A journey along the healing road

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“Well, what seems to have happened during this longish interval of time and distance is that I’ve reached one of those stages along the ‘Grieving Road’. There is a pretty well-defined series of ‘phases’ you go through (I used to know all this stuff in detail from reading all them Grief Books over in London, but I’ve wisely let most of that stuff flow out of my head), with various stages through dominant Shock, Disbelief, Denial, Anger; and that Finally you are supposed to reach Acceptance. (Not to be confused with Happiness, Peace, or Resignation.)”

So wrote Neil Peart—drummer and lyricist of the band, Rush—to his friend shortly after returning from a four-month motorcycle trip across the width of Canada, the Western United States, and Mexico. That 28,000 mile journey was the first leg in a 55,000 mile trek in search of a reason to live.

Over the course of ten months he lost his entire family. His only child died in a car accident. His wife and partner of 20 years was overcome with grief, then succumbed herself to cancer shortly thereafter. Neil was left alone.

After attending the second funeral he was left with a difficult decision: to be or not to be. A famously shy and introverted musician he imagined he could never again experience joy. He hung up his drum sticks and wondered whether he could go on.

And he did not know where to go.

So he climbed on his BMW R1100GS motorcycle, headed west from his lake home in Quebec. Without any real destination on mind he decided to keep moving. He realized that as long as he kept moving forward and kept his eye and mind on the road, he would somehow be ok.

Neil Peart’s autobiographical book, “Ghost Rider: Travels On the Healing Road” is an engaging peak inside the head of a man struggling with the most intense of losses. He loses his only child, his wife, and his sense of direction. A prolific lyricist and journal-er (not a journalist, but one who has kept a careful journal for decades) he gives us a peak into his thoughts as he encounters people, places and a lot of empty road through a vast landscape.

The views are not always pretty, at least not the ones in his head. Sometimes he is mean and hateful toward those who go blithely on, as if his pain didn’t mean anything. He can be quite judgmental of others, especially those who don’t outwardly seem to share his sensibilities and tastes.

But I cannot give away the ending, mostly because I haven’t finished reading it. (I have a bad habit of reading three books at a time, and taking far too long to finish any of them.)

The book was recommended by a good friend, a big fan of Rush, who is going down his own “healing road”. His losses are also great as he has to cope and reconstruct a life after losing a wife to whom he has always been entirely dedicated.

Loss is a universal experience, though the frequency, intensity and results may vary. No one escapes this life without having someone and/or something near and dear to them removed.

Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross postulated years ago that those undergoing severe loss, as in those with terminal illness, go through five stages: Denial (it really isn’t happening), Anger (this shouldn’t be happening!), Bargaining (maybe if I ____ it won’t actually happen), Depression (what’s the point?), and Acceptance (It’s going to be okay.)

Many misunderstood Kübler-Ross to state that all people go through these stages and always in that order. Though imperfect her observations have proven to be pretty useful in helping us to accept our own and others’ challenging responses to loss.

I picked up this book because I’m a fan of the drummer, of motorcycling, and also of the friend who recommended it. So I’ve been reading it through all three lenses. But I’ve also been reading it as a model of what happens naturally when one gets up, puts their boots on, and goes—cross country, across the neighborhood, or across the room—to make contact with things and people as they are in the moment.

You’ve read my diatribes about mindfulness, the awareness that arises when one pays attention, on purpose, to things as they are in the moment without judgement. Something marvelous happens when we engage intentionally: the mind stops scrambling to anticipate, to change or to order things; and simply responds to things as they are.

Autumn is a time of frequent mourning and sense of loss. The falling leaves and falling temperature remind us that another year draws to a close and that we’ll be indoors for the next several months. Shorter daylight hours often lead to sense of gloom and despair. The holidays often remind us of what we miss or what we lack.

But please try this today, and just see what happens: Stand up straight, with a half-smile on your face. Sniff the air and feel the cool breeze on your cheek without calling it yucky or awful. Look at the golden-colored light and just notice the beauty of the things—and the people—around you.

It turns out that every moment is okay. And if I can stay in moment, I will be okay, too.

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About the Author:

Michael Williams is a licensed psychotherapist, a Marriage and Family Therapist with over 25 years' experience. A specialist in quickly improving important relationships, he is also an expert in helping clients to quickly overcome problems with anxious, depressed or irritable moods.

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