grief is like the ocean


Hey there, Maeve here. When I started this blog I always wanted it to be a place to share the gifts of others. Meet my dear friend Dre. She is not only the strongest and most compassionate gal I know but she is an incredible writer. To anyone who has lost someone close to them, I hope you find peace in her honest, heartfelt words like I did.


 

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“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen

I grew up by water. As a child, I spent more time in a bathing suit than regular clothes. I likely wore my Minnie Mouse one piece from 8am - 8pm, only removing it after dinner to take a warm bath, washing away the lake water, sand, ketchup and popsicle stains. In the summertime, I would awake each day excited and ready for an adventure to the beach with my Dad, or go to Nana’s house.

My Nana had 12 children and 29 grandchildren – but in reality, that number was a lot higher. Neighborhood kids, and cousins of cousins, and all our friends were considered welcome and naturally called her “Nana” as if she were their own. This week, the world lost this beautiful soul that both created and touched so many lives. When death presents itself, it often makes us question things. Someone’s life coming to an end has a unique way of making us analyze our own.

I’ve been thinking about my childhood this week, and most fondly remembering summertime. Sitting alone on my porch, I close my eyes and let the muggy breeze graze my neck, the sunshine kiss my forehead. I think of Nana, her life, and my own.

I remember one day vividly.

I was floating around in the ocean, with a small pink tube around my waste. The azure blue sky, so vast and bright, covered us up above - as if to protect us from feeling anything but joy. I could spend hours in the water, searching for shells with frigid, shaky fingers. Later in the day, when the powerful sun would begin to set, I would put on my Dad’s tee shirt, a dress on me, and sit in my Mom’s lap. My hair, often braided, would need to be combed out from all the salt water tangling it. I sometimes cried softly when she did this – but I secretly loved this moment.

Over time, the waves began to pick up and the once beautiful and serene ocean became scary and all-encompassing. My tube flipped. I remember panicking - kicking my feet and flailing my arms around for help. I was stuck - the ocean pinned me down, held me there, and no one could see me. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I looked around in fear - only to see the dark ocean floor. Eventually, one of my parents’ friends or uncles saw me, because I felt someone grab my skinny ankles and suddenly, I was upside-down, gasping for air.

I’m realizing - grief is like the ocean. One minute, wading slowly to process a life can feel calm, peaceful, comforting. Then, a wave you didn’t expect rolls in, and it pins you down. Your tube flips. You can’t move and you can’t breathe. And you can’t see anything but the floor.

Like I was 20 years ago at that beach - I once again feel like I am upside-down, gasping for air.

This morning, I went back to work. I’m a social worker in an inner city elementary school. It is beyond difficult. When I got there, it took me 17 minutes to open my car door and walk inside. Like I said, grief flips your tube. I took most of the week off, but I had a few things to catch up on, and wanted to see some of my kids. When I arrived, I realized it was the Science Fair. I had forgotten it would be today. I quietly sit in the back and watch the 2nd graders present.

They proudly talk about mixing vinegar and baking soda and food coloring - and everyone cheers “ahhhhh!” and “wooooahhhh” when the volcano erupts. In between presentations, I quietly talk to my work friend, teary-eyed in the hallway. I have been at school for one hour and contemplate going home.

But choose to stay.

One of my students is next. She had made a small car that rides across the classroom floor, after she blows up a “balloon engine”. She gives me a big hug afterwards. A lot of the parents and caregivers are there watching too. As I scan the room, I vaguely recognize an older woman. I can’t quite put my finger on who she is - but when our eyes meet, she smiles, offers a small wave, and mouths “hi… thank you”.

After the kids are finished and everyone is chatting, I approach her and apologize, admitting that I forget her name. She reminds me, and it suddenly clicks - this is the Nana of another student I used to support, back in 2011 when I was a social work intern. I had only met her twice, so I am shocked that she remembers me. We talk for a few minutes about her grandkids and how truly proud she is of them. It’s extremely endearing.

I think of Nana, her life, and my own.

When this woman speaks, she beams - and just like the summer sky once did - she covers me and protects me from feeling anything but joy. I talk with some of my kids and their excitement about the Science Fair energizes me. When I eventually go to leave the room, I find Nana’s gaze again.

She waves, and this time, I mouth “thank you” - I don’t think she knew that I was thanking her for grabbing my ankles and letting me breathe.


 

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Dre lives in Boston (Go Sawks!) and is always looking for new recipes, new shoes, and new jokes. She works as a school social worker and thinks it's true what they say - kids really do say the darndest things! Dre loves traveling, cooking, writing, and being her parents' daughter. Give her a good cup of coffee and good company - and she's a happy girl.


It's me [Maeve] again. What did I tell ya? Isn't she a gem? I feel so blessed to know this lady. Her friendship is a sweet gift. Leave some love, support & encouragement for Dre below. I know she'd love to hear from you!