Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wading the Ocean of Grief

"When the waves are taking you under
Hold on just a little bit longer
He knows that this is gonna make you stronger, stronger
The pain ain't gonna last forever
In time it's gonna get better
Believe me
This is gonna make you stronger"

I realized last week, two days out into this journey, that this kind of grief is like an ocean.

Sunday I was on the shore and the ocean was just something to look at and consider.

Monday I was struggling to stay on my feet through what often felt like the force of hurricane waves. By Tuesday I recognized the grief came in waves that would almost consume me, then subside for a time. They were irregular and storm driven, not the paced, rhythmic waves of a normal tide.

However hard the waves of grief come on me, that is how they feel. It's like I'm walking along the beach, maybe even enjoying a break in the clouds and a ray of sunshine, when a wave comes out of nowhere and suddenly I think I'm going to drown. I feel my ability to go on sliding out from under me like the grains of sand pulled out to sea by an outgoing wave. And once the waves hit, I know that I'll be pounded for a while before I'm able to struggle free of the water again.

So far none of the waves have pulled me so far out to sea that I cannot find my way back to my feet and back to the sunshine, but I'm still walking in the water's edge. I cannot get away from the grip of the sea.

I don't remember this sort of all consuming pain when my grandmother died. I loved her, but she'd had a long good life and I know she was ready to go. She'd had time to make peace with those around her and we had a chance to make peace with her. If there were things we wanted to say, because she had been ill, we had a chance to say them. Although her actual death was a surprise because her health had seemed to be improving, it was something we could accept.

Losing Ethan is a whole different level of grief. Losing a child, through a long illness when you have to accept that barring a miracle it will be over, through a sudden tragedy that takes the healthy child you hugged a few minutes earlier, through the series of small deaths brought on by addiction when it seems that you've said goodbye to bits and pieces of your child for years, is something we just aren't prepared for. There's no reasonable expectation that we have in our minds that yes, we'll be outliving our child. Ever. In any version of reality.

Then it becomes our reality.

A path we had tried not to even look down becomes the path we have to walk every day for the rest of our lives. Right now it's a dark and scary place where I look for glimpses of light just to keep moving.

It is prayers that keep pulling me along, because although people keep telling me I'm strong no one is strong enough to do this on their own. It is three little girls who drown me in a different kind of wave -- one of noise and motion and fights and cuddles -- and keep that dark sea of grief at bay. It is the kindness of friends and strangers who care about me, or who have felt a variation of my pain and want me to know they understand and that while I won't forget, in time it will get better.

When I began writing two months ago, this is not the story I expected to tell, but this is a story that seems to resonate. While we put on our "normal" faces and go about our lives, too many of us carry grief, or fear of this grief, down deep in our souls. Facing it makes my pulse race and my eyes stream, but I cannot push it away. If doing this lets someone else know that they aren't alone, then perhaps there is a purpose to it. Perhaps walking this dark path at the side of a stormy ocean we cannot see is easier together than alone, even if we cannot reach one another's hands. Perhaps knowing there is someone else on the path will make the walk a little easier.

It feels at times wrong to share my pain and let strangers inside the wall I feel I must build to hold myself together. And then a message from someone I've never met tells me they've been down this path and that they want to help me, or that they've stood on the beach where I was a week ago and they are as afraid of the waves as I am, and I know this is what I'm meant to do now.

That everything we've been through won't be for nothing if I can help someone else, if we can somehow save someone else from the journey Ethan took.

Somehow, like everything else in life, it will make me stronger and prepare me for something I need to do. I just wish to my soul that there had been another way to do it.


  1. *hug* Love you. - A stranger on the other side of the world.

  2. I have a son and cannot say I can even fathom a portion of what you are experiencing. I am so sorry that Ethan is not here in the flesh anymore. *hugs*