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Waves of grief:

One of the most commonly expressed statements I’ve heard about grief from people who are grieving and in looking back at things I’ve written in my journal is that rather than being a constant feeling, feelings of grief rise and fall and crash like waves at the shore.  

waves of grief

From my journal: “My missing you washes over me uncontrollably on its own time and tide and when it does it sears my mind and body with grief and pain and longing and what do I do nows until it subsides and ebbs for another unknowable length of time until it turns and again washes over me and I cry another part of my million tears. “

Thought for the day:

Waves of Grief = Waves of Love! Each time a wave of grief crashes over you, mixed with the pain and feelings of loss and sadness remember that we grieve because we love.

Going to your knees under the onslaught of the waves. Learning to get back up:

If you’ve ever stood in the water on an ocean beach, especially after a storm when the waves are strong and high, the waves can knock you to your knees, they can put you on the ground and roll you over and over as they wash back off the shore. When that happens, their strength is so much greater than yours, all you can do is let it happen, roll with it and as the wave recedes and leaves you breathless on the sand, stand and become ready for the next wave. 

It’s the getting back up that is the challenge, especially when wave after wave knocks you down and you become fatigued and start running out of strength and breath. But of course you have to get back up and brace for the next wave. Does fatigue in this example equal feelings of hopeless in our early grief? 

I’ve heard people say that “this hurts worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. No one can be hurting as much as I am”.

It can be that bad! Early in the grief journey, the waves come so fast and the hurt comes at such a visceral level that it is almost 100% emotional and uncontrollable. It can make us sick momentarily, it can make us sick or sick-feeling all day long and for day after day.  It will almost surely make us cry like we will never be able to stop, keep us from eating and sleeping and generally messing with everything in our lives as wave after wave crashes over us. 

This level of pain happens to a lot of us and while ours feels like it’s the worst and becomes almost an isolating thing, we can find ways to come together and tell our stories and learn to be “friends in grief”. We can share that pain, dilute it by the sharing and find some relief by letting it be expressed outside of ourselves and knowing that we are not alone in what we are feeling and going through. 

How do the waves happen to you? What does it feel like?

To fight grief or not to fight grief (go with the flow):

Another ocean image: If you are washed out to sea in a rip current (tide), a seaward moving current that goes away from shore, it is way stronger than you are and if you fight it, you will tire and run out of energy and by fighting it, sometimes people don’t have the energy to make it back to shore. But, if you let the current take you, don’t fight it, let it carry you with it’s energy and take you out towards the sea, eventually, it will run out of energy and once it does, you can just use the strength and energy you didn’t use fighting it to swim to the edge of the current and then turn shoreward and swim back to shore.

Grief will take you were it will. It is its own current carrying you away from the shore of your normal life out towards the sea of a life unknown. 

It is always my inclination to go where the current takes me and to husband my strength for the learning and the growth that the swim back to the shore of a “new life” as a widower will require of me.

Hope vs. Hopelessness: looking for some light:

waves of grief

Grief can definitely cause feelings of hopelessness, especially early when the waves come over us hour after hour, day after day, week after week, it sometimes gets to feeling like we will never get any relief and this pain will go on forever. 

Speaking from a perspective of almost 5 years out, I can say for myself and for a large number of widows and widowers I talk with regularly, that with time, the waves become less high, they come less often and we start being able to catch our breaths between waves. Further along, if not the sun, we can at least begin to see the light behind the clouds and the promise that some day, some time, some how, the clouds might actually part and some light will come back into our lives.

Facing your grief or hiding from it and avoiding it or perhaps a little bit of both when it’s too much all at once:

As we talked about last month, I’ve listened to people who have chosen in some way to hide from their grief. They found ways to stay super busy, to go out, to join meet up groups and to generally try to submerge their grief below sometimes frantic or frenetic activity to keep from thinking about it or feeling it. 

At the same time, often our grief feelings are so intense, we may not be able to deal with them all at once or day after day. At times we need to find ways to put them aside temporarily if we can, to get busy doing something else to help us put them off for just a little while and try to give ourselves an “emotional day off”. Even an hour or two off can help.  We all need some time to let ourselves absorb and process what is happening without thinking or feeling the intensity of it if we can find it. 

Doing Things, Learning Things:

This is a theme I plan to come back to many times during the year. I personally looked to old hobbies from earlier in my life to fill those moments and take me out of my grief for a bit. I also began learning new things as extensions of those activities that let me concentrate and focus on something away from my grief. To focus on things that gave me some time off, most times for me it was only an hour or two but they were times of doing something else besides actively grieving. 

I chose to do something active and creative for my bit of relief time but probably listening to music or watching an absorbing movie or TV show would bring the same distraction. For many people, reading seems to require almost too much concentration but if that is your go to, if it works, it works.  

