Remember when I mentioned that sometimes I bulldoze my way in with thoughts and recommendations? Yeah? Today I share some of those because they’ve been important to me. Maybe for you, too. You’ll know.
So, here is something I learned about loss and grieving.
Yes, that’s what I said. Body surf. There’s no win in standing on the shore cursing the ocean for its rising tide or crashing waves. The ocean doesn’t care. Maybe it would if it knew you were there, but it doesn’t. It has its own imperatives. Your approval or disapproval has no consequences. For the ocean.
Plenty of consequence to you. You need all your strength and energy to heal. No sense using precious resources damning what’s already happened. It’s like telling the ocean to stop coming on shore.
But unlike the ocean, for which we have a tidal calendar, it’s difficult to know exactly when a rising tide of grief will threaten to drag us under with a powerful rip current, or overcome us with a wall of water.
It’s good to have a life jacket. And to alert the lifeguards that you’re on the beach. To put a buoy on the water so others know you’re there. This is where good planning comes in.
I found it helpful to make plans. Lots of them. If an anniversary date was approaching that was likely to cause upset, a birthday, holiday, Father’s Day, or even Valentine’s Day (because my husband had always been a bit extreme about that day), I made plans for my son and me.
Multiple plans with multiple people all of whom were amenable to being stood up. Maybe we’ll be there, maybe we won’t. I won’t know what we’ll want till we get there. That way we had options with people we loved. Sometimes we exercised one or more, took a road trip, or did nothing but watch a Cheers marathon on television.
But we weren’t backed into a corner. We used our support system to help ourselves out and we helped others by making explicit requests so they didn’t have to dance around wondering what to do for us. I recommend this approach. Alert your lifeguards.
This is what I also learned.
It’s not always the big days on the calendar that hurt the most. Sometimes it’s an errant, long cancelled newspaper accidentally delivered to someone who can’t read it and when alive didn’t miss a day. There it sits, rolled nicely with a rubber band around it, untouchable in the driveway.
It’s a piece of junk mail shoved through a mail slot that lands at your feet. An advertiser’s occupant. Your heartbreak.
A vacant space at the dinner table that unexpectedly speaks from another time. A silent chair that once creaked with its owner’s rhythmic rock; suddenly it’s your world rocking.
A song on the radio, a phone that doesn’t ring at the usual hour, an awareness of a familiar fragrance without its familiar source. Any of these can transport to another place before abruptly catapulting to a painful present.
For these instances of doubling pain there is no preparation. No planning. No girding. No steeling. It’s easy to think there’s something wrong with you because you’re so upset by a seemingly little thing.
They aren’t little. They’re a brush against a body without skin.
Don’t squelch your feelings, or hide or curse the wave. Body surf. Don’t wail against the wave. It will only serve to wear you out when you’re already exhausted. Nod in acknowledgement of grief and pain. Ride the wave.
This too I learned, even when I didn’t want to.
There’s a scent to autumn that I discovered long ago with the sound of my footfall clicking its cadence against pavement as I walked home from school. New shoes, new pencils, new books with new book covers. I loved fall. It had a special smell. A fresh and good one.
Then my daughter died in October amongst the blooming yellow, brown and plum chrysanthemums, the orange front porch pumpkins and the sound of scrunching leaves. In the midst of that luscious smell something horrible happened.
Now fall still comes. And the best and saddest of memories come along with it. When people say it gets better with time, I think they’re absolutely right.
Except when they’re not.
There is a time of day when the sun shines in the house at a certain angle and spreads across my kitchen table that is so perfectly after school, when homework should be done and every chair should be occupied with chatter and dinner expectation, and they are not. They will not be.
I learned no passage of time will still the hand that holds the pin that pricks my heart.
And no one wants to say that. No one wants to say out loud that time does not heal all wounds completely.
I body surf. I say hello to a rich past of both joy and sorrow. I body surf through my powerful, dangerous aquamarine sea of sorrow.
I learned not to judge myself or the quality of my sanity because I’m this many years removed from painful loss events and they’re still painful. No railing. No misuse of my treasured self to say I should be better than this by now or that life should have been better to me.
Tears stream as I say, I know you, Ocean. I respect your strength, but I rely on mine.
Body surf. Be one with the water.
These are things I have learned.