I remember it so distinctly: the moment the idea for Walks with Grief came to me. I was standing in the shower. It was the fall of 2018.
I had been through several cycles, a number of seasons, of work with StoryMuse at that point. I’d worked with girls who’d been sex trafficked, clergy in the midst of profound change, people with intellectual & developmental disabilities, and conducted a project in honor of the ten-year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech.
One of the things that kept bubbling up for me was how much sheer grief there was encoded in the DNA of my work. There were also grief points in my personal journey embedded in my whole reason for making the leap, getting out there, and becoming a professional storyteller.
Starting many years ago, I fell in love with the idea of taking walks with friends as a way to stay both physically and emotionally healthy. [A small sampling of previous related posts.] There’s just nothing like it as a salve, a place from which I’m reborn each week.
As I’ve yet to really master the art of walking alone without my phone, I do tend to fall in the “let’s Instagram this moment” camp. What can I say? I’m a human trapped in this technology-driven era. I try, though, and I’m getting better at keeping the internet out of my full presence with nature.
Over time, watching my photos and the #WalksWithGrief hashtag develop, I noticed a phenomenon emerge. I have a subconscious fascination with this one particular kind of trail. It’s these boardwalks and bridges that curve, meandering off into a seemingly unknowable destination.
At first I thought these places were just visually interesting to me, but over time, cogitating on the idea of walks with grief as I perambulated, I started thinking about what metaphors they might hold.
A spiritual walk with grief in some ways is, and in some ways is not, like these paths.
A walk with grief, especially at the beginning, is more like being totally off the grid, mucking around, with no discernible path at all.
If you’ve ever gone tromping through the woods, lost the path, or tried to forge your own way, you know exactly what this is like. There are snagging briers, stinging nettle, low-hanging branches, and fallen tree trunks to scramble over. Before you know it, your boot gets mired down in a boggy mess you didn’t see there, and you feel like you’re poor Artax in the Swamp of Sadness from The NeverEnding Story.
The thing that I like about the curving boardwalks is that they remind me that, though I can’t always see where I’m going to end up, I feel reassured that someone else has already been here. In fact, they knew enough about it to leave a clear path for my benefit.
For me, that path is constructed of books, podcasts, walk & talks, telling and listening to stories, music, continuing to live a life full of purpose and meaning.
Ok, I know. It’s not a clean one-to-one kind of thing. Still, I can’t help but think about some of the people I’ve known, what it was like to watch their walks with grief. It always seemed that those who acted from a framework that their walk with grief was all their own, completely private, nothing that anyone else could identify with, were the ones who had the hardest time. Their grief was most protracted, or stuffed down. Sometimes it led to the most maladaptive behaviors or had the most rippling effects on the lives they touched.
Grief is kind of a Neverending Story. But, we get to choose whether we want to stay out there, mucking around in the woods forever, or find our way to a path that others are walking together with us, so that it becomes easier over time.
We get to choose how long we want to stay lost in the wilderness.
P.S. Last month I read Finding Meaning by David Kessler. It explores what he calls the sixth stage of grief, which is finding meaning. I’ve added it to my recommended reading list on Bookshop.org. I’ve mentioned this resource in other places, but in case you’ve missed it, this is a wonderful way to purchase books online and still support your favorite local bookstore!
BT-Dubs, who else can’t wait for the next season of this??!!??