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A Grief Journey.

I left town last week. I went on a grief trip.

I packed my bags after my session was done last Saturday evening and rolled out of town on Sunday morning. I knew I was headed to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but I didn’t really know what I’d do once I got there. Would I sit on the beach the whole time? Would I kayak my days away? Would I blow money at the spa with the hopes that a massage might relax me a bit?

I didn’t really know... I just kind of went with it the whole trip. I tried to keep my head above water in the constant ebb and flow of the ever-changing ocean of grief + suicide.

I ended up driving my Dodge Ram truck on the beaches of Corolla, North Carolina. I parked my truck, dropped my tail-gate and sat and watched the waves roll in; one crashing on top of another, over and over again. I laughed out loud at the significance of me standing in the surf, watching the waves hit each other, only to compare my own grief cycle to the never-ending ocean tides. It’s funny how we read analogies for grief, and then we actually seek them out when we don’t know what else to do, and we don’t even realize we’re doing this. However, I did find comfort in knowing that the ocean never stops, but we eventually become stronger swimmers and surfers. It’s just the beginning part that’s really tricky.

I walked the sand dunes in search of wild horses... and I even found some, although, they were much less wild than I anticipated. I guess I had fighting stallions in my mind or something... but all these horse bums wanted to do was stick their head in the bushes, eat some shrubs, and swish their tails. Still beautiful, nonetheless, just a lot less exciting than I thought it was going to be.

I never did go to the spa like I thought I might. I just kept coming back to the fact that I would have to lay still while someone tried to work out some of the stress and tension that I’m constantly carrying in my neck and back right now, and just the thought of the stillness just about sent me over the edge. Maybe down the road, when I get home, and can settle into my normal life a little bit more and create some sort of normal routine I can visit a spa and get a massage. Right now it’s easier to keep my mind busy and not let it wander too far off the path.

Certain parts of the trip really helped to heal the tiny cracks in my heart. The surface ones, not the deep ruts that have been left wide open. But maybe grief is like the debt snowball... you have to start and repair the little cracks first, and then roll that momentum into the larger cracks, holes and ruts once you’ve gotten a little experience, once you’ve become a little more familiar with who this new person is, and a little less confused as to why you can’t find the old person.

I had a few set-backs during the trip too; it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. There were still black-holes, I just tripped up on them less often than I did when I’m back at home, in my real life. One major set-back deserves a post all of it’s own, simply because I know now that it’s a part of the grief + suicide cycle, but at that time and in that moment, it was real, raw, and I was angry. Really angry. But like I said, that’s a post for another time, definitely one that needs to be told though. I rounded out the trip with a stop to see our good friends and their four kids. It was like coming home after you’ve been gone far too long... I was welcomed with open arms, the tightest hugs, and the innocence of all their beautiful, blue-eyed children. Part of me worried about all the tears that might flow in front of them, how embarrassing it might be. But after I made it through the initial hellos and hugs, I realized that this was a safe place for me to feel exactly how I needed to feel; to be ok with it and let the feelings come and go.

Seeing the world through the eyes of their kids was also a great distraction for me. As a photographer, I’m really good at experiencing life through someone else’s eyes, especially young children who so openly let me in to their hearts and minds without any question. I sat on the beach and watched their youngest, Ruby, walk to the ocean to fill up her watering can, and walk back to dump it on the sand as she talked out loud, letting her innocent thoughts ramble and fall out of her mouth without a care in the world. I found myself a bit jealous... jealous that I can’t let words just fall off of my tongue, out-loud, but instead I tuck them away in a blog, or a book so that no one else hears them or sees them. Why is it like that for us, as adults? When are we told to stop saying what we feel and mean, and to keep our thoughts to ourselves? Maybe if we start telling ourselves that it’s ok to say what you mean and feel, as long as we’re not hurtful to others and can choose our words carefully, then that would help a lot of people with mental health issues. What if we stopped silencing people about their feelings and started telling people that it is OK to think, feel, and be vulnerable? Would the world be a better place? I have to think that maybe it would.

I made it back home. I gained clarity, which is what I was searching for the most out of this trip. I wanted to be able to wrap my head around and grasp what has happened to me. I was able to start to heal those tiny surface cracks, and I’m hoping that the little bit of momentum that I gained from this trip will help me to continue to heal some of the bigger, deep ruts that have been left in my heart. Grief and travel go hand in hand. This trip made me stop and re-evaluate my life... where am I going? Who do I want on this journey with me? Are the people that I’m surrounding myself the best fit for me? I questioned it all... every bit and piece of this new me. I was even able to find a few pieces of the old me too, and I was able to reach out and snag them, and tuck them back in their places, where they belong.

I think that I may take a trip every year, from now on, on the anniversary of his suicide date. I know that that day will probably never get easier, even as the years pass. It’ll still knock the wind out of my sail, and it will still be carved in the trunk of my tree, marking a piece of who I am and was, both the before and the after. I know that I’ll learn to be okay with having a before and after Sierra, and that’s it’s also ok to NOT be ok with it right now.


The After Sierra.


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