I have used many analogies and metaphors to describe my grief journey in the seven years since my daughter Jeannine died. During my early grief, I frequently described feeling, on a good day, like I had been consistently pummeled with a baseball bat. On an excruciating day, it felt like two baseball bats were simultaneously pummeling me. As my journey has progressed, my analogies are not so much related to the pain of Jeannine’s death, but rather on what her death has taught me.
Late last week, I was driving to a baseball game. As soon as I pulled onto the highway, I found myself behind a very slow moving Wal-Mart truck. I have never been a patient driver, and most of the time experience extreme frustration when I am behind a slow moving vehicle. There were also two other cars in front of me.
None of us could pass the truck because a solid yellow line divided, for the most part, the two-lane highway. Since it appeared that I was not going to be able to pass, I decided to just settle back and enjoy the scenery, enjoy the present moment.
During the next three to four miles of my ride, here is what transpired and how I feel it relates to our grief journeys:
* The car directly in front of me attempted to pass the Wal-Mart truck, realized that he couldn’t and got back behind it. During my early grief, there were days that I wanted to get around my pain or just simply avoid it. When I attempted to do that, it just made my emotional pain worse. I learned that the only way to deal with my pain was to ride it out, until it became tolerable. Also, the driver recognized his limitations in that situation. At any time during our grief journeys, we need to recognize that there are certain situations that we may not be able to handle. Recognizing our limitations is a key ingredient in learning to take care of ourselves during our lifelong journeys.
* As I continued to enjoy the scenery around me and the present moment, the truck suddenly pulled onto the shoulder of the road and let us all pass. I appreciated his thoughtfulness, particularly in this day and age where chivalry is sometimes an afterthought. His action reminded me of two very important lessons that I have learned since Jeannine’s death. The first relates to the importance of dealing with our own pain by doing something nice for others. Using our pain to help others is a key component of service work. The second lesson relates to the importance of taking care of the present and letting the universe take care of the rest. When I have been able to accomplish this, I have been able to find joy, meaning and develop a greater appreciation for those around me. Being present-minded has also allowed me to appreciate the connectedness that I still have with Jeannine and her continuing influence in redefining who I am.