Last night’s campground was quite noisy, and I really did not get much sleep. It was one of those nights when I woke up after sleeping soundly for about 3 hours, and could not get back to sleep. I finally dropped off again after about 2 hours. Plenty of coffee, and a glass of iced tea for lunch, kept me going on the road today. We traveled from Grand Junction, Colorado, to North Platte, Nebraska — a little over 500 miles, much of it through the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies have their own special brand of majesty and splendor, and the drive, while challenging, is not that strenuous. Still, as much as I enjoyed the scenery, I was actually glad when the landscape flattened out east of Denver and we could make some time.
We decided to “hotel it” tonight and tomorrow night to save some time and assure that we get good sleep. We found a Quality Inn and Suites in North Platte — very nice suite for a very small price, and the hotel/conference center also has a very good restaurant. I love to have at least one evening of nice accommodations and a great meal on my way home from these trips. Tonight was it for this trip — and it was very enjoyable.
As I wrap up Journey 4.0, my mind goes back to how these annual journeys got started. In fact, today’s Facebook “On This Day” feature brought up my blog post from last year, and as I read it, I reflected on all that has gone on in these 3+ years — and particularly on how the grief, and the whole grieving process, that inspired the first journey back in 2012, changed me and changed itself over time.
Anyone who has experienced it knows that grief does not honor timetables and does not bow to judgments of how a grieving person “should” feel or behave. The process and journey of grief differ for each individual. But I think what truly gives it all meaning is the ability to look back on it and see how one has changed — and indeed, has been changed — by it. I know that when I began this grief journey after Tom died in July, 2012, I had no clue what it was going to be like. I even was so naive as to think it would not be so bad, because I had had time to prepare for his death — in the long term, from his diagnosis in 2003, and in the short term, for the last 8 months of his life after we learned that the cancer had returned with a vengeance.
My first experience, in the week after Tom’s death, of the waves of grief that take you to your knees and make you bawl out loud like a little kid cured me of that notion. Grief brooks no preparation. You simply have to live through it, a day at a time. You have to let pain have its way with you until it is done, and then live your life as best you can during whatever short time you get between bouts.
You live through the stretch of time when you make what look to everyone else like goofy decisions — decisions that make perfect sense at the time, because you think they are going to cure the pain. Or maybe it’s a time when you can’t make decisions, because everything feels too far out of kilter.
You live through the times when it feels like no one else could possibly understand what this feels like, or what you are going through.
Maybe you try to start a new relationship, only to discover that you can’t recreate, in a few weeks or months, what it took years to build with the person you lost.
And ever so slowly, you begin to realize that the time between those blasts of grief is getting longer; that you are beginning to think like the individual you are, and decisions begin to be easier, because you have begun to accept that the death of that person really changed everything forever, and you have no choice but to go on, and to live out that forever-change.
That’s the key: That death changed everything, forever. Life will never be the way it was. It will only be the way it is going to be, and you get to decide that for yourself. You, as the person you are now becoming — in many ways, someone new and different from the person who was left behind with that death.
And that’s where I find myself, at the end of Journey 4.0: I am beginning, just now, 3 years, one month, and 17 days after Tom’s death, to truly “real”-ize who I am supposed to become. And as Journey 4.0 winds down, I begin to feel a sense of new beginnings — a much sharper, much clearer sense of a fresh start than with my return from any of the previous 3 such journeys. I am excited to get home and begin to shape my forever-changed future.
Throughout this trip, I’ve seen so many reminders of Tom — that little thing that happens when I just happen to look at a clock or the odometer of the car and see the numbers “333” and know that he is just there, beyond my touch but just there, letting me know that yeah, I’m on the right track. Forever changed by having known him, forever changed by having lost him to death, but absolutely on the right track for my future.