I recently heard an interview with Pema Chodron, a well-known Buddhist nun and author of the book When Things Fall Apart. This woman is chock-full of wisdom. And she got my mind turning about something this morning. In the interview, she talks about a graduation speech she gave recently, telling those brave young folks about to embark into the world, that the most important thing is to learn how to stumble well. To pay closer attention to our pain when we are stumbling through it, and allow ourselves to be fully in our losses and our pains so that we can learn what lessons they hold.
As I’m thinking about this idea, of stumbling well, I realize that the walk with grief is really one of stumbling greatly. Because, after all, losing your partner leaves you in a treacherous landscape. Imagine for a moment what your grief landscape looks like. To me, it’s a mountain range. A vast place of ups and downs, with jagged edges and surprises at every turn. For you it may be a desert, or a barren, underwater world. These images of the landscape of grief can hold a lot of value for us.
Grief is not a minor thing in life. It’s not just tripping you up. It’s not just potholes and speed bumps along the road. Losing your partner is not stumbling and hitting the ground in front of you. It’s stumbling and suddenly there IS no ground to fall on anymore. It is falling off a cliff in slow motion… into a whole other landscape that you were not prepared to travel...
Suddenly, everything feels dangerous to you.
There’s something about this phrase, “stumbling greatly” that I like. It reminds me of Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and it’s the positive message its title holds. I wonder if it would help us all, to have a positive phrase like this to hold onto in the midst of our journey with grief. To remember that, each and every day, we are Stumbling Greatly.
Even on our worst days, when we make only the smallest good decisions and it seems pathetic in our eyes that we couldn’t do more. On days when we fall into a heap of sorrow, unable to go any further. And on the days when we have a little strength to climb some more, only to be bombarded by a storm of grief or an unexpected trigger that sets us back. All of these little moments are part of a larger journey of stumbling greatly over this vastly difficult landscape of grief. Like climbing through mountain ranges inside our hearts.
Even the smallest steps forward are something to be proud of and to acknowledge in this space. Even standing still is, because we all need rest along the way. We are up against a mountainous terrain of grief, after all, and we must remember that. We must remember that we only move forward through the highs and lows by already being someone who Stumbles Greatly. The very fact that we are out there, in the midst of it, still somehow breathing, means we are stumbling greatly, valiantly, and proudly through one of the harshest internal landscapes anyone will ever face.
I hope, on your lowest days, you will remember this. A day that feels like you haven't gotten anywhere is just a day you are resting at your camp, until you're ready to pack up and move forward a little bit more. And I hope you will feel a small glimmer of pride for how far you’ve come, 3 inches, 10 feet, 20 miles… even an inch forward in this place is something to be proud of. Please remember that. Remember that you are Stumbling Greatly, every day.