When the Tidal Wave Hits


My nails were wet and half finished when I started ugly crying for seemingly no reason. The poor man who was painting them simply asked me if there was anything he could do. There wasn’t really. This wasn’t about the manicure. It was just that his chair was the first place I had sat down long enough for my feelings to catch up with me.

I had ended up in this poor man’s chair because I had a weird two hours to myself. I live too far from the school I work at to go home between the last final and the graduation ceremony. By the time I got my grade book done it was closer to dinner then lunch, so I decided to wait on the eating and instead get my nails done.

I was getting things squared away with my sister as far as babysitting was concerned. While I was in the chair I was not still. I was clumsily answering my phone until the details and my nails were squared away and all there was for me to do was sit.

So I sat, still and breathing. That was when the grief hit me. Like a child with her back to the ocean, I was knocked over by the losses I had been running from all school year. A community I loved, a church that was home, my plans for next year, my plans for the rest of my life, how I identify myself, all of it had been washed away. Instead of accepting each of these losses in turn, I had turned and run. The loss had gathered together like a powerful wave, and the minute I let myself sit down it knocked me right on my ass.

I am not a pretty crier. My face turns red before a single tear drops. My shoulders shake and I can’t help but make . . like . . . weird small animal dying noises in the back of my throat. The man looked at my tortured expression for a minute and then simply asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

There wasn’t, so he just let me cry, reminded me to take big shaky breaths and continued to paint my nails. As the drying lamp came out, I was able to breathe easier, and he massaged my palms and told me that things would be okay.

The manicurist did for me what I was unable to do for myself. He sat with my grief. He didn’t dismiss it, he didn’t tell me it was a bad time or place (even though it sort of was), he didn’t refuse it. He simply let it be, thereby letting it be with me.

I am not sure when I started running from this grief of mine. I suspect it was in September when I looked at a particularly fierce crumbling and literally said, “I don’t have time for this right now, I have this other really important project.” When that project was over came another hit, and I didn’t want people to know how sad I was over that one, so I ignored it too. They somehow formed together. Then we left the church, then I realized I wanted to change careers, but rather than mourn the fact that a job I once loved wasn’t working anymore I jumped straight into find new job mode. Who has time for thinking and feeling when you could be DOING DOING DOING!

Each loss rolled into the other and became a tidal wave of feelings I could no longer run from. I wasn’t just running because I didn’t want to feel bad. I was running because I was afraid that the grief would overtake me, that the feelings would be so overwhelming that there would be no room for anything else. But that isn’t the way feelings work (at least for me), it isn’t like a fruit salad where I can just pick out the stuff I like. Feelings are more like fruit-punch you can either take them or leave them, but you have to take all the flavors together. I was afraid that the grief would overtake the joy so I pushed it out. Instead, I pushed everything, numb and running I just kept moving.

But then I had to sit down, be still, so my nails would dry and the wave came crashing down and the feelings arrived, and after the very public, very ugly cry, the grief subsided, and the joy returned. I hadn’t been crying for months, but I hadn’t been laughing either. The tidal wave made me feel again, and I am learning to embrace the stopping and feeling, I am learning not to run. I better learn, my next nail salon may not be so forgiving.

Abby Norman
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11 thoughts on “When the Tidal Wave Hits

  1. I remember when I started my last job,I had just lost my mom about 5 months before. My family was torn apart over her death and I decided to let them have all the time in the world to grieve, putting my own on the back burner. Once I got my new job, I had even more of an excuse to put my grief on the back burner. The day I got fired, I cried(not in front of the jerk who fired me)but to my friends. They were confused about why I was crying over losing a job that I was giving up anyway. I told them it wasn’t the job but that I missed my mom so much. They were still confused, but they held me until I could breathe again. I get it.

    • Held me until I could breathe again. I love those friends.

  2. Always a joy to read your words Abby! May you find grace filled spaces to grieve…

  3. I get this, too. So many hard things happening in the midst of a busy life, full of commitments. Yes, I know this kind of shoving-it-away, I’ve-no-time-for-this stuff. SO GLAD you sat down and let all-the-feelings wash over you, Abby. You needed that! We all do. (And I’m sorry for all the grief in the first place. How are you going to change your job??)

    • I start my LAST year as a high school teacher in two weeks. THen I am going to seminary. And for that I probably owe you a big thank you. Every time I think I started this journey too late I think about what a gift YOU are to me.

  4. Thank you for this! I’ve been having trouble relating to my sister. It’s challenging for me to deal with her grief pattern of avoidance and DO, DO, DO and get LOUD. God said to me to “pray FOR her, not about her”… no agenda, just pray FOR her. Can you tell I am the first born? This post reminded me of her hard struggle right now of massive change. The letting go and the holding on, the fear and tearing of release. So my email to her today was full of mercy and kindness (with no preaching or fixing) and your post was part of my strength.

  5. this reminds me of the movie “inside out” – the part that sadness plays in our lives. I get the catching up of long stuffed away grief for what ever reason. if you haven’t seen the movie, I suspect you’ll see the parallels. Just recently found this site and i’ll be back.

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