There are many metaphors for grief and each of them is imperfect. The metaphor you’re about to read is no different.
Imagine you are Captain Meriwether Lewis. President Thomas Jefferson has given you a daunting task: find a navigable, all-water route to the Pacific Ocean. You have no way of knowing how to get there—there is no map, no AAA, and no GPS. You have no idea of what to expect along the journey—you can’t receive advice from anyone who has traveled that way before. You have no clue if your mission is even possible—you know of the Rocky Mountains and assume they might form a sizeable hurdle. You are also aware of numerous Native American nations along the way, but you actually don’t know many details about them. Your knowledge is so limited that you believe you will encounter wooly mammoths along your way (this assumption is actually found in Lewis’ journals!).
About the only thing you know for certain is that you can’t do it alone.
You first find your co-commander, Captain William Clark, who will grow to become your closest friend. You hand select your crew, but you don’t accept everyone who volunteers because you know that some will be detrimental to the mission.
You set sail from St. Louis in the spirit of European explorers from a previous age. Along the Missouri River you encounter some who provide exactly what you need in that moment, others who are indifferent, and a few who try to take advantage of your situation. You are helped immeasurably by some, like Sacajawea. You are saved by some of the Nez Perce nation who guide you through the treacherous Bitterroot Range of the Rockies. With more help you find the Columbia River and follow it to the great Pacific one year, six months, and one day after you left St. Louis.
Compare that to your grief journey. First, let’s acknowledge the obvious deficiency of this metaphor—in grief there is no Pacific Ocean (i.e., there is no clearly defined destination). Despite that shortcoming you can find some helpful similarities, such as:
- Grief may be best described as a journey.
- The path of your grief journey will take you through uncharted territory.
- You cannot go it alone. You can try (and many do), but the way is fraught with peril.
- Some you find along the journey will become your dearest friends.
- You will be surprised by how someone (perhaps a stranger) will say or do the kindest thing at just the right time to encourage, guide, or help you.
- You will likely benefit from others who can lead you on part of the path they know.
- It’s almost certain that your journey won’t go exactly like you imagine—you will get through, but the “the mountains” may prove more challenging than you expected.
Reaching the Pacific wasn’t the end of the journey for the Lewis & Clark expedition. They then had to turn around and travel the nearly 4000 miles back to St. Louis. Before they could do that, however, they had to spend an entire winter near modern day Astoria, Oregon. All accounts reveal that these cold, rainy months were the worst of the entire 28-month trek.
- The grief journey can be long, trying, and exhausting (and just when you think you’re finished you discover you still have further to go).
- Don’t be discouraged – your grief is an expression of the depth of your love.
- At times you may feel as if you are stuck in the same place. This, too, is normal. During these times you may feel the need to reach out for help.
The good news is that you don’t have journey alone. Contact your physician, your place of worship, or a trusted friend. Be honest about your struggles.
The Grief Support Network website (https://griefsupportnetwork.org/general) has a listing of available local resources.
You may always call Evergreen Hospice Care at 913.477.8248. This number is answered 24/7. You may ask to talk to one of our nurses, our social worker, our chaplain, or our bereavement coordinator. Our services are free, confidential, and are available to anyone (even if you or your family have not previously received support from us). We are not licensed counselors, but we will listen, can suggest some strategies that may help you and, if needed, refer you to a professional.