Navigating Your Grief Journey

In recent months I’ve received two “comments” on articles I’ve written for Hello Grief from two individuals struggling to navigate their grief journey. One individual’s loss was recent, six months ago; and, the other individual’s loss was over thirty years ago. For me, it’s just another reminder that our grief journeys are life-long and not an “It’s time I/you got over it and moved on.” Such messages are all too prevalent in our society. So prevalent that we think there’s something wrong with us or with others who still have moments or even prolonged periods of sadness while navigating the grief journey. You may identify with this experience. I can’t count the number of times I’ve counseled “It’s normal and you are normal. Healing from loss is a life journey, not a short trip of a year’s duration.”

A good friend of mine, who was a thoughtful financial advisor to many, recently died. At one time in his career he wrote occasional items for his firm’s quarterly letter to investors. They were always thoughtful, balanced and literate. During a turbulent investment period several years ago he wrote a piece titled “Dead Reckoning, Navigating in Turbulent Financial Times.”  His insights are so appropriate to the grief journey of the two individuals I mentioned above and all the rest of us who have lost someone.  While I no longer have his article, I’ll do my best to recall the flavor of what he wrote.

“Dead Reckoning” was a principle means of navigating before our current technological age –Columbus used it on his voyage to the New World 1492. Birds, insects and other migrating animals use it to reach destinations that are often thousands of miles away. It is a means of evaluating one’s position during the journey. With the destination determined the course is set from the starting point, and the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. This is all well and good if nothing happens along the way: storms, currents, wind…you name it. When such unexpected challenges do occur, we must recalculate from our new position and adjust, because we are now off our original course.

What I remember most from the article that is relevant to our grief journeys is that heavy seas and strong winds and even gentle current drift are a part of everyone’s life and we will need to navigate anew multiple  times in a lifetime. This especially holds true for those of us who have experienced multiple losses. The events that affect us on our journey are many: graduations, marriage, children, geographic relocation, job loss, nightmares, divorce. You can add to this list, I’m sure.

How do we navigate these seas on our journey? How do we reevaluate and set our new courses?  What can we learn from where we are now?

  • It’s normal and we are not odd or crazy to have these experiences and feelings. Life is not a straight course and loss is a part of it. A pox on those who want to make us feel otherwise. Mary Oliver’s short poem that I’ve quoted before captures it for me:

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness/ it was years before I understood that this too was a gift.”

  • Sometimes the new way forward requires an act of forgiveness. Most all relationships have difficulties from time to time and we may feel angry in some way. This is difficult, since the person in question is no longer alive for us to forgive them for wrongs we think have been done to us.  Someone in a Dear Abby column wrote “Forgiveness isn’t a gift we give to others, but a gift we give ourselves.” Wise counsel. A wonderful exercise is to write them a letter forgiving them, and then maybe write a letter back from them to you. They are no longer here, but you are. The same goes if you said or did something that you now regret. Neither you nor I are perfect.
  • In looking back, some event took us off course and was stressful at the time, though we may now recognize it as an important and positive turning point –“that this too was a gift.” I had some anger with my dad who shortened his life with smoking and alcohol. I loved him as did my mother in spite of his habits, but he left us too early. The upside I now see is taking better care of myself and watching my mother move forward with forgiveness and gratefulness.
  • Support from friends and family who will listen to us openly and without judgment, who will hear our pain and confusion, can be an important part of finding our bearings again. There’s something about speaking out loud that reorients us. It’s different than the voices inside our head. When we lack the family and friends that can listen and stick with us it’s important to find a professional counselor who can. Eventually we can chart a new course ahead in our journey towards a satisfying life. It may not be the life we imagined before our loss, but it can be a good one.

In visiting this website you have found a place where people care, want to listen and share their journey stories. Not just in articles like this, but in the “Forum” social network side, also. Please visit here often and let us know how you are learning to navigate your grief journey. I wish you well as you chart your course.

Photo Credit.


  1. Shadow of My Former Self said on June 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm ... #

    I am struggling to find the gift in the box of darkness I have recently been given. However, I’ve come to realize that some people who I never expected or even thought of have, come through and been people I could lean on. That realization is a gift I know but I struggle still and will for awhile. It’s part of the course of my grief I suppose. Thank you for such a strong and yet sensitive article.

  2. Bill said on June 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm ... #

    You are right, it’s “part of the course”. And you are wise to recognize it. How wonderful to have discovered the “gift” that sensitive friends and family can bring -people you can lean on. I love the song “Lean on Me” which we often sing at the Comfort Zone Camp memorial service. Thanks for stopping by here and sharing. I wish you well!

  3. Meri said on June 18, 2011 at 1:29 am ... #

    Thank you . My dad died April 1st after a very qui k illness. He was given 6 weeks and died 8 days later from Pancreatic canc er. My heart still aches.
    My husband and friends have been great but the way I feel changes daily and it is hard to explain to those who have not yet lost a parent.

  4. Nancy said on July 17, 2011 at 12:53 am ... #

    I lost my mother in January. She was a wonderful mother and also my best friend. I’ve had difficulty removing the memories of the last few months before she died. She lost 60 lbs and most of her hair. She had survived cancer, but could not recover from the damage done by the radiation treatments. I was devastated. One thing I do not try to hold back are the tears. They come at many different times, but I cry and then pull myself back together. I always feel better when I let the emotion pour out. I think I will be able to start my journey forward once I focus more on the beautiful woman she was before she became ill. I know she is with God now and is at peace. I am happy for her, but not for me. That feeling is going to be with me for the rest of my life, but I do believe she would want me to live my life enjoying my husband and daughter who have been so supportive of me and who loved and miss her, as well. Grief will always have its place in my life, but I want to find a way to bring it along with me and honor my dear mother by enjoying the life I have been given. She always said life was precious and I want to let her know I was listening.

  5. Kerstie said on July 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm ... #

    This article has helped me so much. I keep trying to explain that I need to redirect my life now that I have experienced losses. This article has helped me understand how I can now do that. Its hard to keep postive once you have lost someone.

  6. nicole said on March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm ... #

    i lost my husband the end of january. he left home on jan 14th and never came home. his body was discovered on jan 28th along the road back in some brush. he died of hyperthermia. his last moments of life were choatic and tragic. im sad he died alone. our first baby after trying for years was 5 weeks old at the time. our daughter gives me the strength to get through this. i go through ups and downs. sometimes it doesnt feel real that this has happened. he was a good man and he was a proud excited father. i know ihave to be the best mother i can be and not let this greif keep me down. ill make sure she knows her daddy, im very grateful i have videos of him and her togeather. the grief process is really well confusing. one moment im at peace with what has happened and other times i debate with myself if theres an afterlife, if hes watching over us, or is it nothing…no awareness. i wish i had the peace of knowing for sure that he is ok. the anger ive felt has left me awhile ago…my daughter is truely my angel, without her im not sure if i would survive losing my husband. i also feelthe survivors guilt. i know this comment was all over the place, i felt i needed to get some of this out. *sigh* ill continue to focus on my baby girl and hopefully one day ill find true inner peace with losing my love.

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