I flew to Los Angeles on Thursday morning for a dear friend’s wedding. I was so excited to see some of my solid seven and celebrate marriage. I was prepared to feel some of the emotions that weddings have brought lately; I knew it would be hard to see the bride walked down the aisle by her dad, to watch the father-daughter dance, to hear the father’s toast and prayer over his daughter’s new beginning. I knew that was coming.
I didn’t prepare for so much more.
I didn’t prepare to be in the place I grew up, the city of my earliest memories, memories full of Dad.
I didn’t prepare for the sound of the ocean to bring to mind those many days on the beach.
I didn’t prepare for the sand to remind me of the sand-castle-building king.
I didn’t prepare for the trees that look like our old backyard where he built our playhouse.
I didn’t prepare for the motorcycles that zoom down the highway between the lanes.
It seemed like everywhere I turned there was a piece of childhood, a piece of Dad, a piece of Mom, Macaela, and me.
There were wonderful moments; seeing the radiant bride, meeting an incredible, self-sacrificial groom, laughing with the bridesmaids, sharing stories around a fire, and eating In-n-Out at every opportunity.
And it was also so hard.
It feels like I was exhausted all weekend long. I didn’t know why. Today, in our last hour before going to the airport, we stopped at Venice Beach. I’ve always hated sand, so while the others sat on a blanket, I ran to the water and watched the waves run to meet me, surround my ankles, and sink back into the ocean. The waves are like lifelong friends, my earliest memories are on the beach, watching how my feet sink down into the sand was the water flows back down the shore. But the waves are also deeply respected, almost feared, engrained in my tiny child mind with Mom’s constant reminder, “Never turn your back on the ocean.” I stood and watched for a long time; my brain felt blank. Emotions came and went, like they had all weekend. Like waves.
Grief is like waves.
Sometimes the water just gently caresses your feet, then runs back to where it came from. Like a bittersweet memory reminding you to cherish it.
Sometimes you see the wave coming, but it’s stronger and faster than you expected. Like a realization you had a long time ago, but realizing it’s reality. Like watching a wedding and realizing ours will not be like that.
Sometimes, as the water floods around your legs, another wave drops on top of it, doubling the intensity. Like watching the father-daughter dance, then watching all the fathers and daughters dancing together, then watching four sisters dancing with their dad, then feeling the arm of a friend who knew what was going through my mind and heart.
You can get out of the waves, out of the constant ups and downs, by going back onto the dry sand. But it’s dry there. And soon you stop feeling anything at all.
And so I stay in the waves. In counseling, my counselor is helping me learn to feel, to experience what is really happening inside. And so I’ve been taking steps away from the dry sand of the beach, slowly wading a little deeper, even though I know that wading in means that the waves will come.
And what if the waves get too big, too strong? I know what will happen. I know because when I was a toddler, I was on the beach not far from here and a wave knocked me down. It started to pull me out, and I wasn’t big enough or strong enough to get myself up. But Dad saw me. He ran out and grabbed me out of the waves, reminded me that I’m safe with him. It wasn’t long before I was back in the water.
I know my Father in Heaven will do the same.