December 19, 1998. This was the first time I felt the intense pain of grief. My step-sister, April, had been killed in a car accident along with her 3-year-old son, Bryhan. I still remember receiving that phone call. In my mind, I watch as I fall to the floor, crushed with pain and disbelief.
Over the years, I have felt the pain of loss over and over again. And each time the pain is intense and feels unrelenting. Yet, somehow I manage to endure. I make it to the next day and then the next. There are days when I expect my grief to return—such as today. Then there are days when it catches me by surprise. It doesn’t take much—a song or a picture—and I’m spinning.
It was on one of these surprise days when I wrote My Ocean of Grief. As a writer, I often find comfort in expressing my feelings with words. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with this, but it felt good to write it. Then today came along, and I figured it was a good day to share.
I intended for the narrator in this piece to be the person who has passed, although I encourage you to read it through your own filter. If you find yourself in your own Ocean of Grief, I hope this piece helps to remind you that you’re not alone. You are never alone.
My Ocean of Grief
by Carrie Beckort
I watch you float. You are numb, unaware of your surroundings. I can feel your pain. You don’t want to believe. You can’t believe.
You don’t know exactly how you ended up floating on this ocean of darkness. I can feel your shock, your surprise. You feel as though you were thrust out to sea without warning. But somewhere, deep within, you wonder. You think perhaps you’ve been staring into the darkness a long while, waiting for the moment it would pull you under. I can hear your thoughts and feel your desperation.
“No, no. I didn’t expect this. If I did, I did not believe it would actually come to be.”
Weight presses down upon you, yet you don’t fight. I watch you collapse into yourself, curling into a ball on the floor of your life raft. You feel heavier and heavier. Your chest rises and falls with the increasing rate of your breath.
Water starts to splash over the sides of the raft as your added weight drives you down into the darkness. You don’t move. You don’t try to bail out the rising water.
I urge you to hear me. I tell you to throw some of the weight over. To let me carry it for you.
But you don’t hear me. You can’t hear me.
And suddenly you are gone.
I feel your panic. Although you have disappeared beneath the darkened waves, I imagine you struggling to find the way out. I dive below and surround you. I want you to feel that you are not alone.
I am with you always.
You feel me with you, but it does not provide you comfort. You try to grab on to me and feel nothing but the darkness ripple over your skin.
I feel your pain.
Your lungs are burning, burning, burning. You want to open your mouth and pull in a huge gulp of air, but you can’t. Pressure is pounding in your head and you just want it all to stop.
I tell you to relax. You have enough air to get you back above the surface.
You don’t believe me. The salt of your tears mixes with the salt of the ocean.
Burning, burning, burning.
I tell you to look for the light.
You finally open your eyes, but you can’t see anything but darkness. I watch your frantic movements as you twist and turn. You get tired and go still, sinking lower.
You fall farther and farther into the darkness.
I tell you again to find the light.
“I can’t. I can’t. There is nothing. It is gone. I cannot fight this. I don’t want to fight this.”
I push you a memory. It causes you pain, but it also reawakens your urge to fight. You open your eyes again and try to ignore the burning in your lungs. I surround you once more, and this time you find the light. You kick and push yourself upward. Your progress is slow, the added weight too much for you to bear.
You swim and swim and swim until your arms and legs become too fatigued to continue. You start to sink back down, causing the panic to return. You don’t feel as though you can take another second of the pressure, the burning.
“I can’t breathe!”
I tell you that you have enough air to get you to the surface. I ask you to swim again.
“I can’t. It’s too much. I’m not strong enough.”
I tell you to let go. To give me the weight pressing you down.
“I don’t want to. I can’t. If I let go, it will be lost forever. It’s all I have left.”
I tell you that you have me. Always.
I push you another memory. One that reminds you of the trust you used to have. It too hurts, but you remember. You finally let some of the weight go, although you are clinging too tight. It rips away from you, leaving an open wound. I hear you scream in your mind at this new pain. You try to grab it back, but I pull it out of your reach.
I ask you to swim.
It takes a moment, but you finally push forward despite your pain.
The pressure builds, the burning intensifies, your pain wins out and your mouth opens. Just as you feel the sting of the cold salty water, you break through the surface of the darkness.
