A Different Path

Author: Randy Beard

Why is it that human beings, when faced with the unknowable, develop expectations of how it is going to be? I really had no idea what my journey of grief was going to be like, but that didn’t stop me from developing unfounded expectations. Of course not! The problem with those expectations is that they added extra stress to my already burdened soul.  

Beard Funeral

Not only did I experience the grief, but I also experienced the failure of not meeting my ridiculous expectations… expectations that were not based on any foundation whatsoever, but just pulled out of thin air.

Two of these recurring expectations were:

  • “Oh, a few months and I’ll be functioning like normal…” and
  • “My wife and I will be able to draw close and go through this grief in the same way.”

It’s been three years since the death of our son, Army Specialist, Bradley S. Beard, and I am still not functioning at what was my previous “normal.” I have had to acknowledge that there must be a new “normal,” and adjust to it. The second misconception, however, is the one that I want to address, in the hope that my experience will help you in this time of readjustment to your new reality.

Several months after Brad’s death, my wife and I decided to get out of the house and experience nature. We drove to nearby Pilot Mountain in North Carolina to spend some time hiking its paths. During this hike, I began to understand something about the difference in the way we grieve.

Upon our arrival we decided to hike the path labeled as “strenuous,” and we set off on what the sign identified as a three-hour trek. I, being the sensitive intelligent guy that I am, understood my wife’s desire to spend some time alone after she said, “Why don’t you go ahead and allow me some solitude?” I was concerned about her and although I went on ahead, I would wait and allow her to catch up to make sure that she was okay. I would wait just long enough for her to come into view, and watch her for a while before I continued on ahead. A few times during the hike I waited for her to catch up to me, and we would rest and talk for a few minutes before resuming our journey.

It was during one of the times of watching that I noticed she was not traveling the same path I had taken. She would go around rock formations to the left where I had gone to the right; she would take the higher passage around a stand of trees where I had taken the lower passage. As I watched, it suddenly struck me that it was the same way with our journey of grief. Somehow, I had expected us to experience the same things at the same time in our journey of grieving for Brad. I had been frustrated when she was not experiencing thoughts and feelings that I was going through. At the same time, I was at a loss to understand many of the things that she was dealing with at any given time.

Suddenly, I understood that in the same way she was walking a different path during our hike through the woods, she was taking a different path in her grief. And regardless of which path we take in our grieving, the journey is no less strenuous.  

This knowledge has allowed me the freedom to take my journey and not get upset if we are not experiencing the same things. I have had to let go of the idea of us grieving in lock step, and allow my wife the liberty to take her own path. I have had to accept the idea that her path is not the “wrong” path simply because it is different from mine. I began to understand that grieving is, in many ways, a lonely journey. We are isolated, and yet not alone.

One of the best things we do for ourselves is to keep each other in sight. And when we come to the resting points, we allow ourselves to talk about the paths that we have individually been traveling. I have realized that we each had our own individual relationship with Brad and we will not travel the same exact path or experience the same feelings in the same time frame as we travel this journey.

One of the blessings of TAPS is that it is a safe place where those of us on this journey of grief can come together, sit down, and share our individual stories. We can listen to each other’s journeys. Sometimes I am amazed at how someone else is able to put into words feelings that I have, but am unable to identify or understand. By listening to others, I am able to explore my own inner thoughts and feelings. It helps to join a larger cross section of people, to get ideas of what worked or didn’t work for them. And every once in a while I find someone whose path has been very similar to mine.

The Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar in Washington, DC is a place to join with others in honoring our loved ones on Memorial Day. Please join us in May when we come together in a safe environment and participate with others who understand. We can share our individual journeys. We can connect with each other, even when we are not experiencing identical grief. 

By Randy Beard: Randy Beard is the surviving father of SPC Bradley S. Beard who was killed in Iraq on October 14, 2004. He is a TAPS Peer Mentor, husband of Betsy, and father to Staci.