~An all-over-the-place rambling story about grief doing what grief does~
One extremely cold night in January this past winter, I was getting ready for bed when I heard a loud crash on the poolside of our house. It shook the whole house, rattling pictures on the walls, clanking dishes in the cabinets, and sending my dogs flying out of bed on high alert.
My husband and I looked out the window to find that the winter pool cover, designed for strength and previously resting on top of two feet of solid ice, had mysteriously torn from its straps and was hanging vertically, deep into the pool. After venturing outside, we discovered that the open water in the pool was gone, and the two feet of ice had plummeted to the bottom, dragging the cover with it. We stared with open mouths. How did 23,000 gallons of water disappear when the ground is frozen? It was eerie.
“Do you think it’s a sinkhole?” I asked my husband. He shook his head no; however, the ground was covered in several feet of snow, and we couldn’t see past the two feet of ice and displaced pool cover at the bottom. For the first time since I’ve known him, he didn’t have an explanation. The creepiness of the situation took over, and I shivered with more than cold. To see this safe, stable, and welcoming part of our home collapse without warning was beyond unsettling. Would our house be next?
In the morning, we called the pool company, but we were informed that there was nothing they or we could do until May when the ice melted and the ground thawed. Over the winter, I tuned out my intuition telling me this wasn’t going to end in my favor and convinced myself that it would be an easy fix and everything would return to normal. After all, this was a pool, not a person. It couldn’t be that difficult to figure out and correct.
When May finally arrived, the pool company came over to determine the problem. The phrases used included “significant problems here,” “unpredictable damage,” “no pressure in the system,” “broken pipes under the pool,” “remove the pool and put the pool back in,” “major plumbing issues,” “new liner,” “new winter cover,” “we don’t know what caused this,” “an astronomical amount of money to fix,” and “it might not work.” Our pool was dead. Heartbroken, we decided to have it removed and filled in.
After that, the owner of the excavating company visited and explained the process. They would remove our pool, plumbing, concrete, fencing, lilacs, lavender, yew tree, part of our deck, and possibly the crabapple tree. Then, they would seal the gas line, take out the heater, and manage any other unexpected obstacles that might arise. He explained in a matter-of-fact tone how they would drive heavy equipment, including a dump truck, from our front yard to our back yard multiple times to excavate the pool, fill the hole with dirt, level the ground, and sod the area. His nonchalant and emotionless manner began to agitate me. All I heard was that I was going to not only lose the pool but also see my entire yard, where so many cherished memories had taken place, destroyed. I struggled for breath as if the wind had been knocked out of me.
I couldn’t save this space that had always been my sanctuary, and I was overwhelmed with helplessness. I began to experience that familiar, lonely emptiness of loss that foreshadows grief.
The pool area had been a form of heaven on earth to me. The privacy fence shut out the world, and the aesthetics of the clear blue water instantly relaxed me. In the quiet, I could hear the birds singing and the wind blowing through the trees. The fragrance of the fully mature lilac and lavender bushes lining the fence filled the air and calmed my soul, and the gorgeous, bright pink crabapple tree gave off happy, cheerful energy. A yew tree that we planted a decade ago was now fully grown and perfectly housed in the corner of the fence.
Beyond the beautiful environment, this space had served as the venue for unforgettable memories, including anniversary parties, birthday celebrations, themed events, and having countless friends over to swim. My dog Vince learned how to swim, dive, and climb a ladder in this pool when he was a puppy. He spent the twelve years of his life passionately diving in to retrieve whatever he was supposed to from the water. When people came over to swim, he’d jump in and swim alongside them to ensure they were safe. The day we had to send him back to heaven, he took a few final dives, after which the vet visited our house, and we sent him off poolside. It was a perfect and peaceful death for him. My sister and I used to sit out by the pool in the shade of the crabapple tree and talk about things that others might not understand from our perspective. Our lives were uniquely difficult, and we understood each other as no other could. Whether it was husband problems, family concerns, friend issues, work difficulties, panic from breathing problems, torture from unending nausea, disease progression anxieties, whatever it was, we could talk each other off the ledge. Ultimately, our talks brought us peace, solidarity, and strength. Since her death six years ago, I sit by the pool alone and try to sense her energy around me. Losing the pool and its surroundings meant losing a sacred space, and the loss was visceral.
It took approximately two months before the excavators could demolish our yard. I spent many days out by our dead, empty pool, trying to imagine what life would be like without this space. I felt a heavy sadness mixed with anxiety every day, knowing my heaven on earth would soon be gone.
This constant feeling of heaviness reminded me of the heaviness I experienced when I lost my sister, although not as intense. This was grief, I realized, and although the physical and emotional symptoms of it were currently defeating me, I trusted myself in knowing how to deal with it, even as I wasn’t looking forward to the process.
When my sister died, there were very few signs in the external world of what grief was doing to my body, mind, and spirit. Grief truly is its own type of excavator, and through this excavation of the pool, I realized that I would see parts of my internal grief journey replay in the physical world. The excavators were going to dig up everything in our pool area while ruining other parts of the yard and leaving us with new space to design, just as grief took everything out of me while inviting me to look at and deal with long-buried dysfunction, offering me an opportunity for real growth and change.
Grief leveled me and my life as I knew it, just as the excavator would level my yard. And both left me with similar choices. I could take the new yard that I’d be left with and do nothing with the space, always feeling defeated by the loss, or I could plant new flowers, trees, lilacs, and lavender and create a welcoming place to make new memories. Similarly, when my sister died, I had the choice to remain stuck in the hell of deep grief or do the necessary work to heal. I opted for the healing work, which demanded daily practice and the understanding that grief never ends, only changes. In positive ways, I created my new existence without her here physically (she’s definitely here in spirit). I knew that she would want me to live my life in ways that would empower me, causing me to be as happy and healthy as possible. I made major improvements in my life and in how I relate to others. When I sense her around me now, I believe she is proud of me and glad of the growth her passing initiated in my life.
After my sister died, most people kept telling me, “You’ll get through this.” So I tried, expecting that one day I would wake up and it would be behind me, something I had weathered through and now was free from. I know now that grief is not something I’m going to get through; it’s something I have to learn to manage and live with because it’s always there and not going anywhere.
Grief demands a lifetime commitment. It took me years of trial and error before I learned not to resist it but work with it. Once I figured that out, my healing began. I had to respect and honor my grief, feel the feelings, and do whatever I needed to do to work with it.
As I allowed myself to mourn the loss of my pool and all it represented for me, I felt the intensity of my physical and emotional symptoms gradually lessen, and eventually, when I was ready, I started to imagine what a new heaven on earth would look like to me. I began planning this new peaceful space in our yard that would be both calming and welcoming to friends but which would also enable me to shut the world out and recharge my soul. I’ll always miss my pool, but I trust this experience with loss will help refine me in ways I will be glad to discover.
Next spring, when it’s the right time of year for planting, I hope to fill the currently vacant space with the new blooming life of lavender bushes, several of my favorite Vanilla Strawberry and Nikko Blue hydrangeas, lots of new lilac bushes, and, with a bit of luck, a couple of mature ivory silk lilac trees.