I’m in a season of grief right now. Oh, I’m not sad all the time. It surprises me, actually. It comes in waves, like the ocean.
I’ve become more acquainted with the ocean now that we live 45 minutes from it. I love walking along the beach at sunrise. The waves are so unpredictable. They surprise you sometimes, coming up further than you expect. You can’t predict them.
Sometimes the water stays far away. Other times it stretches out and touches your feet, even washing up to your ankles if you’re close enough.
That’s my experience of grief.
If only it were a linear, predictable process. Hard at first, and then gradually subsiding. Less and less over time, until you don’t feel it anymore. A clear timeline with a precise end date. You do your grieving and then you’re done, praise Jesus.
Instead, grief feels like a stranger popping out from behind doors at the most unexpected times.
When we walked onto the stage to stand with our son at graduation, I was surprisingly calm. Later, as one of his good friends stood there with her parents, I lost it.
When I have thought about graduation in the past weeks, I have felt more pride than sorrow. Then a week ago I read an email from friends overseas and the tears spilled over at how well they’re doing.
His graduation party was all joy, then last week I folded one of his never-to-be-worn-again uniform shirts and I broke down.
That’s the thing with grief-it’s all right there, but we can’t control or predict it.
I’m often frustrated by this unpredictable guest. Probably because it reminds me that I am not always doing as well as I would like (or like others) to think. It keeps me vulnerable, never knowing when a wave of grief might catch me off guard, when I might start crying about some random person’s life, when it’s really just touching my own.
But I’ve been learning these last few years that grief is a necessary companion. In fact, it is a doorway to wholeheartedness.
I know that part of the reason my grief comes out sideways is that I don’t want to deal with it. It’s easier to stay focused on my to do list, buying dorm essentials and harping on him to finish those thank you notes (I swear, he’s working on them), than to let the waves crash so hard I lose my footing.
But losing our footing in grief is what we must do sometimes. More and more I am learning to stop and walk straight into the waves. To let myself dwell on what we are losing, and how much it hurts to lose. To say a proper goodbye to this beautiful season we have lived.
When I do, I find that those waves don’t drown-they heal.
And I’m learning that I cannot navigate the waves alone. It’s easier to weather waves of grief when there are people walking beside us, holding us up. They hold our hands and make us brave as we walk into the waves. We need those people who will life preservers, keeping us afloat while we to swim in the grief for a little while.
We can’t fight the waves. Instead, we can accept that they are a natural part of the journey. We can give space to our souls to process the grief when it comes. And we can invite others to hold space for us to feel all of it, so when the waves do come, we can swim.
Let the sorrow come and touch you. When we do that, we let ourselves be human. We live wholeheartedly. Let grief surprise.