The Clouds of Grief

Dear Zach,

This is not as much for you as for anyone else reading today finding themselves struggling with grief, but this is something I desperately wish I was mulling over and discussing with you! While flying home from Canada today, I found myself even more mesmerized with the clouds than I usually am. There was nothing particularly enchanting about them, nothing exceptionally beautiful about these dreary grey clouds, but my eyes were glued to the window. Really the whole idea of flying and how it compares to grief was on my mind, but especially the clouds.

I realized that flying through the clouds is much like grief. I despise, DESPISE, the five stages of grief concept that people preach about (something those who know me well know I have wanted to write about since day one) because there is no linear track through grief like a subway where you can get on at one stop and take a straight shot to the last stop (something I have already written about). All that to say….. the clouds spoke to me about grief today in a way I had never thought about.

Bear with me as I may seem longwinded, but there has been a lot pondered during this hour layover and it has become heavy on my heart to share. But I do apologize for what is apparently my longest post ever!!!

I know there are so many people out there who think they are grieving wrong because they are doing it differently than how other people are. Society has a much different view of grief and I know I thought I had gone stark raving mad…. that no one had ever felt this way and that I was so wrong to feel this way. So this is me trying to use my own grief to appeal to all the people out there who think what they are feeling is wrong. Spoiler alert – it is not wrong. Your grief is your own and no one can tell you what it is or how you should grieve. images (2) When we get on the airplane, we have a destination in mind. We know where we need to go, but we surrender all control to higher powers – – – the pilot, the weather, good luck, God… what have you. No one can control the timeframe so you have to sit back and let it happen. You will get there when you get there.

GRIEF: once forced upon a journey of grief, you are forced to surrender control. We who grieve know where we should be or need to be (a healthy, functioning, not devastated place), but it may not be our choice when we arrive there. I believe grief is a process experienced by everyone differently and some may heal faster than others, but everyone will grieve in their own way. We have to feel what we are meant to feel and no one can impose a time schedule. The whole “one year to grieve” misconception makes me so frustrated because those are the people who do not understand loss and that maybe you do not heal in a year. It isn’t their place to tell you how long you need to recover from your loss and to go through the grieving process. Go ahead… I give you permission. Grieve as long as you need to until you get to a place of healing. images (3) During takeoff you can feel yourself slide back in the seat slightly as you hurtle at high speeds towards things you cannot see. Still powerless, simply accepting the path. You can feel it coming as the pilot accelerates down the runway, but you never know exactly when he will takeoff and leave solid ground behind.

GRIEF: when I say a “wave of grief”, I am sure many of you know what I mean and have experienced this yourself. A wave of grief can often come out of nowhere and blindside you knocking you off your feet, but sometimes you can see it coming in distance. You know it is coming, you don’t know when and you don’t know what it will entail, but the emotions are building and all you can do is blindly prepare. You hold on. You pray it will not last forever and you accept the powerless feeling until it passes and you can regain control. You get your footing, balance yourself back out, and go back to putting one foot in front of the other. You know another one will come one day, but you go on because you have to. images (5) Then you find yourself lost in the clouds, surrounded by immense amounts of white; sometimes light and fluffy, other times thick and heavy with rain. There is no visual end in sight and the clouds can seem to go on forever. You don’t know what lies on the other side and you may have to cross your fingers or clutch the armrest with a death grip or say a prayer or take a breath to trust that catastrophe isn’t on the other side.

GRIEF: finding yourself lost in a thick cloud of grief can be extremely disorienting. You may find yourself surrounded by feelings and thoughts you have never had before causing you not to recognize who or what you are. Grief can cause you to question everything and it may scare you. It becomes easy to lose your bearings and to become lost in the vastness of your grief because there is no end in sight. You become blinded to everything else other than the crushing emotions surrounding you. A thick cloud of grief that is especially heavy upon you can cause you to doubt what lies beyond it and can make you feel like it will last forever. You have to trust that it will pass and that you will come out unscathed on the other side. You will still grieve for who you have lost, but nothing compared to being lost in a crushing blinding grief cloud. untitled (2) During your time in the clouds, turbulence may rock you, jolt you, maybe frighten you. For a less-seasoned traveler or for one who is afraid of flying, this can feel like the end of the world and make you fear the worst. It feels like the bottom is dropping out as your heart jumps into your throat and the panicked thought of, “This CAN’T be right! The plane is going down!’ may cross your mind. It shakes you around, but leaves you unharmed just as quickly as it came.

GRIEF: going through grief is not an easy process and there will be days that completely rock you and shake you up. It can feel like the end, that the worst has happened, and that there is nothing else for you to do. Grief can cause you to question how so much wrong could have happened and how unfair it is. It can make you feel like the bottom is dropping out and you are freefalling through life, flailing to grasp onto anything that can bring you back to reality. The turbulent effect of grief can make an average day feel like you have gone to battle or ran a marathon because you are left feeling battered and broken. It can make you feel like giving up. But the turbulence in those thick clouds won’t last forever, you will come through it, and you will be left shaken, but ready to face another day. images (4) Eventually the airplane makes its way through and the clouds begin to dissipate and the vast whiteness gives way to glorious light. Regardless of the weather below on the surface, you can find yourself staring at an incredible landscape of gorgeous blue skies and glittering sunshine; you may feel like you are in another world. You may feel a sense of awe at this place and cause you to feel pity for the people thousands and thousands of feet below. It is a place only you are seeing and you are seeing it differently than everyone else on the plane with you.

