The wave washed over me Tuesday morning just after the sun had risen. It was a familiar but unpleasant wave, the kind that releases only after it has held you under water just a few seconds too long. Emerging breathless and shaken, I took a deep breath. I stepped carefully and cautiously into the day, disoriented and on the verge of tears. Despite the attention and care of loving family members, I was overwhelmed by a sense of being lonely and lost in familiar surroundings.
This was the wave of grief. It has been three years since my Dad died and the wave of grief overcame me as abruptly and harshly this morning as it did on the morning that he died. When Dad died, I recall walking into the still dark morning with my brother, startled by how familiar the morning felt. The stars, the crisp air, and the beginning snowflakes of an incoming storm were typical of a mid-December day. The familiarity was a comfort and also an affront. Because, of course, everything had changed. We had accompanied Dad to death’s edge and waved goodbye. The wave of anticipation that had been holding us underwater during 4 days of bedside vigil had just released. As we greeted the morning, there was a sense of relief but there was also immense loss and uncertainty.
In the days after Dad died, my sense of order — of the universe’s order, really — had been disrupted. I waited, sometimes calmly but often impatiently, for the world to right itself. I wondered daily, what was this thing we had just experienced and what was next? How do I move forward?
I have found ways forward. I have grown more sure of my place in the world and my responsibility to it. I have recognized that I am not alone. Death, like birth, is an inevitable and beautiful aspect of the blessing of life. Sustaining love courses through us all and unites the corporeal and the spiritual, the living, the ancestral and the future generations. Grief is a byproduct of expressing and manifesting our love in this lifetime. Grief has invited me to see my own life more clearly and offer my gifts more freely and more bravely. For that reason, I can be grateful for the love and lives that are no longer here. They live on in memories of heart, mind and body. They live on in gifts of love that are re-directed back out to the wider world.
Of course, I could not remember any of this when the wave of grief washed over me on Tuesday. I was simply washed up on the cold December beach, bewildered, overwhelmed, and uncertain about how to proceed in a world that could turn upside down in an instant.
The way forward now is the same as it was three years ago: One breath and one step at a time – just like every other day. After all, that is all we ever really have.
Today, feeling stronger but still tender, I will remember the grip of the grief and the solace of its teaching. I will remember that love and loss touch us all, and that we never know when a wave of new or re-lived grief will break. I will remember to hold others gently. I will remember that love unites us all — one breath and one step at a time.