I am adrift in an endless sea of grief.
As I float along, the world continues to go on around me as if I am walking among the bustling crowds—but my feet haven’t touched dry land since September 30, 2009. It was on that day—the day my 4-year-old daughter drowned—I was unwillingly thrust into this watery journey.
Drowning in Despair
Without warning—and in a matter of moments—my daughter’s sudden death unleashed a monstrous tsunami of indescribable pain that was so huge and so dense, it blocked out the light of the sun. In complete darkness, it crashed down upon me and destroyed life as I knew it. Then the undertow dragged me kicking and screaming out to the middle of a deep sea of grief where a violent storm of emotions raged around me.
For months on end, the giant waves would crash over me and shove my body under the water where I choked on anguish and despair. Then the undercurrent of that same wave would spit me back out, forcing me to tread water until the next waves of emotions pummeled my weakened body. It felt endless and torturous.
I thought many times it would be easier if the water would take my own life in the way it took my daughter’s—but for some unknown reason to my wearied mind, my body just continued to go through the motions and fight for survival.
Buoyed by Compassion and Support
Without really knowing how, my flailing hands began grabbing lifelines that had been thrown my way. These were lifelines of love and support from family and friends; from grief counselors. Lifelines also came from other bereaved parents who had already learned how to survive in this very same storm and whose compassion inspired them to reach out and help others through this treacherous journey on the sea of grief.
Buoyed by their love and support, I began weaving these lifelines together to build a makeshift raft that could give my aching body a rest from the constant struggle to stay afloat. As my raft took shape, the waves seemed to come a little less often and didn’t feel quite as intense.
Of course, they still came. And when they did, they still crashed over me—leaving me feeling horrible and defenseless. Yet, despite my continued pain, my body was able to start the healing process now that I had a raft to cling to.
As I slowly started healing, I began to focus my growing energy towards weaving together more lifelines into a bigger and stronger vessel that could better protect me from the stormy sea. I discovered that the more I shared my feelings with those willing to listen, the longer and more plentiful my lifelines became—and the more material I had to build with.
Getting My Sea Legs
As my raft began transforming into a sturdier vessel of support, I got better at understanding how to navigate the waves of emotions in ways that didn’t feel so debilitating as before.
I began to see that trying to steer clear of the waves altogether only made them more dangerous and damaging. I learned that every time I tried to outrun the wave, I ended up getting caught in the wave’s impact zone—where it has the most power to pull me under and hold me within the churning currents coming from every direction. This is where grief is the most intense and agonizing.
So instead of trying to avoid the waves, I decided to learn to ride them as a surfer does. I embraced the understanding that these waves of emotions were temporary moments of time that would eventually end.
Over and over again, I practiced finding my balance to ride across the tube of each wave—where the water was smoother and had less chance of pulling me under. It wasn’t easy; learning anything new and outside your comfort zone can be difficult and challenging. But when you keep trying, you learn new techniques through trial and error—and eventually you get better at it.
Setting a New Course
Once I became better at surfing the waves of emotions, I was able to ride them to a place on the sea of grief where the storm didn’t constantly rage.
In calmer water, I looked for the land I was taken from. I still desperately wanted to go back there and return to everything I once knew. But as I scanned the endless horizon, I came to understand that the loss of a child is so profound, there is no going back.
All we can do as bereaved parents is set a new course—to uncharted waters where we must learn to exist in a world without the children we lost.
These days, the water I float on is mostly calm. I’ve learned to appreciate that there is an abundance of beauty and love in this new world I live in. My boat is now large and sturdy, and I can steer it in any direction I want. Over time, I’ve been able to find water shallow enough where I can touch and walk along the sandy bottom and easily interact with the world of dry land—even if it is within the confines of the sea of grief.
A Constant Reminder
Unfortunately, no matter how far I’ve come and how many new positive experiences I can create, I always feel the water as it continually blows across my face and body. It is a constant reminder that I will never leave the sea of grief.
