A Road Trip Called Grief

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I’m crazy about road trips. Ever since I learned how to drive I have loved the thrill of getting behind the wheel and going somewhere. I love to pump up the music, roll down the windows, and drink in the sights and sounds and wonder of it all. I grew up a city girl, so I love six lanes of traffic, twinkling city lights, and the obtuse angles of skyscrapers across the night. I have also learned to love cruising two lanes in the country with nothing but emerald pastures and big sky before me, or winding through the mountains peering over the ledges of breathtaking vistas.

Nine months ago I began a journey, a trip I never signed up for or imagined I’d be taking. My husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer and everything from what I considered “the good life” (also known as “the predictable life”) was ripped from under me – my security in marriage, my family, my ministry, my future. This was the beginning of a surprising road trip called grief.

I cried for 100 days.

The tears would not stop. I stood in the kitchen and cried. I drove my kids to school, and I cried. I sat by his bedside, watching his once athletic body deteriorate and cried. I went to church and sat in the back row and cried. I crawled across the gravel driveway trying to fight my fears and muster up some faith – all the while crying out to God.

A God who grieves with me

I am so grateful I serve a God who cries with me and allows me to question. I always return to the story of Lazarus’ death. John 11:33 gives flesh to this story: Mary was grieving the loss of her brother, and “when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews, who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…Jesus wept.” I love the way my Jesus sees tears and enters in. The healing often begins with these very soul-tears.

After my husband graduated into Glory, something lifted in me. The incredible weight of those 100 days of anticipating losing him was gone. I could rest in knowing my beloved is enjoying Heaven with his Savior. This was everything he lived for here on earth. His time was complete, his purpose fulfilled in 40 short years.

After he died, I also had a huge realization that I needed to nurture a space for grief. I needed to choose to nourish myself after enduring such trauma. I needed to create a safe space again for my three young daughters. This meant I had to say no to a lot of commitments. This also meant I had to be brave to try new things and create fresh rhythms for our family apart from our past.

As humans, our nature is to avoid pain. But sometimes grief is about returning to the places where you laid your most precious memories and remembering…and then finding the grace and strength to forge new memories. It’s about wading through instead of marching around.

I decided the time had come to take some road trips. We received all kinds of invitations from friends to visit or vacation with them. I gave myself permission to venture out. Admittedly, that first trip was hard to take. Packing all the bags and diapers and snacks took me forever. I had to play Tetris with the trunk – a job that had always been reserved for my man. But finally, we pulled out of the driveway and headed for the ocean. That first trip was a small victory for me, a step forward.

Quickly, I fell in love with road trips again. With my kids strapped in and my worship music blaring, I found a healing place to journey through my memories and questions. As our car traveled the miles, my heart was traversing too, daring to form new dreams.

Traveling together

Part of this grief journey has been helping my three daughters navigate the loss of their daddy. My desire has been to create a safe space for them to cry and remember. In the car, we talk about him. We imagine what he might be doing in Heaven today.

I have had friends who have offered to get in the car with us. They have sat in the passenger seat with me on this grief journey. They have cried with me and given me permission to laugh. They have held my hand and pointed out the gifts along the way.

Others have traveled in the back seat with me. They seldom say a word but their role is just as important. They are the prayer warriors, the ones who follow a prompting to pray me through late at night or when something triggers a memory or on a holiday. I am grateful for these sojourners.

I challenge you with these questions: How can you journey with someone grieving today? How can you offer up the Ministry of Presence or prayer to help them on their journey?

Here’s the thing: I now realize this is not just a journey of grief. It’s the journey called life. If you have not experienced loss, you will. If you are not in the middle of suffering now, you will likely taste it soon. It’s sobering, but a reality in our broken world.

A time to mourn and a time to dance

What I have discovered on this trip is that it’s all a surprising paradox. Where there is pain, there is always joy co-mingling. Where there is bitterness, there is also that top layer of sweetness that I never would have tasted before if I didn’t understand the contrast. Where there is mourning, there is also dancing (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Oh how I need both. Oh how I long to teach my girls the importance of embracing all this life has to offer and looking to the next one with confidence that we will be with daddy. And we will be with Jesus, our Redeemer.

I am driving in my car and I’m chasing a sunset along the coast. Before me is this giant orange-crimson-fiery ball slipping into the ocean-horizon. The sheer beauty of it takes my breath away. I am also filled with a strange sadness to enjoy it only for what seems like seconds.

What comes next, of course, is the real surprise. The sky fills with ribbons of color extending from that place where the sun had been. A deep merlot. A bright pumpkin. A lemon yellow. The pinks and indigos and purples swirling together. Sometimes the journey is so hard. It’s full of hard and hurting and harrowing experiences, but as we look back we can see the true colors of His Glory dancing across the sky.

**Are you struggling through a grief journey? Are you longing for a companion on your trip? Sign up for my weekly note of encouragement here. I also have a FREE resource on “Navigating grief with kids” that you will get delivered to your inbox when you sign up.

Photo by Tobias Greitzke on Unsplash.

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8 Comments

  • Peggy says:

    Thank you Dorina for your words of encouragement on this beautiful rainy morning. Today our family grieves the loss of our dear friend Molly Griffin, who went to be with Jesus on Saturday. I loved your words that you shared, where there is mourning, there is also dancing. (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

    • Dorina Gilmore says:

      So grieved to hear of Molly’s death! I imagine she’s dancing in Heaven and having a grand conversation with my Ericlee.

  • Bimala Shrestha Pokharel says:

    I am always encourage, inspired and challenged by your words. Thanks for using your gifts to bless so many around the world and being a strong woman of courage. My family and I are often on our knees for you, for your girls and for the road trips you will be taking in the future.

    • Dorina Gilmore says:

      Bimala, I’m inspired by you! I hope one day we can visit face-to-face again and trace the stories of God’s faithfulness in suffering around the world. Carry on, warrior!

  • Melissa Ens says:

    Beautifully said, Dorina. I resonate with so much of what you wrote… Thanks for sharing your journey.

  • Becky Cox says:

    Dorina, God has given you the ability to string words together in such a beautiful way. Thank you for sharing your journey with honesty and always pointing to the ever-present hope we have in Christ.

    • Dorina Gilmore says:

      Oh Becky! I appreciate your words of encouragement… These inspire me to keep sharing His story!

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