A reflection on however much we may empathise with others, we don’t see life through their eyes, and just as truly, nobody should try to interpret our life through their own. We each have to walk in our shoes and find our own path.
With all of the talk about ‘walking a mile in someone’s shoes’, the reality is that we each walk our own walk. This is a familiar theme in books and stories about the Camino (the 500 mile pilgrimage route in Spain) – you have to walk your own way.
Even people that set out on the pilgrimage together often spend a lot of time apart, as their walking speeds and styles are different. Some race along whilst others go at a more gentle pace, enjoying the view and stopping to take photos. Some people manage the route up hills just fine, whereas others struggle and go very slowly, catching their breath as they go. Some people send their backpacks ahead or take a taxi or bus on a difficult day; others are ‘walking purists’ who would not consider such a thing. But if the only way you can manage the route is to get some assistance, isn’t that better than not going at all?
In any case, the main point here is that we all walk our own walk.
As far as grief, as much as we can benefit from the solidarity and comfort of others who are also walking the grief road – and that is a big benefit I explore in other articles – there are also aspects of our life and experience that are unique to ourselves.
Here are some reflections on this from a walk I took some time back in the Lake District on a day when I was struggling with my grief.
I hit a storm in the morning. Later I found some calm in the quiet prayer chapel of an ancient church, alone with my thoughts, tears, prayers – and God – as I hope and believe.
Then I set off on another walk. We were staying in the Lake District for the week but my husband was fishing, so I had a long walk along the west shore of Windermere. It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny and relatively warm. I finished up in the courtyard of a castle up on a hill.
Here’s my photo of the view. I like it because so much is happening.
There are the sheep, sitting, sleeping, munching on grass on the peaceful rolling land, seemingly without a care in the world.
Spring has not yet sprung; the trees are bare, but the intricate pattern of their branches is beautiful in itself. You miss it when they’re covered with leaves. Sometimes when life gets you down to the bare basics, you see the pattern much clearer.
Then there’s the peaceful water. Occasionally the sound of voices wafts up; a crowd of people on a scenic boat trip around the lake. They’re enjoying each other’s company. There’s a time for friendship, for companionship, for family.
The mountains look bleak in the falling shadows, but also charming with the white snow-sprinkled tips. They would be difficult to climb, too difficult for me, I think. I don’t want the physical challenge of a mountain climb at this stage in my life. There are enough other challenges to surmount.
And above all there’s the sky. It’s mostly grey clouds, thickening, ominous. But I know the clouds will eventually pass; those bits of blue peaking through are a promise. However difficult this day has been, it will come to an end.
Overall the view is a tableau of life, high spots, difficult spots, comfortable spots.
Someone else would read the picture quite differently, perhaps bored by the sleepy sheep, and would instead prefer to embark on a trek up the mountains. Perhaps someone else would think the trees ugly, lacking any signs of leaves; or maybe they’d find hope in knowing that eventually the trees will soon be green and growing once more.
There is no right or wrong interpretation; we each see from our own perspectives.
However much we may sympathise with others, we don’t see life through their eyes, and just as truly, nobody should try to interpret our life through their own. Friends can be supportive and professionals can offer wise counsel, but nobody can tell us – the bereaved – the right and wrong way to grieve. We each have to walk in our shoes and find our own path. As long as we’re walking, there’s hope.
Read more: The uniqueness of each grief experience
This is one of a series of articles that discuss various parallels between walking (travelling) and grief. Find more here: