The 5 Stages Of Grief As Applied To My 5 Day Cross Country Move | Part 1: Lincoln Nebraska
I've spent most of my life paralyzed by the unknown. Which was why most of my friends and family were shocked when I announced somewhat unexpectedly that I'd planned to leave the only home I've ever known in Minneapolis for the expansive southwest landscape of Phoenix Arizona.
Coming of age in Minnesota had spun a successful career, and thriving social life, but after my mother's suicide in my perfect uptown brownstone and the unraveling of a romantic relationship I was desperately trying to resuscitate, the city I'd fallen in love with, the one that once held the sparkle of all my dreams and aspirations was now a city that held nothing but bittersweet memories. I'd been questioning my decision to remain in Minneapolis in the months that followed my mother's death and it seemed neither the frosts of February nor the feeling that the energy of the city I once loved that had suddenly run cold would dissipate.
For the next several months, I traveled. I traveled to Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas and played “Are you my mother?” with cities trying on places like I tried on Badgley Mischka shoes, but none of them felt right. Honestly, the desert sprawl, the warmer climate, and the peculiar prickly saguaros were enough to get me to book a flight to Phoenix for a week in early February. I fell in love. The crowd, drinking freshly brewed kombucha out of mason jars on open patios cheered me on with a kind of earnestness and enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in Minneapolis in over a year. I stayed with a friend who’d also made the 2,000 mile move from Minneapolis to Phoenix the year before, and her smile and skin looked brighter in the desert sun.
I Ubered my way through the city with my camera in hand, and I’d felt as if I'd wandered into a serene scene in the 1960’s Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho in all its dystopian potential.
The second to the last day of my trip I spent making friends at Papago Park during a photographer meet and greet and felt like I’d finally found my place, where I could have the creativity, quirkiness, and foodie culture of the city, along with access to some of America's best hikes and majestic mountains. Plus no one would frown upon my desire to trade in heels for converses. In Phoenix, I noticed people made more of a conscious effort to slow down and have time for things other than work. In the week that I was visiting no one even asked me what I did for a living, let alone what my Instagram handle was. Coming from Minneapolis, this was revelatory to be defined for who I was and not by what I did.
Upon my return, I'd decided that the only solution to my restless spirit was to push myself out of the nest in hopes that growth would spawn beyond my comfort zone. After landing on Phoenix, I told my rental company I'd be moving the following winter and in the months that followed I began the arduous task of distributing my worldly goods between donations, friends, and storage facilities. By autumn, I busied myself with the task of packing and organizing with such a singular focus that I'd barely had time to slow down and mourn the life that I was leaving behind.
I've always had a knack for putting up the "blinders" of busyness whenever I was trying to avoid more thought-provoking conversations with myself. Slowing down in Arizona so I could process and heal from the shattered wreckage of the last two years became my excuse and my mantra to bury both my feelings and my daytimer in an endless soiree of last minute meet-ups, and freelance gigs in my final days in Minneapolis. As my move edged closer on the calendar, each new dinner date that squeezed its way into my planner had the solum feeling of the last supper, and I cried through painful goodbyes, both with my favorite people and my favorite places as I prepared to uproot.
By early November I began to feel like an expat as I relinquished my keys to my landlord and went from settled and gainfully employed to couch surfing full time freelancer. I kept reminding myself that my suitcase days were only a temporary transition until I could head out west to Phoenix when my newly renovated studio would be ready in December. Like most things in my life, I hadn't given a ton of thought as to exactly how I'd make the trek out to Arizona. Even though I'd gone through the motions of distributing 50% of everything I owned, I was definitely in a state of denial about my move until a google search for cross country moving quotes sparked my psyche back awake. How the heck is it so expensive to move a mattress and some boxes across a few state lines I lamented. The better question being, who waits until the month before they actually move to get a moving quote? Turns out in my continued state of denial in just about every area of my life, I did. I stared back at the boxes that had piled up in my friend's garage and faced the fact that I was going to need to downsize yet again. Could I embrace minimalism for the sake of my sanity and my Prius's limited cargo space?
Revisiting my grief as I revisited each cardboard box, I tried to decide what items were essential and which of my remaining belongings I could live without. In a year spent saying goodbye to so many things; my mother, my relationship, and my life as I had known it shuffling through what little that was left unboxed a certain kind of grief I hadn’t yet experienced.
