Like walking into a store and asking which aisle you’ll find the item you’re looking for, she leans over to me and boldly asks: “How do I get to the other side? How do I move from this spot and this pain? How can I get to the next destination on my journey?”
Right now I wish I was a mapmaker but I’m not. I’m still trying to step my way through the grief and loss I’ve endured. I keep rewriting the map in front of me, which means I have no answers to provide. I’m a traveler just like her.
I feel her ache and her longing, as they’re similar to the ones I’ve felt for years. Hers is simply fresh and raw. She now stands in a foreign place with a future that has people and experiences removed. She stands on rocky ground, unstable and unsure. This is grief.
I grab a blank piece of paper and hand it to her. She looks at me confused, so I explain: “Here it is. The guide and map you’re looking for. I know it looks empty, and that’s because it is. The road and journey you planned in life has now demanded to be edited and rewritten. The harsh reality is that only you can write it. Only you can map it out.”
“This loss will change you and it will change the way you want to live. It will change where you want to go and how you want to get there. It will change the people you want to ride along and the people who will never leave the starting point. It will change everything, in both horrifying and healing ways. It’s a fresh start you never wanted but one you can’t escape. You are the map maker, the deciding factor to how fast and how far you travel. This is your life, the new one that’s found you.”
I can tell by her eyes and the way they now glisten with tears that it’s an answer she wasn’t expecting but one she knows is the closest thing to the truth. Grief has taught me the fleeting nature of time and how we don’t have any to waste with platitudes or inauthentic sympathy. It means helping with a compassionate spirit and an honest heart, which is exactly what I’m aiming to do.
She silently stares at the paper as I delicately say, “If you’re like me, you won’t start mapping out your new life for a while. First you’ll be motionless and confused. You’ll be angry and resentful. You’ll be fearful and consumed. You will not know how, or even if, you’ll be able to step into a future void of someone you love. But you will. Eventually. And the first steps will be heavy and clouded with guilt, but they are worthy and important. They’re the first movement toward the hope, light and legacy you’ve been handed.”
“And when you get tired or lonely or broken, I’m here. I am here, however you need me. I can’t draw your map or plan out your journey but I can walk with you for pieces of it. I can remind you to keep breathing, keep stepping and keep pursuing the gifts and love that remains.”
“Most of all, there is no ‘other side’ of grief and loss. There are always two sides to the road you walk, one full of pain and one full of priceless reminiscence and unwavering love. You’ll always see both sides. You’ll always know both sides exist, but with time, the love side shines brighter and surrounds you with radiance, blocking the shadows of the side ridden with heartbreak and a forever absence.
One day you won’t ask if the pain stops or the other side is near, you’ll be content with both- one as a shadow and one as a guide. And love and hope are the guides, of course. They always win.
A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.