Sojourning with Grief-Lessons from Driving on the Left

Organ pipes at St Giles’ Parish Church, Wrexam, Wales. Photo by anne richardson

Organ pipes at St Giles’ Parish Church, Wrexam, Wales. Photo by anne richardson

Music Soothes the Soul

The organ music echoed against the stone walls and deep into the inner chambers of my heart. I couldn’t pick up my car until noon my first morning in Wales. Always on the lookout for an old cemetery, I wandered to St. Giles’ Parish Church, a couple of blocks from my hotel. What I discovered instead was a 16th century church with a love of today’s community and openness to the stranger. As I wandered the aisles I noticed room for toddlers to play in the back and heard the clanging of dishes and took in the savory aroma as a noontime meal was being prepared. Most likely for those in need. The volunteers that busied themselves were interested in why I was there and shared about the history. And then it began—the organ music. The organist stroked the keys and weighed in on the peddles and the church filled with music. I was privy to her practicing for the 12:30 free Monday recital. I sat and absorbed as many notes as I could before I needed to move on. Little did I know how I needed that music to live within my body the rest of the week.

My rental for five days. I offered her abundant gratitude for hanging in there with me!

My rental for five days. I offered her abundant gratitude for hanging in there with me!

Old Habits on New Roads

This was my first experience of driving on the left-hand side of the road. I was aware it might be a challenge, but I will be honest and tell you, the level of difficulty of this invitation my brain had to cope with matched what my body went through for the Coast-to-Coast. I have been driving for 43 years. My father taught me to drive and he was an excellent teacher. I am a good driver. AND being used to driving on one side of the road for 43 years is well, habitual. Right out the gate (literally) I was driving too close to the curb and thought I got a flat tire (I actually bumped the curb twice.) Yes, less than 20 minutes of picking up my car I was calling roadside assistance, pulled off the side of a busy roadway because I thought I had a flat tire (busy roadway means I can’t get out of car and really see what is going on.) I confess this because: a) I can’t share with you the lessons my mentor Grief offered if I don’t and b) I was sent an angel of a tow-truck driver.

Paying Attention to What is Offered

I will add a little spice to the mix because in life you may realize that losses usually isn’t one-offs. When I got off the phone with roadside assistance (and I was grateful I had paid for that add-on!) and was ready to wait an hour, my phone froze and wouldn’t even reset. AND my local SIM card was out of minutes and I wasn’t able to reload it earlier in the day. What a pickle. So I sat and waited closer to one-and-a-half hours. And contemplated that the shape of my day was changing and the expectations I had (and yes, as much as I try not to have expectations, I do have them) would need to be cast aside.

The tow-truck driver, Peter, when he arrived, noted I did not have a flat (okay, I felt foolish.) Suggested I drive half-a-mile up the road to a park and he would follow me to check out the car. He kindly, but firmly told me that I was driving “dangerously close to the curb” and gave me a driving lesson. He also checked the tire pressure (it was a little high.) And we swapped stories. Loss was present in his and his family’s life. There is that common theme again

I say I got the lesson I needed that afternoon, not the adventure I planned. I lost my map without my phone but remembered enough to go in the right direction to get to a larger city, where I could get my phone reset and minutes put on my card. And eat some supper. I was three hours late getting to my B&B in Criccieth. All the way there, my self talk was: “Check your mirrors. Don’t get too close to the edge. Hold the center. You can do this. You will be okay.” My shoulders were tense, fingers cramped, and my brain on overdrive. But I made it. And the negative chatter: “What were you thinking, that you could do this at your age.” Well it popped up, but I didn’t really have time for it. I just had to keep going.

It got better, the driving. And I took a day off after two days. See, my body was still (is still) recovering from the Coast-to-Coast, which also took a lot of concentration, each step on that long walk. Just because I had a car didn’t mean I HAD to drive. I could say “no” and take a day to appreciate the small village I was staying in. To listen to the sea and birds. To shop for a few gifts. To nap. To take a late evening walk along the Wales Coast Path. To be.

And when I returned to driving, to head to South Wales, I was ready though still cautious. I repeated my new mantra in my head “hold to the center.” And I checked my mirrors, but not every 10 seconds. I went a speed I was comfortable with and pulled over when it was safe to let others pass if need be. I forgot to reset Google Maps to allow for highways, so I took a LOT of windy, narrow roads and was thankful I didn’t meet a lot of oncoming traffic (but really wondered why Google Maps took me on some routes until I finally figured it out-my last day!)

The countryside was lush like a green, velvet cloak and I wish I could have paid closer attention to the details. That is one reason I am looking forward to returning to rail tomorrow—to be an observer. I was relieved to return the car (with no damage!) And I can say this is a personal achievement up there with the Coast-to-Coast, for I did it as a woman driving alone in a country I am not familiar with. I am discovering new depths about myself. I like what I am finding.

