Grief Is Like The Ocean, Surviving Its Deep Emotional Waves

There is a quote that is a perfect description of grief by Vicki Harrison: “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Grief is a part of our lives, and even though it affects all human beings in different ways, grief will continue to hit us like an emotional wave. That is the more profound beauty and meaning of Vicki’s quote.

The grieving process can feel like different-sized ocean waves that continue to hit us as ebbing and flowing tides of grief.

The loss of your beloved is as much a physical thing as it is emotional.

The key to surviving grief and the crashing waves, as they seem to wash over us continually, is the happy memory or memories we will carry of those lost, perhaps with lots of scars.

As a ship far out in the deep ocean in a raging storm, we must learn to adjust our focus, direction, or heading and how to right the ship we will sail upon throughout our lives.

Metaphorically, Vicki points out that “all we can do is learn to swim” or, in other words, to keep our ship and our lives on course.

Filling the deep grief we feel and the great hole in our hearts with the mystery of existence and the gift of life.

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ocean storm with waves depicting ocean waves of grief

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” ~ Ernest Hemmingway –  From The Old Man And The Sea.

Martin Ward | September 10, 2022 

What To Do When Grief Is Like The Ocean

The first time we face grief as children, it can feel very foreign, even cumbersome, and unknown. We hardly know what or why grief is and certainly do not understand how to intellectualize it or work through it.

When I remember the loss of loved ones in my childhood years, I remember feeling much like a tiny piece of wreckage from a ship broken apart at sea.

I could not have described it that way then, but I felt the emptiness and the loss.

Any child can feel the loss of a mother or father but still not know how to deal with it emotionally.

As we’ve grown older, the question becomes what to do thoughtfully, emotionally, and spiritually to survive a significant loss.

This loss does not have to be the loss of a loved one. That feeling of loss can be from rejection or even losing a fantastic job we’ve loved.

Even the loss of a job can bring with it waves of grief. We need to know even that feeling of loss and grief is OK.

Feeling grief and accepting that we are feeling the grief is the first step in getting through it.

There are lots of shipwrecks and challenging times in our lives that we will have to recover from. When a wave of grief hits us hard, we must survive. 

What to do:

  1. Recognize that you are never alone in your grief. Don’t be afraid to contact family, friends, or even a good therapist for support.

  2. Begin to open your mind to all the new possibilities that may now open up for you, as hard as that may seem.

  3. It is finding gratitude in what we have instead of what has been lost. This may sound trite and obvious, but it’s a powerful healing tool.

  4. Continuing to think and feel all the love and the laughter of each day you spent with those you’ve lost. This is an elixir for your soul.

  5. The best thing you can do is to let go or, as they say, “let God” care for what’s gone, allowing yourself to move forward.

  6. Forgive everyone and everything.
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“Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death. When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark is a smile.”
Julie Burchill

How To Let Go Of Grief

The most impactful way I’ve found to overcome grief and move ahead is by learning the power of letting go.

Though it can take a long time to overcome significant loss and grief, getting through it and surviving our grief by letting go is one of the healthy habits we can gain.

Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. write so well and clearly in their post, Coping with Grief and Loss.

“Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.”

When you consider the why of life, the incredible wonder of life, and even the chance of being here at all and having the joy of life’s beautiful experiences, you can understand life and love are sometimes a battlefield, as well as a beautiful garden of compassion and joy.

It is amazing how people fight so hard to hold on to something that doesn’t want or need them.

Somewhere people get the idea that “this thing is mine” and will not let it or them go.

We may have lots of loves in our lives who will probably stop loving us.

Despite that, we want to hold them or keep them. Why?

I love the old Groucho Marks quote, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member,” but I like to rephrase that quote a bit for the good of my letting go process,

“I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that wouldn’t have me as a member.”

Suppose someone or something does not want you. Fine, move on.

It’s the key to getting to a better place in your life.

Why push a boulder up a mountain?

