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Grief: It’s something that at any given point in your life, you come face to face with.

I’ve often heard people describe grief as an ocean, with waves of emotions coming ashore and washing over you. This may be true for the parts of grief that are visible to everyone. The crying, sadness, depression, etc. For the majority of my life, I had believed this was all there was to grief. I had lost loved ones close to me and found myself at this ocean more times than I cared to count.

Then, I lost both of my sons to rare disease in 2018. At first, I was at that ocean again, standing at the shore and looking out at its vastness. I swam out into it, finding myself in deep waters, just as I had done before. All was well until the waters became troubled. As I was trying to keep my head up, that’s when it came to the surface. The monster of my ocean. Towering itself out of the water, blocking out the light. It looked down, paralyzing me with its darkness. I found myself trying to rush away before it could consume me, but I was frozen. As I treaded there beneath it, feelings I hadn’t felt before in this ocean engulfed me—anger, jealousy, shame, hatred, guilt, self-loathing.

It swallowed me, fueling what had already been a barrage of emotions. The water raged in ways I had never experienced. I began to feel myself drowning under the pressure. Choking to gain composure, I struggled to swim out of the storm. Catching my breath, I looked out at the monster who’d caused the chaos. It stayed there, staring back at me. This beach wasn’t the place I’d come to before. This ocean wasn’t safe to swim anymore. In the months following, my grief experience became more cautious.

At first, I tried to convince myself it didn’t exist, but my denial didn’t make it go away. No matter how much I tried to brush it off as fantasy, the truth stood there in the ocean, piercing my soul with its gaze. I would let the waves wash over my feet, just enough to feel the coldness on my skin but not enough to alert the monster at sea. But it knew I was there. It stayed in the same spot I had found it, staring at me. My feelings were dulled down, even numbed, so as not to provoke the beast from coming closer. This was working to fend off the creature, but I found as time passed, it wasn’t helping me at all.

RELATED: I Am a Woman Shaped By Grief

Grief may be an ocean, but so is grace. Those waters contained sorrow and sadness, yes, but they also brought forth healing and peace. I may have been avoiding the monster, but I was also depriving myself of the only place that would let me release and rest.

I couldn’t tell you the exact day I decided I had had enough of being scared, but I was done. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to tread the water alone this time. So, I made myself a boat. This boat was built out of the love and support of those who cared about me and my relationship with God. I was worrying them, and I wasn’t about to let this beast cause my loved ones pain and ruin my walk with Jesus.

After some deliberation and prayer, I mustered up the courage to go. Pushing myself off the shore, I paddled my way out to where the monster waited for me. The water became choppy and started to enter the boat, but there was no turning back. The distant figure grew taller and taller until it was towering over me as it had before. The wind and waves were now throwing my little boat around, covering me and making it difficult to see. I was frightened, but I had no control of my boat and was now at the mercy of the monster before me.

It felt like there was no end in sight until I hit something. Clearing my eyes, I saw a tall, dark wall. I inched forward to the front of my boat to inspect it. This wasn’t an ordinary wall, it was covered with writing. There was so much, sentences overlapped each other across the surface.

Trying to focus my eyes, I was able to make out a few of them: No one said their names today. No one understands me. Maybe if I worked harder, they would still be here. Look at them playing with their son, why couldn’t that be me?! What did I do to deserve this?! I’m a failure. I don’t know where I belong anymore. I’m all alone. Is God punishing me?! I’m not good enough.

I couldn’t keep reading. These words, these hurtful, terrible words resonated within my heart so deeply. Falling to my knees, I tried to control myself but it was no use. I began to cry just as the rain began to fall. It poured down with raindrops the size of my little boat, causing the boat to rattle. Looking around, I realized it wasn’t raining anywhere but over me and it wasn’t really rain at all. They were tears. Giant tears raining down from the monster’s face. I pushed off it to catch a glimpse of its face.

RELATED: To the Moms and Dads Who Suffer Loss: You Are Not Alone

This monster wasn’t the unholy creature I had thought it was, but a misunderstood, misinterpreted product of my grief in physical form. The emotions and thoughts that seemed too dangerous, scary, or even too evil to feel or think, staring back at me in a shape I could no longer ignore. My monster didn’t want to harm or destroy me, it just wanted to be free to exist and allowed to swim freely in the grace of my ocean. The only thing I had managed to run or hide from this whole time was the darkest parts of myself and the unseen grief of losing my sons. As I looked into the face that I had tormented myself with, I asked it a question, “Do you want to come to shore with me?!”

The monster leaped with glee, eyes sparkling with joy. Paddling forward, the monster and I made our way back to the beach. What I failed to notice was that the closer we got, the smaller the monster became. By the time we hit the sandy shore, it was gone. My monster, my grief, was now where it should have been all along: inside me.

In actuality, grief is just a form of love. Love for the ones I’d birthed into this world, love for the ones who opened my eyes and expanded my understanding, love of the legacy of courage and determination they left behind, and love to know that they’re waiting for me on the other side of this life. A love so intense in nature, that it acts out in ways we don’t associate with love, but it is love all the same. I had been keeping myself from experiencing this love out of fear of misunderstanding or not being accepted, but love, even in loss, is a gift not even the angels get to have. How powerful a gift that is indeed.

Love, in all its forms, is beautiful and should be treasured, no matter how painful it might be. I would never trade the love I have for my sons for anything, because through it, it has given me a real taste of what the love of God is. A love so great, that nothing could take it away, not even death. Yes, grief may be a monster, but grace is the ocean it swims in.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Deborah Ackerman

I am a mother of three and passionate follower of Jesus Christ.  My oldest son, Luke, passed away from GM1 Gangliosidosis Type 2 Aug.19th, 2018.  My youngest child, Isaiah, is also affected by this same disease.  I write about my son's experience with this disease and how the Lord has blessed our lives through the struggle.

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