We all have different ways of dealing with stress, grief, anger, disappointment, and a variety of other less desirable emotions. Paddleboarding is my way. It is what centers me and helps me to breathe when I feel like I can’t.
In the past five months we have lost three of the strongest women I have ever known- my mother in law, and both of my grandmothers. They were all so very different from each other. And each brought different, valuable things to our lives.
My mother in law was one of the most passionate people I have ever met. Everything she did, she did with passion. After losing her husband to pancreatic cancer 16 years ago, she went on to travel the world. I always admired her moxie. Her travel companion was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer approximately 4 years ago and she had to watch him go too. Despite yet another devastating loss, she fulfilled a long-standing dream to travel to Russia just last year. She learned early on that life is short, and she never sat still for long. She got out and did things, and she encouraged others to as well. In February she received that same horrible diagnosis herself.
Five weeks after losing her, my Memere (my French Canadian grandmother) passed suddenly. She was one of the sweetest people you would ever meet. She never complained about anything and was living alone with her dog until the day she died. She was independent and strong and stoic and wonderful. And she was very funny. Even when she would get sick, she kept her sense of humor. I always said “I’m not going to worry about Mem until she stops making jokes.” She never did stop making jokes while she was alive.
This month we lost my other grandmother. She was the mother of 9 and lived through the loss of her husband and two of her daughters. She was a teacher and a pastor’s wife and she was sweet, and caring, and always had great stories. She loved history, literature, politics and most of all her family- and bragging about her grandkids. She never said an unkind word about anyone. Seriously, none of us can ever remember a single unkind word in her 95 years!
When things get rough in my life, I paddle. Needless to say, I have paddled a LOT this year. Back in March and April when my mother in law was sick, the water was still frozen, and I couldn’t get out. It was awful. There was nowhere to work off the terrible sadness, stress, and sense of helplessness because there’s nowhere else I can lose myself like on the water.
It used to be that 1/2 hour on the water was enough to cure me of most things. But the bigger the “things” have gotten, the longer my paddles have gotten. Where I used to go out and count miles and “how much further? how much longer?” I am quieter and more determined out there now. I go out and paddle until I start to feel better and 1/2 hour has turned into 2 or 3 hours or more sometimes. I don’t think I can paddle away from my grief, or exhaust myself so much that I don’t feel it. But when I am out there I feel small and in awe and like I am part of something much bigger- my troubles feel small out there, like grains of sand on the beach, drops of water in the ocean.
Paddleboarding helps me think things through, leave the clutter on the water, and cleanse my soul if just a little. There is something purifying about being on the water. The rhythm of the paddle, the ebb and flow of the water, and the sound of your board moving over it are all soothing. There is a calmness, even when it’s mayhem on the water. The ocean embraces you and invites you to be part of it, but it can overpower you at any moment. It is very humbling giving over to this force.
Out on the water I have a huge amount of respect for its power. There is gratitude in every bird that flies overhead, every shell on the beach, and each rock that is worn smooth by the daily tides that wash over it. Each paddle is a chance to appreciate this amazing opportunity that we have been given to explore what the water holds for us. Being out on the water offers solace and comfort, and the water is so vast that it swallows our tears and muffles our sobs. It is an opportunity to shed what weighs us down and return to land grounded and more whole than when we left. And we are able to appreciate the sheer beauty of nature in such a pure form.
This echoes my blog post about motivations for paddling, but it is a constant reminder of how lucky we are to have this outlet. And we are very lucky to have a paddling community who understands its significance. It’s also a constant reminder to go through life with love and gratitude and hug the people you love.
Tags: paddleboarding ri, standup paddleboarding ri, paddleboarding in ri, paddleboarding in the ocean, standup paddleboarding in open water, paddleboarding in open water, paddleboarding as therapy, what motivates you to paddleboard, paddleboarding for your health