As I made the long trip up the coast to Merimbula I was struck by how my journey on this road trip reminded me of my journey through grief. When I set off I did what I usually do and quickly looked over the map of where I was going, it all looked pretty straight forward, I took note of the main towns I’d be passing through and then I set off on my way.
As I got about two hours into my trip I realised that I was in a town that I wasn’t supposed to be. I pulled over and took another look at the map and sure enough I was in the wrong place. On the map it had looked like a straight route but in reality what looked like the continuation of a road was actually a turn off. By missing my turn off I accidently ended up in a town that my dad used to call on for work so I decided to make the most of my mistake and stop and get food where I knew he used to go. From there I restudied the map and realised that I could keep going on the current road and would link back up with the road I was supposed be on.
Missing that first turn had simply taken me on a surprisingly nice detour but now I was back on track and I knew that there was one more major turn off that I didn’t want to miss before stopping for lunch. After another forty five minutes of driving I started to wonder if maybe had missed the next turn off and then I see a sign and yup I’m in another town that I’m not supposed to be in. This time I was seriously not impressed with myself. My first response was WTF Clare are you kidding. How did you miss this one and with that I finally turned on my sat nav. Yeah that’s right I had one the whole time, I figured I’d be right driving streets I’d never driver before because I usually can just glance at maps and know where I’m going.
What has this story got to do with grief? Well first I want to quickly discuss the stages of grief. I’d always figured that there was a stage of denial but I hadn’t ever really through about the rest until an amazing friend suggested I read Grief on Grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is feeling lost in their grief or wants to better understand a friend who is grieving. The five stages that this amazing book talks about are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The book explains that there is no prescribed order for experiencing the stages and that not everyone will experience them all. For me being introduced to these stages really normalised where my head was taking me and I began to think of the stages as places I visit.
So coming back to my road trip this is how I began to see it. The journey is life and the towns that I didn’t mean to end up in are the stages of grief, quite often you don’t realise that you’re heading for a particular stage it simply blindsides you like missing a turn. You don’t really know how you came to be in a particular place you just find yourself there. Sometimes you find yourself in a stage of grief and it actually sits well with you, it’s what you know you need or at least your ok with it, like my first unplanned town but other times it’s a really unwelcome stage it doesn’t sit well with you and you can get really upset that you find yourself there.
When you find yourself in these different stages of grief there are different ways to be respond just like getting lost. You can pull a u-turn straight away and head back the way you came refusing to pass through this new town, you can pull over and become overwhelmed with this new place and perhaps needing to stay the night, or maybe you get out your map and realise that if you keep driving down the road you can pass through this town and get back to the main journey.
There’s absolutely no right or wrong way to manage getting lost; if you need to turn around then turn around, if you need to stay and sit in a particular place go for it, if you want to slowly move through you should and if you revisit a particular place over and over again that’s fine. Your journey doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s, it should only ever be what you need it to be but know that you can always turn on your sat nav for guidance. Professional help can make unfamiliar roads a lot less daunting.
To all those that have lost people dear to them I send you love and blessings for a brighter tomorrow.