At some time in all our lives we lose something precious to us. I’ve been very fortunate because my biggest “loss” was a romantic relationship. After years together he decided we were done and I was not prepared. Did I know we were struggling, yes. Was I hurt, yes. But in retrospect I’m beyond grateful to him for leaving because I would have stayed who I was when I was with him and I’m so much happier with who I’ve become. Was the growth painful, yes. But just because I am now grateful that the relationship ended doesn’t mean I still don’t have moments of grief.

Here’s the sneaky thing about grief, it can always wash over you. When people speak of losing a loved one they often say that you don’t get over, you get through. To me I always pictured this as swimming in the ocean. You can’t go over the water, you have to swim through it. And grief is the waves during the swim. It can be a calm 98% of the time and then have a rough wave blindside you and almost down you. Even when you’re a strong swimmer. Even years later when you’ve been swimming well and you think you’re in the clear, a wave can still show up.

We don’t talk about grief in our culture. In the past few years as I’ve watched friends lose children, parents, relationships and loved ones I’ve realized how inept we are with this topic. We don’t have words. “I’m sorry” isn’t right but it is what we seem to have. And even worse, there seems to be a time limit on grief. Like your friend died 6 months ago, you should be over it. But you’re not. And you never will be. Most days, hopefully, you are ok but there will always be waves that wash over you that feel like they may pull you under. That is grief, plain and simple, and we can all do better at showing kindness when someone is caught in a rip.

For the most part, I’m good at my change in relationship status. I no longer pine for the relationship that ended but I miss the hell out the person. Doesn’t mean I want him back, I don’t, he was right that we weren’t the forever fit. But knowing that doesn’t mean I don’t miss him. Normally it’s ok. But there are times that I hear a song or experience something that triggers a memory or feeling and I do feel sadness and grief for the loss. And since it’s been years I feel like I can’t talk about it. My friends were patient with me during the throws and new-ness of my loss but now, many years later I feel shame that I sometimes still have grief from a relationship ending. So I don’t talk about it. I suffer my grief in silence and isolation with an added side of shame just to make sure it really feels like crap.

The other thing with grief is usually you’re grieving more than the “main event”. In my case the lost relationship is the “main event”, but because of my choices of working through my 20s and staying in a relationship that didn’t go the distance in my 30s I’m likely not going to have kids so there are days I’m grieving that loss. There is never ONE grief but multiple experienced at the same time and layered on each other. Just like the “main event” grief, some days this isn’t a big deal and other days I feel like I’m going to drown from the loss of a family that I’m not even sure I wanted. Grief has ripples; it has ton of layers so that also means what you think someone is experiencing any given day in their ocean may be totally different. It may not be the main event but a ripple from it that is causing the struggle at that moment in time. And the only way to know is to ask. And that is uncomfortable because talking about grief is uncomfortable.

A dear friend lost her boyfriend this year. It was uncomfortable for me, but I asked her, do you want me to say his name? Do you want me to ask questions about him or help you share memories? She said yes, that it really helped her to hear his name and talk about him. So now every time I’m with her I make sure I do say his name a few times. It’s a small thing, but it is all I can do to help her. But it started with me asking what she needed from me as she swims and remembering to throw her that life ring when I can.

We are all swimming. And there are waves of all sizes always around. Some days a wave may hit and you’re feeling strong so it doesn’t bother you. Another day a much smaller wave may hit but you were already fatigued so it threatens to drown you. Grief is a constant ebb and flow that everyone is going through. I hope we all learn how to help each other swim. And that we buddy breath when a wave pulls us under.