It has been almost a week since our dog, Buster, went over the doggie rainbow to heaven.  While we continue to grieve, things are getting a little easier.  We talk to him, touch his pictures, sometimes even get a little teary-eyed, but we know he is in the best place possible.

I came across this story on grief, and I thought the reference to sandcastles, sand and the ocean was perfect.  Whether you are currently grieving, or have done so in the past, I think this gives a unique perspective on the process of recovering.  The story provided some much needed comfort to me in my time of need-I hope it can help you do the same.

The World in a Grain of Sand 

A few months after Richard’s death, my daughter Sarah and I took a trip to the beach for some needed rest and recuperation. As I watched Sarah build one of her first sandcastles, I discovered a gift that would eventually lead both of us on our mutual journeys through grief.  

With the help of our good friend Diane, Sarah worked diligently to build the perfect sandcastle…

As I observed the gratifying process of watching a three-year-old build a sandcastle, I was keenly aware of my husband’s absence…I felt devastated by his loss and so alone in my grief.  Then, in the moment of my deepest pain, an enormous wave crashed on the beach and demolished Sarah’s beautiful castle.  

Like the normal child she was, Sarah reacted to the loss of her sandcastle with shock and anger. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she ran to me for comfort from this sudden disaster. Outraged, she vowed never to build a sandcastle again! What she wanted most at that moment was the safe shelter of her mother’s arms.  

But Diane wasn’t willing to let my daughter off the hook so easily. She walked over to where Sarah and I were sitting and began to explain the nature of sandcastle-building. “Sarah,” she said, “Part of the joy of building a sandcastle is that, in the end, we can give it as a gift to the ocean.”  

“This is what building sandcastles is all about,” Diane said. “It lets us be gift-givers.”  

Sarah loved the idea of giving gifts and immedi­ate­ly responded with enthusiasm to the thought of building another sandcastle.  Her tears instantly turned to a smile. This time she wanted to build her castle even closer to the water, so the ocean would get its gift sooner!

Grief as a Gift-Giving Process

As I watched Sarah and Diane build and lose their castle, I began to see a parallel to Richard’s death – to how we rebuild our own lives through grief. I visualized the castle as his life and the crashing wave as his death. I was shocked and angry when his castle was abruptly washed away…

What I had missed until that moment was the concept that grief could be a gift-giving process. Just as the sandcastle was a gift to the ocean, Richard’s life was a gift to me, Sarah, and all who loved him. My memories, like the sand on the shoreline, were in front of me — waiting to be touched and felt, ready to be used as building material in the healing process ahead. 

Reshaping our life in periods of change is not an unfamiliar process. Like a sandcastle, we constantly shift, recreate, and remold ourselves as we are influenced by our families, friends, and environment.  As we grow, we make choices to add new rooms and eliminate others. We build tunnels and bridges to connect our life with helpful people; we build walls and moats to protect ourselves from harm. 

Frequent storms and crashing waves re­shape our castles from time to time. When a storm passes, we often take time for retreat and reflection. Some­times we choose to make changes to our sandcastle — striving to make it a little closer to our own views of perfec­tion. 

I asked myself, “To what end do we continually transform our sandcastle if it will be forever lost to the ocean?” 

That day I realized that although our lives are eventually washed away, the granules of our lives remain on the shoreline – they do not disappear. Those granules of sand still exist, as a source of strength and renewal for those left behind. They become building materi­al for new and restored sandcastles to come… 

Remembering and Rebuilding: Dual Aspects of Grief

Each life, from the most famous to the most obscure, is a meaningful part of a family touched by love. Grieving, then, becomes the process of standing at the shoreline, sifting through each granule of sand, remembering the person we loved. As we touch and feel each tiny piece of sand, we make choices to keep some granules and let go of others. The gifts we hold closely help rebuild our own sandcastle – temporarily devastated by our grief…

For the first time, I recog­nized the building material was right in front of us. Sarah and I began to look at our memories as a rich source of strength and courage instead of as an anchor to our sorrow. I under­stood the grief process would take a long time, that there were thousands of grains of sand to be closely examined. That simple realization gave me the patience to endure…

Yes, I felt numb and afraid. Yet I was much more willing to tackle this awkward and confusing emotion we call grief…Our families shared stories, over and over again throughout the years ahead. And indeed, those memories slowly helped us rebuild our lives…

For other families coping with grief, you can help yourselves and your children by remembering the granules of the cherished life you loved and lost. Use those grains of sand to rebuild your own sandcastle so that someday your life will be forever etched in the hearts of those you love.


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