Well, I did it. I walked 60 km in an attempt to raise funds for Samaritans. I walked 60 km to reflect as I reach 60. I actually walked 60 miles by the end of the week, and as it was a coastal path (on the beautiful Llyn peninsula in Wales) and there was so much up and down, I ended up climbing the equivalent of Ben Nevis. Not bad considering all my health issues.
Came home utterly exhausted; could barely move for 3 days and just today I am slowly starting to revive.
I loved the views. I find going uphill very difficult, so I huffed, puffed, and went slowly. But it was exhilarating, even when the weather turned and I was literally walking in clouds.
That’s the good bit. On a sadder note, on the actual day of my birthday – when I was taking a break from walking – I was overwhelmed by the sadness of the loss of dear Pax and Catherine. There is something about those special dates on the calendar that seem to amplify the sorrow of grief. It was a tough one, no exaggeration. By then I’d already done my 60 km challenge, but later on in the week I kept walking. One step more. And one more. That’s our life isn’t it, one step after the other. And that is our walk through grief as well.
My partner walked with me at the very start, but mostly this was a lone walk. It was something I wanted to do, and that’s what I did. But whether you’ve got someone at your side or not, you still have to walk your walk. Nobody can carry you.
I’m calling this post “aloneness of grief” rather than “loneliness”, as you can be alone and lonely, but you can also be alone and glad to be in solitude. I think most of the bereaved experience both at times.
Nobody can quite understand our feelings. Each of us has unique life experiences, characters, genes, and our loved ones were unique too. So although we might relate to others who have had similar bereavements and losses, no one goes through something identical.
We all cope differently too. We might seek solitude. We might seek company and not find it, which will make us lonely, or we might find company but still feel alone in the crowd.
Speaking of the crowd, it moves on quite soon, doesn’t it. I wrote recently about “grief fatigue”. It’s only been a few weeks since the Manchester tragedy, but then came London Borough, and then came Grenfell Tower, and then came Finsbury Park. World Refugee Day was on 20th June and seemed to pass without much notice. 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2016, according to the UN Refugee Agency. More than 2000 souls died in the Mediterranean so far this year, 120 on World Refugee Day itself. We don’t know their names, but their loved ones do. Each one of these people whose life ends in tragedy had a mother and father, possibly brothers and sisters, partners, children of their own, had friends and companions. The fellowship of grief means that we have an inkling of what they are going through, although each one has a grief unique to themselves.
I thought as I walked last week about that place that we each have inside of ourselves, that hidden interior, that nobody else can enter. We may weep on someone’s shoulder, unburden ourselves in words or art, but there are always thoughts, feelings and memories that are our own, only for ourselves. And in that quiet place inhabited by ourselves alone, we experience the deepest of our emotions. It goes beyond words. We may feel such a depth of pain, fear and sorrow, although we also experience joy, hope and love. It is a place of unspoken dreams and of the essence of memories, as the clear images and sounds of a loved one or a place are starting to fade.
I suppose it’s the same aloneness as waiting for the anaesthetic to take effect prior to surgery, or waiting at the exit door to this life.
It’s a place where we might discover our true faith – if we seek a spiritual path. A place of prayer without words.
It’s a place where we are sincere, with no mask or pretense or covering.
It’s a place where our thoughts might suddenly become clear, or there may be no thoughts at all, just impressions.
And because of this private, inner place we inhabit, no matter who we have or don’t have around us, at a certain level we are all alone in our grief.
If we have friends, a partner, and/or a close supportive family, it can certainly help us on the path of grief, as to an extent we will mourn together. It reminds me of the trekking poles I used on this walking week, which couldn’t carry me and walk for me, but they certainly made the uphills and downhills a lot easier to manage.
On the other hand, disappointment about those who don’t support us, who aren’t on the phone when we need them, makes grief harder to bear. It’s also tough when we need to put on a brave face for the sake of those around us.
But at the end of the day, no matter our circumstances, there is a place where we are each alone in our grief.
May we each find our ways of filling that alone place with love, with good memories, with hope, so that our sorrows will become bearable, and we will walk on.
It was cloudy on the clifftop
I could hear the waves crashing on rocks
I knew an island sat beyond the coast
But I could not see it.
I felt the wind and the chill
Sought shelter behind a wall
And then I walked some more.
Down, down a narrow path,
Cautiously over loose pebbles,
Tentatively over slick wet grass.
The mist cleared, the way appeared.
And on I walked.
Seabirds soared and landed.
Sheep grazed on stubbly grass.
The air was damp and cool and refreshing.
I breathed deeply, slowly took my steps
As the path began to climb again
Soon I was back in clouds
Alone, but not lonely
Sad, but not hopeless
Voices of the past echoed in mind
Yet I lived in the moment
Of my own space
And I walked on.