Alexa, play *NSYNC Christmas Radio.
Ah, the holiday season. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I think there is always going to be a slight tinge of grief during the holidays. As I’ve mentioned before, I now look at grief as more of an old friend. This old friend brings fond memories and funny stories to tell. I think that often times, myself included, we can look at grief negatively. Grief is something we don’t want. What are the wise words of Winnie the Pooh? “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying ‘goodbye’ so hard?”
I think grief is evidence of so many things. We may grieve the loss of a family member. That grief is evidence of deep, life-changing love. We may grieve the loss of a dream. To me, that is evidence of maybe a sacrifice someone made for their family. We may grieve the end of a relationship. There we have evidence that we took a chance on love. We may grieve our mistakes. That’s evidence that, well, we’re human. We may grieve the loss of our plan! That’s evidence that God is moving things around.
I was trying to explain to a friend what grieving is like. Now, for the record, he was a bit confused as myself and our other friend were telling him to “sit in his feelings” and he did just that: sat. I do think some people sit in grief. I do think at first you have to. You haven’t the slightest idea where the hell life just dropped you and you need to take a moment and sit here, gathering your bearings. I had told him some of the things I was doing, like pouring into my writing, and told him I was tired of waiting around for things to just simply get better. Frustrated, he replied, “…but wasn’t it you who told me I had to sit in the grief for a while?” Yes, but no. My poor friend. For a writer, I’m not all that good with the words sometimes.
As a family we have always said it’s like a wave. It’s why I got the wave tattoo on my foot. It’s my reminder that the sea of grief is not always smooth. So I tried to better explain it. Grief is more like swimming. Now, everyone’s swim is going to look different so I can really only tell you about what my swim looks like.
At first, grief crashes over you hard. You’re disoriented. You haven’t the slightest clue which was is up and which way is down. Remember that first time you got your ass handed to you by a big wave? Made you respect the ocean, huh? That’s the first wave of grief. It hits and it hits without consideration for you, your heart, or your mind. The ocean doesn’t care if you’re ready for that wave. It’s coming whether you like it or not.
Finally you find your way up. You gasp as you reach the surface, relieved to feel air in your lungs. You now have two choices: run out of the water or keep swimming. I’ve run out of the water before. I’ve said, “Hell no!” as I frantically ran the opposite way after being humbled by grief. I think we all do sometimes. How can you expect to become a more experienced swimmer if you’re never going to face the waves? I can tell you how to swim but you’ll never learn if you don’t jump in on your own.
Because you choose to not be knocked over by life, you dip your toes in the ocean again. You proceed cautiously, eyes on the water in front of you, waiting for that wave. In life, these are the things you know will cause grief: anniversaries, life events, movies, songs, etc. You know you can navigate these. You’re expecting them, right? Oh, but life is not always smooth waters.
An anniversary is a wave quite far off in the distance, so you don’t need to diligently focus on it. There is so much else to look at as you swim. There’s the hot lifeguard, the baby feeling water for the first time, the kid on the board who just massively ate it. So you turn away from the ocean in front of you as you swim along, only to be hit with a massive crash. Dammit! Where did that wave come from?
For me the ones I don’t expect are smells, other people’s stories, the mention of the word cancer. These often times catch me off guard and I’m not prepared to go under the wave and try to survive it with as little damage as possible. Wait! You’ve been smacked with a wave like this before. You know how to navigate it! Just don’t panic. Find up. Find the surface. You still gasp for air because you have a knack for the dramatic. Oh wait, that’s just me. Moving on.
To be honest, I don’t feel like the waves get smaller. Like I said just as the ocean doesn’t care and doesn’t cater to you, grief has no limits. It doesn’t wait for you to be ready. It doesn’t wait for you to prep your headspace. It doesn’t wait for you to not be busy. It just hits. I just believe we get better at navigating. We get better at finding our way to the surface amidst the waves.
I told my friend he was swimming in a sea of grief. Poor guy. Such a positive friend I am. I think we’re actually just swimming through life and we’re met with waves of things that knock us on our ass and upside down, making us feel like we’re drowning. The alternative is to run and cower away, never being able to experience the ocean. I once knew someone who said, “The ocean demands your respect. If you respect it, you’ll be okay.” This is true of grief. If you don’t respect it, if you don’t understand what it can do to you, it’ll wreck you. If you jump in and take the risk of the swim, it won’t always be smooth, but you get to be in the ocean. You get to experience one of, in my opinion, the greatest things nature has to offer us.
Swim on, friends.