No way forwards, no way back: Getting stuck

Relatively few people take and pass their driving test for the first time in their 60s, and I’m one of them.

Since passing in April, I’ve covered lots of miles. I enjoy driving and my confidence has grown, but I am still a relatively new driver.

Recently I was on my way to a meeting in an unfamiliar location on the other side of Stoke-on-Trent. My satnav led me on a merry journey through some of the country lanes that surround and weave through the edges of the city. I missed a turn and ended up on a particularly narrow lane. It wasn’t only narrow, but there was also a deep ditch on either side of the tarmac, maybe 1 metre deep.

I found a safe place to turn around and drove back towards where I was supposed to go, but while still driving down this narrow lane, there appeared a car coming from the opposite direction.

If you’re not familiar with the country lanes of Great Britain, you might not realise just how narrow some of them can be, sometimes not so much more than a car width. There was no space for us to pass each other, and neither one of us had the right of way.

We both stopped, our cars virtually head to head. I had a “P – new driver” sign on my car and hoped for some kindness! The driver opposite got out of her car and asked if I could reverse back along the road until we could pass each other, which would mean going back to where I had turned. By then it was pouring rain, and I was exceedingly nervous about reversing with that big ditch on either side. And while we talked, some more cars came up behind me – and then more cars behind her.

We were well and truly stuck. I felt pretty stupid but I just couldn’t see how I was going to reverse back down the lane. Finally the lady relented and waved the cars behind her to go back, and she in turn reversed a few metres. Slowly I crept my car forwards, until there was a safe place where I could pass her and the line of cars behind her.

Whew, was I relieved to be on my way, and I bet the other drivers were too. Nobody had honked or appeared impatient, but on the other hand, I couldn’t hear what was going on inside their cars!

Analogies are never perfect, but when I think about this driving story, it reminded me how getting stuck, not being able to go forward and not being able to go back, sometimes happens in our grief journey too. We find ourselves stuck in a really bad moment or bad time, and we can’t see how we can go past it, and of course there is no option to go back in time.

It was the patience of those around me, and in some ways making allowances for me, that opened the way for me to make some progress. I still had to do my part, still had to drive the car myself – nobody was going to jump into the driving seat and take over (though I might not have minded at that moment). But a bit of kindness on the part of those around helped clear the way.

My hope for anyone reading this who is struggling with some bad moments, is that there will be some friend or family member or colleague who will say or do something to ease your route.

It might not be anything big. It might be showing patience. It might be the absence of criticism, which would make you feel even worse than you do already.

It might be stopping their own hurried journey through life, popping over to see you, finding out how you are. It might be a phone call or a text, it might be an invitation for a cup of tea. It might be listening to you. It could be any act of kindness that means something to you.

None of those things will change the facts of your loss, and neither will they remove your own responsibility to drive your life forward, but they might help you through a bad spot.

I hope so.

PS. If you’re reading this as someone who would like to support other people who are grieving, you will find some ideas here on my other website.

Read more: Plotting the future; priorities in a grief journey

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This picture has nothing much to do with the text and is mainly here because I like this place! But perhaps it does apply – maybe you would appreciate a hand if you wanted to climb it. It’s Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire, an impressive rock structure. You can just about see the scale if you can find the person up on the rock in the centre.

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