Weeding through your belongings now and then is liberating, but weeding through everything all at once including all the emotional scars that surfaced, ones I thought I'd buried deep within those boxes were not. On a visceral level, I knew this moving process of letting go of my attachment to things was also trying to teach me that I needed to let go of how my mother's suicide and my ex-lovers apathetic indifference towards me had stung in equal measures. But I didn't know if I was ready to part ways with the anger, I still felt towards both of them. I knew I had a twenty-eight-hour car ride across seven state lines over five days that I could attempt to make peace with my past, so I settled on shoving everything I'd withered down to basics necessities into every inch of free space left in my Toyota like I was competing for gold at the Tetris Olympics.
But in all of my hast to pack up and get the hell out of dodge, I hadn't realized I'd packed up and sealed the one item I didn't want to box up — my mother's ashes. The six-pound bag of course sand and sharp bone fragments she'd been reduced to now sat somewhere under a mountain of moving boxes. I had planned to scatter her ashes across the countryside hoping that the physical act of releasing her back to the earth would release my grief and help me have a sense of closure. I'd read countless blog articles over the year on loss and how forgetful you become when you're navigating grief, but they couldn't prepare me for the pang of failure I felt at not having my shit together more.
Acceptance they say is the last stage of the grieving process but what they don't tell you is that grief isn’t journeyed through in a straight line. I'd traveled back and forth between each stage in the eleven months since I'd found her lifeless body hanging from my ceiling fan and in my final days in Minnesota, I tried my best to accept this unexpected plot twist to my plans for what it was. I could always find another way to honor her memory. And perhaps the lesson life was trying to prove was that I couldn't rush the process of my mourning.
My first pitstop on my cross country journey was Lincoln Nebraska. Having gotten on the road bright and early the Sunday of my departure after a brief stop to fuel up at my favorite coffee and bagel cafe in Hudson WI, I made my way through the flat-land prairie landscapes of I-80 all the way to the historic Haymarket district with its brick buildings and cobblestone streets. The quaint town provided a quick overnight rest on my way to Denver, and with the night still young and my bags checked in at the hotel I decided to explore the restaurant renaissance little Lincoln was cooking up.
A quick google search of the dining establishments in the area led me to DISH, an upscale American Continental restaurant in the heart of downtown Lincoln. Pursuing through their diverse dinner menu and handcrafted cocktails I made friends with some locals, saddled up at one of their tables, and ordered. I started with The Hangman, a cinnamon-infused sibona amaro that was sweet but with a spicy kick and was regaled by stories of life in the rolling hills as told by my new friends. By the time the server came around, she was setting down, a small sharing plate of Patatas Bravas that consisted of fried and mashed up white potatoes in black garlic aioli (which was almost instantaneously devoured) and for my main course the squash and mushroom brown rice risotto topped with citrus glazed parsnips and a kale vinaigrette. For any foodie frightened by the word risotto from too many episodes of Gordon Ramsey's Hell Kitchen cooking reality show, DISH actually delivers. My entree had layers of flavor, and the vegetarian option did not disappoint.
For the best-kept secret in Lincoln, I ventured over to Marz Bar on the suggestion of my server for a nightcap. The quirky retro Lincoln bar with scalloped vinyl booths and boldly colorful chandeliers provided the perfect atmosphere for an after-dinner drink, and I could feel my skin prickling with goosebumps like notes on a page as Rose Royce song Love Don't Live Here Anymore played in the background. The city of Lincoln had soul alright, but it didn't have mine, and as I made my way back to my hotel for the night I couldn't help but replay the lyrics in my head.
"Time rushes on
And it's not fair
when someone you used to love
Is no longer there"
There were two people I used to love, and one of them was condensed to a plastic bag lost somewhere in the boxes in my back seat, and the other was 1,300 miles away lost somewhere in New York.
The next morning found me at The Mill. Where with a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective I plotted out my route to Denver while I sipped on my soy Mocha. The eccentric coffee house proved to be the perfect little meeting spot to house not only great tasting coffee but private conversations in a public setting.
As the morning sun lifted and passed through filtered light and I spent the next few hours exploring the modest sprawl of independent downtown retailers with my camera.
While wandering the mostly deserted streets of Lincoln, I sauntered past an art mural hidden deep within the city and as I read the words written next to it, real or imagined the soulful soundtrack from Rose Royce trumpeted through my head as I stopped to take a picture.
As I packed up my luggage, said my goodbyes to Nebraska and made my way through the rambling countryside on the outskirts of Lincoln, those same lyrics from the night before lingered with me.