It’s time for me to be real and honest because life is hard, grief is messy and I’m far from perfect. I try to be positive and full of hope but the truth is some days are harder than others…some weeks are harder than others. This has been one of those weeks for me.
It’s summertime and I live at the Jersey shore, so the image of a rip tide came to mind when I thought about my grief. The rip tide is the most dangerous thing a swimmer can face. It’s not because the rip tide itself is so dangerous, it’s the way people respond to it. They feel themselves being taken in and they panic. They fight with all their might to swim against it, only to lose steam and be taken under.
Grief kind of works the same way doesn’t it? We go along swimming in the ocean of our daily lives, splashing, kicking, and enjoying the waves when BAM! It happens. We hear that familiar song we used to sing out loud together. We drive past our favorite restaurant, walk into a store where we used to shop together. Sometimes it can even be something so simple as the smell of a good cup of coffee. Suddenly, our mood shifts, our thoughts become derailed, our eyes fill with tears. The rip tide of grief pulls us in. The memories of what used to be, combined with the reality of what will never be again, is a powerful force. It pulls us into that deep, dark place. How did this happen, weren’t we perfectly fine just a minute ago? So we begin to panic. We panic because we are at work, at the store, an event, in church, with our kids. Sometimes we panic because it’s been two years, and in our mind we begin to think we should be past this point.
How does a swimmer survive a rip tide? They take a deep breath and relax. They realize that even though the tide is deep, the length is not long. They begin to swim parallel along the shoreline until they are out of the tide. Then the waves gently bring them back to the safety of the shore.
Surviving grief works the same way, doesn’t it? When we find ourselves in those moments we must not panic. We must not fight against the grief, that will only make it worse. We need to take a deep breath and relax. We need to realize that even though these feelings are deep and powerful, they don’t last forever. We need to swim parallel in these emotions. If we are in the store, we pull out our pair of sunglasses, the staple of every widow’s wardrobe! If we are at work or an event, we excuse ourselves and go to the bathroom. I have cried in countless public bathrooms, banged many stall doors and kicked more than one toilet! We learn to sit in the back of the church and always bring tissues. We listen to that song and we let the tears roll down. We allow ourselves to swim in the depths of these emotions and pray to God for the strength to swim out of the rip tide. And that prayer becomes the wave that gently brings us back to the safety of the shore.
I have been out here swimming for over two years now. So why is it still so hard? Perhaps it is because as I step out and walk this new path God is directing for me and become this new person that God is creating, I am faced with the reality that I’m further and further away from the life I used to have and person I used to be. I miss that life. It was a good life. I know it’s gone and I will never get it back. I know I will never get him back. It’s a painful reality and it pulls me in every time. I know that God has a plan and good things are in store for me. Even when I can see those things coming up over the horizon, it still doesn’t stop the tides from coming. When we lose someone we love, we will be hit with many rip tides, for many years to come. But for every one we go through we become a better swimmer, a stronger swimmer…maybe even a lifeguard for others fighting against the tides! At least that is my hope!