Learning to Surf
Learning to Surf

Learning to Surf

Healing, life, grief…it all happens in waves. When we first recognize grief in our lives, we hope for an easier ride and the gentlest possible landing. We know it won’t be a quick process, but we do hope that maybe it will be less painful or complicated for us than others. To be honest, many of us expect exemption from the intensity of grief instead of acknowledging that our entire human existence is a practice of the ebb and flow. What happens then in our grief work if we can invite that same flexibility into grief? Let’s find out together.

The ebb and flow nature of life and grief is a universal human experience. And yet, the privileged lives so many of us lead means we have a tendency to deny our pain and instead, put all of our energy toward survival. Toward happier things. The prevalence of “Good Vibes Only” demonstrates how many would prefer a linear grief experience with a clear start and finish.

Would that it were so simple! In reality, our good vibes are intertwined with low spirits, leaving us to navigate unpredictable emotional terrain as often as the sun rises. But that doesn’t need to be a negative; we simply need to learn how to surf.

When we get honest with ourselves, we can recognize that grief is not a linear process but rather an unfolding cycle that can mimic the rhythm of the ocean tides. These waves of grief manifest in various forms and somewhat unpredictable intensities, but one thing is certain: they will always return.

Hoping for a linear grief process makes sense. If we can predict when the tides roll in, why can’t we predict what will happen in our grief work? Well, in a way, we can. While a linear process would suggest there is a beginning, middle, and end, the cyclical and true nature of grief (and tide tables) invite us to notice how our grief is impacted and shifts by all the changes in our daily lives. Maybe we expect a linear grief process because our culture wants us to move on quickly and return to productivity and capitalism. Maybe we think the idea of progression itself and a list to check off is the source of comfort we want. Maybe we suspect others of grieving in a linear and predictable way, assuming our story can be crafted the same as theirs.

Embracing the non-linear nature of grief allows us to honor our unique emotions and experience while fostering a greater sense of compassion and understanding for ourselves and others. Nothing in life is so linear as to be predictable. Are there characteristics of life events that make them seem predictable? Of course. But to live in a world that presumes all will be easy, predictable, and simple to navigate is a privileged mindset. The truth is that all are impacted by grief. Whether all will reckon with the depth of their experiences is a different matter. But we’re here together because we recognize the value of honoring our selves and our stories because of our privileges in life.

In understanding the nature of grief, it’s essential to acknowledge the role privilege plays in shaping our perceptions and expectations of the grieving process. Grief work itself is a privilege, and if we are ever going to heal as individuals, we must remember that our collective healing as a culture and community matter just as significantly as our individual lives. Privilege, whether it be based on socio-economic status, race, gender, or other factors, can often insulate individuals from the harsh realities of loss, leading them to believe that grief should adhere to a linear trajectory rather than the unpredictable waves it often manifests. In societies where discussions about loss and vulnerability are stigmatized or marginalized, there exists a pervasive notion that grief should be neatly compartmentalized and swiftly overcome.

This expectation, rooted in privilege, fails to account for the complexity and individuality of the grieving experience, dismissing the profound impact loss can have on one’s emotional and psychological well-being. By acknowledging the influence of privilege on our perceptions of grief, we can begin to dismantle the barriers that inhibit honest conversations about loss and cultivate greater empathy and understanding for those navigating through the unpredictable waves of grief. Bringing this intentional and humble mindset to grief work is also what invites the collective to experience a richer connection and sense of communal healing.

So why does grief come in waves? One of the hardest parts of grief work is honoring ourselves by staying with the ups and downs of emotionally intense grief work. It can be draining to feel like we’ve made progress one day simply to wake tearfully and feel ten steps away the next morning. Part of the work we face is honoring that part of us that just doesn’t always have the energy or the spoons to keep up with the busy, demanding pace of our lives.

We are grievers, but we are also parents and friends, coworkers, neighbors, creatives, caregivers, and more. We hold a lot of roles in our lives and yet, while some of these are identities we can set aside for a time when necessary, the role of griever in our lives isn’t one we can easily dismiss.

