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Learning to Ride the Rising and Falling Waves of Grief

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“Darling, you feel heavy because you are too full of truth. 

Open your mouth more.

Let the truth exist somewhere other than inside your body.”

— Della Hicks-Wilson

I feel “ick” today.


Maybe a bit sad, or tired — I am not sure which. Or hungry. Those three tend to blend together.

My kids, Jayden and Brooklyn are fine; not sleeping, but fine. As fine as two kids with life-limiting conditions can be. In fact, most days, I fear they are doing a better job of living than me. My husband Justin says I am too hard on myself. Perhaps. My daughter Ellie is great, too. Still asking a bunch of questions, like many 4-year-olds do, and playing baby. Specifically, “a baby named Ellie who talks with her eyes. And crawls. And walks. And laughs. And giggles. And sleeps.”

Every day.

Ellie has this book, “In My Heart: A Book of Feelings,” which I feel you must read to your children. In fact, everyone should read it. It talks about how some days, our hearts can feel as heavy as an elephant. Yeah, that’s how I feel — heavy and a bit jacked up.

And I am not exactly sure why. It could be the weather changing, the silence of the house now that the kids are back in school, the lack of sleep, or feeling like I am constantly failing at life. I am not sure — but today is a heavy day.

Yesterday wasn’t. Yesterday was a light day. A busy, productive, house-full-of-people day. A day for laughing. It seems the busier I am, the less heavy I feel. Not that heavy isn’t there; it always is. I just don’t feel it as much.

Anyway, yesterday, I felt good.

Productive. Present. Engaged. Today, two coffees and an expresso in, I am tired. It comes like waves, doesn’t it?

Grief, anxiety, doubt and sadness.

Connection, bravery, resolve and productivity.

Wavering seems normal — the rhythm of life, I suppose. I like that negative feelings come and go, but I’d love for the good ones to be a bit more consistent. The moment after I sense a burst of warrior spirit, or fierce confidence, or “go get ‘em” attitude, it just vanishes. I imagine it’s a lot like surfing. I fight to get out far enough past the break, to the place I can even catch a wave. I wait. Wait for the rise, the invitation. I feel it swell. I participate. I ride the wave until it disappears, until I am sucked under and tossed about, finally finding myself right back where I started: the shore. The place I tried so hard to leave. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stay on top of the wave. I can’t stay light. But no one does.

That seems to be the art of surfing. The rise, the ride and the repeat. I feel that is the art of life. And we hope, at the end of the day, we’ve either moved a bit more down the shore, or at least survived the sea. We hope we can look at our life and say, “It was good.” I waver between feeling strong and feeling weak daily. The moment I believe “I got this,” it’s gone — fear, doubt and panic take its place. It feels like walking in circles. I try so hard to get to a place of peace, acceptance, normalcy — only to realize all I have done is worn deeper the path back to the start. But what is left behind after years of our wandering? A path we’ve walked so many times before — full of memories and reminders. A path for others to travel.

I have heard grief isn’t linear, and I suppose anticipating the grief of losing my children isn’t either. So although we have been here time and time again, it is never exactly the same. Certain things feel eerily familiar, others feel heavy and new. When we keep surfing, keep walking, though, something beautiful can happen. We can get stronger. We can build muscle memory. We can leave bread crumbs. That’s why we keep showing up, because we have learned truth exists in the tension of light and heavy. In the rhythm of the rise and the fall. That is the secret. The sweet spot, the hardest spot, in the center of the tension and the rhythm. It may be exactly where we need to be.

It gets harder.

It gets easier.

It’s both.

That’s the art of life.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Stefanie’s blog.

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Originally published: November 15, 2016
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