Pathway up to Criccieth Castle, which offered views of the sea and a symphony of bird songs. Photo by anne richardson

Pathway up to Criccieth Castle, which offered views of the sea and a symphony of bird songs. Photo by anne richardson

I would love to return and walk at least part of the Wales Coast Path. It is how I become acquainted with the land. Photo by anne richardson.

I would love to return and walk at least part of the Wales Coast Path. It is how I become acquainted with the land. Photo by anne richardson.

Relief at the end of the first day of driving. Criccieth Castle in the background.

Relief at the end of the first day of driving. Criccieth Castle in the background.

Wildflowers dot the Wales Coast Path. Photo by anne richardson

Wildflowers dot the Wales Coast Path. Photo by anne richardson

Grief: My Kind and Honest Mentor—Lessons From the Road

And so Grief, being a kind but honest mentor offered me many lessons through this driving experience. Take what you want from what I learned.

  • Be grateful for the awkward lessons life hands you.I had to be honest with the tow-truck driver. He could have ridiculed me, but instead he was kind. Having my driving lesson at the start of the week made me a safer driver the rest of the week (I imagine myself scraping a stone wall or hitting a walker by the side of the road if I hadn’t have learned what I did. I was truly clueless.) When coping with loss, there is new terrain, for each loss is unique. There will be times you feel awkward. Don’t judge. Be loving to yourself. You are grieving. If others can’t see that, then that is their issue, not yours.

  • Hold to your center.” Loss can leave you floundering. Adrift. When I focused too much on other cars, I would instinctively pull to the edge. Old habit from right-hand side driving. Awareness of others is important, but staying true to my needs, my center, is what kept me safe on the road. Others around you are coping with their losses. We can be there for each other. It is kind to be there for each other. Be aware of each other. But ultimately, our journey is our own. No one can drive our “loss” car for us.

  • Go at your own speed. The person behind you may have a smaller loss or may not be in the midst of loss or may not be ready to deal with a loss or…the list goes on. Let them go by. Even if they glare at you. It is none of their business. They don’t know your story. And you don’t know theirs. We will all get where we are going in our own time, at our own pace.

  • Take a day off. It is okay to say, “Loss, I am weary of go, go, going. I need to rest.” Listen to what feeds your soul.

  • Let someone else drive and show you around. I met my new Welsh friend and she drove me around to her favorite places. She offered suggestions for what I could do the next day. I ended up not doing what she suggested (it was the day I took off) but hearing her passion for her land was delightful. Listen to what others share about their grief journeys. Take what you need as nourishment and leave what doesn’t fit at this time. It might come in handy later (I plan to return to Wales another time.)

  • Find a mantra and words that soothe or lift you up to get you through hard days. And there will be times you will find you need to put your head down and just “get through.” I suppose I could have turned around and turned the car in. But then what? This was one of those time when grit was needed (remember grit from previous posts? It really does have a place on the loss journey as long as it isn’t the only way one moves forward.)

  • Grace. Lots of grace. I may be an experienced driver, but I didn’t know the ins and outs of the Welsh roadways. Each loss is a new landscape and sometimes the old maps don’t work. Or are on the wrong setting. Offer yourself grace. Lots of grace.

When was a time you felt like you drifted from your center?

What would it look like to give yourself permission to take a “day off” from grief and loss?


Moving on is Loss

Wales offered me more than “driving lessons.” Beauty for one. The Pacific Northwest where I live, has a similarities to Wales. The sound of water and the invigorating greens are cousins.

The bird songs here seem heartier. Like the wind that blows through my hair, I often can’t see the birds as they concert the morning and evening air, yet their songs are in constant flux against a rising and setting sun. And the bleating sheep. That plaintive sound followed me from Northern England. I will miss that when I return to Oregon.

Heart labyrinth at Gorslwyd Retreat Center, (http://gorslwyd.co.uk/) where I stayed two nights in South Wales. Photo by anne richardson

Heart labyrinth at Gorslwyd Retreat Center, (http://gorslwyd.co.uk/) where I stayed two nights in South Wales. Photo by anne richardson


Sojourning with Grief-Past the Midpoint

Once again, the week has passed and tomorrow I board a train for Glastonbury where I will be on retreat for five days. I am not sure if there will be time to blog. This is the close of week five of my nine-week sojourn. Scotland, week one, looks like a misty hill in the distance. I have stories and insights that have yet to written in either blogs or on Facebook/Instagram. I am not forgetting though. They linger in my heart and my bones. I have come home.