Thinking Out Loud: Surfing and Grieving
There is an old story about a surfer named Eddie (not his real name). Eddie would always surf, no matter what the conditions were. The bigger and higher the waves were, the more he just had to dive into them. On a particularly rough day, Eddie went out and never came back. He considered the excitement of riding the waves worth the risk. To this day the saying continues that on the days when it looks too rough to go out, one surfer will look to another surfer and say, “Eddie would go, and so should you.” It simply means, “Look I’m scared, too, man. But let’s go anyway!”
The rogue tide, also known as an “outside set” is an unexpected set of waves that start farther away from shore than normal. It catches many surfers off guard. The wave continues to come at the surfer, over and over. Ultimately, it is stronger than the surfer.
At some point, the surfer realizes that he can either fight, as he gasps for breath, or he can learn to surf on top of the wave. He then finds peace, and sometimes even joy, as he rides on top of the exhilarating wave, even when he is surrounded by strong emotions.
When a person is learning to surf, it doesn’t feel natural. In fact, it feels extremely awkward. He paddles out to the wave, navigating a sea of emotions: pain, anger, sadness—but sometimes even laughter and joy. While he is dealing with the onslaught of emotions, he knows that he must stand strong and balanced on top of that wave in order to stay amongst the living. He must deal with each wave as it comes his way.
As we learn to “surf” in the overpowering wave of grief, it feels very awkward. As we begin to deal with the strong emotions that come with the devastating loss we just experienced, we must learn to stand strong and balanced, dealing with each wave as it comes our way. We will eventually find ourselves in calm waters, just as another wave of emotions hits afresh. These emotions may change, but they never end. We only become a better surfer.
The more we learn to ride the waves better, the easier it becomes to cherish the sweet memories of our loved one. There will be days off and on in the future when those huge waves return, but if we have learned to ride the waves as they come to us again and again, we will become better at negotiating them, and some of the pain of those memories will begin to feel as if it is further away—like we are not needing to gasp and struggle for every breath. Those big waves won’t come as often as they did in the beginning, and we find more peace and joy in life. We are able to cherish the calm and relax in our new life.
There are days off and on when I miss my precious loved ones even now and when I feel the emotions washing over me. Then I know that I need to go surfing again. The truth is that time does not heal all wounds. Time only makes it easier to surf those big waves.
John T. Catrett, III
Scissortail Hospice Chaplain
306 N. Main St., Suite E
Bristow, OK 74010