The Both/Ands of Loss Journeys
A journey through loss is full of contrasts, like the first miles walking the Coast-to-Coast. On my left, the Irish Sea thrums the coastline in a constant beat. The day is mild, winds mustering only enough bluster to cool the sweat off my skin. Guillemots and fulmars are hunkering into the stony crags, ready to nest for the season. Those in flight offer their sea song. Strange how sea birds do not have the soft songs of the wrens and robins that wake me back home. Have they developed their sharp sound to compete with the rise and fall of the ocean?
To my right: expanses of green pastures full of sheep, their woolen coats marked in blues and reds-signs of ownership? Lambs frolic, yes, they really frolic, as they strengthen their bodies. When they grow hungry, they return to their mothers. When they grow tired, they lie down to rest. They instinctively know how to care for themselves. The scene captures the definition of idyllic. We are told to pick up lambswool to put in our boots later to help with blisters. This is wise advice.
The sea and at the land. Each with its own song. Its own beauty. Its own harshness. We pass a dead sheep along the way.
Kindness is a Fellow Walker
We are twelve walkers and a guide. We gather the evening before we set out, unknown to each other, couples and singles that had different reasons for setting out on this 190-mile, 13-day walk. As we trek through sheep fields, and climb alongside the sea for a few miles we chat and begin to listen to each others’ stories. We come from America (two single women,) Australia (two couples,) two Welsh women (friends,) and the rest English. Some are experienced walkers/hikers. Others more like myself, with some training, but not hardcore. Kindness rises to the surface like the crest of the waves we are leaving behind and I can sense the Universe has gifted me with the cohort I needed to be with. My roommate is truly a blessing.
Listening Deeply To Self
I am writing this on day five. A day I have opted to take as a day of rest instead of walking 17-miles of stony paths up and down steep inclines of the Lake District, our last day in this terrain. Blisters have become my bane and my feet need a day of rest. I have learned to listen to my body and soul: the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of who I am. As my blisters worsened day-by-day, I asked advice from fellow walkers, asked for reike and other healing from home, and connected with my higher guardians. I focused on gratitude, thanking my feet for each step they took, the stones that held my footsteps, the trees for oxygen, the birds for song. The tears that came were from gratitude as well as pain. Yes, this is hard. That grit I mentioned in my previous post…it is part of my family heritage and I am tapping into it.
Taking Time to Breathe In The Journey
And what of Sojourning with Grief? What metaphors are rising? One is that going through loss is literally one step at a time, and sometimes each of those footfalls is painful. Setting my foot down on the curving stone, my full weight forward with my heavy pack an additional burden calls out SOS to my brain. I have to assure my fear-based self that all will be well and lift the other foot to take the next step, trusting the stone is solid, trusting my legs will hold. All is a moment-by-moment process. Living in the present. There is no way but forward.
And if I only trudge along, only watch my feet, I don’t realize how far I’ve come. So I stop and place both feet firm on the ground and hold my walking sticks by my side. I look around. The valley below. I’ve walked up that hill. I listen—birds are singing. Sheep are bleating. A lone tree is settled on the crag just above me. Cloud-shadows scurry over the crag. My fellow walkers a ways ahead. A couple of us linger to catch our breath and breathe in beauty. This effort is not to be wasted on task-orientation. In the midst of your loss journey, taking time to stop and look around at how far you’ve come can offer hope for moving forward.
No one else can walk this path for me, but the kindness of others is like the aroma of lilacs wafting over a stone wall, lifting my spirits when I feel most vulnerable. A retired doctor that is part of our group offers advice about my blisters. “You are doing great!” affirmations greet me when I catch up at the rest spot with not hint of resentment, only caring. A fellow walker who could walk a quicker pace, matches mine. He goes out of his way to pick up a nice clump of lambswool (it is all over the countryside) to place between my toes for the next walking day (one of the remedies.) And experienced walker offering advice on where to place my feet on stony paths offers a hand up when needed. When in the midst of loss, especially early on, it can be difficult to accept help, or hear what others have done before and trust it might be worth trying for yourself. It is the both/and of the journey. Say “yes” to kindness. It is there for you to receive. And know what is right for you.
Our Stories Stitching Together
As day four ended, the snippets of our individual stories that floated through the air as we walked in sun, wind, and now rain are starting to stitch together into a quilt. Loss again is a common thread, along with laughter and joy. My story from today will be a footnote from what the other walkers will experience. We will gather for a meal tonight and I’ll listen to what transpired on their trek. We will continue to gather lambswool as batting to fill this quilt we are creating together. The backing is the Coast-to-Coast Walk. Unlike our journeys through loss, there is a destination, Robin Hood’s Bay and the North Sea. But that is only a physical destination, for the walk will live on in each of us until our last breath. When we journey with loss, though we have “strenuous,” “long, moderate,” and even “easy” days, loss lives on is us in the patchwork of our lives.
Grief as My Mentor
Grief continues to mentor me on this journey. I am diving deep. Drawing from wells I didn’t know existed. Compassion and kindness for self growth. Essential for the work I have been called to do. And Grief is beside me, allowing me to feel both the pain and the joy. Each day, each moment, an invitation to embrace all of myself…including blisters. Oh and one last thing. Butterflies. I have seen more butterflies on this part of my sojourn than the first two weeks. Butterflies represent my mum. She is with me.
Tomorrow I will walk again, day six. Twenty-miles. Long, but not the laborious, stony up and down inclines of the Lake District. My feet rested. They will be well bandaged.
Will see you when I have energy to blog again. Thank you for following along.