If you’ve ever spent time in the ocean, trying to tread water in strong waves, you understand the analogy of how it feels to move through life with the reminder of grief and the cruelty of depression.
To be clear, grief and depression are not the same thing. Grief is the constant reminder of a loss you carry, where for me, depression is the feeling I carry of not being able to solve it or fix it or even prevent it (another loss) from happening again.
I watched the angry waves hit the rocky shore ruthlessly, smoothing their surface to a polished, slick edge. The hidden rip current beneath the surface a stronger force than the breaking waves upon the shore.
I was reminded of a time on my anniversary trip to Maui with my husband when we went snorkeling everywhere we went. I loved the world just out of sight of ours, so colorful and magical. On one of our trips we went off the lava rock shore to find an area that promised diverse fish not far out in the small bay. We had been snorkeling all week so my husband went first and swam out to the point in front of me. Eager to join him I quickly put my fin on one foot and rushed to throw my other on when my bare foot slid across the sharp lave rock. It sliced the side of my foot like butter. Ignoring it I put on my mask and jumped in. As soon as I swam a few yards, I was reminded that I was not an olympic swimmer or a decent swimmer. I could swim, ish, I mean I could swim a pool and tread water. Swimming against the waves was more difficult in this rocky bay. I was trying to catch up to my husband and in my rush my mask was filling with water. I was unable to see clearly. Instantly I became aware that my foot was in a lot of pain and it was now stinging in the salt water and definitely not helping me tread water while I adjusted my mask. The large waves kept smacking me in the face as I tried to put my mask back on and I took in water. For a brief moment, I felt the fear that I could drown only a few yards from my husband, and panic started to sink in. He was completely unaware of my difficulties. I somehow managed to ignore the pain in my foot and fix my mask enough to bee-line to him.
Staring at the Oregon shore I felt a similar feeling to that day in Maui. The pain of my daughter’s death like the sliced foot as I try and swim, the constant angry waves are the waves of forces beyond my control that keep hitting me in the face. Another daughter with depression, the loss of direction with my career, finances, college tuition, Covid, my mother’s cancer, just daily over and over without any reprieve.
I am not alone in my situation. Unfortunately, genetics can often be at the center of this tragic play and grief the script. Many families know this feeling of helplessness, losing a loved one to depression and maybe having it themselves or having another family member with it as well. Major depression is genetic and messy. Affecting more than one family member most times and sometimes the underlying cause of a loss. It often times is tangled up with addiction, poor decision making, and complicated relationships. Then the loss in the family leaves no stone left unturned, no person left unaffected. It bulldozes every person in the family leaving them unable to help their other surviving family members. Each person trying to tread water injured in a sea of grief.
As difficult as it is, we cannot do it alone. It’s easier emotionally to swim with others that our in our own pool, so to speak, (understand our situation) but we also have to find support outside our own pool and for me at least that changes through the seasons of grief. I have come to realize I cannot support everyone in my family, keeping them afloat myself. I have to rely on others and I have to encourage my family to take support themselves. Currently my support comes in the form of a few friends. They drag me out to walk, they listen as I talk and they do not see me as the shell of myself that I feel that I am. For my other daughters I encourage them to reach out and find their own support groups and people that can give them good counsel. The truth is I dread reaching out to these support groups myself, I feel broken vulnerable and weak but talking and working with others is the only way to make progress forward or at least not sink. Every day I have to try again, I have to keep swimming as Dori said. These words just came into my head, so I share them with you. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9). It’s ok to be weak and sharing our weakness with others makes us stronger even if we can’t see it through our salt water filled goggles.