Grief is like an ocean.
It has been a few months since I first heard this ocean analogy spoken during an internship orientation on pastoral care where a hospice chaplain painted a picture of the unknown of ocean currents. On the surface, the ocean may look calm and relaxing but underneath, the current may be churning with great power. The consistent rhythm of the ocean has the power to ease anxiety one moment and then leave one lying on the sandy beach from the force of a crashing wave in the very next moment.
As this ocean of grief analogy was dissected, my mind wandered to the Outer Banks of North Carolina where summer after summer my family vacationed. Hours and hours were spent on the beach and in the ocean laughing from sun up until sun down, only breaking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Wave jumping was a favorite pastime as my Dad would hold my hands and say “it’s OK, I’ve got you,” when my nervousness increased in the powerful waters. The waves would crash on the shore and we would wait for the next one to roll in. This rhythm continued for hours: rolling waves, holding hands, and affirmation that “all was okay.”
Grief is like an ocean.
Grief is unpredictable and there are times when the current is so strong that one cannot stand while the waves crash over and over and over until the feeling of being unable to breathe overwhelms. Sometimes the ocean of grief seems so dark and deep and scary that it feels as though the pain will never cease. Grief often feels lonely and unbearable. But, what if we took the time to get into the messiness of the ocean, holding tightly to the hands of loved ones while we said, “It’s okay, I’ve got you.” What if we held each other up throughout the chaos and the unknown? What if we became comfortable enough to sit on the shore and bask in the pain of loss as the waves tossed and turned in front of us?
My father died several months ago following a short illness, and, at times, my ocean of grief has brought a flood of emotions that were paralyzing. There have been moments where I felt I was being tossed and turned in a current of chaos with no way out. But along this journey, people have held my hands tightly and whispered, “It’s okay, I’ve got you,” while the flood of chaos slowly transitioned into the calming rhythm of waves rolling onto the shore.
Let us be wave jumpers. Let us be people who are not afraid to get waist deep in the ocean of grief to be fully present. Let us be people who can grieve hand in hand with our brothers and sisters and create safe space as we say with our words and our lives, “It’s okay, I’ve got you.”
Jaime Fitzgerald is a student at Gardner Webb University School of Divinity. She is the minister to youth at First Baptist Church, Tryon, North Carolina.