by Kit Hinkle
Judith lost her mother last month. It was her first profound loss to death in her life.
Sure there were others—an acquaintance from her school days or a college professor. Those were upsetting, but nothing like when someone who’s very presence is woven into your soul dies.
Today when I checked in with her, she described something I’ve often felt while grieving those that I’ve lost.
“I’m doing okay,” she said. “Every once in a while, I’ll be going about my business thinking I’m doing just fine, and then another wave hits me.”
I remember these waves. I remember when my father passed away and I was thirty-two years old. Getting back to my corporate career helped to get my mind off of it. But there were moments in the privacy of my office on the sixteenth floor of a Cleveland skyscraper when a wave would hit. It would start in my gut. “He’s gone. He’s really gone.” Pictures of precious moments with my father would flash in my heart—him holding my tiny hand as we walked by a stream while he explained to me how water bugs use the surface tension of the water to walk on water—him holding me as I sobbed over a high school love who had just broken up with me—him walking me down the aisle in my wedding dress. My heart would begin to race. I couldn’t breathe, tears threatening behind my eyes.
That’s when I’d bust out of that office—down the elevator and into the outside air. I’d walk through the bustling sidewalks of Cleveland, wind in my face, lost in the crowd and glad for it. Glad I could just cry and no one would notice in the busy street.
I’d head for Edgewater Park—on the bank of Lake Erie, and sit on a bench, taking in the vast lake view and recognizing how tiny our lives are compared to the immensity of eternity where my father now was.
And then, it would pass, replaced again by calm. My breathing would slow and my attention would return to the project report I had left undone in my office.
And so it was with Judith. “I’m learning the signs of when a wave comes,” she said. “And when it does, I just go with it. I ride it out.”
“I get it,” I said, thinking about those Cleveland walks, riding out the waves of grief over my father. Maybe it was that experience of losing my father that prepared me for how to handle the waves of grief with Tom.
As grief progresses we often find the tears soothing. Eventually the waves of sadness and tears come mixed with laughter and warmth—tears of gratitude of the person we had, rather than tears of pining for whom we lost.
Ride it out.