When you lose someone – expectedly or unexpectedly – many supportive people and institutions come forth with suggestions about what to expect. They want to do what they can, say what they can, to help you heal.
The information from hospice is, well, informative: After the death of a loved one, “The resulting grief is a normal and natural response to loss. The struggle to adjust may be difficult and one of the most meaningful experiences of our lives.”
Over two months has gone by and I’m still in no rush to understand or “process” my experience. The only frame of reference that makes sense to me is traveling. I don’t have a destination in mind. I’m not trying to achieve a state of “healed” or “recovered,” in part because I don’t feel damaged or unhealthy. I’m just going.
When my son, Thom, took off Monday on his four-month study abroad program, I found and shared this poem with him. It spoke to me of my hopes for his experience, but it also helped me to recognize that journeying is a pretty good metaphor for this thing I’m doing.
It also brought to mind an old game we played with our children. We would go back and forth, adding to an ever-lengthening alphabetical list of ever-crazier things that had to be remembered after the phrase, “On my trip, I took a…,” until someone lost by forgetting. (On my trip, I took an apple, and a boat, and a curmudgeon, and a diary…)
I’m on my trip. And I’m not alone. I’m taking the love of my family and friends, the beauty of nature, the inspiration of art, a trunk full of memories, the still-palpable presence of my father’s spirit, and faith.
For the Traveler
Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:
How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.
~ John O’Donohue ~