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Grief Comes In Waves ... Like an ocean of emotion

By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor

In my grief counseling practice, I often talk to my clients about how GRIEF COMES IN WAVES. And it’s not just a line I throw around; it’s a fact.


What Is a wave?

A wave is a motion going up and down, or back and forth. It’s a move or a pattern in a rising and falling motion. There is not always a certainty to the movement; its movement is often unexpected.


Why does grief come in waves?

Grief comes in waves, and sometimes the wave comes when you’re least expecting it. And it doesn't matter how long ago the loss took place. Loss is permanent, and so is the empty space it leaves inside you.


So, when an emotion or a reminder of the loved one pops up all of a sudden, it’s a wave of grief. Sadness, “waves” of grief, and remembering a loved one because of certain triggers are all perfectly normal responses to loss, no matter how long ago the loss took place. They are a lifelong response to loss.



Adriel Booker, an author, advocate, and provider of miscarriage and loss resources in Sydney, Australia, so eloquently writes of her experience: "They say that grief comes in waves.


And it’s true. The emotion comes and goes, comes and goes, comes and goes.

They also say that you should never turn your back on the ocean; waves can come strong – catching you off guard – and hit you harder than you were prepared for.


The waves of grief are no different. You might understand intellectually that they will keep coming, but some days they hit more forcefully, more fiercely than you ever imagined possible. And just when you thought you might be able to predict the next set, a rogue wave comes rushing in, undermining your balance and sweeping your feet out from under you."

And, when a woman on the Reddit website was deeply mourning the loss of her best friend and seeking support by chatting with strangers, a commenter who called himself “old man” wrote this piece about how grief comes in waves. Because it is so true and so touching, it went viral. Here it is:


As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.


Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.


Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”


MY ADVICE TO MY GRIEVING CLIENTS ABOUT WAVES:

The Waves Won’t Stop Coming, But You Can Survive The Waves.


And that’s when you will know that your grief will not take you down. You can survive.


And it’s true that your life will not be the same, but it will be different. And sometimes, “different” can be okay too.


If you’d like some help with the grief waves, please email me at jillgriefcounselor@gmail.com.

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