Grief is a lot like drowning.
The second I lost Mason I was thrown into the choppy waves of an angry ocean. I’d never experienced anything like it, and those first few weeks after losing him felt never-ending. As each new wave of grief crashed down over me, I couldn’t help but wonder if there would come a point that I wouldn’t resurface at all.
Over the years I’ve realized that this is my new “normal.” The waters aren’t ALWAYS choppy now. In fact, the more time that passes the calmer the water becomes… and for a longer period of time. But now I’m beginning to wonder if this doesn’t make it even more unsettling when a new wave of grief angrily crashes down on me.
Being trapped in the darkest depths of despair in the first few weeks or months after a loss means that your stability in that moment IS the despair. You know that you will wake up to the sadness, the anger, the frustration, the devastation, the emptiness each and every day. It is the time when all of the people around you will understand your heavy heart and how it literally consumes your soul and has shattered your spirit.
But as time stretches out, you watch the rest of the world go on as usual. People don’t know how deeply you are still affected by your loss and how empty you still feel, even when you’re happy. (Or they condemn you for feeling that way) You realize that you are not like the rest of the world anymore. There is no more “business as usual” attitude for you. You realize that you are now living the rest of your life missing a piece of yourself…
And as you adjust to the pain, and the questions, and even to the emptiness… you slowly start to heal. You wake up one morning and realize that you don’t quite dread getting out of bed in the mornings. You realize that you are used to your child not being there anymore. You realize that your “new normal” has formed and that to the rest of the world, it appears you are truly just back to normal.
But the world doesn’t see the ocean of grief as clearly as I do. (Or like any mother who has lost a child). I can’t blame them… I didn’t see it myself at first either. I didn’t realize that even though I’d healed plenty… I was still treading water in the ocean. I’ve actually started to get used to this calm, almost “normal” feeling. But here’s the thing… another storm always works itself up, and an angry wave (almost as strong and as powerful as the first wave) DOES inevitably slam down on me from time to time.
When I first lost Mason I was immediately plunged into the icy cold, angry waters. When I surfaced for the first time, I knew that I was going to keep getting knocked down by these waves. I learned to be on guard and ready to hold my breath at any given moment while I waited to resurface from the depths. It was a strategy that helped me survive those first few months.
But as more and more time passed, I started to let my guard down. I tried to pretend that this ocean didn’t exist anymore. I tried to tell myself that the calm waters meant I was almost healed, almost done experiencing this pain.
And that was the biggest lie I’ve ever allowed myself to believe.
The truth is, most of the time I am in calm waters for months at a time without a single wave crashing down. Most of the time now, the happiness and “normal” life that I live with my children and my husband is what I spend my time focusing on.
But sometimes… those angry waves return.
When one finally crashes down on me again, it’s like I’m experiencing it again for the first time. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t figure out how to hold my breath. It feels like I’ve been knocked down under the water, tossed around so much that I can’t even tell if I’m swimming towards the surface or if I’m just swimming deeper. How much longer can I hold my breath? How much longer can I keep doing this? How much more pain can I feel before I just drown in it?
And it’s always at this exact moment that a hand reaches down and plucks me out. Just like that. Someone is able to reach down and help me figure out how to breathe again in between waves. Reminding me that I CAN swim. I CAN hold my breath a little bit longer. I can endure more angry waves. And I will.
Today I was plucked from the waves by seeing my friends Facebook profiles slowly start switching over to an image I didn’t even think I needed this year. An imagine that was designed by one of my friends the day after Mason died for my friends to use as their profile picture to show support for our family.
I have often wondered if people thought this was insane or weird. I have even started conditioning myself over the years not to expect anyone to change their profile picture to this image. And yet today… I saw that start happening again.
And once again, I’m not drowning in the angry waves of despair anymore.
To the friends who keep reaching in to the water, reaching out when I try to push them away and pulling me close when I say, “I’m fine”… Thank you. To the friends who have allowed me to grieve and grow and change even when it didn’t make sense to you… Thank you. To the friends who have allowed me to move two steps forward and one step back without judging me or questioning my grief over the last five years… Thank you. It’s only because of you that my family has been able to make it through this.