Letting go and experiencing all that life offers out and ahead of us is a safe place to land when grief is like an ocean, and its waves of grief overwhelm us.

Get up, dust yourself off, and move on.

Grief will take more time, but overall it’s the same mindset. 

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

The Hardest Stage Of Grief

Which is the hardest stage to get to and go through when grief is like an ocean, and its constant rolling waves create a difficult time for us.

I know from my experience that it is the last number five. Acceptance.

The Five Stages Of Grief;

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Getting to the fifth stage of acceptance is the hard part; the other stages are also hard.

However, it’s common for most people to make the first four stages harder to get through, and the time to acceptance may take longer. Sometimes, total acceptance never comes.

That is why acceptance is the hardest stage of grief because they may never actually get to it.

In a post on the University of Washington’s website, their counseling section, called The Stages of Grief: Accepting the Unacceptable, notes perfectly Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who developed the five stages of grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. 

“Grief is typically conceptualized as a reaction to death, though it can occur anytime reality is not what we wanted, hoped for, or expected.”

This is what I want to implore you to understand from this post.

The only difference between those that overcome grief and those who don’t is acceptance.

A grieving person’s greatest ally is acceptance, but how quickly can you get there?

The bad news is that it takes work to get out of what seems like a significant hole in your heart or get through a series of losses so you can get past the four other stages faster.

But you can do it!

It takes some serious personal inner work, reflection, and a deeper understanding of your more extraordinary life’s search, purpose, and meaning.

The good news is that after surviving substantial loss and the waves of grief in our lives, we can be more grateful for the simple things, like the fresh smell of a cup of coffee in the morning and the bright sunshine of a new day.

For me, the new people, new places, and new things in my life help overcome the weight of losing someone or something dear to me, that missing part in my life that may leave that empty space inside me.

I know the rest of my life is ahead of me, as yours is ahead of you.

Be grateful, be hopeful, and most importantly, have faith in yourself because you can and will survive.

Getting Through Grief Quotes 

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” ~ Leo Tolstoy                   

“The grave itself is but a covered bridge, Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” ~ Helen Keller

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time – the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes – when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever – there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” ~ John Irving

“Dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you’ve lived.” ~ Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die, so let us all be thankful.”
~ Buddhist quote

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
Vicki Harrison


There is no way to get around, past, or without having grief in our lives. There is only our getting through grief that genuinely matters.

How we come out of our grief enables us to begin again with a renewed mind-body and spirit, feeling the purpose and the wonder of life itself.

We accept that grief has come and gone, and it will come again, and we survive the sorrow and loss by knowing that love and life are always right in front of us.

They are waiting for us to grab the life and love offered and let all that is gone…go.

Allowing ourselves the tears and the time to work through our grief.

It is knowing that an unseen wave of grief can catch us off guard and crash over us as if out on the open sea.

Give yourself the space and the time to heal through these waves of grief.

Learn to accept and get through your grief. Don’t ignore or downplay its power to make you a better, more well-rounded person.

Surviving your life’s occasional deep ocean of grief and pain that we all encounter are the building blocks of a wonderful life indeed.

Martin (Marty) Ward

My Name is Marty Ward and I’m the creator and publisher of the 1-Vibrant-Life blog.

On March 8th, 1984, I sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car accident while I was driving to my day job.

At the time of the accident, I was having a fairly successful life as a musician in Chicago, which had included a recent appearance on Star Search 84′ with Ed McMahon and preparing to be included in the group’s major independent recording contract. 

However, after my accident, I was unable to perform or play my instrument. I was out of work and I had lost all confidence in myself and my abilities, felt lost and with no direction. 

My injury and my recovery led me down a path of self-improvement, and self-discovery which gave me my life back filled with many amazing experiences and a newfound sense of hope. Learn more about my story on the 1-vibrant-life about page. 

CBTCP Certification (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Certified Practitioner) | 10-16-2021  Certification From The Academy of Modern Applied Psychology, in The Transformative Science of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT