Growing up, our family had such a large goldfish that we named him Big Fish. He was the only fish in the ten-gallon tank in our kitchen surrounded by a faded green plastic reef and we’d communicate with him daily. Tap the tank and he’d come to the surface and enjoy some fish flakes. Walk back and forth in front of the tank and he’d follow us. Anything to connect. He would watch us go through our daily lives during his longer-than-usual goldfish lifespan. But it was hard to ignore what a lonely existence he had. Isolated and in a water world we could never penetrate, I wondered what went through Big Fish’s brain.
This week’s tragic news of the shooting in Texas reminds me of Big Fish’s life and our lack of understanding of his plight as I struggle with the pointless loss of life. While we may never enter the minds of others, we need to focus on what we can do to help the ones in need and those who feel lost.
I earned my self-designed masters in Grief Counseling Children and Adolescents Using Creative Arts after a tragedy in my own life. It was a time when nothing made sense surrounding the death of my eleven-year-old nephew. I needed perspective to help my seven-year-old son who witnessed the accident, as well as my extended family. In the pursuit of my degree, I worked with families and especially kids who had lost loved ones. It was an honor to hear their stories and develop healing tools that didn’t exactly “fix,” anything, but they allowed the kids and families to survive, and in many cases thrive, in their new normal. Through this personal and academic work, I have realized that there are certain imperatives for times of loss:
- Maintain routine – it’s calming to know that not everything is chaotic
- Remember and talk about the loved one- not saying their name hurts more because it feels like they are forgotten
- Let kids play and act out death as hard as that is to witness
- Find creative outlets – write, draw, make memory boxes or collages representing feelings and thoughts, make music – literally create anything to express what’s hard to verbalize
- Let kids spend time with friends
- Don’t judge – like Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
- Listen, listen, listen
- And love
A Honduran proverb aptly states: “Grief shared is half grief; Joy shared is double joy.” So as I think about what being a fish means to me, I recommit to listening and absorbing the grief of others so their burden is lessened. While at the same time, I want to help those find joy in whatever makes them happy. My joy is truly being a part of the water – boating, swimming, and scuba diving. If you saw my collection of mermaids or early sunrise photos over the ocean from my bedroom window (and I’m a Pisces), you’d wonder if my toes were actually webbed! But being surrounded by any body of water is where I feel most free and closest to my version of God. I am comforted by the serenity of a calm and peaceful sea and yet embrace the challenge when it’s rough. And through it all, I know I’m never alone.
Loss and tragedy are hard to comprehend and move through. But the key word is through. Avoiding or denying the sadness doesn’t help survive it. Luckily, healing comes in many forms and no one’s form is better or worse than another’s. Hope is always present even in the bleakest times. The goal, as Dory says to Nemo in Finding Nemo, is to just keep swimming. And by doing that a little more every day, the pain fades into the distance, and it’s replaced by happier memories and a lighter feeling overall. Laughter does come back and knowing there is a school of fish who support you will warm your heart. Trust me. I’ve lived this, and you can too.