When I was growing up my family used to go to the ocean on vacation. My dad would pack up the car with our suitcases, beach chairs, towels, coolers like some elaborate interlocking puzzle. Mom always brought along peppermint LifeSavers, Cheez-Its and drinks. We would all pile in and head east. My sisters and I would play car games like Punch Buggy, do Mad Libs or read to pass the time. My favorite part was when we were a few miles from the ocean. I would roll down the window and inhale that first smell of the salt air.
We always stayed in one small cabin or another where the paint was peeling, the floors were smooth well-worn wood with the grit of sand underfoot and the mattresses on the beds sagged. One year the cabin we were in was so small that the doors from the two bedrooms, bathroom and front door all opened up into the three foot square foyer and were always crashing into each other as we went in and out. Nonetheless those were the best days: we ran, and played, ate the best tasting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and at night fell into bed and slept soundly.
We would spend our days at the beach splashing in the surf and building sand castles, but our favorite activity was to scour the surf and tidal pools for treasures. We would come back to the cabin each day to lay out and admire the special rocks, shells, seaweed and other flotsam we’d found. My mother was not such a big fan of this because she knew when we got home she would be finding these things in our suitcases, tote bags and pockets.
I went to my therapist recently and she gave me an assignment to write about the five stages of grief. If you’ve been following along you know that I am not a fan of this theory (see “The Alien Blob” post for details). I’ve always been a good student and I like to write so I decided to give it a go.
What I discovered is that writing about grief is much like my search for treasures on the beach. Some of the feelings and thoughts are like the shells: interesting and beautiful, like my discovery that I am a survivor and I feel capable of creating a new life.
Some feelings are like the rocks and pebbles. They are easily identifiable by size, color and weight (sadness, anger, gratitude, hope).
There are feelings that I come upon that are like the seaweed: wet, slippery, slimy (embarrassment, guilt, indifference) that I wish I didn’t have. They aren’t so pretty and they smell a little brackish but they are just as much a part of this environment as the snails and starfish.
Standing in the shallows there are small schools of minnows that are delightful and surprising and dart away at the smallest movement. Those are the small joys and happiness and fun that have started to creep back into my life.
Some of my emotions are not so easily sorted out. I may not know what exactly they are but I will go ahead and put them in my pocket and bring them with me so I can turn them around and over and see what they are made of.
There are larger, darker and scarier things that are in deeper waters, but I am content to let them be for now until I learn to swim or sail those waters.
Right now I have that same excitement I did when I was a child at the beach. I am wading in expecting to find my treasures.