Destination Discovery: Exploring the Unexpected

Author: Michele Hiester Marcum

Michael HiesterI am a planner. A calendar-toting, pen-in-hand, master of the daily grind. Phone apps? Electronic devices? Social networking reminders? Nope, none for me, thank you. I like the old-fashioned, whole month-at-a-glance paper variety with a small space in which to write each day’s activities. Last minute addition? No sweat. A squiggly arrow and a different color ink allow that modification. 

That’s my life. Varying colors, haphazard spacing, eclectic combinations of ever-changing script. On trips, I’m the same way. I love plotting a route, searching for alternate stops and can’t-miss opportunities. I’ll jot down mileage, approximate times, mini-goals along the way. But I never plan a specific arrival time, even when I know the ultimate destination. I leave the schedule loose enough so that I can follow the advice of a well-placed billboard and veer off on a country road to explore the unexpected.

But the unexpected isn’t always a joyous departure from the itinerary. Sometimes, we are forced to travel roads we never wanted to explore. That’s where I find myself now, in this detour called grief.

Seven years ago, my life was bursting with the hustle and bustle of raising a young family. With a new baby in the house and a new job, my life was chaotic. Those little rectangles on the calendar held little room for anything else, much less the all-consuming crash-and-burn emotional toll that comes with an unexpected death. My brother, deployed to Afghanistan and due home on leave within two weeks, wasn’t coming home after all.

There were no warning signs.

For me, navigating through grief has been kind of like driving in the dark with no headlights… and no map… and no road signs. At times, I’ve thought the road was beneath me, and with every bump, I’ve held my breath, waiting to determine whether it’s merely a pothole or a ditch that will send me end-over-end. The simple truth is: there is a reason that detours come with caution signs. Detours take you places you don’t want to go, and they are often over rough terrain. They hurt. They aren’t the most direct route, and they take far too much time. But I’ve found that they do eventually lead back to the main road. If you travel long enough.

If you are reading this, then my guess is that you are grieving someone, too. Whether you’re in the driver’s seat or feel like you’re being dragged along by the undercarriage, you are on this journey and taking this grief detour. There is no road map that tells you where the “de”-construction zones are or where you can take a short cut. They simply don’t exist. But I guarantee that what you will find are little rest stops along your journey where arms are open, expressing welcome to your new destination. As long as you are on this trip, I encourage you to explore the resources TAPS provides.  I’ve found the grief seminars to be extremely beneficial, as I’ve been able to meet other “travelers” in person.  The mentor program has also provided a great framework for connecting.  And, of course, the writing opportunities have been more than just an outlet.  They have given me a method to organize my thoughts… and ultimately see my growth.

I don’t know where I’m headed most days, but I know where I’ve been. And I’m learning that my destination is one of discovery. And wide, open spaces, shared with my fellow TAPS travelers.  We need not travel alone.