A willingness to wander

From Flanders Fields to Arlington and many points in between, Amy has walked a long and winding road with me. Ieper, Belgium, March 2007

From Flanders Fields to Arlington National Cemetery and many points in between,
Amy has walked a long and winding road with me. Ieper, Belgium, March 2007

“The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief…requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.” — Rachel Held Evans

In a society that seems determined to strive for warp speed in everything, it is not surprising that the quick cure is more popular than healing. But some maladies are not curable.  As Dr. Lissa Rankin explains, “healing and curing are inherently different. Curing means ‘eliminating all evidence of disease,’ while healing means ‘becoming whole.'”

Healing takes time, and often leaves scars. While the hope of a cure focuses on a return to normal (whatever normal was), healing almost always leaves us changed in some way. When a complete recovery isn’t in the cards, when our lives are changed irrevocably, we still may have the hope of healing. But we have a long road ahead of us, and as Evans affirms, very few of us are able to travel it alone.

It’s a protracted and painful journey, and rare indeed are those who are ready to accompany us on that path more than briefly. Those who stay close enough to share our pain will also share our frustration, exhaustion, bewilderment and anger. No wonder so few will sign on for such a role. And no wonder physicians, therapists and other paid care providers can only provide a small measure of what is needed for the healing process.

Here’s to those who are willing to wander through this wilderness with us. It is indeed a scenic route, though not in a picture-postcard sense. But not all of the landscapes are desolate. Wildflowers and rainbows appear unexpectedly. Bare trees and silent tombstones radiate an otherworldly beauty. The dusk brings a haunting solace born of the deep-seated understanding that dawn is only half a day away, no matter how far off it may seem.


  1. I can relate. And I know how difficult healing is. Hope you are fine, Julia. I suffered another loss last week – my mother passed on 7 Feb. It had been a tough year for her, still she fought till the end. Now we are in the orphans’ club. Hope time will heal everything.
    With love…

    • Bindu, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. It seems like such a short time ago that you lost your father too. Yes, we can only hope that time will bring healing. Sending you love & prayers for peace and consolation.

  2. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia. ☕❤️ What’s better than a cup of coffee as I start my day, my week? Of course, it’s these heartfelt words! So many “ailments” require time we’re told. Grief certainly does! After my brother died (sadly, by his own hand), I commented that time was helping me so much. It was helping me to be able to REMEMBER instead of FORGETTING. I chose to think of happy times, his achievements, and his goodness. I prayed that Michael would become my sunbeam instead of my sorrow after he was gone. I suppose that explains why SUNSHINE is really important to me. 💛 Thank you for letting me share that! I pray your road today will find you” walking on sunshine”! 😎☀️ Sure love y’all, She

    • Sheila, thanks for sharing your story and your very helpful idea to focus on remembering the good, not forgetting the painful. I wrote a post kind of like that about our younger brother, who is still alive; I imagine it’s even more painful if someone is no longer with us to give us hope for happier times in the future. Sunshine does make such a big difference. My outlook changes completely on a sunny day. I supposed that’s why I love California so much. Today was not a sunny day but I went out for a walk anyway. Just being outside is a help, even on cloudy days. Each day this time of year we get one more minute of daylight, so I’ve been told, and I like that thought. I’ll meet you on the Verandah rain or shine! (That lovely covered area with the fireplace comes in handy, doesn’t it?)

  3. Good morning, Julia!
    Outside my window icicles hang, both long and straight, and twisted and bent in different directions, mostly to the northeast.
    I agree with your last paragraph, and would like to point out that those who wander along with the healing soul also find surprises and new perspectives. We learn to listen, to observe, and we learn about ourselves, too. The journey can be healing to both, even if one didn’t realize that their own healing was needed. (Just saying … Thanks!)
    Although in winter, evening comes so early that it can be a bit of a downer, and although I’ve generally preferred mornings, sometimes the evening twilight reminds me that we have made it through another day.

    • That is a nice feeling, isn’t it? Especially if it’s a day when I have been able to get a few things done. But even if I haven’t, I’m always glad to rest. One way I knew I was growing up was when I quit dreading “having” to go to bed at night– like many children, I loved staying up late. I guess growing older and wearing out is nature’s way of making sure we start getting some rest! 😀 Icicles! Wow, I was thinking how cold it was here today, but mid-40’s doesn’t sound so bad after reading that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen crooked icicles, but I guess that happens with lots of wind. Suddenly I feel a bit warmer! Everything is relative. Thanks for being with me on this strangely scenic route.

  4. Cherie

    Julia, such a moving post today. I hope you feel my love coming up to you and Matt. Love to you, sister!

    • Cherie, I do! Thank you! ❤

  5. Beautifully expressed. There is One called the Great Healer. He is willing to accompany us all the way to Healing.

    • Amen! And I am SO thankful for that…thanks too for your kind words and presence here.

  6. Harry Sims

    As I engage in a willingness to wander, I try to cultivate a willingness to wonder!
    Have a Brogdination day.


    • Harry Sims

      Ps -This is one of your best reflections.

      • Thank you. 🙂

    • Wandering and wondering do seem to go together, don’t they? I’m stumped about what sort of a day you were wishing me, though…

      • Harry Sims

        a giant.

