Grief Is an Ocean I Don’t Want to Swim
I missed a funeral on Saturday.
I am just dipping my toes in to begin to try to process this grief. This is a loss that occurred before it occurred. This is pain mixed with deeper pain, and I am probably trying to process it with the emotional reasoning that research says became frozen in time. So the little girl in me has not wanted to work through this yet. But I know I should.
I spent the week in Ocean Isle Beach. I sat beside the vast expanse of salt and power. Sometimes I walked or played where the warm (yes, warm) water barely came to my ankles, and sometimes I went deep enough to allow myself to be submerged by bending my knees or laying myself down. But something you should know about me is that I never went deep enough to get where I couldn’t easily stand and hold my head above the water.
I allowed waves to hit me head on, turned my back and braced for them, ran against them, swam over their breaking and foam, or, when I was feeling particularly brave or adventurous, I jumped with them and let them carry me toward the shore.
This has been my life of grieving. I mostly choose to sit beside it, aware of its power and presence. And when I have entered in, I have been constantly cognizant of the dangers of being swept away in the salty waters of a vast expanse beyond my capability to fully comprehend.
Two and a half weeks ago, I spent my Saturday by my aunt’s hospital bed. I was conflicted in grief and a longing for relief. I wish I could say it was only her relief that I longed for. But I won’t lie to you.
I could feel that I had stepped into the water, and I was unsure of what the waves might look like or how to respond. I didn’t know whether to jump into them or turn my back as they came. I didn’t know how far to step out because I couldn’t see the bottom and the sandy floor could have dropped beneath me.
God, I remember the joy and the fear of her home.
I am a little girl running through the living room and down to the basement and up again. I am grabbing mini hotdogs on toothpicks (which Margaret knew I loved and made sure were there for me), playing games with my cousins, and anticipating what Christmas gift Aunt Margaret and Uncle Gerrry have given me this year.
I loved the standard box of lifesavers we would get as an added treat. I vividly remember a large stuffed animal mouse that wore an apron with three pockets, and there was a baby mouse in each pocket. I loved the noise and the crowded space of her home and the bustle of family moving, laughing, and celebrating.
But there is more, and I freeze up as I even begin to try to type. I am pacing the shoreline, and anger and fear are creeping in. I am sinking before I even step in.
I’m a little girl in their bathroom, and he walks in and the memory ends. I am crying in the camper because I am the youngest and have to go to bed first, and he walks in and the memory ends. I think I am playing hide and go seek. I’m a sitting on the dryer, but the memory is fear instead of joy.
And this is the grief I cannot grasp. This is the rhubbarb’s bitter sweet from her garden while I sit at the kitchen table and listen to my mother and her talk and laugh. This is the sunlit back porch and the shadowy corners.
There are no boundaries once I step in. There is only vast ocean.
And everything is mixed together as I grieve all that has been lost. I loved Aunt Margaret. But my children did not know her.
When Gerry passed away, I felt almost nothing. But it gave me a freedom to visit Margaret again–too late. Her mind and her body were going. I had lost her long ago, and time with her in the nursing home was only a puddle that had formed on the shores, left from the tide.
At the end, salty water trickled down my cheeks at her hospital bedside as my sister sang “It Is Well with My Soul” and we raised our voices with her for the chorus.
I knew this was my last time with her and that I loved her.
I loved her, and I battled with her choice to stay with a man that caused us all to lose so much. And I waded in the water while looking in her eyes and singing a melody of prayer.
The waves are a salty mix of power, refreshing, fear, and release.
God, make it well with my soul as I explore waters deep.