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.