I took a basic keelboat sailing class in June. One of the topics in the class was the concept of “heaving to.” There are several scenarios in which a sailor might choose to heave to; the most critical of situations is in the event of a violent or large storm. To put it simply, heaving to means to turn the boat directly into the wind, to position the sails in such a way as to counteract one another and thus negate the effect of the wind, and finally, to secure the tiller or wheel in a fixed position. The effect is to stop the forward movement of the boat. In an extreme situation, as the instructor informed us, this is the most certain way to survive.
As I am weathering the intense and protracted storm of grief over the death of my son and the trauma surrounding it, I am so often tempted to try to escape the storm. This is the longest, most violent storm I have ever known. It seems to have no end. The rogue waves hit without warning and flip me over. Just when I think it may be passing, it returns with even greater strength than I thought possible. My inclination is to flee: to another location, to another way of life, to almost anything that will get me out of this. I think often of how to speed up my life, how to trim the sails to catch more wind and move me faster to the place I want to be. I long to make changes… to anything and everything in my life.
Grief has so many parallels to sailing. On the water, a sailor cannot control the conditions; a sailor can only choose how to adapt to and make the best of the conditions. Grief is the same. I cannot escape it. I can’t outrun it, I can’t outmaneuver it, I can’t make it behave the way I want it to. After almost 19 months, I understand that the only thing I can do right now is to heave to; to essentially stop the forward motion of my life with one goal in mind: survival. The concept of standing still goes against everything in me. I want to move forward, to see progress and motion. I want to feel better. I want to leave the pain behind, remember the many sweet memories I have of Kai, and make a new life for myself. I want to think that I have endured the worst and come out the other side. But that time has not come yet.
I do not know when the intense storm will begin to subside. I must accept that it may be measured in years rather than in months. I do believe that the cold gale will eventually give way to warm trade winds. Then, and only then, will I untie the tiller, steer off the wind, and sail.