Drowning Doesn’t Always Look Like Drowning…Neither Does Grief

Do not wait until you feel yourself being pulled under. Proactively care for yourself and get the support you need to stay afloat, to learn to tread the unpredictable and often rough waters of grief.

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I just read a very informative article about drowning by Mario Vittone. Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life.

The same is often true of grief.

If you have family or friends who have lost a loved one (all of us) try to remember that grief, like drowning, can be deceptively quiet. We must be mindful of this disconnect between what we believe deep grief will look like and how it often presents. Deriving from deliberate courage, of innate survival instincts, those who live with grief often appear “okay”. They are going to work, showing up for family functions, honoring their obligations, nodding appropriately…they are dressed and going through the motions of life. They look like they are floating (if not swimming) yet on the inside they feel they are drowning, unable to flail their arms or ask for help.

Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look as if they’re drowning. They may just look as if they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” .

It takes herculean effort to stay afloat during the rough waters of grief. There is no rescuing someone from their grief but we can offer support to help them stay afloat.

  • Compassion, connection and care are ways to support those who are living with grief.
  • Ask about their grief: Tell me what your days are like. Have you been sleeping? What is most difficult? Can I bring you a meal? Would you like to go for a walk? A movie? Can I bring you groceries? What would be most comforting to you?
  • Remember and talk about the person they are mourning.
  • Take them a plant, a picture of times shared, a book or a meal.
  • Send cards, emails, texts.
  • Stay connected.

If you are the one living with grief and feel you might be drowning have the tenacity and courage to proactively seek help. Be it friends, family, co workers, your doctor or clergy, get help. Do not wait. Do not wait to see if someone will notice that you are drowning. Tell them. Have the courage to let people in. To ask people to swim alongside of you. To let people know what you need. Find your life vest through therapy, support groups, online groups, your clergy.

Learning to tread water is as important in grief as it is in swimming:

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Move your body
  • Use the buddy system
  • Consider what a life vest might look like for you in grief (therapy, a support group, exercise, a book discussion, gardening, journaling, daily meditations, music, art, taking a class, going to lectures, speaking to clergy…).

Do not wait until you feel yourself being pulled under. Proactively care for yourself and get the support you need to stay afloat, to learn to tread the unpredictable and often rough waters of grief.

Originally published at

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