Have you ever been to the ocean? If you have, then did you spend time in the ocean and let the waves roll over you? Did you spend time on the beach watching the waves roll in and out? Have you ever been to the ocean when there was a severe storm and watched the waves strike with mighty force? Have you ever been to a lake? What were the waves like? Was it windy? Have you ever been to the lake when it was stormy? Was the water turbulent? Have you been to a river? Have you ever just sat and watched the current of a river?
One thing that is common for my two daughters and I after the loss of my husband in August 2011 and my only son at the age of 18 in June 2013, is that we all seek time at the water. Whether it is the ocean, a lake, or a river, the water is a place of peace for all three of us. It is nice that we have that common solace in our grief as there are many aspects of our grief that vary tremendously. But for all three of us, we all love time at the water.
This past month, on the 4th anniversary of my son’s death, the girls and I were in northern Minnesota. (The blog “4 years later…” describes this day.) This featured picture was taken at Gooseberry Falls. When you look closely at this picture, then there are several things that can be observed about the speed and the movement of the water. If you look to the left side of the picture, then you are able to see one of the falls at Gooseberry falls. This water was moving quickly and with force as it dropped from it’s ledge to the river below. On the right of the picture, you are able to see the river that the falls have dropped in to. The speed of the river is much slower than the falls; however, if you look closely then you will still be able to see signs of movement in the water and that it is still flowing.
To view the other body of water which is Lake Superior then you must look very closely. To see Lake Superior then you must look past the tree line that is under the bridge and that is where Lake Superior is in this picture. When you stand on the shore of Lake Superior then you are not able to see where it ends. Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America. It is generally considered the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. The surface area of Lake Superior is 31,700 square miles. With the knowledge of those stats, then it is understandable that when you stand on it’s shore that you are overwhelmed at it’s vastness. As we gazed out at Lake Superior, we most definitely could not see it’s end.
Standing on the shores of Lake Superior and being awed by it’s beauty and size took me back to a conversation that I previously had with a friend of mine. Stephanie Mason is the friend that I am referring to, and she gave one of the most accurate descriptions of how grief feels that I have ever heard. Stephanie’s husband was killed on October 31, 2016 in a car accident. Stephanie and Lance have two boys, Rob and Will, who were the exact ages that my two daughters were when their daddy died. Stephanie and I have become friends through our shared tragedy. I remember sitting with Stephanie one night not that long after Lance had died. I believe she was still in shock, and her mind and heart were so desperately trying to piece everything together that had happened and what it all meant in her life and in the life of her two sons. Suddenly, in an instant, they were alone and without their husband and daddy. At one point Stephanie said, “I don’t see an end to this. Everything in my life has had an end. When things were hard at work, then I could look forward to vacation and know that I would have a break from what was hard. If the boys were having a bad baseball season, then I knew I could look forward to the new season that would come and their new team. This has no end.”
Wow. When she expressed that I was amazed at the heart of that description of grief. How truthful and painful were her thoughts. Her husband had died. She couldn’t tell herself well this month or year will be hard without him, but then he will be back. She couldn’t tell her sons that she was sorry that dad would be missing these certain events this year, but don’t worry he will be back soon. Her mind and heart were realizing the gravity of what had happened as she spoke those words. Her mind and heart were grappling with the truth that for the rest of their days on this earth that she would be without Lance and that her boys would be without their dad. I asked her if I could share this because I believed it was one of the most accurate descriptions of how grief feels that I have ever heard.
When I stood upon the shore of Lake Superior then I could hear Stephanie’s words. That day was the 4th anniversary of my only son’s death. Just as I could not see the end of Lake Superior, then I could not see where my grief would end for as long as I would be alive on this earth. I could hear Stephanie’s words, and my heart and mind felt like they were grieving with her. There is no end to this. The grief and pain of loss continue…
Often, when someone talks about grief, then a common reference is referring to grief coming in waves. In the beginning of this blog, I asked you about your own experiences with water as I wanted that experience to serve as a point of reference for you. I wanted you to reflect on the type of water, waves, and water movement that you have experienced. As I reflect upon my own grief then I can understand the description of grief coming in waves. Thinking back to when I have been to the ocean and have watched the waves, then I can picture them rolling in and out… the movement is constant. That is like the pain of my grief… it is constant. It does not leave. Sometimes the waves at the ocean are small, and they do not seem overwhelming. Sometimes the water is so turbulent and violent. If you actually went in to the water at this time and let the waves go over you, then you may not be able to escape their force and power. Some days, my grief is turbulent. I have had days and nights where I have locked myself in a room and sat on the floor and sobbed. I remember sitting at basketball games and cheering on my daughters and all of a sudden, a huge wave of grief would come over me. In those moments, I would feel trapped by it’s force and power. Some days the waves of grief are smaller, and at these times, they seem more manageable even though the pain continues.
Part of walking on this grief journey is learning to ride whichever wave is coming… to learn not to feel crushed or trapped under it’s force and power. I am not able to change the size of these waves. If I ever would try to suppress the waves of grief, then they feel like they would knock me over. This grief, at times, feels unstoppable. However, through the passage of time, then I am continuing to learn ways to ride these waves of grief. Some days, these waves have felt like they have knocked me off of my feet and have me feeling crushed under their weight. Some days, I have felt like the force has literally caused me to be short of breath. Some days, when the waves have been smaller, then I have felt that I was able to ride those waves and have a more productive day.
From tickld.com “A user wrote the following heartfelt plea online: ‘My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.’ The rest of the post has been deleted, only the title remains. The following lists part of a response from a self-titled ‘old guy’ when he gave his response to this comment: …As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. Your find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while…. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive. In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything… and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life. Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart…. You may see them coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out. Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too…”
Thank to this wise man who calls himself ‘old guy’. He had so much truth wrapped up in his description of grief. I am not sure what the size of my waves are now after 4 years since my son died and almost 6 years since my husband died. What I do know is that grief remains a constant presence. These thoughts are highlighted by another one of the quotes that I feel so accurately describes the grief journey:
“Grief never ends… It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love.” Author Unknown
Just as my friend Stephanie so accurately stated when describing her own grief as she mourns the loss of her husband and her childrens’ father, she cannot see the end. I also do not see the end. I feel it’s movement. I am aware of it’s ever changing presence in my life. I am thankful as the wise ‘old guy’ stated that I will survive the waves. I am ever thankful for others expressing that it is not a sign of weakness nor a lack of faith! Thank you to this unknown author for so beautifully expressing grief. Thank you for reminding us all… grief is the price of love.