        Remember Gulliver’s travels?
        Brobdingnag is a fictional land in Jonathan Swift’s satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels occupied by giants. Wikipedia.

        Sometimes my spelling falls short.– hes

        • Actually, I have NEVER, EVER read Gulliver’s travels! I’ve only seen cartoons of it or references to it. But I know I need to read it. Meanwhile, thanks for this cultural literacy moment. I learn so much from these comments! 😀

  7. On this date, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt lost his wife and his mother within hours of each other. His stark diary entry for that day was, “the light has gone out of my life”.

    Why is this comment made on a blog dedicated to defeating despair? (The above words were penned in his diary before he was the hero of San Juan Hill, and before he was a strong President of the United States.)
    Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt is included with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, on Mount Rushmore, because he Defeated Despair.

    • Eric, I don’t believe I had ever heard that about TR – or if I had, I had forgotten it. Thanks for sharing that reminder. Life was so hard in past centuries that scarcely anyone escaped the pain of losing a loved one long before what we would think of as “old age.” In fact, all the men you mention endured bereavement early and, for some, often. As a child, Washington lost three siblings and his father. Jefferson famously mourned the death of his young wife, and Lincoln was said to have battled depression after the loss of his son. Perhaps many of the most well-known people in history (not to mention countless others whose names we will never know) were able to accomplish amazing things for having been tried in the crucible of great suffering.

  8. Amy

    That was such a great trip. How long ago it seems. Maybe we can go back someday but if not there is much for us to wander around that we haven’t even touched on yet. Thanks for letting me “wander” along with you. I find that I heal myself by helping others, sometimes in things I didn’t even know needed to be healed. I pray your walk is a bit better every day. That each turn in the path shows you something to ease your heart. I love you. Galatians 6:2 Carry each others burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.

    • Thank you Amy, for living out that verse, and so many others. I love you!

  9. Julia, Thank you so much for your post. It moved me to tears. I came here randomly and it was exactly what I needed to read and feel. Grief comes in many forms, not just through the death of a loved one. No matter the form, it needs to be honored and given as much space to wander as needed. Thank you.

    • Thank you, and welcome to our little corner of cyberspace! Wow, am I ever glad you are here. I just read some of your blog and it was really good; incisively putting into words the detritus that accompanies survival of anything traumatic, most of which defies easy description. Those who have not been there might not get it, but I am guessing many of us will. I look forward to reading more!

      • I appreciate your kind words, and for taking the time to read some of my recent blog posts. As much as I need to continue to sort through that detritus, I’m trying to deliberately spend more time in the light, engaged in activities that feed my heart and soul. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

        • Yes, it’s a delicate balance between facing hard truth and focusing on the abundance of reasons to feel blessed and joyful. I too found that deliberate focus on all that is good and right and delightful has made it much easier to survive. I wish you beautiful discoveries ahead!

  10. MaryAnn Clontz

    Such a beautiful tribute to your family & friends, as you acknowledge their presence in your healing journey. You are helping others when you share your life with us. Thank you!
    Wander & wonder: delightful!

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. You are so good at encouraging me! ❤

  11. I had to read this quote several times. It seemed to want to say something important to me. Maybe I need to deal with things left undone and do some extensive wandering myself. Of course you can’t walk away from the pain of losing Jeff but I’m hopeful to hear you’re seeing the odd unexpected rainbow. If there can be any good of this at all, I think because we all must know loss sometime, this makes us all more compassionate. xo k

    • Yes, I think the sorrows sometimes connect us to others as well, or even better, than the joys do. Not nearly as appealing to share a sad time, but it definitely cements a friendship (and tells us who our friends really are, too) so we can grow from it. Or so I keep telling myself…

  12. Megan

    My book club is reading a book by Rachel Held Evans this month! (That’s as deep of a comment I have to offer at the moment but it seemed applicable!) 🙂

    • I read Searching For Sunday awhile back and really liked it. That’s the only book of hers I’ve read, I think, but I do think she has some really good things to say.

  13. Mike

    Great quote and there is a difference. I believe we can be healed in the midst of brokeness, and like you say it is an individual journey and there is no time limit. Some never recover. The Kubler -Ross stages are now also suspect and the journey is more of a circle.
    The Nouwen book- I mentioned is “In Memoriam.” His mother did not go gentle into that good night. She surprised a bunch of folks including Henri.

    • Wow, that makes the book sound even more intriguing. I will definitely have to look it up.

  14. Mike

    You know working in hospice everyone is different. Some seem to have made a, “healthy” transition after a year,while some in the same time span have made little if any progress toward -“new life from the ash.” But really who can judge the distance from grief to rebirth? I do know it is important to keep contact with those we have lost.

    • Yes, it makes sense to me that each person’s grief process is different, because every relationship is different from every other. I think the speed of transition to whatever life comes next can be linked (though possibly not always) to the duration and strength of the tie to the lost loved one. It would be harder for a person married 50+ years to create a new life after loss, and not just because of age. Also, the magnitude of some losses is multiplied by other factors, as Jeff’s loss left me not only with a huge personal void, but left my son, now solely in my care, with an enormous loss of its own, that affects me as well. And there are some of us that have always had a hard time letting go of anything dearly loved. One thing is for sure, I will always have contact with Jeff, if only because I am surrounded (and to some extent, protected) by all the countless results of our life together.

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