You Can’t Control the Waves, But You Can Learn How to Surf

The waves of grief following a loss are like the waves crashing in at the shoreline… powerful, irresistible, unpredictable, and with rhythmic highs and lows.

Confronted by such a major force, some people stand passively on the beach, some resist and try to swim against the tide, while others learn how to harness the force of the waves to carry them in a direction they prefer to go.

At such a catastrophic time, when everything about the death feels undeniably out of control, it is difficult to perceive that there can be any choices or options. Yet, navigating and learning how to surf as a means of empowerment means you can make a choice to:

  • Educate yourself as much as possible about the grieving process, as well as studying how others have navigated the waves.
  • Ask for help, as opposed to going it alone, by seeking professional help or support groups.
  • Set aside time to take “breaks” from the grief, as well as moments of leaning into the intensity of the waves; in other words, “dosing” your grief.
  • Find outlets for the pain, and give yourself options for expressing it thru writing, talking to others, using art, music, photography, dance, exercise, etc.
  • Change the tone of the “self-talk” and mental dialogue by focusing on the small accomplishments made in a day, as opposed to berating yourself for things not yet done.
  • Make self-care a top priority.

Taking action and making choices are the best remedy for grief.  Passivity runs the risk of being ambushed by the waves.

“Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.” – Karen Kaiser Clark

Photo Credit.


  1. Bonnie O'Donnell said on May 11, 2010 at 12:01 pm ... #

    Very well said.

  2. Ginger Auten said on May 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm ... #

    Thank you for putting in writing what I have been trying to help my son realize….he is 16 years old and is in the waves and hasn’t been able to find his way yet. Dad passed away a year ago. Your points are perfect.

  3. Sandi Elzinga said on May 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm ... #

    Wonderful advice for those in grief. Thank you.

  4. Paul Bennett said on May 13, 2010 at 10:16 pm ... #

    There are times in life when we are inescapably, overwhelmingly in the presence of love. Grief is one of those times.

    Buddhist teachers say: “Your greatest teacher is the present moment.” When the present moment is filled with grief, we can learn about pain, loneliness, fear, regret … or we can learn about love.

    One way to learn about love through grief is to start writing down the things you love about the person you have lost. (I say “start” because you will never finish.) You can regret each thing you write down, or you can be grateful for each one. I choose gratitude.

    Paul bennett

  5. Tim Rose said on September 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm ... #

    I lost the love of my life 6 days ago. We were together for 30 years. I have been looking for a way to describe my pain,emptiness,longing. I like your analigy of the waves. I am getting so beat by them right now that it is heard to get a breath. I never knew you could feel a hurt so deep. I miss my soulmate with all of my being and I am trying to find my way. I know my wife would want me to work hard to move on. I hope that after this journey with a little help from my wife I can be a better person and a stronger man.

    Tim Rose

  6. Cat said on January 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm ... #

    I lost my husband 2 yrs ago. We were married 24 yrs. This is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. I am drawing closer to God and fighting to hang on with everything I have in me. The wave analogy hits it right on! I don’t want to get beat up by the waves…I am learning to harness them and get all I possibly can out of this ride I didn’t choose. I pray I can help someone else someday.

  7. Lori Askew said on January 6, 2013 at 8:50 pm ... #

    I just lost my husband of over 26 years in a tragic accident. I have been treading water…and this analogy is exactly how I feel. I am not sure what to do or how to move forward but I am. I have two boys…one still at home with me and only 12. Thank you for your words of support and wisdom.

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