On September 19, 1954, my 9-year-old uncle drowned in a gravel pit. I was told he had gone to church with his brother and cousins, and, afterward, they had gone to the gravel pit to hang out. Just kids having fun.
Until one of the cousins pushed him in the water. My uncle fought to reach the side of the pit, and as he finally was able to begin pulling himself out, the cousin kicked him back in the water. He never resurfaced. His death certificate says from onset to death was one hour.
Grandma repeated this story over and over, just like all her stories. She said my uncle was pulled from the gravel pit by a big hook embedded in the skin of his back. She always said that my uncle looked up at her and smiled before dropping his head as life escaped his body. I don’t know if that actually happened, but it gave her a sense of comfort.
My grandma never forgave the cousin. Some who had been there that day denied Grandma’s version of what happened, but no one was ever able to convince her otherwise.
Of six children, Grandma lost four before she died. One who died hours after birth. One drowned. One was murdered. One died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Two and a half years after Grandma died, my mom died. Mom was her baby, so I’m comforted that Mom passed away after Grandma did. I don’t know that she would have survived that grief.
Mom’s dad died when she was two weeks old. Her grandmother—one of her favorite people—died when she was 8 years old. Throughout her life, she experienced great losses, just like grandma, who lost her parents, four children, her brother, and three husbands—albeit, she did divorce the first one before he died.
When I was young, I almost drowned in a family pool—or I thought I did—until my cousin came to the rescue and helped me grab the side. That feeling—being powerless in the water, grabbing for the edge without finding a hold, being surrounded by silence and distorted blue waves, not being able to breathe, feeling panic rise with a racing heartbeat—is a lot like dealing with grief.
Feeling like you’re drowning. Feeling like you’re a prisoner to something beyond your control. That’s grief.
But each day, you wake up grasping for the edge, holding your breath, hoping that one day your struggling will finally catch solid ground, and you will break through and lift your body out of the water.
You keep trying, because you came from a long line of women who kept fighting, who never gave up.
Despite how desperately you feel like you’re drowning on most days, you persist, you move forward, and you wake up each day with hope that it is that day you will succeed. The day you survive.