Google Maps for grief


5355848231_8a50fb3ebd_oJeff was the quintessential travel companion. Truly, all his years in Boy Scouts and the Army paid off. He planned ahead to keep us on time (which I often sabotaged) and navigated our way through check-in and security to whichever gate we needed, largely without my assistance. If we needed a rental car, he drove. He enjoyed being in control, but that’s where things got sticky. Back in the days of paper maps, he couldn’t both drive and navigate, and I was not a superb navigator–or even a decent one. I always felt like “the weakest link.”

Navigation systems greatly improved our efficiency in traveling and reduced stress for both of us. Our first experience with a vehicle-enabled GPS couldn’t have come at a better moment: as we attempted to exit Paris en route to Normandy for a self-guided tour of historic World War II sites. Yes, my husband drove in Paris! Once we discovered how to program the system to speak English rather than French (after circling the Arc de Triumph four times), we were on our way.

It is not false humility when I say I am “the weakest link” as a travel companion. I enjoy being at my destination, but not the process of getting there. I don’t enjoy the planning. The airport gives me anxiety, particularly if I think I will be delayed at ANY portion of the journey. Driving in large cities gives me even more anxiety than airports. I have to pore over maps for hours (basically memorize them) in order to gain my bearings. Therefore, one could reasonably conclude that navigation systems and apps have revolutionized my life.

When it comes to navigating my way through the grief process, however, I am just as clumsy as I was in the passenger seat trying to read those old paper maps. Except there really is no map. No app. No cool technology to calculate my arrival time or tell me to turn left in two hundred feet in order to arrive at my destination.

For several months, I felt as though I was cruising down the “grief highway,” making steady progress with minimal pit stops. Suddenly, about a month ago, I just stalled. I looked around and didn’t recognize the scenery. It was as though I had wandered off of the road into a dense forest of raw grief. Nearly every day for three weeks (okay, maybe four), I found myself on the verge of tears. I snapped at my kids more easily and teared up easily. I became discouraged at the most minor setbacks. I felt completely derailed and unsure of which direction to go in order to get back on track. I needed Google Maps for grief!

Perhaps there is no map because when it comes to grief, the distance between two points (where one is and where one wants to be) is NOT linear. The path is full of curving lines and tangents that appear to be rabbit trails but in reality, they are important components of the grieving process. It is the “work” of working through grief. For me, this work was not like the work of digging in the dirt to cultivate a garden–creative, productive, fulfilling. Rather, it was more like the work of shoveling oneself out of an avalanche–a bit of progress, then more snow tumbles into the hollow, making for a seemingly endless process of struggling and searching for the surface and not even knowing if the digging is in the right direction. In the midst of it, I wondered, Is this “work” even producing tangible results?

I began to realize that when I thought I had been “cruising,” I had actually been procrastinating, putting off the real “work” of grieving. Not intentionally. I just didn’t have time for it. Life with two little ones is busy, so I kicked the grief “can” down the road until I ran out of road… (Jeff always liked that analogy). Apparently, I reached a point where I could not stifle the emotional response any longer.

The good news is: Jesus met me in that mess of tears and feelings that I wanted to keep shoving away. He not only brought his shovel, but he also knew which way to dig. Furthermore, he helped me regain the perspective I needed to get back “on track.” I may not be cruising, but at least I’m moving again.

As I reflected on this aspect of the grief journey, I was reminded of another group of folks who thought they needed a map–or at least more information. “You know the way to where I’m going,” Jesus told his disciples, but Thomas said, “No, we don’t know, Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14: 4-6a, NLT). These verses speak volumes to me.

As much as I’d like a map or a cool app to navigate grief, I don’t need one.  I know the ultimate destination. And I don’t have to know the course as long as I am following the One who IS the way.