You have been treading water for a long time. The burning in your lungs is still there, but it’s not as acute as it was when you were under the water. The wound caused by the weight tearing away from you has been covered with scar tissue. I sense a fresh wave of hopelessness run through your core. You thought your fight would be over once you broke the surface, but you have come to realize that your battle has just begun.
You’re tired and lost. The piercing pressure in your head and burning in your lungs has been replaced by a constant throbbing pain. The pulse penetrates deep, and you are convinced it is emanating from the center of your bones. Your heart beats to its rhythm. Your lungs expand to its pace.
I remind you that I’m with you.
You try to reach for me again and cry out when you cannot make contact.
I urge you to swim.
“I don’t know the way! There is nothing but ocean all around me. It stretches all the way out to the horizon. I can’t make it!”
I tell you that you can. I ask you to let go of the weight that still holds you down.
“It hurts too much to let go!”
I tell you the pain will be less if you let it go freely. You weep new tears. I can feel your resistance. I hear your thoughts. You think if you let go then I will be gone.
I remind you that I am here. Always.
You resist. I tell you that you will make it, but only if you let go. I tell you that I want you to reach the shore. You start and stop several times, but you finally let go of some of the weight holding you down. You don’t hold on as tight, and while there is pain it does not leave a deep wound as it did before.
You start to swim. The ocean rises and falls and though it’s difficult, you keep going. Occasionally you must stop to rest, but you have learned not to stop for long. If you do, it becomes difficult to start again. You are tired and hurting, yet you endure. I urge you forward, knowing comfort is within your reach.
You catch sight of the shore and it propels you forward. You have fought and finally you believe that you will make it out of the darkened waters. Hope warms your chilled bones. It fuels your strength and you swim faster than you have before.
Suddenly you are pulled back beneath the water. You let out a cry of agony just before you submerge. You are confused and caught off guard. You thought you made it past the difficult part. You kick your legs and pull with your arms, but the pull of the undertow is too strong. You go limp with defeat.
I surround you once again. I tell you that you are not alone. I ask you to swim back to the surface.
“I did! I have fought and endured, and still it is not enough. I cannot make it out.”
I tell you to let go.
“I have let go!”
I tell you there is more you are holding on to. I hear your thoughts, and I know you understand. Yet I feel your resistance.
“I won’t. I can’t.”
I tell you that you must. You sob silently as your lungs begin to burn as they did before. You know what to do, but you don’t know how. I can feel your internal struggle. I tell you that I want you to make it to the shore. I tell you that you are not letting go of me. Just the weight of the pain.
I tell you that I will be with you. Always.
Still sobbing, you let go completely. You swim away fast, refusing to look back. I can feel your desire to chase after all that you have let go. You break through the surface once again, but don’t stop swimming. You reach the shore and collapse on the coarse sand, feeling empty and exhausted.
I watch as you slowly rebuild your strength. There is still pain, but you are able to endure without the weight and current pulling you down. Slowly, your past struggle through the deep ocean waters becomes less vivid. You remember the pain and the difficulty, but not the intensity.
You feel warmth gradually replace the chill you have become numb to. You open your eyes, blinking at the unfamiliar brightness. I watch as you pull yourself up and look out across the ocean. I can feel the longing you hold for all that you left behind. There is a part of you that wants to walk away, wants to run to a place where you are safe from the darkened waters. But the other part of you needs to remain near, where you can be surrounded by the familiar sounds and smells.
I watch as you begin walking down the shore, just outside of the tide’s reach. You learn to anticipate the movement of the water. You know when to expect a high tide that will rush over your feet and touch you with the reminder of all you have lost. Your feet sink slightly into the wet sand and sadness covers you like a cloud. Your steps are restricted, but you are able to keep moving. You also know when the tide will be low, allowing you to walk in the light without resistance.
Then there are the storms that arise without warning. The tide rushes in higher than usual, threatening to pull you away from the shore. The water becomes turbulent, waves crashing all around you. You struggle to remain standing.
You fight for a while, your tears once again becoming one with the ocean. You start to sink to your knees, but realize doing so might cause you to go under. Instead, you fight your way out of the pulsing tide and drop to the cool sand.
I surround you once more, letting you know that you are not alone.
You reach for me, letting the tears fall when you gather nothing but air.
I tell you that I am with you. Always.
The storm passes and you once again rise to your feet. You dust off the sand and begin to walk along the shore, just outside the tide’s reach.