The Ebb and Flow of Grief

We do not question the ocean. We do not question how or when the waves will come, or the continuous ebb and flow of the tide.

Without question, we allow it to be exactly what it is.

We make no attempts to control the ocean, we simply allow each wave to arrive at the moment it arrives. Some waves are gentle, perhaps small, and seemingly insignificant. Other waves are powerful and have the potential to completely submerge us as they crash upon the shore.

I’ve come to understand grief in a similar way. Much like the ocean, grief seems to continuously ebb and flow. Some waves are small and gentle; a memory that pops up out of now where, a song on the radio that reminds you of a person, or a silly “sign” like seeing a dragonfly or hummingbird at the exact moment you were thinking of someone.

The gentle waves of grief are easy. They may even feel good and we often allow them to flow into our consciousness. Like the ocean, however, the depths of grief can be dark and the waves are not always gentle. We often fear the bigger waves and rather than simply allowing these waves to naturally flow in and then back out, we attempt to control them.

The bigger waves of grief feel a lot like heartache, loneliness, and sometimes even regret all that was left unsaid or undone. In our attempts to control the bigger waves we cling tightly to the very feelings and emotions we are so desperately trying to control; the ones we are so desperately trying not to feel.

We become fearful of letting go, fearful of exploring the depths of our grief, and fearful of surrendering to the uncertainty of the wave. With each attempt to control our feelings, the situation, or the outcome, the wave grows more and more powerful.

We exhaust ourselves in the illusion of control and the fear of allowing ourselves to feel until we become trapped in the undertow of grief. Oftentimes, out of nowhere these waves hit us and all of our usual defenses fail and all that we fear comes unexpectedly crashing in.

The unexpected waves are always the scariest it seems (even the small ones). These waves you're not prepared for and it is hard to catch your breath. The waves keep coming one after the other until eventually, you realize the only choice you have is to either continue drowning within your fear or dive head-first into the wave, allowing its momentum to carry you to shore.

It hurts to lose someone you love so deeply. It touches every part of your life and it forever changes you. You see life differently. For a moment (longer than I care to admit), I allowed grief to harden me and I lived in silent fear of feeling anything. I was numb. It was only after drowning within my own grief that I come to realize, I was never actually drowning grief but, in the illusion of control.

In not feeling all that I feared, I was also depriving myself of feeling the love I so deeply wanted to feel, a love that transcends all physical time and space, the ability to give and be open to receiving love. A love that wanted nothing more than to continue.

One of my favorite authors, Gregory Bateson wrote, it takes two to know one. In other words, to know what love is, we must also know what love is not. To know fear, we must also know courage. To know peace, we must also know turmoil. To know control, we must also know surrender, and to know life, we must also know death.

Like the ocean, the waves of grief ebb and flow but, the duality of grief is ever-present.

We would never fear death, losing someone (literally or metaphorically), or the depths of our own love if we had not also (at some point), allowed ourselves to be loved by another. That is beautiful and we are so worthy of feeling this (then and now) in spite of what our fears may tell us.

I have come to learn that sometimes in life, the light of one person can shine so bright that it continues to illuminate the darkest parts of our soul, even after their death.

Grief is not the absence of love but the continuation of love. Allow them both to ebb and flow.

Originally published June 1, 2021

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