Imagine that you are sailing in open water on your way to a beautiful island. You have been traveling for a long time, but you finally catch a glimpse of the island off in the distance and feel a sense of relief that you are so close to reaching your destination. You take this opportunity to bask in the sun as it shines brightly, and you listen to the music of the waves as they ripple against the sides of your boat. Just when you feel totally relaxed, a substantial wave pummels you, forcing you to grip the boat tightly until the swell passes. The surging water leaves you shaken, so you take a moment and collect yourself as you acknowledge that the smoothness of a boat ride in open water often depends on elements that are not within your control. As you begin to recover from the wave force, a riptide crashes in and thrusts you from the safety of your boat. You take a deep breath, known as a survival breath, and sink underwater until the riptide passes, and you can bob to the surface. As you break through the water’s surface, you release the air you were holding in your lungs. After several moments, you catch your breath and find that you are breathing normally again. You spot the distant island and it is much closer than you previously thought. It is evident that you are going to make it to land! You swim the short distance to the island and nearly collapse in sheer relief.
Riptides of Sadness
The sadness associated with grief can be analogous to being hurled out of the safety of a boat by a riptide. A riptide, or a current opposing another current, may also equate to the turmoil and inner conflict you feel when you lose a loved one for whom you have cared. Just as you might feel helpless against the elemental sea when being heaved from a boat, you will likely be emotionally fragile when your loved one dies. In fact, you may feel that you will be swept away by your grief. As in the boat analogy, you may feel as though you are underwater, gasping to catch your breath, and with so many competing emotions; from time to time, you may even feel as though you are going to go crazy. I would bet that you will not.
Healthy Ways to Express Your Sadness
Because you will be changed by your loss, it is important to identify strategies that may be useful in expressing your sadness. The goal of each of the approaches is to help you begin to integrate your past and present feelings about your loved one so that you can invest your emotions into living.
Poetry. Writing poetry was one of the ways I coped when my aunt Linda passed away. I would find myself awake in the middle of the night without anyone with whom I could express my sadness, and so I would write. The key to successful poetry writing as an outlet to expressing your sadness is that it does not have to be nicely written, spelled correctly, or even flow succinctly. What matters is that you fully express yourself and have an opportunity to capture how you are feeling in the moment. Many of the poems I wrote after my aunt passed away have never been shared with anyone. In fact, the journal is tucked away and serves as a private tribute to our special relationship. It is up to you what you do with your written words long term. For now, the goal is to release your feelings in a healthy manner.
Life Imprint. Cynthia was my favorite aunt; she had a magnetic personality and loved to laugh. When she passed away after a long struggle with a bipolar disorder, I wasn’t sure how I would cope with the sadness. Yet, having time to reflect helped me recognize that we continue to have a relationship, because, through her humor, she left a strong life imprint. Remembering her makes me smile. I try to be mindful that I have not lost the years caring for her. Rather, I try to incorporate new patterns of living that include the transformed but abiding relationship that still exists. I have concluded that I am a living memorial of my aunt.
As mentioned previously, I do not believe that one is likely to ever get over the death of a loved one. What I do believe is that we learn to incorporate the best attributes of our departed loved ones into our daily lives. We remember what we loved best about them and that our lives are forever changed from knowing those who are now gone.
This article is an excerpt from Green, Eboni, I. (2017). Reflections from the Soul. Omaha, NE: Green Publishing.