Seeing the Turtle

Even though I swam with a dolphin on a recent trip to Hawaii, I actually found myself more mesmerized with the sea turtles. There was just something about them, maybe how old and wise they seem or the graceful, relaxed way they glide through the water. 

Fast forward to this past weekend, and I found myself doing bizarre things. One morning I reached for a Qtip and attempted to floss with it. Another day in the shower I started rubbing facial cleanser on my hair thinking I had grabbed shampoo. 

Had I lost my mind? No, I was grieving. In the past few weeks, I have had a pet die suddenly without cause, and I ended a relationship with someone. 

When people experience loss, sometimes one of the symptoms is doing illogical things that are normally a simple part of their routine.

Loss is very distracting and exhausting. People often say they feel “just a little off.” I recognize this in myself. 

During one of my crying spells, I told a friend I was so sick of feeling and acting this way. I just wanted to be able to get over it faster. I literally said, “I feel like I’m moving through this too slowly, like a turtle.” 

She wisely reminded me that we all have our own paces in which to adjust to changes. There isn’t a right or wrong timeline. 

Of course I know this on an intellectual level because I say the same thing to my clients! (Funny how we don’t always do for ourselves what we can do for others.)

And so, I do what the research indicates is the best way to move through grief and loss. I truly grieve. I cry, I talk about the pain, what I miss, what I regret, what I wish. When I find something that reminds me of the cat or the man, I let my heart burst open. 

Eventually, this honest approach will pay off. The grief will be less profound. The feelings won’t be so raw. 

I also deliberately focus on gratitude. I reflect on all that I appreciated about both of them and then drum up a list of things I actually won’t miss!

All of these efforts help bring emotional balance to a changed life. 

The trail loss leaves behind is memories that bring a smile and a tear. You look for your pet to peek around the corner when you get home from work. Then you realize again, they aren’t there anymore. 

You wonder, will anyone ever make me laugh like that again? Will love be possible again, or am I destined to be alone?

And so, you think through your thoughts, feel your feelings, and trust that all is as it is meant to be even though it hurts right now.

Later that same day I had compared myself to a turtle’s pace, I was mowing the lawn when suddenly I looked up to see a turtle creeping across my driveway, very slowly it seemed. I was stunned! I live in town and couldn’t imagine where the turtle had come from.

I only had two short rows of grass to finish, so I quickly cut them and then ran up front to take a closer look at the turtle. 

It was gone. It was nowhere. I mean, I looked in nearby bushes, across the street, went into the neighbors’ yards. I scoured the territory with my eyes, dumbfounded! Where did it go? It was a turtle, moving slowly, like turtles do, and yet it had completely vanished!

I was mystified, and then it occurred to me. “Cindy, even though turtles appear to be going too slow, they are going exactly the perfect pace needed to live their lives. And so are you.”

The lesson for me I am passing on to you is, when you are in pain, take the time you need to deal with it fully and completely. It’s ok. We can’t hurry the lessons life is offering us. Pain is a gift to be cherished, held, and then turned into something more beautiful, like the sight of the turtle was to me. 

© - Cindy D. Whitmer (July 12, 2014)