Written by Sara Brown
A family cottage on Manitoulin Island holds so many special childhood memories for me. I close my eyes, and I can immediately see the rocks skipping off the dock, taste the perfectly charred marshmallows and feel the minnows nibbling at my ankles by the dock. I’ve especially enjoyed reliving some of these simple pleasures more recently as I see the wonder and joy they bring to my own children.
Last summer, the kids had been begging to go kayaking, and we were already down by the dock. Me with my black bra and white tank top (because camping!) and feeling too lazy to head back up the long steps to the cabin where my bathing suit lay.
I agreed and it was decided that it was my 5 year old daughter Marley’s turn first. Since she was too little to paddle her own kayak, we put her in a second kayak and tied ours together so I could “pull” her.
We were about 1/2 mile down the lake from the dock when I tried to turn and somehow in a flash, I was under water and the kayak upside down.
Thankfully we were still close to the shore where it was fairly shallow, but the rocky bottom of the lake made it difficult to gain good footing. It didn’t matter though. I was so determined to flip that kayak, dump enough water so that I could get back in and paddle us back to the dock.
Otherwise it would take WAY too long, and I am NOT one to waste time.
I started by using my hand to try to scoop out the water. But I could only get less than a cup of water out of the boat at a time. No, that wasn’t going to work.
Several times I tried hoisting myself up on top of the boat but only managed to flip it over again every time. I tried hopping on from behind. Ouch! That one hurt. I tried scooching my way to the seat from the front of the kayak. That didn’t last long. Maybe if I could get closer to the shore? But no, that didn’t work either. It didn’t get shallow enough for me to step in, and it was overall too rocky.
Twenty or so minutes of this went by. I was cold and beginning to tire.
I looked back at Marley who had her head tipped back and was starting to close her eyes. I felt slightly annoyed with her for a minute.
Did she KNOW that I was freezing my butt off? Did she know how hard I was trying to get back on the kayak? Did she KNOW we wouldn’t even be in this position if it weren’t for her?
I tried again and again to get back on that kayak but to no avail.
So I thought “Okay. If I can’t paddle back, I’ll swim back. Of course I’d only have one arm as the other hand would be holding the kayak handle, but at least I’d swim faster than I could walk.”
Yet again, my plan was unsuccessful. Swimming allowed me to go a BIT faster, but the kayak kept slamming up against my hips and legs. It wasn’t long before my ears also began to ache from the cold water.
Back to walking. The long way. I couldn’t press “fast forward”. I couldn’t speed up the process. There was no way I could get around the work of simply putting one foot in front of the other to make the long journey home.
And since Marley was uncharacteristically quiet, I had time to think…and listen. And I began reflecting on how my experience mirrored the hard work of grief.
Loss comes in so many forms.
The loss of a loved one through death.
Loss of a job.
Loss of a relationship or identity.
Loss of community or faith.
And the list goes on….
But no matter what type of loss we go through, too often when we’re hurting, we look for the easiest way out. Why wouldn’t we? We are used to going through the driveway to get the fast food or taking the pill to get the fast cure.
So why wouldn’t we try to push fast-forward when we’re experiencing the unpredictable, messy wretchedness of grief?
We try to push the easy button in lots of ways. Sometimes we choose to numb the grief with food, alcohol, entertainment, social media etc. Maybe we even throw the pain on someone close to us in a weak attempt to try to lighten our own load.
But the reality is, in some way or other, we are all half a mile or more away from whatever “dock” we’re searching for, and these avoiders are only slowing us down from the work we have ahead of us.
So my friend, in closing I must ask you…
In what ways might you be avoiding the grief process you need to submit to?
Are there feelings you just need to let yourself feel so you that you can keep moving forward after your loss?
Are you being distracted by sitting in the anger for the person who hurt you, focusing on staying mad at how they’re just sitting in the kayak YOU’RE pulling?
Does the dock seem too far away? Or completely invisible? If so, taking one step at a time can seem as futile as a drop in the ocean.
But unfortunately, there are no short cuts. So rather than wasting time trying to push the non-existent fast-forward button, why not instead grab the hand of the Kayaker who knows the lake you’re in better than anyone and take another step?
You may not reach your dock tomorrow, but one day, you’ll look back and smile in amazement at how far you’ve come.