tried.  Five months after their daughter was killed, Jackie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Neil confessed in Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road, a memoir that has to be the most painful and yet ultimately the most hopeful memoir I've ever read, that Jackie absorbed the news of her terminal cancer "almost gratefully".  Three months later, she died.

Imagine being Neil Peart, losing your daughter and then your wife, your entire immediate family, your entire life, in the span of eight cursed months?  How could you survive something that hellish and unbearable?

Neil hopped on his motorcycle, a BMW R1100GS, and rode through almost every province in Canada, including the Yukon and Northwest Territories; through almost every state in the U.S.A., including Alaska; through almost every state in Mexico, traveling as far south as the Central American nation of Belize.  Thirteen months riding a motorcycle, rain or shine, 500 miles a day, not really running from his grief but moving along with it, perhaps living out Mark Strand's poetic maxim, "I move to keep things whole."

I've been doing a lot of "moving" myself these past three weeks since my own fifteen-year-old daughter, Megan, died suddenly from an unforeseen and unpredictable pulmonary embolism that took her life almost instantly.  It's weird and it's cruel: find myself walking through the house, pacing, stopping only long enough to straighten up and organize book shelves that are already perfectly straightened up and organized, or stopping to eat and to truly absorb and appreciate as much as I can, in every blessed moment I know I'll never take for granted again, the beloved company of my wife and two other children who are thankfully still alive and well. Neil Peart explained that all this "moving" in the aftermath of an unexpected loss is a normal part of the grief process known as the "search mode," a period of time in which your unconscious mind is "trying to find the lost one," or trying to create a sense of organized reality out of (in what for me in my recent experience), still seems unsettled, vaguely unreal when it's not so surreal sometimes, even though I know in my head, and can proclaim it aloud, "Megan's gone."

Having been a fan of RUSH since I was thirteen and first heard the songs "Subdivisions" and "New World Man" off their underrated Signals album (and then shortly thereafter, discovered their even more brilliant back catalog of classic records, stuff like 2112 and Permanent Waves), it's hard to love them anymore than I already have.  But I do!  And it's solely because of Neil Peart's experiences and perspectives, his willingness to write about, with great candor and wisdom, his personal pain that can, understandably, crush some people, that bonds me closer to the man and his music, helping me cope and offering hope for a new future.  As I've read and reread passages of his healing memoir, Ghost Rider, I've come to view Neil Peart as being much more than merely a genius drummer or lyricist or reclusive rock star, but like some ambassador from the country of Grief or capital of Commiseration, who's comforting and encouraging, helping me navigate this seemingly endless, merciless and incomprehensible maze of mourning.