The Swell of Waves

Most people have sat beside the ocean and watched the waves come and go. Sometimes they crash violently against the rocks, causing damage and destruction – and sometimes death. Yet at other times, they gently roll in and out without causing much disturbance.

Grief is like that. It comes and goes in waves. At first the crashing waves are frequent and long lasting. They pull angrily at the person as if it wants to dislodge them from their no longer stable surroundings and draw them into its depth, swallowing them whole. The person struggles against it with all their strength, but their will power has already been shattered, how much strength do they have left? How long can they hold on? Some can’t hold on and those people are swept away. They are lost to depression or, worst still, I know of some who followed their loved one into death.

For those who cling hold of anything in sight and refuse to let go, eventually the wave subside and a gentle washing of … calm … comes over them. It lasts for only a short time and the person is fully aware of that, but the small reprise gives them time to regenerate much needed energy. As time passes, the waves are less frequent and less violent…or maybe the person’s strength grows stronger.

Months pass and that feeling of calm become more normal in their life. They never return to the normal they had before their loss. How could they? Their child took his/her own life, which is something that will never leave them. But they manage to move on and start rebuilding a new life to accommodate their new (changed) self.

In the early months, everything sets the wave into motion – songs, a memory, something seen or heard, desperately wanting to touch or hold, non-acceptance that life goes on around you, people, stupid words, words that remind, smells, and the list goes on and on. Later, the field narrows and becomes more specific to the experiences of the person and that of the one they lost. Yet even then the wave isn’t as destructive as it once was, and sometimes the waves bring with it a flood of lost memories that helps the grieving person cope a little better.

Calm waters swirl around them for days and weeks, sometimes even months. There is no violent surge, and the person warily lets down their guard. However, it’s too soon and a violent wave sweeps in unexpectedly and washes away most of the resolve and understanding the person has managed to build up. It happens so suddenly, that the shock is overwhelming and the damage feels everlasting.

If you are reading this and you have been swallowed by one of these horrific waves, maybe you are waiting for me to tell you how to deal with it. I’m sorry. I don’t have the answers. I am feeling slightly overwhelmed myself and I don’t know why. I do know that my sleeping pattern has reverted back to only three or four hours of sleep a night and that isn’t helping me cope with life.

I’m struggling with “why” again. I’m angry because I won’t get to experience the rest of my life with Barry in it. I’m tired of holding everything together and pretending that I’m just fine. Life shouldn’t be this hard. Yet, as a family tree researcher, I have evidence that life is hard and always has been. I’m struggling to find something to hold on to. This wave isn’t as bad as some of the others. I survived them, so I know I’ll survive this one too.

It’s just a matter of time. I can do it. I know I can. I just need to hold on until this wave passes.


8 thoughts on “The Swell of Waves

  1. Hi, Karen, How well you describe the transitory nature of the grieving process!And I agree, it is very tiring work, “holding things together and pretending to be fine”. Unexpected events often plunge me deeply into anger, sadness. This week, while on holidays, I was approached by a young family on a cruise,the husband a very close mate of my son.Seeing him with his lovely wife and children was great, but a few hours later I was so angry, about how things might have been for my son. I too feel robbed of his presence.Take care.

  2. Your comment reflects what I’m feeling at present. It’s almost as if you took the words out of my mind. I intend to write a post about it in a day or so.

  3. You described the grief process very well, Karen. I’m approaching the 11th year since my brother took his own life. It’s gotten easier, but every once in a while, something will clobber me. The emotions I experience last for a few moments, instead of days, like they used to.

  4. I’m told this a lot, Deborah, and I must admit that I find comfort in those words. Knowing that it does get easier, even in the smallest degree, helps me carry on.

  5. Thanks Karen for you post.
    It sounds like you are describing my life.
    My son killed himself less than 3 months ago, but I am not angry with him. His step-father (my 2nd husband) who he idolized killed himself 10 years ago. He nearly killed me too, but he did manage to call my son and blame everything on a confused 15 year old. The first suicide was bad, but this is devastating and I don’t know if I can cope with loosing my only child.

  6. I’m so sorry, Kelley. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.

    I call what happen to you “the domino effect” and it is my worst fear. I don’t know what to say to a person living it. I’m just so sorry and I pray that you find the strength to get through this.


  7. Karen,

    I respectfully extend to you my condolences on Barrys death.

    My 18 year old son, Ty was killed, September 29, 2007,in an accident being hit by a freight train.

    The tragic sudden loss of a child, is how I came across your site, in my attempts to gather more resources to enable me to equip myself to survive.

    Thank you for your efforts to empower Parents who have buried their children.
    A special thank you, for being open about suicide.

    While I have not buried a child to suicide, I readily acknowledge, that the pain you suffered and are living with is even more painful than what I have experienced. I have had 2 cousins commit suicide, so 2 Aunts live your Hell.

    You are to be commended for all your efforts, you will be making more of a difference than you might ever know.

    Pam King

  8. I’m so sorry to hear about Ty and I don’t know what you’re going through, but I hope the passing of time will make it all a little easier.

    And thank you for your comments and encouragement. Sometimes, I’m not sure if I should have written our story on the internet, but then someone like you comes along and I feel I’ve done the right thing.

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