Grief is like swimming in the middle of the ocean (and I hate the ocean)

ocean

Grieving can often feel like you’re drowning.

Like you were suddenly plucked off of land — out of your normal, everyday life — and dropped head first into the deep blue sea.

When you realize where you are and start swimming, it can be overwhelming to get acclimated. You get tired really fast — because what the f, you've never had to swim this much before. You get stressed — because why the HELL did this just happen to you? You get irritated — because where is everybody else dealing with this shit? And you get to swimming — because (in our society) life doesn’t stop just because your mom’s did.

Whether you’re out there floating around on the sunny days or the stormy ones, grief is always there. Surrounding you. Maybe you’ve climbed on top of a log feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time in months, and you’re only waist deep, letting your legs hang in, supported and stable. Or maybe you’re eyebrow deep, wondering if you’ll ever come up for air, with your arms — and life, and the world, and socializing — feeling so heavy that you just can’t swim right now. 

Randomly, over days, weeks, months, years, you’re dragged to the bottom of the ocean by a scary af squid that’s wrapped you up in its tentacles and won’t let you up for air — someone in your life says, "Aren't you okay yet!? It's been a year!" or your best friend who stops talking to you “because you cry too much” and they just don’t know how to help. 

And, even when it’s not those overwhelmingly scary, horrendous things making it hard to stay above water, you’re constantly being nipped on the toes by annoying little fish — a photo you find in a drawer. Or you’re being pooped on by a seagull — that dumbass that says, “Don’t forget to wish your mom happy Mother’s Day this weekend!” when she’s dead. Or you’re passed by a boat that is just out of range to hear your scream for help — an ill-intentioned but totally ignorant dummy that flips you off in traffic... on the anniversary of your best friend’s suicide. 

Some days bring a little relief though. A log floats by to grab onto — you find a side hustle or dedicate more time to playing with your kids or you book in a weekend away. The sun peaks out from behind a cloud — a postcard arrives in the mail or a distant relative shoots you a <3 emoji. Or a super cute seal swims by and brightens your days — see: why I try to pet every puppy I pass on the street.

Unfortunately, you can always see some waves and clouds looming in the distance — holidays, anniversaries, deathiversaries, babies, weddings, funerals (the list goes on) — and brace yourself constantly for them to hit. They seem never-ending, always on the horizon, and the first laps of wave water or the first drops of rain signal the unavoidable pain that’s about to turn into hard days or weeks of fighting the elements.

beach

People pretend like you’ll find an island one day, or like there’s a way you’ll suddenly grow wings and fly out of the water (this is about as likely as controlling when you’ll cry a year after someone dies). They pretend like you’re not in the middle of the ocean, but voluntarily going swimming with the option of getting out to sunbathe on a warm, dry beach. Like you can climb out of these seemingly shallow waves whenever you need to go to work, whenever you need to celebrate someone else’s happiness, or whenever you need to “pull it together” for whatever the hell reason there could possibly be to “get over” your loss.

And that misconception — the misunderstanding that grief doesn’t envelop and surround us *constantly* from the moment we lose someone, and sometimes even before we lose them — is what you start to fight. Instead of getting out of the water at that nonexistent beach, your arms and legs just get stronger; your brain stops obsessing about when a raft is going to drift by; you do what you can to protect yourself against absurd beliefs and misinformed “help”. 

dolphin

Thankfully, every once in a while a badass, glittery Lisa Frank dolphin comes along and lets you grab onto their fin for a break from swimming — a friend that shows up out of the blue with Chinese food, 4 boxes of tissues, and a “whatever you need” attitude; a coworker who puts their arm on your shoulder decades after your dad has passed and offers to let you cry on their shoulder on a Tuesday; or anyone that lets you be you, for a moment or a day or a year, sad or happy, just trying to ride the waves without drowning.

Images by Bailey Mahon

Alica Forneret