GRIEF: perhaps grief is nothing like coming through the clouds to a beautiful place so that wasn’t a great explanation to start it off with, but grief will take you to place that you have never been and it is something unrecognizable that you may have never seen or experienced before. Living a life of grief is living a life in a totally foreign place. The house may be the same, you may still work at the same place, and your family may still celebrate things they did before; everything may be the exact same. The truth is that loss has changed your life and grief has tainted it. Things that were once comforting and usual to you may become unrecognizable, stressful, uncomfortable. You are now looking at a life that you did not have before and one that you were not expecting. Grieving is such an individual thing that no two people will experience it in the same way even if they have experienced the same loss. What you are looking at and experiencing may make you question why people aren’t feeling what you are or to ask why they aren’t feeling the impact of grief as much as you. Same as sitting on an airplane with a couple hundred people…. everyone will look out their window and see something different. Your grief is personal to you and no one can tell you that you are doing it wrong. imagesST16XUDK Then come the clouds again. Without warning, you are lost back in the whiteness. Blind to where you are going and searching your way through it, either back to the blue skies or down to the earth below. Giving up the idea of being able to see where you are going is something unnatural to humans, but lost in the clouds you have no choice. You can panic and not trust the process or you can sit back and accept what is happening.

GRIEF: days, months, or even years may pass, but one day grief may sneak up on you again because grief lives with you and becomes part of who you are. Most people learn to live with it and to live their lives as they did before, but I think they will always grieve for the person they lost even if not as deeply as during a time of fresh grief. There will always be part of you that misses them or thinks of them or mourns their loss, but the sense of overwhelming grief has passed. This is a concept that I have not reached yet with my grief for Zach and honestly it feels like an unattainable goal for me right now so I am probably not the best to write about this, but I do grieve for my father who passed away from cancer 18 years ago in this way. I still grieve for my dad. Most days I am fine. Months will go by and I go on day to day, but then there is that one day that sneaks up on me and a wave of grief will wash over me. I mourn for him still and grieve his loss and what he is missing, but that is just what will live with me and for anyone else who has lost someone that they love. I just have to accept it, even when I am unexpectedly plunged back into a feeling of grief, and not try to fight it. images3T0W74EO Finally you break through the clouds one last time and you eventually see land. Just a few more minutes and it will all be over so you can put your feet back on solid ground and regain some of your control. The ground gets closer, you may brace for impact, suck in another deep breath, but in the end you have left the clouds behind and are back to reality.

GRIEF: they tell me that one day this heavy weight of grief will pass and that the burden of Zach’s death will not weigh so heavily on me. I don’t know how it will happen, but just like an airplane making its last decent through the clouds and finishing its journey, I am told that one day it will end and this is my hope for all of us. They tell me that eventually it is supposed to pass and I will regain my footing in life so that day to day living does not feel like a desperate fight to survive. They tell me that eventually I will break through those thick clouds of grief and a less painful day will be in sight. They tell me that one day the darkness will pass, my sadness will lift, and my devastation will ease. Our realties will forever be changed because of what we have lost, but I am told that one day we will more so return to the people used to be. I don’t know when that day will be, but maybe there is hope for all who are grieving.

The Month of Roadtripping: July 2011

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
~~ Mark Twain


Some people are just not meant to travel together.  Traveling takes the worst out of you.  It is tiresome, a struggle, stressful, unpredictable.  It can bring out the worst qualities of someone you’ve known your entire life or someone you love.  It can strain relationships and take the joy out of the traveling experience.  We never had that problem.  Our personalities perfectly complimented each other in so many other situations but it was never more obvious than when we traveled.  Maybe it was because we both had an absolute love of traveling that we didn’t let anything phase us, but I think it was more so that we were just the perfect team.  So many times we said that we would dominate The Amazing Race and frequently talked about competing.  We would have rocked it.  We were traveling champions.  Between my over-the-top planning, your patience dealing with unforeseen situations, our tag-team approach to language barriers, your ability to strategize/plot the perfect route, and my dedication to researching every last detail we were always able to pull off amazing vacations, getaways, or roadtrips.  We did a lot.  We saw a lot.  But it wasn’t enough.  We wanted to see the world and now I will never have that.  But what I do have are some amazing memories of our travels and this is just the recanting of one of them; one I will remember forever.

Last summer I was lucky enough to only have to take one online class which meant while you were on summer vacation for the month of July we could hit the open road and do what we loved best; travel!  We knew we had one month at our disposal and we were determined to make the best of it with a roadtrip to Canada to visit my family.

