"Wild" Offers Thought-Provoking Journey Through Grieving Process
Sometimes a book just calls to you and keeps calling to you. Recently, that happened to me after reading a few reviews about Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Initially, I picked up the reviews in a few publications. And then Oprah picked it for her Book Club 2.0. And Wild made a run up the New York Times list of best-selling non-fiction books. And then not even having read it, I pointed it out to a friend who loves the outdoors and she got it on books on tape. So finally, I gave in and decided to download the memoir to my e-reader and was quickly engrossed.
So why, you might ask, am I writing about a memoir that focused on hiking for HealthCentral’s Alzheimer’s site? Well, it’s because the core of this book is based on Cheryl’s journey through the Land of Grief.
So a quick synopsis of the plot line – Cheryl was in her final year of college when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Despite Cheryl’s best efforts at caregiving, her mother’s cancer ended up being terminal. After her mother’s death, Cheryl found the bonds she had with family members fraying and her marriage on the rocks. Basically her life spiraled out of control and stayed out of control. Then on a whim four years later, she decided to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, a picturesque trail that zigzags from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. And she decided to do this hike alone without really adequately preparing for it (like thinking about how heavy her backpack really would be or taking the time to break in all of her hiking boots).
So what “ahas” did I get out of the book? Here goes:
- Grieving isn’t a process that is done quickly. Often times in our society, people are given a couple of months to mourn the passing of a loved one. At times family members, friends, business associates and acquaintances say, “Buck up! Get over it! Move forward!” However, you really need to take the time to grieve and that time is different for everyone. It can be many months or it may be several years, as in Cheryl’s case. And grieving, at least in my experience, can sneak back up on you when you least expect it after several years have passed since the loved one’s death.
- Grief isn’t something you can prepare for. This emotion is just like Cheryl’s hike – gut-wrenching at times, scary at times, beautiful at times. Grief takes you to the core of who you are, turns you inside out, roughs up you, and tires you out. It also can sand off the sharp edges of your being, making you a lot more appreciative of your life and the beauty around you. So yes, Cheryl could have prepared by breaking in those hiking boots, but she really couldn’t prepare for the emotional journey she undertook.
- I heard someone say recently, “We all have two births in life. The first is when we’re born to our mothers. The second is when our mothers die.” This statement really hit me and seems to be appropriate for Cheryl’s quest, as well. In my case, I felt like the rudder of the ship charting my life’s course was knocked out when Mom got Alzheimer’s. When she died, the air in my sails seemed to vanish as well. A few years later, I found myself seemingly stalled on the sea of life. I finally have decided that to move forward, I need to pick up some oars and start rowing in the direction that I want my life to go. And I think in Cheryl’s case, the hike gave her a chance to think through what she really wanted in her own life. She literally went from being stalled to walking her way into her future.
- We’re all on a journey and sometimes it’s best to go it alone, especially when you’re grieving in order to really think about where you’re going. Again, our society often doesn’t value solitude, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need to grieve. Cheryl found she really craved being alone on this quest, even when fellow hikers were going her way. It was that solitude that helped her become contemplative in working through all the issues regarding her life.
I hope if you get a chance, you’ll pick up a copy of Wild. It really makes you think about life’s journey in a whole new way!