No one can really explain the feelings of bereavement. To truly understand the process of grief, you must experience it yourself.
Sometimes metaphors can give us a glimpse of the experience and provide insight to others about how we are feeling.
In her beautiful blog recently, Imogen, who lost her baby son Conor, describes the metaphor she heard about grieving being like a boat on the ocean without a mooring. Some have compared grief to a labyrinth. A labyrinth is not a maze as there are no dead ends and no wrong turnings. There is only one way -- forward; Others describe it as like an earthquake. The first one hits you and the world falls apart. Even after you put the world together again, there are aftershocks, and you never really know when those will come.
We've spent the last few days climbing mountains and it's been tough going. I am very aware that we have a major challange ahead of us with the Alps. I think that climbing mountains is perhaps the best metaphor for me of my journey.
I'd like to share with you this cleverly written metaphor by a lady called Mindy Wilsford. In this expression of grief she used a journey through the mountain range to describe the ups and downs, the length, and the incredible frustrations of her grief journey. I think it rather accurately describes my own experience of bereavement.
by Mindy Wilsford
Before we go through a loss like this, we assume that grief is like falling into a deep hole. We think we will start climbing a ladder and as we get closer to the top things start getting brighter and brighter and we keep feeling better and better until we finally step out into the sunshine where the birds are singing and beautiful music is playing and our grief is over and we are then officially “over it”.
Instead, I have found it is like being plunked down into the middle of a mountain range. We start on the top, with the breathtaking view, when life is wonderful. We are just walking along, basking in the sun and the beautiful scenery when suddenly we fall off a cliff. Now we are lying in a deep, deep valley: bruised, confused, hurt, scared, and lonely. We soon realize that there is no easy way out, no rescue in sight. The only way out is to do it ourselves.
So we start working our way up the mountainside, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling, and often stumbling. It is very hard, very discouraging, and very exhausting work. Finally we reach the top and see the sun again for a while. Maybe the top will be flat and we’ll get to spend a little time up there enjoying it, or maybe it is very steep and as soon as we get there we have to start back down the other side into the next valley again.
The one thing we notice is that there are mountains as far as the eye can see. Somehow, we have to make our way through them if we are ever to get out. That thought can be overwhelming and cause us to give up for a while. But eventually we realize once again that the only way out is to keep going, so we start again: down one mountain and up the next. And sometimes on the journey, after a particularly hard stretch, we think, “I’m so glad I finally made it through that.” And then we stop and look around and realize that we’ve been here before! All this work and we’ve gone in a circle and we’re going to have to do it all again!
And sometimes as we are climbing, we look up to see if we are getting any closer to the top, and we see a boulder heading our way. If we are fortunate, we manage to avoid it. But usually we can’t, and it hits us head on and sends us tumbling back down to the bottom.
Sometimes when we are in the deepest part of the valley, we just sit, exhausted. And we might notice some things around us that we never saw before: flowers and animals and a gentle breeze in the cool of the valley. There is a world down in the valley that we never even knew existed, and there is beauty in it.
And sometimes at night, when all is quiet, we can hear the others who are in the valley weeping. And it is then that we realize that we are not alone, that others are making this journey too. And we realize that we share an understanding of the journey and of the world of the valley that most others don’t. And it gives us strength to start the climb all over again.
Sometimes as we are climbing the mountain, a helicopter may come by with some of our friends in it. Seeing us struggling up the mountain, they shout encouraging things like, “I know just what you’re going through; I went on a hike once.” And “At least you have your other kids to make this climb so much easier.” And “You are so strong; I know I couldn’t make this climb.” Or they ask, “When will you finally get over these mountains and be yourself again?”
And we try to tell them about the journey and the world of the valley, but the sound of the helicopter drowns us out and they can’t hear us. They throw down some food to give us energy, and it does, but some of it just pelts us on the head and makes the climb even harder. And then they leave, and we breathe a sigh of relief that we can get back to our climb in peace.
As we make this journey, we start to notice that we are becoming a little bit stronger. When we get to the rough patches we now see that we are shaken but don’t always fall. We find that sometimes we can walk upright now, instead of just crawling. And sometimes we can see a rough spot ahead and manage to find a better way around it.
And once in a while we crest a mountain and see that the top is very flat and very beautiful, and we get to spend quite a while resting and recovering on the top before starting down again. And we notice that we are getting closer to the edge of the mountains; they seem to be getting a little smaller. The mountains are not as tall, and the valleys are not as low or as wide. In fact, we can now see the foothills, and it gives us hope.
And throughout this journey, we see the others who are traveling it as well, sometimes at a distance, and sometimes up close. And we encourage each other to keep going and to watch out for certain things. We talk about the journey and the world of the valley. Finally, someone else who understands! And we cry together when it is just too hard.
And sometimes, we catch a glimpse of someone who has made it to the foothills. And we are so excited for them, and we become even more determined to keep going because someday, we too, will make it to the foothills.
So my point is this: everyone starts on a different mountain. No two journeys are the same. Some people spend a lot of time in the valley at first, and some have more time on top of the mountain. But we will all be both on the mountains and in the valleys. And we will all someday make it to the foothills. I promise.
Mindy sums it up well. The only difference is that it sounds as though her experience of grief was sudden loss. Emma's long battle with cancer means that my experience wasn't perhaps the same unexpected plunge. We had been navigating a brutal, scraggy rockface together for some time. Connected by climbing ropes, I was Emma's support although she was doing the hardest climbing. As her rope frayed, we clung on to hope. When it finally snapped and she disappeared forever, I was then plunged into the deep valley that Mindy describes. Whilst the fall wasn't unexpected, the depth of it was.
Where there is deep grief, there was great love.
Yesterday we climbed 1,000 metres in one day. It was a hard slog. Today we ride downhill again and are then taking a flatter coastal path to Venice. After Venice we head to Milan and on towards the Alps. My twin sister Diggy is one of the people accompanying me and Lotte through the Alps and we will be grateful for her company then, just as we have been through our private journey of grief.
Better still, even with the arduous journey through the Alps ahead, I can feel all the love and support from all of you, and this time, unlike the whirring helicopters in Mindy's passage, I hear only your cheers of encouragement.