Treading Water

LET’S SAY the world is a pool. We’ll even say Olympic size, the world is a big place after all. Some of the inhabitants of this aquatic set-up are Lap Swimmers. For now, the Lap Swimmers are folks that are not currently dealing with personal tragedy or grief. Sadly, we know this status can change any time.  Ever prepared with goggles, a sleek swimsuit and a swim cap, they seem to swim along without missing a stroke.

Then there’s us. We are affected by tragedy, sadness and heartbreak. We are the grievers, treading water. Unlike the Lap Swimmers, we were unexpectedly thrown into the water without time to prepare. We are treading water, with the extra weight of our street clothes bringing us down. No goggles, no suit, no cap, using muscles we haven’t worked in a while.

The world swims madly on and we just try to keep one of those holes in our face above the water line.

Bogging us down in our effort to stay up above the tumult, we begin to acquire new weight. This may look like:

The Weight of Fear. Fear that depression and disease are always lurking in the shadows ready to strike again. Fear that sadness will always dim our world. Fear that someone I love will have to battle illness. Fear that life will be subdued, less enjoyable and lacking joy, light or laughter .

The Weight of Isolation. Worry that everyone else is moving on at a different (faster) pace. Feeling isolated even in a crowd of loving friends. Feeling left out just thinking of the possibility of Mother/Daughter events.

The Weight of Sadness and Grief. The extra effort to get up and get moving each morning. The deep longing. The grief. The pain in watching other’s grieve. Grieving the loss of a person and a life we didn’t ask for.

The Weight of Rebuilding. The feeling of leaving a loved one behind when life without a person begins to feel more and more familiar. Carrying on. Acknowledging that the life I had imagined for myself is shattered, never to be put back together because a critical piece cannot be found. Instead, life is graduations, new jobs, weddings, additions to the family, new locations, and trips, all without experiencing it with my mom.

And while the intensity of grief does not have a firm grip on me like it did just months ago, I am still very much in grief. If I were at first a wobbly coat rack, I’ve become steadier. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready for jackets, or even a scarf just yet.

In sticking with our swimming analogy, what might a lift saver look like for those of us treading water?

Lifesaver 1: Reach Out. It’s a little extra work for the Lap Swimmers but gosh, is it helpful to have someone offer to plan, coordinate or take some things off our plates.

Lifesaver 2: Reach Out Again. As impersonal as this may sound, feel free to set a reminder in your phone or calendar to email or text a quick note. It’s not personal if you don’t hear from grievers. Usually in loss, the many roles of the loved one that passed away are being sorted among several people or are all transferred to just one. A lack of initiating is no reflection of less love and care but more a survival tactic.

Lifesaver 3: It’s okay to talk about it. You really can’t hurt us anymore than we already are. We are new at this too. We give grace, we receive grace. Don’t worry about saying the right or wrong thing. You can’t repair the irreparable — we aren’t expecting that from you. There is no need to put too much pressure on yourself (but we recognize you do that because you care). You can’t say anything to take the pain away and since we’ve lived through the toughest event of our lives you probably won’t make it worse. But just for fun, here are a few things that have been helpful for me to hear:

  • The Check-In: How are you doing today?
  • The Jog Down Memory Lane: I was reminded of a hilarious story of your mom the other day. Can I share it with you?
  • The Honest Approach: I’ve been thinking about you. I’m really not sure what to say but I’m sorry and I’m here.
  • And sometimes, just cozy up with a over-sized coffee mug, sit back and listen.

With that said, we never have to talk about things we are uncomfortable with! Feel free to talk as you would about what’s most comfortable.

Lifesaver 5: Adapt with us. Things will never be the same. If things we used to do begin to evolve, please know you are welcome to evolve with us. The more, the merrier!

Lifesaver 6: Let us know how we can help you. Grief can make grievers feel helpless. If there are ways we can be with you in your grief, please invite us in. We care about our friendships and want to see outside of our grief. Hopefully, it’s a mutually beneficial partnership. Many times helping others makes me feel useful again.

Ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said that change is the only constant in life.  How perfectly ironic and annoying. I welcome change when it ushers in the best parts of life: new cities, new friends, new babies, new schools, new adventures. But change also brings about the saddest part of life: death, mourning, illness, break-ups, heart-break. From what I know about Heraclitus — very little — it sounds like he was much of an Eeyore in his day. One day, he concluded that life is always changing. Great! He closed up his books for the day, folded up the parchment,  blew out the candle and hollered to his assistant he’d be in by 10:00 AM the next morning. All in a days work, Heraclitus. You go!

But what do we do about this inevitable change? I’d argue that while change is imminent we have a way to overcome. The sentence doesn’t end with the dictatorial rule of change. No! Modern American philosopher, Emily determines that the most constant thing in life is the enduring strength of love, so unseen and mysterious but insurmountable. Love is as reliable as change and never comes with a 50/50 chance of bringing goodness or sadness.

Thank goodness for that.

Whistling: This song







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