Five years ago this week, I held my daughter in her hospice bed. Beauty and pain mixed together. I wrote this post more than 3 years ago. The content is still true. Waves of grief still flow and crest. Anniversary dates affect me. If you are grieving, don’t let anyone tell you that you need to get over it. Not. going. to. happen. Nor do we want to “get over” the person who we loved very deeply.
Due to the grace of God and friends, I’ve learned how to stabilize during the days of choppy waters. My love will never ebb – fade away. Thank you for your friendship during this season of life. Warmly, Marie
Living with grief is similar to living in the ocean.
When I lived on land, my life was solid, firm and pretty predictable. Yes, there was the occasional thunderstorm, but for the most part living on land was emotionally consistent. The earth beneath me kept me well – grounded.
Initially when I lost Leah, grief was like a huge tidal wave. It hit hard, fast and furious. And the feeling of being stunned numbed me for a period of time. Actually, for a long time. It was similar to the time that I was physically knocked onto a beach in Maui by an ocean wave. The force of the wave slammed my body to the shoreline. As hard as I tried to brace myself, it smacked me to the ground with total indifference. Its power stunned me. Getting up, my legs were off balance and my head instantly ached. I was disoriented and frankly, just glad to be alive and not swept into the deep water. All I thought about was survival. That’s what the moments of Leah’s cancer diagnosis and Leah’s death were like – being hit by an enormous tidal wave.
After the wave hit, grief became the choppy waters after a storm. All I could do was either bob, float or tread water. Having to conserve energy, I’d just focus on moving slowly. I couldn’t swim. I was living in slow motion and just looking right in front of me. Minutes felt like hours. My breathing was hard and sometimes, while treading water, I couldn’t talk. I’d sleep with the bobbing waters around me like a survivor stranded at sea. I’d wake up nauseous with my heart racing and anxious – knowing I had another day with the hard reality of living in the ocean waters facing me. Trying to ride the waves of emotion became a matter of daily survival.
When living in the waters of grief, tears have been minuscule compared to the raging waters that surrounded me. It was actually symbolically comforting to cry in the streams of water that showered me. My tears just became one with the vast ocean of sadness. Others didn’t always see them, but tears were my companions.
As I became more familiar with the grief waters, I started seeing beauty in unexpected places. There’s life in the ocean waters. In the depths of sorrow, beauty is below the surface. The kindness and love of others, the joy in memories of Leah, the comfort from God enabled my blurring eyes to focus in on the exquisite life that exists in the deep waters.
Sometimes the grief ocean became peaceful. The sun shone, the birds soared and dolphins leapt and all was well. With my soul. All was well. For a time, I enjoyed the present and didn’t think about the last storm or a possible upcoming storm. I lived in the moment of sunshine and basked on the rock of peace and contentment, until….
….the next grief storm. Just as ocean storms are forecasted, there are times when a grief storm was predictable. I expected a grief storm to hit around Leah’s birthday, the day she left us to join heaven and holidays. But there are times, a storm hit suddenly and I couldn’t predict it. Recently, I was at a garage sale and saw an American Girl doll. Suddenly, I saw Leah’s happy face as she opened her first Bitty Baby doll for Christmas and carried it with her everywhere for months. This memory wave hit hard and fast and took my breath away.
In that moment, it felt as though I was being sucked into the ocean floor. It felt as though I was drowning.
But I didn’t drown. Either God, someone, some thought or a prayer sent me a life preserver and I was helped back up for air.
Yes, living with grief is similar to living in the ocean. Although Leah has been gone 18 months, I expect the moving waters of grief to continue indefinitely. The ebb and flow of emotions are with me for the rest of my days. They change my environment forever.
I am not a guest. The ocean called grief is my home.
Family and friends also live with me in this home either because they too have lost Leah, or they have lost another person who they deeply love.
As the years pass, one by one, people for whom I care are guaranteed to join me – moving from living on land to experiencing the dramatic, fluid, unpredictable and stunning life in the grief ocean.