I will say though, that learning new things engages so much of your attention and helps your mind stay active through these times that therein lies an added benefit of more active vs. more passive activity. Again, this is just my personal preference and it’s what worked for me. 

What ever works for you is good and if it helps, go at it! 

However, if what you are doing doesn’t work and you find yourself not moving forward in a reasonable amount of time, you might want to try something else… At worst, sitting on the couch or staying in bed and staring out into space and letting your grief overwhelm you day after day doesn’t contain much that helps you move forward to find hope, healing and growth.

There is also a component of this that going to work contains that may actually be healing and beneficial in giving us that temporary break we need from our grieving. The waves may still come over us at work, but when we are engaged in our job and focused on the needs of doing our job correctly and well, we are, for that time, outside our grief and as with the other examples here, in a sense it becomes a time when we can process some of the things that have been happening to us in our grief that we can’t do when the waves are crashing.

Sharing the journey: grief shared helps dilute it’s intensity and helps us with our healing. Telling your story is important:

This is why we have support groups! One of the most valuable things I experienced in the early part of my grief journey was coming to support group meetings and both listening to other people tell their grief stories and being able to tell my own. 

Having people at different places along the way, a few months or even a number of years into the process gave me ideas, things to think about and new ways to understand what was happening to me. Almost the most important part of the experience was that it let me know I wasn’t alone and that sharing my grief would help to dilute it over time and that what was happening to me wasn’t unique. If people have been surviving grief and sharing their journeys for as long as there has been people and grief, then I could (and would) survive as well.

This was written about loneliness in an article in the AARP magazine but I believe it applies to grief as well. “ We all need witnesses to our lives and people to look after.”  “…People are looking for (similar) core values and shared life experiences.” (Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo, loneliness researcher.)

Becoming each others “Friends in Grief” :

This may well be one of the most important parts of what being together in a Support Group environment can do. It may not be obvious, especially early in our journeys, but as we listen and share our grief stories and the pain and sadness we feel, we are learning about each other and building strong bases on which friendships can develop as we help each other to work through our grief and as we build the foundations upon which our new lives will rest.

When we meet new people, we spend quite a lot of time getting to know them. Our relationships tend to build slowly over time in small bits of shared information, in finding commonalities, in learning likes and dislikes and at some level an almost intuitive resonance that keeps us coming back and learning more. At some point we have enough shared experiences that our relationship becomes a friendship and if both people are willing to give and take in relatively equal amounts, that friendship can grow and expand through our lives.

The key difference here is the time it takes to build a friendship. It isn’t quick and it slowly evolves as we get to know someone, sometimes over years. 

In our grieving, if we become part of a support group of any sort, we tend to learn a lot about people in their most vulnerable places in a pretty short time. When we get together to share our grief stories we often tell the group very personal and intense feelings and things about ourselves that we would ordinarily not do until we know someone for a very long time. 

Often we share things we might never have shared with anyone in other circumstances. Because of this almost artificial speeding up of the information transfer, we are able to bridge the gap from stranger to friend much more quickly. Instead of looking for commonality, we know we have one very important thing in common, we all share a bereavement and the results of that bereavement on our lives. We immediately understand that about each other in ways that others who have not experienced grief of this type can probably never truly understand. 

waves of grief

So what we have done in the On Our Own community of bereaved spouses in Fort Collins and Loveland and now here in Greeley, is to build friendships and bonds in a relatively short time. As time goes by and past friends and relationships change because of our changed lives, these new “friends in grief” can become the core of the people we journey forward with. 

Our social lives, our conversations, our interactions are all building out of these friendships and we will always have that basic commonality of “I get it. I know how you are feeling” that creates a comfort and familiarity no matter our backgrounds or beliefs. We all are widows or widowers and we can all help each other in the process of hope and healing. And we are becoming friends!

Crying and Hugging are OK:

We are all often brought to tears by the intensity of our emotions. We all need to feel free to express those emotions and cry when and where we need to. 

One of the things our group of fellow travelers offers us when we meet is a safe place to cry where everyone knows why we cry and that we often can’t really control it and that we need to do it.  And hugs (when we can) are a way of saying thanks to each other for the sharing and the help and the dilution of our pain by its sharing. 

Virtual hugs are not as good but for now, it’s what we have. Connect with others who share this journey and let’s let each other know we are there to help in what ever way we can be.  And I sincerely hope that when our current crisis of social distancing is over, we can remember to hug again, that we can overcome our fears and reach out for the very important comfort of physical touch, ie. HUGS..

Getting other help: 

Please seek out professional counseling if dealing with your grief begins to seem too overwhelming. Many of us were care-givers in some way during our lives, let someone now help you in your need as you may have helped others in theirs.