Today, my family and I remember the passing of my father two years ago. It’s been a long road of grief, as we watched for years as his body slowly deteriorated from spinal stenosis and eventually glioblastoma.
Anniversaries and seasons are tough, particularly baseball season. The consummate Houston Astros fan, he passed weeks before they won their first World Series. Those moments are a mixture of celebration and sadness. So goes grief.
In Hidden Grace: Growing Through Loss and Grief, William Blevins compares grief to being thrown in an ocean. He says it like this:
Grief behaves more like an ocean wave that engulfs one’s entire being than a sequence of distinct stages. Over time, grief, like the waves, continuously ebbs and flows. It comes and goes and there doesn’t seem to be a definite or predictable pattern or schedule. Like the ocean waves, sometimes grief is calm, and sometimes it is crushing. In addition, grief appears at unpredictable times and in un expected situations. Sometimes it washes up painful and agonizing memories and feelings. At other times it brings up joyful and grateful recollections and emotions. These experiences can be interspersed with periods when life seems to go on as usual with no serious impact from the loss that’s been experienced.
Allow me to take the metaphor a little further.
We often view grief as our swim to shore. If we can just reach the shore, the torment will stop. We swim. We know we must and maybe, just maybe we can breathe and the pain with stop.
We begin our journey of grief from loss, transition, or pain in the depths of the ocean. The waves pull us back and forth tumultuously. We come up for air and yet another wave pulls us under, drowning us with sorrow. All the while, we gasp for air, salt burning our eyes, mouth, and throat. Yet we swim. We know we must.
Closer to shore, the waves drag us under and they seem to hit us even harder. Under the waves, we tumble against the sand, scraping our body against the seafloor, shells, and coral, leaving our flesh wounded and torn. Yet we swim. We know we must.
Eventually, we are able to stand, our head and arms above water, yet the waves still hurt and knock us off our feet. Yet we swim. We know we must.
Closer to shore, the waves only hit us in the back of our thighs, then our calves, and then our ankles. We step onto the shore, feeling exhausted, yet able to take deep, uninterrupted breaths. We think we have made it to the place where the pain will cease, but even in the safety of our room, lying on our bed, we feel the effects of the waves on our body. So goes grief.
We really never stop grieving. Ideally, the pain eventually moves to a place of transformation. The wounds heal, but perhaps the scars remain as a reminder of what was. We learn to appreciate people, places, jobs, experiences, and the like. We take what we’ve learned from them and make ourselves better people. We move toward integrating that pain into our lives, making us move closer toward a better self, moving toward self-actualization.
We move forward. We swim. We know we must.