The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Grief

BEWARE! Steep Roller Coaster Ahead…

Are you a roller coaster lover? Or are you like me—terrified of those torture devices? It doesn’t matter which kind of roller coaster it is, from kiddie ride to mega-coaster, I hate them all the same!

Along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, there is a 13.5 mile section called the Roller Coaster. This series of a dozen short steep hills comes with a “warning” sign at each end. We reached this area a few weeks into our first backpacking trip on the AT. It was intimidating, but we survived.

In the past few weeks, I have been on a different type of Roller Coaster. There has been an unending path of steep emotional ups and downs: bittersweet memories while sorting family photos, my parents first anniversary after my dad died last year, approaching the 10th anniversary of our son’s death (how in the world has it been that long?!), the upcoming first anniversary of my dad’s death, my dad’s birthday, my birthday that I share with my son…plus family gatherings, a daughter graduating from Pharmacy school, a son graduating with a bachelor’s degree, both kids and their spouses moving to new locations, a cross-country road trip and more. So many mixed up emotions hitting me all at once!

I know I’m not the only one walking a challenging path right now. Daughter and I conquered the AT Roller Coaster. Here are some lessons we learned that can help me (and you?!) more easily navigate other times of turmoil in our lives…

RECOGNIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING: It is much easier to handle difficult times when we anticipate the struggles. We can give ourselves grace, not expecting too much of ourselves in the midst of steep ups and downs. At the same time, we can make preparations to (somewhat) ease the challenges of grief and stress. The warning signs in the guidebooks and on the AT itself were daunting. But these warnings helped set our expectations. In reality, it wasn’t as bad as we feared.

LIGHTEN the LOAD: When chaos hits, it’s time to take a look at what we are carrying and lighten the load wherever possible. Eliminating unnecessary things allows us to have more energy to deal with the burden(s) we can’t avoid carrying. Which things can be rearranged in our schedules? Which chores and responsibilities can be left for later or delegated to others? This is a never-ending quest in backpacking—determining actual *NEEDS* versus heavy *shoulds* or little luxuries that quickly add up to draining burdens.

SET YOUR OWN PACE: Don’t compare yourself to others walking a similar path. Don’t let others dictate what (they think) you should do. Some folks best deal with challenges by keeping busy, not wallowing in messy emotions. Others need to step back and plan for times to rest, allowing themselves space to ponder what is happening. In the case of the AT Roller Coaster, we chose to stop in the middle at a pretty campsite and get good rest to finish the ups and downs the next day.

LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE: In the middle of the Roller Coaster it sometimes feels like things are out of our control and the upheaval will never end. It helps to step back and realize this turbulence is temporary…it will not last forever. And even in the chaos, we can find moments of beauty and rest. It was helpful when we were weary of endless ups and downs to stop at an overlook for a few minutes. Rest, a beautiful view, and some nutritious snacks gave us energy to continue down the trail.

LET OTHERS HELP: When we feel overwhelmed, there are often people around us who want to encourage us. We have to be willing to talk with them and accept their offers of assistance. Stubborn independence makes our own burdens heavier and prevents others from experiencing the joy of helping someone else. Often little things become huge encouragements! A simple granola bar offered by one day hiker, a brief conversation with some young kids walking with their dad, and the juicy sweetness of fresh fruit handed to us  gave us energy to keep going until we finished the Roller Coaster. (Thanks, Trail Angels!)

I still hate roller coasters, but looking back at our successful hike through the Roller Coaster on the Appalachian Trail reminds me that I can also successfully navigate the turbulent ups and downs  of grief and stress I’m experiencing right now. I’m off to listen to some soothing music while re-reading a favorite book. I can face these challenges again tomorrow…

(You can read more about my “adventures” with grief HERE and HERE.)

“Lovey-Dovey Day” — a Different Way

It’s “Lovey-Dovey Day.” Hallmark wants you to believe that on this day everyone has a soul-mate, someone who deeply loves them, someone to lavish affection on with chocolates and expensive cards. But what about all the folks who feel like their lives are a frozen wasteland? The ones who feel lonely, left out, or left behind? Aren’t they worthy of love?

To write or not to write? I’ve pondered whether to post anything today. Seems like everyone out there in internet-land is spouting lovey-dovey platitudes. Blergh! That’s not reality for most of us!

Some (like me) have a solid marriage with kids and grandbabies we dearly love. But we don’t really see the point of obligatory only-on-this-one-day declarations of grand love accompanied by fancy dinner or a huge box of chocolates. (Well, I never say no to good chocolates…HA!) We are a “not-so-picture-perfect” family. Love for us is a quieter long-term commitment to each other. It is day-in day-out supporting each other, encouraging each other, getting irritated with each other, challenging each other. It is having fun together and fighting together, cooking together and crying together.

Some (like me) have a broken heart. This day feels like a mockery when someone we love has died or a relationship is over or we come from a hurtful, harmful family. We are often paralyzed on holidays with their images of picture-perfect couples and families. We stare inside at our dry, desert-like hearts that have been ripped apart while life seemingly goes on for people around us.

Let’s choose a different perspective! Let’s find “love” in new ways and places. First, take time to see and acknowledge how our current realities are different from the Hollywood/Hallmark versions of “lovey-dovey lives.” We need to grieve the losses we have experienced, including lost dreams. Then we are ready to look around us, searching for little bits of pleasure, hunting for hidden beauty. Try some “Nature Therapy” to reconnect with love. Enjoy being outdoors. Pick flowers, find treasures on the beach. Go fishing or hiking or simply sit and soak up some sun. These simple things are a way to love ourselves. And, once we are at peace, we will better love those around us.

Here’s a reminder: each one of us are on a Countdown to Eternity. While we are still living, we get to choose our attitudes and responses. We can focus on all of the pain and woundings we have experienced. Or we can remind ourselves that our time here on earth is short. We can pay attention to the special moments and make a collection of treasured memories.

Savoring special moments and treasured memories is how I choose to celebrate “Lovey-Dovey Day.” How about you?!

(PS—if you want to know more about these two paintings I made a few years ago, you can read HERE about the process of making them  and read about my excitement at helping to illustrate a book for a favorite inspirational author HERE)

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