Grief Is Like Swimming

A cancer survivor writes about the ever-changing waves of grief.

I have written in the past about the grief and loss cancer survivors feel when they realize their bodies may never return to the normal healthy ones they were before the disease.

I was recently leafing through a magazine, Hearing Life (Summer 2021). This is published by the Hearing Loss Association of America, and several of the articles were on the grief over losing one’s hearing. A psychologist by the name of Michael Harvey wrote an excellent article on this very subject. The point he made was that we may never reach the stage of full acceptance in the stages outlined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He also states we will often waver back and forth between these stages. I was particularly interested because of the personal dual losses of more hearing, plus the cancer changes in my body.

However, he had a quote by the author Vicki Harrison that said it all for me: “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

This is so true. I may be swimming in loss, but not drowning. Or I may go down for a while and feel like I am drowning, but finally surface to the top of the water. Or I may be calm. I remember four years after my mother’s death receiving a prestigious award and thinking I needed to go and call her. I cried when I remembered I could not. I am facing the death of several friends recently, when a memory of them punches me in the gut. I think I am dealing well with my hearing loss until I come home from a social gathering in tears because I have missed so much of the conversation.

I may be thrilled I am in remission, then my blood draw stats begin to plummet, and fear grips my heart. No, I will never reach full acceptance of any of these losses. But I am not drowning either. I sink under when another dear friend passes. I still feel pain on every Mother’s Day and on her birthday. I tread water and mourn. But the point is one I think all of us cancer survivors and anyone who is suffering from a loss knows – no matter the loss we suffer, we try not to drown permanently, we keep treading water, we sink and rise to the top, and we move on. We do not berate ourselves for not “accepting” our loss, but we praise ourselves for learning to swim and moving our bodies against the tide.

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