Years ago, my husband Larry and I set off on a grand adventure: we spent 14 months on a 32-foot sailboat, traveling the open ocean. (With our two small children aboard, I might add!) It certainly was an exciting time. When I started my ministry, I realized that life on the water helped me understand something important about grief. For many people, grief is like a wave in the ocean.
So, Larry and I sat down and discussed this idea: what had we learned about the deep ocean during our months of sailing? And how could we use this information to better understand someone’s grief journey?
We created a five-minute podcast. Here are the highlights. If you want to read the full transcript, click here.
Grief Can Bowl Us Over
When you ride a wave in the surf, it’s easy to think you’ve got everything under control. But then all of a sudden a wave completely inundates you. One minute you go from the top of the wave to down into the gravel.
It’s the same with grief. Grieving people feel overwhelmed, “bowled over” by the grief. They can’t cope, they can’t concentrate. Their emotions are out of control and life feels very disorienting.
Grief Has Many Ups and Downs
In the ocean, there are huge ocean swells that you ride up on and then you come back down. For a moment, you are on top of the crest and you can see all over the horizon. Seconds later, you’re down in the wave trough, and you think that the water is going to come right over the deck of your ship.
Grief has a similar “up and down” pattern. Sometimes you are up and you’re feeling good. You’re feeling like you can cope, and you even are starting to look forward to a future. And then you can round a corner and run into someone that looks so much like the person you lost that you are thrown back down into trough again.
Grief Has a Rhythm, but Beware the Rogue Pattern
Ocean waves normally will have a rhythm and a pattern to them; you can more or less count on the undulation of an up/down cadence. But every once in a while, there will be an unpredictable rogue wave that will come from the side. It comes so unexpectedly, that it is almost like a freak incident.
Grieving is an unpredictable journey. Although there are some typical reactions that many people can expect along the grief journey, everyone’s experiences are unique. So even though some people will experience anger, depression, guilt, physical problems or sadness, we can’t say for sure exactly how someone will feel or react.
The Weather Eventually Clears
When you are out in the deep ocean no matter how difficult the seas are, it is absolutely predictable that they will calm down. You just have to give it time. The sun will start to come through the clouds and you can see a glimmer of hope.
When you are caring for a grieving person, hope is such an important part. So be that person who walks alongside a grieving person to provide hope that the days will get better.