Most days the wind that blows the water is a gentle breeze. Other times, a storm begins to brew, the wind grows stronger, and the pain of the stinging, salty water becomes more noticeable and intense. Some storms are predictable each year—like the time leading up to the anniversary of my daughter’s death—but mostly the storms are random and unexpected.
I can’t keep the storms from coming; I can’t completely navigate away from them. But I can sail through them knowing they are only moments in time—and just as they have a beginning—they always have an end.
As I sail along this sea of grief, I will continue to throw lifelines out to those I come across just starting out on their difficult journeys. Thankfully, I’ve come to a point in time where I have plenty to spare.
For those of you reading this who are treading water in the constant waves of emotions—know that you too will learn to build your own vessel. You too will find your way to calmer waters. And if you only look, you’ll find plenty of others to help and guide you on your way.Tags: coping with grief, death of a child, healing, Moving forward
Beautiful analogy. I am 21 months into the journey of losing my son. I am starting to weave together my life raft. Thanks for posting this!
My husband and I lost our beautiful, talented, kind hearted, loving, generous, 28 year old daughter, Brittany, to suicide on November 21, 2018. We are incredibly devastated and bewildered. She suffered from depression but was in treatment and we did not realize how ill she actually was. I am just absolutely paralyzed, just getting by minute to minute with the help of many dear and caring friends who come to visit almost daily. I could not get by without them. Adrift in a Sea of Grief describes the intense pain and emotional turmoil I feel. I cannot see the possibility of this pain lessening but I must stay strong for our other two daughters who need us so much.
Thank you for your article, Maria.
Thank you so much for our article. We lost our youngest son Michael, 34 Christmas day 2017. It has taken everything in this article for me to survive the loss of this incredible young man, who touched so many lives in short time here on earth. I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter.
I lost my 46 year old son this past May. He was shot and killed by a person he didn’t know that well. He was my only son and we were very close. Hardly a day passed that we didn’t talk or see each other. My two Daughters have helped me hold on while going through their own grief during this nightmare. Everything I see and do reminds me of Doug. The things he enjoyed-the things he loved and his sweet smile and silly laugh. They will echo in my mind forever. This is the most horrible pain I have ever felt and I will never be the person I once was….it is a hurt I would wish on no one.
We lost our ONLY child, 28, Jan. 19, 2019, in a kayaking accident. He was with a group and a very capable athlete in many sports. No one has an explanation for how or why this happened, and even if there was one, he is gone now. We have no other children and no grandchildren. Many people, including the ones who posted below, at least, have to focus on their remaining children. What do we do without that focus? We have lost our hopes, dreams, and future. All we have are memories and horrific grief. We have no one to even give our photo albums, to, once we pass. I wonder if someone can speak to this issue. No groups exist outside of Dublin, Ireland, for parents who have lost their only child. We are also around the age of 70, which gives us very little time to learn to live with this.
Beautifully written article. Its been over 8 years since my wife and I lost our precious son. From the start I had a belief that it was important for me to listen to my body and not fight the grief process. Waves are a great analogy, it truly feels like that. My wife had searched for a book that could help us. She found one that we both read together and it enabled us and enouraged us to talk about and discuss what we read. It helped me personally because it gave me an explaination of what was happening and allowed me to think through what I was experiencing.
Here is a link, I hope someone out there finds it helpful. Hang in there, I know progress is slow. https://www.amazon.com/Living-When-Someone-Love-Dies/dp/0553352695
My beautiful talented daughter 44 lost her battle to Addisons only 3 weeks ago I am drowning in grief and find it difficult to accept the world around me continues on. She has left 2 beautiful children behind, so I see her each day in them. Trying to return to a normal life seems disrespectful and impossible! I don’t know how I can! The reality of the need to go back to work when there is so much needed to do and to grieve.
Your analogy of the sea is as it feels…….