Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sunny Skies after the Fog

By Rose Carlson
A few Saturdays ago, I left my house really early…much too early for a Saturday; it was barely light, and it was unnaturally cold for early October, but I was going to speak at the Share walk in Fairview Heights, IL and needed to be there by 8 am. It is normally about a 45 minute drive, but it took me nearly an hour and a half because there was heavy fog that morning. I didn’t think much about it when I left home as fog is not uncommon around here. But, as I got on the interstate, the fog was so thick I could barely see where I was going, especially when I got near the Missouri River, which separates St. Charles (where I live) from St. Louis.

Where is this going you may be wondering? What does driving in fog early on a fall Saturday morning have to do with anything that would be posted on the Share blog?

Well, I do have a point. I promise, I do, but sometimes, (most of the time, really!) it takes me a bit of writing to get to my point, so bear with me please.

I crossed the Missouri River driving only about 30 miles an hour because I could not see much more than a few feet in front of my car. I was thinking it was the thickest fog I had seen in a long time, and I was really unsure of myself driving in it. Once I was over the river, the fog wasn’t quite as thick, and while it was still hard to see the highway in front of me, I relaxed a bit. I had planned on spending my drive going over in my mind the speech I had prepared, but I was so nervous driving, that all I could think about was navigating safely through the fog.

Maybe it’s because I was on my way to a Share event that my mind took the turn it did that morning. After all, I have driven in fog many times before. While I don’t like it, I have never before looked at fog and compared it to grief, but as I drove on that morning, that is exactly what was on my mind…thinking of being in the thick, swirling fog as the same way we all feel or have felt when we were grieving…unable to see very far ahead, only thinking of getting through the next few feet. Or the next few moments…putting whatever plans we may have had on hold as we go into survival “get through this” mode…that is what I thought about when I was going through the thick fog…it was very scary not being able to see what was ahead of me. Just as when you are grieving, it is scary to think about the days and months ahead. You can’t see where you are going, and that is not a good feeling. It’s not uncommon to feel as if a dark cloud is hovering over you, and you can’t imagine ever breaking out of it. I have driven this same stretch of highway many times…yet it was much different and felt unfamiliar driving it through the heavy cloak of fog. When you are grieving, your life may seem much the same way…you may be doing the same things, going the same places, and they may all be very familiar, yet at the same time, not familiar at all.

Once I drove over the bridge that crosses the river, the fog wasn’t as thick. In fact, the sun was kind of shining through the fog, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think about that. It was still foggy, but the sun was shining through, and it was still hard to see. The sun at that point almost made it harder to see.

And again I thought of the grief journey…how sometimes, you are in your darkest moments, unable to think of more than a few moments ahead. Then, sometimes, the sun shines, or rather you feel a tiny bit of relief from the dark, scary times you have been through. The sun shining through into your life for a moment may disorient you, as it did me on this foggy morning. It may take you a bit to adjust to the new brightness in your life, and you may feel afraid to believe that it will last. Just as I knew as I drove that I wasn’t completely out of the fog yet.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, I found myself once again enveloped in a fog so thick I could barely see, and I thought about pulling off the highway and calling Kaci, the person in charge of the walk I was going to so I could tell her I couldn’t make it. I still had a long way to go, and I felt like giving up and going back the way I had come, back to the safety of my home. But then I realized that I couldn’t do that. I was halfway there, and it seemed silly to turn back. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be avoiding the fog--I’d drive through it the whole way home. And besides, I knew that Kaci was counting on me to be there. So I kept going, even though I really didn’t want to.

As I drove on, I thought of how when you are grieving, you may often feel like just giving up, going back in time, then you think of those who are counting on you, and you know that you can’t give up. And as much as you wish you could, you can’t go back in time either.

Finally, just past the St. Louis airport, I broke through the fog, and the sky was beautifully blue and sunny. I was so relieved that I had made it through that scary drive. I still had a good ways to go to get to my destination, but I relaxed, turned on the radio, turned off the defroster and even cracked the window to let in some fresh, although cold air. I was finally able to drive the speed limit.

I gave up on my original plan of rehearsing my speech in my mind. I had gotten too sidetracked, and I decided to just drive and enjoy the beautiful morning. My plans had definitely changed, but I was okay with it by that point. Once again, I thought of grief, and how often you realize that the plans you may have had before really weren’t all that important, that what is important is to just enjoy the moment you are in.

I had about 10 minutes of enjoying the moment I was in. I thought I had gone through the “bad” stuff, that the rest of my trip to Illinois would be smooth sailing.

Then, I neared the Mississippi River which separates St. Louis from Illinois. All of the sudden, the fog was back. Thin at first, but as I drove on, it became thicker, and I felt like I was back where I had started from when I first left home. I hate driving over the bridge that crosses the Mississippi in the best of weather conditions. There are too many lanes and several interstates all meeting to cross that one bridge, and if you aren’t paying close attention, it is way too easy to end up in the wrong lane, going the wrong direction. So thinking of navigating that bridge in heavy fog was not appealing to me at all.

I was kind of angry by that point, too… I had been driving along, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful fall morning, singing along to the radio, and BAM! I was back in the fog, the fog that I hated driving in and thought I had left behind. Once again, I was unable to see where I was going, once again, I was nervous…if I hadn’t been so close to my destination, I might have been tempted once again to give up. But, this time, I knew I would eventually come out of the fog.

I turned off the radio, gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter, and tried once again to see my way safely through the fog. And just as I had thought, within a few minutes, I was once again out of the fog, and the day was beautiful and sunny.

I arrived at the walk later than I had planned on because of the unexpected fog, but I arrived. And I was happy to be there. It was truly a beautiful morning; the trees were starting to change to their fall colors, and they were stunning against the perfectly clear blue sky. It was hard to believe that only a few minutes before I had been unable to see that blue sky because of the heavy fog. And it was cold. But I had such an appreciation for the beauty of the day, maybe more so because of the conditions I had to go through to get there. Maybe if I hadn’t driven there in such horrific weather conditions, I would have arrived thinking only of the cold and not the beauty of the day, not the thankfulness I had for having arrived there safely.

On my way home from the walk, I didn’t encounter any fog. It was truly a beautiful fall day in St. Louis. As I drove back to St. Charles, I thought once again about the journey of grief…how it is so challenging to navigate through life when you feel as if your life is covered in a heavy oppressive fog. But inevitably, the fog does lift…in the beginning, the fog may only lift for brief moments, giving you a mere glimpse of the sunshine that lies ahead before it envelops you once again. But, as you continue on, the skies do eventually clear.

At this point in time, you may still be in that fog. And you may feel as if you will never come out of it. It’s hard to believe, but you will. Your skies will one day be clear and sunny again And hopefully, once the skies in your life are again sunny, you will have an appreciation for them that you might not have had if not for the dark, frightening fog you have navigated your way through

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