Grief is a Journey
Packing for the Trip
No matter how a person travels when he takes a trip, he’s got to pack to get there and unpack when he gets home. Packing includes having the essentials for the climate and the season. It includes apparel that goes along with the journey and the experiences on the trip. Whatever you do, don’t forget the camera! You’ll need it to help you record the places you visit, the people you see, and the sights you experience. Sometimes we pack in such a hurry that we forget important items (medications, for example). It’s best to go prepared so you can better enjoy or endure the journey. That’s how it is with grief.
Unzip the Luggage
Usually, coming home means the trip is over. You’ll need to take care of your purchases: souvenirs, receipts, gifts, and other paraphernalia. You begin by opening up your luggage. It’s the same with grief. When you have experienced pain, heartache, or loss, it’s important to open up your luggage and sift through the things you’ve collected along your journey with grief. Don’t stuff it back inside. Unpack it so you won’t be lugging it with you everywhere you go.
Usually, the things we purchase help us remember our trip. Some of us collect spoons, thimbles, mugs, scarves, or other items from different states or countries. In our grief journeys, we accumulate emotions and questions. In this journey, we “come home” with things that remind us of our painful loss. Sometimes there are items that belonged to someone we love. Sometimes we have mementos of an event, and sometimes there are things we specifically purchased during this trip. We come home with our souvenirs, and seeing them on display helps us remember that trip we took. So it is with grief. We are no longer living on that journey, but we have mementos that remind us of where we have been. Allow your souvenir to be just that – a souvenir. The souvenir is to help you remember what happened, and not to keep you living in that event today.
Peruse the Photos
It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words (or more!). On our return from a trip, we love to share our photos with family and friends. Looking at photos helps us remember the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the fragrances, and the moods. We need to talk about the trip and the places we went. We can’t wait to tell friends about the funny things and the sad things that happened. That’s how it is with grief. Talking is a way to remember the event or person. Sharing it with other folks is more fun than doing it by yourself, and that’s how we need to unpack our grief.
Nix the “If Only”
I’ve seldom been on a trip where I got to do everything I hoped to do. Sometimes others thwarted my plans; sometimes sickness prevailed; many times the lack of planning prevented my schedule from accommodating my desires. You know what I tend to do when I get back home? I keep thinking about the If Onlys. If only we had more time; if only we had known about this earlier. If only the weather hadn’t canceled the event; if only I could have chosen this event over another one. If only, if only, if only. ‘Problem is, we can’t live in the if only. We can’t do that with grief either. Unpack that if only and don’t allow it to be stored in your luggage. If only doesn’t change anything except pile on the regret. Regret doesn’t help us face tomorrow; it only forces us to live in the unchangeable past.
Beyond the Journey
When we’ve had such a good time getting away, or when we’ve been able to be off work for a few days, it’s difficult to go back – especially if things have changed; most especially, if there has been a loss. It’s the same with grief.
So we choose. We can choose to recognize the pain from the loss, and we can choose to rebuild. We do this by choosing forgiveness instead of harboring pain. We choose to let go of the if only’s and find a way to extend ourselves by giving out of our grief. We choose to remember with tears and with joy because we have the promise of life for tomorrow.
The most important thing about grief is the choices we make in the cauldron of our pain and despair.