So when we recognize that the intensity of our loss has drained our internal resources, we must take a step back for perspective. Staying front and center with the grief work can be too intense for our nervous systems to navigate. The complexity of our losses will always cause a wave to crash down just at the wrong moment. We’ve all done the grocery store yelling match or something similar – shouting at the innocuous question about cereal because we’ve just been asked one too many questions in the day.

When that scenario comes on the back of a grief heavy day, we can’t pretend we saw it coming. But we also can’t pretend it doesn’t matter. These outbursts are just as valid as waves of grief as unexpected sobbing at the dentist or the end-of-the-day collapse into bed at 7:00 pm.

The truth is that like life, our grief in waves reflects the nature of emotions and our innate human design. We flow. We thrive in spaces where our humanity is given ample room to spin and explore. When our emotional and mental and physical and spiritual parts are all given room to breathe and find expression, we experience a richness in life that we can’t always explain, yet still we crave.

Think back to a time when you were younger. Do you remember being in a playful, safe setting where you experienced this kind of lighter expression of self? Maybe you see yourself spinning on a playground or with family playing games. If you can’t recall any memories like this, picture a younger version of you running through a field of tall wheat or flowers. You can’t see your face, but you can sense a smile and hear your own laughter as the grasses brush against your arms and the sun streams down on your face.

Eventually, that feeling must come to an end, if only because the sun will set. But that inevitable passage of time does not negate the value of the experience. Rather, the setting sun invites us to reflect and internalize the sensation of that experience for a later date. Whether to call us back into that feeling of warmth and play, or to remind us that we are not meant to drown beneath the weight of our grief waves, the invitation remains: waves and transitions are coming, and we have the choice of how to respond.

Once we recognize that our grief can and will come in waves, no matter our name, title, or privileges in life, we have a chance to cultivate an approach to grief work that cultivates healing energy. Because we know waves generate energy. They bring momentum and urgency to the situation at hand. If we choose to pull away, we choose it because we don’t feel equipped or capable of staying close. But that’s just it – we can learn how to surf and grab a board instead of running for the shore with every turn of the tides.

Sometimes grief can feel insurmountable, but I promise pathways exist to cultivate healing with grace and resilience for yourself and the process. There are several areas of healing for you to explore while grieving, but if any of these cause some kind of uncomfortable feelings to arise, I want to invite you to honor that sensation before moving on. If you notice yourself balking at suggestion right now, I want you to pause. Consider what may exist in this suggestion that is new and full of potential for you before outright rejecting a strategy.

When we decide to do begin our own grief work, we are inviting healing energy in our lives through honoring our emotions, practicing self-compassion, cultivating mindfulness, seeking support from others, embracing creativity, and engaging in rituals of remembrance. The way we practice these strategies is up to us, and that matters greatly.

So rather than give you a checklist this week of ways to test each out, I want you to imagine that each of these is the name of a new beach. Picture yourself at the edge of the surf with a new board in hand. You are moments away from entering the water, but it is up to you to decide when that happens. The beach is not crowded, and the only people witnessing you in process are your favorite, safest people in life. They aren’t here to judge your surfing, but simply to stay with you as you work out the best way to paddle out, find your bearing, finally stand, and learn how to fall.

Thank you for listening to episode 130 of Restorative Grief. I realize this week is a little more of a high level reminder that grief is not as easy as we’d like, but it feels like a few months into this year is a good time for that type of reminder. After all, we’re beyond the point where most of our resolutions have either broken down or been thrown far away. Grief is a testament to the depth of the human experience and when we’ve spent so much time doing the work, it can be hard to stay engaged, motivated, or inspired to stay with ourselves and keep on the path.

So as you continue to navigate the waves of grief in your life, remember that your journey through healing will look different than everyone else. You’re not going to arrive and be healed, but with intention, self-compassion, and remaining connected, you will emerge from each wave with a little more grace and a little more resilience than before.

If this is your first time listening to Restorative Grief, I want to encourage you to stay with yourself. It’s tempting to throw in the towel because grief work is hard. But you’re here because the life spent ignoring grief is no longer sustainable, either. So be sure to subscribe to the show for extra insights and support in your grief work. You’re not doing this alone.

And as always, one last thing before we go. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.

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