I absolutely adore lists. (“…Let me count the ways!”). I love lists so much, I’ve been known to write down things I’ve already done, just for the thrill I get when I cross things off said list. In my previous life it was all about getting there, getting it done, moving on to the next thing, getting it done, and continuing item by item until I’d finally “arrived” and every task on the list was completed. It was what I lived for and how I lived. But there is a shadow side to this I didn’t realize existed and didn’t become intimately acquainted with until after Bill’s death.
Early on, in the fog of grief, making schedules and lists kept me focused and helped make sure the things that absolutely had to be done (which there seemed to be millions of) got accomplished. But while they kept me functioning, my lists did nothing to help me navigate the wilderness of emotions I was lost in.
I knew, in my head, that some of what I was going through was not manageable with a finite, linear process like a list, but when we are in pain, when the apple cart has been upended and everything we knew and loved either no longer exists or is lying in pieces around us, we devolve, without even thinking about it, to “what we’ve always done, the way we’ve always done it”. Even when I didn’t write it down, I still had the running list in my head. “If I can just get through __________”, I would tell myself, filling in the blank with whatever unhappy anniversary, task, occasion, or event was looming, “then everything will be ok.”
Except it wasn’t. The grieving process cannot be reduced to or contained in a collection of items on a list or points on a map. There is no no AAA Trip Tik Travel Planner that will take you from Point A to Point B, avoiding all the construction zones, toll roads, and speed traps. There is no one-way, non-stop flight. There is no “getting there”. It isn’t a destination. Although it does not define me exclusively, this experience of loss is now part of the fabric of my life; it is woven into the fiber of my being and has become part of who I am. Part of my journey. (And I have to confess that coming to terms with that realization was more than a bit of a relief. If it isn’t a destination anyway, then I’m not going to be stuck in it forever.)
I decided to use a map as the visual for this post to tie into the “getting there” premise. After scouring the house, I finally located the only paper map left in my possession – the city map of Amsterdam Bill and I used when we traveled there in 2006. (I know I could have just googled something, but I wanted a map that was personal to me and my story.) It was stuffed in the back of the photo album from that trip, and I had to rummage through the entire thing to find it. As I flipped through page after page of photos, ticket stubs, Metro passes, menus, receipts, museum guide books and relived all those moments, I was reminded again – in a concrete and visible way – that it wasn’t about just getting there. And it wasn't that everything on that trip was idyllic and perfect. There were broken airplanes; lost hotel reservations. Jet lag and the exhaustion that accompanies is are real things and they are not fun. Being sick enough to need a doctor in a foreign country is terrifying. It was still amazing, and the joy in that trip, everything we learned about each other and ourselves, was made flesh, real, tangible, and woven into our beings within the process of the journey and in all the things we saw and experienced and shared along the way.
This is something that holds true for all of us, in almost every area of life. It’s not about getting there. What we learn, the growing edges, the things that mold and shape us into who we are called to be are all wrapped up in the journey.
Where are you right now, physically, emotionally, and spiritually? What and/or who else is there? What are you thinking and feeling? What do you need?
What can be learned, right here, right now, about this place, and about yourself?
Thinking through all of those things, what are you being called to do or be?
“…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned…” Isaiah 43:1b-2, NIV