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Finding Peace in the Ocean of Grief

In grief after the death of her father, licensed social worker Meredith Fields Lawler shares how she is finding peace while in the bereavement process.

My father passed away. My dad has died. My father is no longer living. I try so many different ways of saying this and they all hurt and don’t even seem real. Do I really live in a world where my dad no longer lives? I cannot pick up the phone and call him?

He will never know about my accomplishments and heartaches, he will not be a part of my boys growing up, nor come to my home to celebrate the holidays? These are all concepts that have not become concrete to me yet. I am still grappling to find understanding, peace and the all-illusive acceptance.

There are days when my grief is a slow-moving river. It is there, and I can quietly and peacefully walk through it. I feel the rocks and jagged places beneath my feet, but I have the strength to walk around them, to notice them coming and accept that the path is not smooth, but I am still standing and moving.

Then, other days, my grief is an ocean. A vast, wide ocean and a storm is upon the sea. I cannot see the bottom, and I can barely catch my breath as the waves crash over me and I wonder if I will drown in the sorrow and disappointment. Will this sea of grief ever release me? Will the current ever bring me back to shore?

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

These words were penned in 1873 by Horatio Spafford, a father that had recently lost all five of his children — four to a tragic drowning accident on a ship in route to Europe. In the span of two years, Spafford and his wife, Anna, lost all of their children. Sorrow like sea billows roared through their lives. I cannot even imagine the grief and soul-crushing pain they must of have felt.

Like so many of us, Spafford found peace and solace in writing and now, 143 years later, "It Is Well With My Soul" still brings comfort to the souls of grieving and heartbroken people — myself included. I imagine Spafford trying to write these words with a shaky hand, as his tears fell onto the page smearing the words — sorrow as deep as the ocean trying to pull him under as he tried to find the light again.

Every night, I put our youngest son to bed. I read him books, rock him and sing to him. The day that Dad died, I did this routine just as I always do. The last song I sang, as my baby slept in my arms, was "It Is Well With My Soul". I could not even make it to the second line. The tears began to flow and my soul did not feel well. The sorrow overwhelmed me and my soul was drowning in grief.

"Even on days that my grief is an ocean, I can still sing: it is well, it is well with my soul." Tweet

I held my baby and cried for the one that, for years, lovingly held me as I slept. I eventually was able to put the baby to bed and walk away. This has become my routine for two months now. I read books, sing songs and, as the baby falls asleep, I sing these words whether I feel them or not. When my soul is angry I sing, when my soul is aching I sing and when my soul is at peace I sing.

Grief comes in waves and I am learning that healing does too, if I allow myself to feel all of it and to sit with the discomfort and pain. I am experiencing what it means to not push grief away, but to rather allow the waves to wash over me, night after night, and trust that the current does eventually bring me back to shore.

This is not a religious exercise for me but rather a deeply spiritual one. I feel grace, peace and God’s presence in the slow, even breathing of my sleeping baby as I allow myself the space to mourn for my father and to remind myself that peace will come. Even on days that my grief is an ocean, I can still sing: it is well, it is well with my soul.

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