There’s an old saying on the lines of “there’s a merciful veil between us and the future, hiding our sight of what it is to come.”
One aspect of any grief journey is remembering multiple points of time when you didn’t know that disaster was lurking around the corner.
This time last year, I was waiting for knee replacement surgery. I didn’t know kidney cancer was around the corner.
The time five 1/2 years ago when we went on holiday to Tunisia, I didn’t know that my daughter’s death was going to follow 3 weeks after our return. So when I see the special bottle of wine we bought on our trip, still unopened in the cupboard, I think about that unknowing. And I can’t open the bottle, because it would be as though I would be continuing that journey. I wish that journey had never ever happened, not because there was anything wrong with our holiday, nor because my daughter’s death had anything whatsoever to do with it. It is just hard because it was part of a sequence of events.
There are so many days and occasions, so many anniversaries. Not only of the big sad events, but of the happy moments that were followed by sad.
I suppose anybody who has suffered a traumatic loss might feel a bit like this. You’re just that bit less sure about the future. You know that a sunny warm day isn’t going to last. You know that however you are feeling at the moment, it will be different tomorrow. And even on a good day you wonder just what is ahead. After all, you were happy once, and look what happened.
Sadly I don’t have a magic wand to cure this feeling of dread, but I also recognise that you can’t live your life like this. Well, you can, but it is a hard slog.
Like my last walking adventure. I tried a new route, one that looked okay on the map but turned out to be quite different to what I was expecting. It was a lovely sunny day and no reason to expect difficulties, but that’s what I met. For almost the first mile it was boggy mud and overgrown. I was wearing walking sandals – not smart under the circumstances but I wasn’t to know – and it was a hard slog.
Finally on dry ground, but shortly thereafter, there was the terrain I’ve been avoiding as it is hard on my back: Hilly, up and down. It was a forest path that I thought skirted the river. It did run by the river, after a manner of speaking, but not directly. The path went up, the path went down. The path went up, the path went down. Some people would call it “undulating” but I’m not in such good shape, and I call it awful.
I kept thinking, this can’t get any worse, surely now the path will level out, but there again was another climb.
I was exhausted, but I was in the middle of nowhere so there was nowhere to go but forward.
Was I ever glad to get out of the forest and finally reach a road. Simon hubby and I had a prearranged meeting spot (he was out fishing) and I had just got there when the car pulled up. Never a more welcome sight, as I clambered in. That was a walk I really did not enjoy and a route that I don’t intend to repeat. I was just glad when it was over.
So what’s that got to do with pessimism. Well, the reality is, sometimes pessimism is justified. You look at the future and your heart sinks as you dread what might be ahead, because look what the past held. And it might be something hard again. Something difficult again. Something you wish wasn’t happening. Your pessimism might be well-founded.
Then again, it might not. Just when you think you can’t go another step, there’s your ride home. There’s a friend with a bottle of water.
When it is a hard slog, we have to go forward. We might find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, but there is a path, and that path goes forward.
But I don’t think the strength to go forward on our grief journey – or any other life journey, for that matter – is found by knowing what’s ahead, but by keeping our focus on the step we have to take at this moment.
This is a quote I’m putting in the book I’m working on. I think it quite appropriate
The future is not yet yours—perhaps it never will be. And when tomorrow comes it will probably be different from what you had imagined. … Above all, live in the present moment and God will give you all the grace you need. (François de la Mothe-Fénelon)
To live in the moment seems to be the salve for the pain of pessimism.
To think: “Yes, I can take this next step. I don’t know about the steps ahead. I don’t know about the days, months and years. But this step is possible. I can survive this moment.”
To take a deep breath, to let it out slowly, to live in that single breath.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, providing you can manage to live in the now.