It began with a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia to celebrate July the Fourth with John and Stacey; some of your oldest friends from university who instantly became my best friends as well as soon as I moved here.  They are an amazing couple who I was blessed to be introduced to because of you, people who we have shared many amazing weekends with.  But I digress from my original point.  This particular long weekend in July was full of beer, boating on the open ocean and through marshes, secluded sandbars where we went swimming, fireworks, low country boils, diving for sand dollars, secretive underground bars in downtown Savannah, laying on the beach on Tybee Island, and more memories than I can count.  It was the perfect kickstart to our month getaway.

Then it got a little more complicated from there, didn’t it Zach?  We left Savannah and drove to your parents to spend an overnight with them before heading off on the main part of our journey, but fate had other plans for us.  As we made that drive, the master cylinder in my car went and we were left without brakes.  It was terrifying.  You stayed so calm and in control behind the wheel whereas I was much more panicked as I contemplated being stranded, hitting someone as we were unable to stop quickly, losing time on our journey, the money it would cost us to fix it.  You were always that way, Zach.  So tranquil and able to take things in stride.  I miss that.  I need that right about now because you would know how to handle everything.  Without you here to ground me when I get flabbergasted over things beyond my control I am lost.  I miss that.

So instead of one night in Eastman we spent two.  Then three.  Then four.  Everyday we made countless calls to the mechanic stressing over what else could be going wrong.  The beauty of my ancient Canadian car down here in the South is that people don’t necessarily know how to handle the excessive amount of rust we Canadian’s have grown accustomed to due to the salt on the roads during the winter.  But unfortunately this led to brake lines needing replacing, pressure not reaching places it needed to go, and numerous other issues that resulted in day upon day of car repairs which prevented our departure.  Luckily we were stranded at your parents and at the pool.  It could have been much worse.  It could have happened somewhere down I-75 where we would have been forced to use a mechanic we didn’t know and trust, and blow through all our vacation money we’d saved on hotels and food.  Yes, if you’re going to be stranded somewhere the pool is the place to do it.

And then we hit the road.  Because of the delay of car repairs we had to haul ass to Canada.  My family had rented a cottage for all of us and originally we were supposed to have arrived in Canada days earlier so it would have been more relaxed of a drive.  Not so much.  The only way to make the reservation meant you and I had to drive through the night, alternating drivers when one grew too sleepy.  Man, we booted it down I-75 and just kept on keeping on.  We drove and we drove and we drove some more.  We had planned on spending the night with my aunt and uncle in Cincinnati but we just didn’t have the time so we stopped for an hour power nap, some lunch, and hit the road again.  Zach, we were champs.  We made it all the way from Georgia to my hometown in Canada in under 22 hours.  It is doable.  Absolutely possible.  But it is beyond exhausting.  We still had fun and enjoyed ourselves but the entire idea behind our month-long roadtrip was to be able to enjoy ourselves and take our time.  But fate stepped in and had other plans for us.  We eventually made it in the wee hours of the morning, caught a few hours of sleep, and then headed up North to cottage country with the family.

After a great week at the cottage we spent the rest of the month in Canada maxing out every single opportunity.  With the most difficult part of our journey behind us we had much more family time, BBQ’s, long overdue time spent with my best friends and visits with their new babies, patio drinking, mini-roadtrips, days spent at our “glorious” Canadian beaches, hiking, babysitting my niece and nephew, broken fingers, and explorations of Toronto for your first time.  There were so many memories that I can scarcely begin to count them all.  You always joked about how many hundred’s of pictures I took everywhere we went but now I am so glad I did it.  Maybe right now its too painful to look through each and every one but maybe one day.  One day I will be able to look back and remember every moment of this trip.  It was truly unforgettable.

At the end of the month, on our way back to Georgia, we were able to take our time and enjoy the full roadtripping experience as we had intended.  We pulled over when we wanted to, explored what we wanted to, and drove as fast as we wanted to.  This is what we wanted all along.  We were able to spend a few days in Cincinnati with my aunt and uncle and they definitely spoiled us.  We went to ball games, shopped, ate amazing dinners, went to museums.  The list goes on and on.  It was the perfect end to a month-long getaway.  Just another place to check off our list of the many we wanted to go to together.

Coming home was sweet bliss.  We came home to our house which we had barely been moved into before we left on this adventure so we were especially excited.  I remember us finally pulling into Valdosta and both breathing a sigh of relief.  Home.  We were so blessed with the opportunity to be able to do this together and I wouldn’t trade it for the world but man we were tired and beyond ready to be out of the car.

I can hardly believe its been a year.  A full year.  It blows my mind.  This time last year we were mapping out routes, organizing our schedule to maximize our time in Canada, visiting friends, enjoying a break from South Georgia heat, and absolutely loving our ability to experience our lives in two separate countries.  I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else.

I write all this not just to “hear the sound of my own voice”, but rather because I want to remember.  I want to remember every last detail, every joke, every moment, every mile.  I don’t want the day to come where this is a fleeting memory.  I want to remember the hours upon hours of the two of us in the car with only deep conversations and goofy dancing to music to keep us company.  I want to remember every exit we stopped for gas and how victorious we felt at how little the gas actually cost us to do this trip.  I want to remember every laugh, every smile.

I just want to remember.