On grief and piña coladas

What I learned from the shoreline

As I previously admitted, I recently hit the bottom of the writing well and found it dry. But that's OK. Some people find inspiration in sadness and turmoil; I am not one of those people. My desire to write comes from happiness. And opening this blog today to write is a very good sign that there might be water in the well yet. For roughly two handfuls of people, this is welcome news. My natural habitat is happiness; my innate disposition is joy, and for a solid three months I have been slumming in the sad part of town. That isn't me.

Grief. I promise this is the only blog entry about grief because the foundation of this blog is happiness. When I recently learned of a very close death, through a tear-streaked face and broken spirit, I drew two immediate conclusions: One, I would not be able to overcome that amount of sadness without God's help, and two, I realized that grief was a vast ocean out front of me, cold and deep, and that I was, at that moment, standing on the shore and looking across at the long, solitary swim ahead. I knew relief and normalcy were on the other side of the ocean, but to get there, I'd need to wade into the dark water and begin the painstaking swim across. Only God knew how long my swim would take. All I knew was that I was as far from the opposite shore as I was going to be right at that moment; the swim would not get any longer, scarier, or colder than the day I learned of the death.

I felt its icy water licking at my toes. Grief would not wait for me to jump in; it was snapping a rubber swim cap on my head and making me walk the plank.

After weirdly coming up with the ocean metaphor at the pinnacle of the worst day of my life, I received a surprise message a few days later on a social media site. It was a message by the pastor Joel Osteen. He wrote, and I'm going to paraphrase, "When you feel you are drowning in life situations, remember that your Lifeguard walks on water."

That works well with my ocean analogy, doesn't it? And it also works super well with my faith. God is so awesome that He doesn't leave us during the hardest times in our lives. Indeed, He promised He wouldn't. “For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'” Hebrews 13:5. Instead, He says to reach out for His right hand; He says "Trust Me." He says, essentially, "I will be your buoy, I will be your emergency flotation device when you make your trek across that ocean." How. Awesome. Is. That?

It says to me, no matter how long it takes you to get across that ocean of grief, when you are weary and cannot swim another stroke, reach up and take God's hand. He is there.

After my experience in December, it seemed like death, illness, and grief were all around me. Sandy Hook happened a week later, car accidents, children dying of cancer--I became hyper aware of death and pain. My empathy meter broke its mercury bubble and I began crying over every loss or sickness--even if those suffering were strangers.

What have I learned from this experience? I learned (beside the fact that I can fill a kitchen dish towel with tears) that pain is pain no matter the circumstances, and grief isn't a consequence of just death. I have a dear friend experiencing a life altering trauma that has nothing to do with a hospital or an illness. And yet, it will be OK. At the vortex of grief, recovery doesn't seem possible; the sky is starless, right? The ocean is black and littered with sharp, unforgiving icebergs--but relief is just on the other side of the darkness. The healing shoreline seems so far away, and it might be. But it's there. You must wade into the ocean and begin the swim. Grief is an immovable dictator. You cannot get past it, around it, or over it. You must swim all... the... way... through.

The point I'm plunging toward is that I'm almost there. I don't think anyone can judge how long it will take to get across the ocean, but at least I don't feel as if I'm just treading water anymore. My swimming strokes are long and graceful, and when the clouds begin to clear and I can feel the sunshine warming my shoulders, I picture myself breaking through the storm and making some serious progress through the ocean of grief. I can see the palm trees swaying, and ... is that a piña colada sticking up on the sand?

Ahhh... it is. I am almost there.


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