The ‘Share Your Story; the Women the WSJ Missed’ series continues. Every Sunday, I bring you a new kuel woman who has had the courage to rise above the din of the white noise and be heard.
Week 14 brings us Jewel Burr. At 63 she is finally living alone for the first time in her life and proud of it. Jewel is a two-time survivor of divorce who took to the Appalachian Trail to find herself. And, find herself she did. I invite you to take a moment of your day, grab a cup of coffee, tea, or glass of wine and take in Jewel’s wisdom. It will fill your cup.
KUELLIFE: What are you pursuing now, at this stage of your life, that surprises you or might appear to others as if it comes out of left field?
JEWEL: Hiking the Appalachian Trail in sections alone.
KUELLIFE: What’s a typical day like for you?
JEWEL: I’m busy maintaining my home in the country on 35 acres, working as a school nurse, and renting my apartment over the garage on Airbnb. I am up early to enjoy my coffee on the porch in good weather, try to stretch (I have to make myself do this), go to work, and home to be greeted by three dogs excited and happy to see me. Then cleaning the rental if needed, mowing which takes two days, cooking for myself, and 15 minutes each day spent decluttering/organizing my house. The Marie Kondo way of course. I watch the news while cooking and in the winter I confess to watching Christmas Hallmark Movies with mindless unrealistic pathetic love stories that always end happily.
KUELLIFE: With what do you struggle?
JEWEL: Dating at my age. But trusting and codependency are my biggest struggles. I’ve been in recovery for years but relapse at times. I grew up with an alcoholic father and codependent mother. I was attracted to men with addictive behaviors. I divorced my high school sweetheart after 22 years. It was an unhealthy, addictive/codependent relationship. After being single for five years I met my perfect guy, my soulmate. We were married 12 years when I stumbled across his secret life. He also has addictive behaviors. That marriage ended in 2016. I was blindsided and devastated. It was so painful I couldn’t even cry. I was numb.
I never thought I’d be divorced once; let alone twice. That led me to the Appalachian Trail. I learned about a man retired from the military who struggles with PTSD who decided to hike the Appalachian Trail with a group of veterans. He said that hike was what saved him. Being with nature was better than any therapy or medications he had used in the past. I wanted what he had but I had never hiked or backpacked in my life. Hiking the Appalachian Trail was terrifying but intriguing to me at the same time. We never met in person but through emails, phone calls, and texts; he told me what I would need to do. Jamey was my very patient mentor who knew the best gear, how to train, and what to pack for a long hike. Three months after my husband moved out, I started an adventure that changed my life.
This is what I shared with a FB group of Appalachian Trail Section Hikers shortly after coming home.
“Once upon a time there was a lady who lost her soul. She became friends with a man who hikes the AT. Although they had never met in person, she knew he had something very sacred from his AT journey. He encouraged and reassured her this was something she could do and repeatedly told her how strong, smart, and courageous she was. He spent endless hours teaching her and answering her hiking questions. She was in the middle of a divorce and needed to feel peace and joy again. She wanted her soul back. She had never hiked or backpacked, but listened to his every word and started making a plan. On June 30th 2016, she went to Harpers Ferry,WV with all her hiking gear and started hiking north. She endured blisters under blisters; a sprain; pulled muscles; bruises; thunder and lightening storms on a mountain ridge; rattle snakes’ bears; rocks; and heat, but she wanted to push on. The trail was healing her with each mile. She experienced random acts of kindness, trail magic and raw emotions. New friends appeared daily and she was healing. Slowly she realized she could trust her common sense, gut instincts, and decisions. Nature had cleansed her body and soul and showed her how strong she was mentally, emotionally, and physically. On August 6th 2016 she had hiked 38 days and covered 342.3 miles taking her to the NJ/NY state line. She never lost her soul….it was always there. She just needed to open her eyes and take one step at a time.”
KUELLIFE: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
JEWEL: My past adventures motivate me to have new adventures. That keeps me happy and recharged.
KUELLIFE: What advice would you give fellow women about aging?
JEWEL: Keep moving, go on girl trips, and pencil in those sparse eyebrows.
KUELLIFE: What does vulnerability mean to you? What has the ability to make you vulnerable?
JEWEL: To me vulnerability means surrendering control, unguarded, raw, exposed. What makes me vulnerable are devastating events and completely trusting another human with my imperfect self.
KUELLIFE: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
JEWEL: 1. A near death experience when having complications after the birth of my first son 2. Completing a marathon 3. Hiking
KUELLIFE: Who influenced you the most in life and why?
JEWEL: My mother, training me to be a codependent, was a huge negative influence but she had many positive influences as well. Back in the 60’s she was doing all those creative things that would have blown Martha Stewart out of the water. An amazing, strong woman who accomplished things most women would never attempt.
KUELLIFE: What is the best advice you’ve been given from another woman?
JEWEL: 1. Do not date for three years after your divorce because you will not be ready. 2. There is no bad weather, just bad gear.
KUELLIFE: What woman inspires you and why?
JEWEL: An 86 year old woman my family adopted back in 1977. Ruth was mentally challenged. She was labeled at a third grade level but way beyond that in other ways. I moved her in with me in 2001, after my first divorce, as it was a little extra income. We had a bond that’s hard to explain.
Ruth taught me how to support people at funerals; how to be happy over little pleasures in life; how to slow down my busy days; and what true love and devotion feels like. From this woman I was able to experience honesty (she didn’t know how to lie), loyalty, and unconditional love. She was uninhibited. This woman totally trusted me and loved me more than life itself. I was placed on a pedestal so high I was equal to a Goddess. I felt grateful to have such a person in my life. All my friends adored her. She was funny and oozed with personality. Every one who met her loved her. She was a legend. Ruth passed away in April while staying with my sister. I was on an adventure hiking the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail. Ruth took a nap and didn’t wake up. She knew I would be devastated and needed the trail to grieve. She was right. She even knew how to die. I miss her deeply.
KUELLIFE: Are you grown-up?
JEWEL: Good Lord NO
KUELLIFE: What do you do for self-care?
JEWEL: Massage, acupuncture, long hot baths in my copper bathtub, girl trips, and I wear beautiful Native American turquoise jewelry – even when hiking. Turquoise is healing. My wardrobe consists of cowboy hats and many cowboy boots. I like western wear. It makes me feel good.
KUELLIFE: And last but definitely NOT least: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
JEWEL: 1. Completing the Appalachian Trail in sections 2. Climbing the Adirondack 46. peaks. 3. Buying a remake of the 1960’s Shasta camper and traveling across the US – stopping whenever and wherever my heart desires.