When I was a child my favorite thing to do at the beach was to jump waves. I would wade out until I was waist-deep and look out over the ocean for signs of the next swell. As I saw one approach, I would gather myself up and jump at the last moment. I loved the feeling of being lifted up and carried over the wave.
But there are some waves too large to jump. I remember once when the ocean water was choppy and erratic. Waves seemed to appear from nowhere. A particularly large wave rose up before me and I tried to jump it. It hit my body with a painful smack and sucked me under. I found myself spinning out of control, water rushing up my nose and down my throat, until finally, it cast my body upon the sand.
My grief has come on me like waves. I’ll have many days at a time where I am fine and then all of the sudden, I am overcome. I have been bracing myself against them but they have knocked me over every time. Fighting pain has not worked, in fact, I’m pretty sure it has made it worse. Each time I have tried to stuff the emotions they have only sucked me into their depths, leaving me feeling sick and exhausted afterward.
I’ve just come up from another wave and in the process, I’ve realized that I do not know how to let myself cry. I once prided myself in the fact that I was able to keep such a tight reign on my emotions. Even when I am alone I hold it in. My throat tightens and my headaches from the effort of containment. If that is not enough, I clench my hands into fists, digging my fingernails into my palms. The physical pain in my hands is often enough to divert my focus onto a more manageable pain. Even if I do cry, it’s silently, both hands over my mouth lest a sound escape. Eventually, I regain control of myself but afterwords I feel horrible both physically and emotionally.
I eventually learned what to do with ocean waves that were too large to jump. It only took a few times of finding myself coughing up water on the sand to figure out that the only way to deal with waves that would have otherwise overwhelmed me is to dive straight into them. When a wave would rise up, I would take a deep breath and just before it reached me, I would dive into its base, lay my body on the sand beneath it, and let the wave roll over me. With my hands grazing the sand I could feel the weight of it pass over my back. Sometimes after I felt the wave pass and I resurfaced, I would barely have enough time to breathe before I had to dive under another and then another. But eventually, the set would pass and I would have made it through without harm.
I am going to have to do the same thing when the waves of grief come. I have to stop bracing myself and trapping it all within. I have to embrace the wave and let myself feel the pain and for once, actually, let myself cry without restraint. I have to stop being afraid that if I allow myself to experience the full weight of the pain I won’t come up from it. I have to trust that it will pass whether I embrace it or not, the only difference is how I experience the wave. I don’t want to be launched into mental chaos anymore, which means I have to let the pain wash over me without resistance and I have to learn how to cry.
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Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.