It is a common misconception that grief is linear. That if you follow a straight and narrow path and make all the necessary stops you will find an end to the road. For those of us trekking through grief, we know that this is a falsehood.
Grief is a journey that twists and turns and leads us through an ever changing landscape. It is on this journey that I have found myself in places that I never before dared to enter, but when grief is your guide you don’t have that choice.
The first landscapes I encountered on my grief journey were terrifying. They were dark and gnarled woods, where the ground was rocky and uneven under my feet. I constantly tripped and stumbled. My face scratched raw by the thorny branches that I could not avoid. My body was so exhausted from trying to find a way out that I would often just curl up and close my eyes to shut out the desolation around me. I used to end up in this place a lot, and while I haven’t been there in a long time, I know it exists. I know it is out there and that is enough.
Some days I find myself in a place that feels like a meadow. It is vast and flat, so I can’t quite see what lays ahead but the there is brightness and color like wildflowers that stir in the breeze. It’s a place where I feel safe to wander as I soak in the warmth that hangs in the air.
Other times I am in a canyon. The enormity of where I am is daunting, but I can change my vantage point. I can easily see what is coming so that I may protect myself. There is a beauty in this place, but I know that I must climb to find it. I must be careful as I make my ascent because this can be a dangerous place to fall. Even when I am at the top, I am mindful of the cliffs nearby.
There are times when I can’t see the landscape around me because it is so dark. I am afraid to move because I don’t know if I’m in the safety of a flat meadow or near the teetering edge of a canyon. When I am in this dark place, I have to make a choice. I can inch forward, constantly grasping to make sense of where I am or I can sit down and wait for some light. Sometimes the light arrives on the backs of another traveler.
One of the places I have traveled, reminds me of the rocky ocean shore. I have to be cautious when I travel here so I don’t get pulled under by the tide. It is a place where I can be daring and let the waves crash over me as they incite my adventurous spirit. It is also a place where I can be still and let the roar of the waves surround me and blanket me with a calm confidence. I feel comfortable here and I know it well. Because of its familiar surroundings, I know that I can do more than survive here. In this place, I am not afraid to live.
When we journey through grief, we do not get to choose our landscape. It is simply where we find ourselves when we lift our eyes from our weary feet. Our only choices lay in how we decide to traverse the terrain. Do we travel in a pack or do we go it alone? Do we carefully pack our bags in anticipation of what lays ahead or do we find what we gather what we need when we get there? I can’t say what the answer is, but I do know this: a journey is never about the destination, it is about where you’ve been and where you’ve yet to uncover.