It seems that the most common way to describe the feeling of grief is to say that it “comes in waves.”
I spent the last week at the beach on vacation with my family. It’s one of the only places that doesn’t remind me of my mother at all. She hated the beach. I can not remember a single moment spent with my mother at the beach. No summer days at the ocean getting lathered in suntan lotion, no long walks or talks, no frolicking -even though we lived only minutes away. She feared the water.
Her father was in the navy and he moved his family all over the country, living closest to the most beautiful beaches in the US: Honolulu, Key West, San Diego, Cocoa Beach. Her entire childhood spent near the water and she never learned how to swim.
My father was the one who took me to the beach. He taught me to swim. He took me out on the boat to go fishing. He showed me the joys of the ocean, the secret swimming spots and fishing holes near the coast. He taught me how to bait the hook, reel in the line, and captain the boat. Once we even caught a shark. The beach reminds me of him, an old navy man, just like my mother’s father.
As I stand on the edge where the ocean and sand meet, the fact that the ocean doesn’t remind me of my mother at all, brings on a wave of grief. I feel the tears stinging my eyes. I felt the same thing earlier when the saltwater got into my eyes. It occurs to me that they are one in the same. I imagine that the ocean is a vast collection of all the tears from all the sorrows in all the world. All the pain. All the loss. Became the ocean. The waves lap at my feet. I hope that no one will notice my tears. The families all around, my family. Everyone oblivious to the pain that is squeezing my chest. “I can’t breathe,” she said. My own breath catches. For a moment I hold my breath in solidarity.
My youngest stands beside me now, her hand reaches for mine. I dare not look at her. I can’t make this moment a sad one for her. I remain fixed, staring out at the ocean. She positions herself in such a way as to mimic me, standing like I stand, staring where I stare.
“Mom, did you notice that if you stand in the sand long enough the waves dig a hole under your feet and you start to sink?”
“I hadn’t noticed that before.” But it was true. With each wave, I could feel my feet sinking deeper into the sand. How long would it take to be overcome by the sand? To become buried?
I felt the need to move forward. “Want to go for another swim?” I asked.
And with the mere suggestion, she smiled and pulled me forward into the sea, passed the breakers, where the waves smoothed out for a while and the sand no longer gave way beneath my feet.