I can’t remember when Clay first shared a passage with me written on the social media platform Reddit by a man with the username GSnow as he attempted to console a fellow Redditor reeling from loss. Yet, the sincerity of these words, written at a moment’s notice, stayed with me. Right after Chris passed, I asked Clay to find this passage again. It gave me hope…hope that one day I would breathe again, that there would be life after my world fell apart April 8, 2017. I’ve shared it with numerous friends and loved ones who have endured loss, hoping it would provide the same comfort it gave me.
Sometimes, in the shitstorm that life can be, we can have a significant and life-altering encounter with a person we will never meet again, all in the space of a few seconds. Chances are, they may never even realize how they saved us in that moment. I had one such interaction with GSnow. I’ve been meaning to share this experience for a while now, because I know this could, again, help someone else enduring the same type of heartache my family and I are.
So here it is. Someone posted the plea below seven years ago on Reddit, begging for guidance:
My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.
Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
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.
I decided to try to find the man who wrote these beautiful words, hoping that even though seven years had passed he would still be active on Reddit. Amazingly, I found him without an issue. I had to thank him.
You obviously don’t know me, but I want to thank you for your post about grief. The one about surviving 100 foot waves. My baby brother took his life April 8, and your words have provided so much comfort for my family. And I just found them printed off among our sympathy cards-I had shared it with Mom a while back and she must have printed it off. So…thank you. For helping a grieving family you have never met. Like you said, there is starting to be life again between the waves. Slowly, but surely, I’m starting to believe we will survive this.
All our love,
Jennifer (Chris’ big sister)