I spent Halloween traversing a snowy mountain in Vermont with a beloved friend. It was the type of day that reliably fills me up, deeply nourishing my body and soul. There was sunshine and hot tea, soup and fluffy snow. It was a perfect day on the cusp of changing seasons.
I got home that night and sat at the altar I made in celebration of Samhain, All Soul’s Day, an altar honoring my ancestors. My eyes scanned the worn old pictures of my grandparents, my father, my friends who have passed. I gazed at the flowers and sweets and other treats I had prepared for them and then my eyes settled on the container holding my father’s ashes.
My breath, my mind, my heart stopped. My hungry thoughts of a post-hike dinner were swallowed by a dark, heavy, suffocating wave of grief. I was floored. I crawled to the couch, intending to rest there just a moment and then get some food into my belly as I knew I needed it. But as the tears began to flow and my body began to shake, I realized there would be no dinner for me tonight.
I mustered all of my will and remaining energy, turned off the lights and climbed into bed. My body felt tense…. so tense. I felt weak, powerless, and alone. My chest ached, my throat was tight with unexpressed emotion, and my eyes burned with built up tears. I spent the next 12 hours laying there, not quite sleeping, fitfully dreaming, feeling overwhelmed as waves of denial, despair, fleeting acceptance, anger, more despair, and nameless unending watery grief washed over me. Worry and anxiety gripped me as I *really* realized that my dad is gone.
I knew that this wave would come.
Intellectually, logically, rationally I knew it. Of course grief comes in waves. Of course grieving never ends. Of course there will be good days and bad days. Of course, of course… of course!
But I wasn’t prepared for the force and intensity of it. This wave took me for a fucking ride. It tumbled and tossed me like a body surfer caught unawares by an aggressive set, dragged down for so long that within the panic there is a calm wondering if… if I’d ever surface again. Just then I would surface long enough to take a sip of air before being pushed down again.
The next day I felt shaky, disoriented, almost expecting to start coughing up saltwater and pulling thick strands of seaweed from my limbs and hair. I struggled to catch my breath, to find my center and feel the ground beneath me again. I heard my body whisper “be gentle and find nourishment”.
But when you’re grieving in a pandemic and ideal nourishment looks like being surrounded by friends and loved ones, like receiving long hugs and kisses on the top of my head, like leaning into a firm back rub and opening my ears to whispered reminders that it will all be okay… What then? When I don’t have access to this ideal nourishment… what do I do? How do I nourish myself?
I know I am not alone in this, in desiring physical connection, in wishing for community support, in craving for loving care and nourishment. I know I’m not the only one who is suffering and grieving alone, just trying to survive each wave of grief as it comes. And I also know this isn’t the only wave, that there are endless sets moving through time, some bigger and some smaller, all of them patiently waiting their turn to rock me.
In the watery depths of grief I felt so alone. I believed it was me – just me – in this tiny, fragile human vessel, struggling against the vast weight of grief’s waves, with no support, no board, no life raft to cling to. I believed I was alone. In some ways, yes… I was. Grief is a lonely journey. No one can accompany me into the depths of grief. No one can feel the despair, hopelessness, anger, and fear that I feel.
Yet in the days since this massive wave of grief hit me, I’ve realized that I’m not a body surfer. I’m not alone. None of us are. We are all grieving. We all know what loss feels like, and we will all experience loss and grief again and again – it is part of life.. So much of the grieving process is done in solitude, solitude is incredibly important while grieving. But grief is a collective experience. The journey of grieving needs to be held and witnessed by community.
As I resurfaced from my 12 hour marathon of being pummeled by this wave of grief, I cautiously, nervously reached out to a few friends. I told them the basic facts – I was smacked down, exhausted, doing my best to be gentle and find nourishment but frankly struggling with it. In return I received the sweetest expressions of care: reminders to listen to my heart and body, invitations to walk in nature together, intentional check-in’s throughout the day, and offers of delivering food already cooked and ready to nourish me. These small gestures brought me so much light, so much love, so much hope.
Sharing our grief is terrifying and oh-so-necessary. No one can see or feel what we’re navigating in our inner landscapes. We must be vulnerable and give others a glimpse of our experience, so that we can then receive support. When reeling from a wave of grief, it’s hard to pinpoint what type of support we need and well-intentioned loved ones may not know either. I didn’t know but through sharing my struggle, I received exactly what I needed. It starts with the basics.
Food and rest. Warm liquids like tea and soup, baths or hot showers offer nourishment and encourage our nervous systems to calm down and release tension. Water cleanses, physically and energetically.
Find a safe, gentle witness. To be seen and heard in our grief is powerful and and helps us shift focus from our tumultuous inner landscape to the world around us that is full of support and care. I am here if you need an ear, a witness, a friend.
Move your body…gently. Go on a slow walk with a friend, place yourself near a tree, lay on the earth and look at the sky. Movement is key to allowing energy and emotion to flow through us, instead of getting stuck.
Create anchors. More waves will come. There is no stopping them, so we might as well prepare and develop rituals or systems of reaching out that can help anchor us when the waves do come.
Remember to “be gentle and find nourishment”.