The Swimming pool of grief
Suffering at the deep end
By Jo Gough, Mentor at Red Tent End of Life Doula Preparation
Imagine grief as a swimming pool, and yourself the swimmer, getting on with the laps of life, and moving through the waters of loss, shallow end to deep end, deep end to shallow end, back and forth as the clock ticks around. Sometimes you are deep in the loss, and feel the pressure of stopping swimming for fear of going under, and others you experience the lightness of heart on reaching the shallow end, able to find your footing and stop swimming altogether for a while.
Other times though, we get to the deep end and freeze. Paralysed by uncertainty, disorientated by trauma, we tread water, afraid to stop and let ourselves sink, but unable to move forward. The initially life saving act of treading water becomes exhausting, our muscles begin to burn, our limbs heavy, our breathing laboured. We are suffering. From this place of suffering we begin to cry out for someone to rescue us, anyone, anything to make the pain stop.
For many of us, in real terms, this is where we start to look for solutions to our suffering; alcohol or other substances, shopping, pity-seeking behaviours that, just for a while, bear us up. In the long term however, we are still treading water, not going under, but not moving forward either, increasingly fatigued and hurting.
There are ways out of this stasis – reaching out to someone who has been swimming, floating, splashing, drowning and breathing under water for some time. They are in flow. They have a relationship with the waters of grief and are comfortable, even playful at times, in it’s embrace. They appreciate the power of these waters to bear them up, to teach them to float on their surface, but also they know the peace and stillness of surrendering to the depths, senses altered by the weightlessness, the muffled sounds and blurred vision, because they know that they have the tools to breathe under the water. They can teach you, share with you the seemingly mysterious dance of thriving, and swim with you for a time, keeping you moving with encouragement and love. Fill you with the knowing that you are not alone on this journey.
There is a great deal to be explored under the surface, in the depths. There is beauty, agony, exquisite feelings of being connected and the comfort of the fierce embrace of the dark mother. A world of wonder and pain and joy. It is, I think, a place to visit, not to live, an adventure that enriches our lives and infuses us with wisdom.
And so remains the question: Have we courage enough to breathe deep and allow ourselves to sink into this otherworld? Can we let go and learn to breathe under water?