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 all 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 deeper 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 waves of grief.

The loss of your beloved is as much a physical thing as it is an emotional one. The key to surviving grief and the crashing waves as they seem to continually wash over us is the happy memory that we will carry of those lost, and perhaps with lots of scars as well.

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

Metaphorically Vicki points out that “all we can do is learn to swim” or in other words, learn to keep our ship, and our lives on course. Fill the deep grief we feel and the empty space with the gift of life and its mystery of existence.

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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 and even cumbersome and unknown. We hardly have any idea what or why grief is and certainly not understanding how to intellectualize it, or work through it.

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

I know I could not have described it that way then, but I definitely feel 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 great loss in our lives. This loss does not have to be the loss of a loved one. That feeling of loss can be from rejection or the loss of a fantastic job that 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 hard times in our lives that we will have to recover from and when a wave of grief hits us hard, to survive it.

What to do:

  1. Recognize that you are never alone in your grief. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends, or even a good therapist for support.
  2. Begin to open your mind to all the new possibilities that may know be opening up for you in your life, as hard as that may seem.

  3. Finding gratitude in what we have as opposed to what has been lost. This can sound trite and maybe obvious but it’s a powerful healing tool.

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

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

  6. Forgive everyone and everything.

“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

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

The most impactful way, I’ve found to overcome grief and move ahead is learning the power of letting go. Though it can take a long time to overcome great loss and grief, indeed getting through it and surviving our grief by letting go is one of the healthy habits we can acquire.

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.”

If you consider the, why of life, the amazing wonder of life, and even the chance of being here at all and having the joy of life’s wonderful experiences. 

You can understand life and love are sometimes a battlefield as well as such a wonderful garden of compassion and joy.

It is amazing to see how people fight so hard to hold on to something that doesn’t want or really need them. Somewhere people get the idea that “this thing is mine” adn I’m not going to let it or them go.

We may have lots of loves in our lives who are probably going to stop loving us. But still, 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 my own good when it comes to 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 has to offer out ahead of us is a very safe place to land when grief is like an ocean and its waves of grief overwhelm us.

Get up dust 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 through, when grief is like an ocean and its 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, and the other stages are hard too.

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

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

In a post on the University of Washington’s website, their counseling section on the site, called; The Stages of Grief: Accepting the Unacceptable, they note 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 upon you here in 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 can how quickly can you get there?

The bad news is that it takes work to be able to get out of what seems like a great hole in your heart or get through a series of losses so that 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 greater life’s search, purpose, and meaning.

The good news is that after great loss and the waves of grief in our lives, 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 the loss of someone, or something dear to me, that particular missing part in my life that may leave that empty hole feeling inside of me.

I know that the rest of my life is ahead of me, as yours is ahead of you. Be thankful, be grateful, be hopeful, and most importantly have faith in yourself and 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 at some point in our lives. There is only our getting through grief that truly matters.

How it is that we come out of our grief, enabled to begin again, with a renewed mind body, and spirit. Feeling the purpose and the wonder of life itself again.

We must 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. Waiting for us to grab the life and love that is offered to us, and let all that is gone…go.

Allowing ourselves the tears and the time to work through our grief. Knowing that at any time an unseen wave of grief can catch us off guard and crashes over us as if out on the open seas.

Give yourself the space and the time to heal through these waves of grief. Learn to accept and get through your grief, not ignoring or downplaying its power to make you a better, 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.

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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