I just returned from a short trip with my oldest son, Ethan, to Southern California so he could learn to surf. He was so excited to spend some one-on-one time and hang out in the ocean. It was a wonderful few days to bond father and son. 

With all that has happened the last year and a half, I was careful to make this trip just about him. I turned my cell phone off, put work aside, and focused on him and him alone. We talked about his dreams and aspirations and what he wanted in life. We ate pizza every night, we laughed and played and set aside the worries of the world. We had a great time together.

Throughout the trip Ethan made comments about how much he missed Mitch and that he wished he were there with us. I knew that Ethan lost his best friend and that his heart grieves, too. We have an open mouth policy in our family and everyone is free to talk about Mitch (or anything) at any time – not to bring undue attention to Mitch nor to suggest that our kids aren't important, but because Mitch was important to all of us in different ways. We believe open and honest communication is a healthy part of healing. So, each time I heard Ethan out as he expressed a little more about what was on his mind and heart. I softly acknowledged his sorrows and his feelings. I then told Ethan I was grateful that he was still with me and that I loved him very much; I told him there is nobody quite like him and that I was so proud of the young man he was becoming. I didn't want my son to just hear my words, I wanted him to feel them. I hope he did.

On our second day of the trip day Ethan took surfing lessons. At first he wanted to take on the waves by himself and he wasn't sure he wanted to be held back by taking lessons. I strongly encouraged him to learn from those who could help him leapfrog the little things. I told him, “The sooner you learn the basics, the sooner you’ll be able to do just want you want to do ... surf. Otherwise you’ll end up chasing waves and wearing yourself out not knowing what to do and how to do it.” Ethan was wise and agreed to lessons. Soon he was riding waves and doing just what he set out to do. Surfing was a major highlight for him.

Afterward, Ethan and I talked about the symbology of surfing. I told him life isn't much different than surfing - that often we can no more control the events in our lives any more than we can control the tide and surf, but if we know what to look for we can learn to ride the waves and not chase them or become overpowered by them. I told my son that trouble comes to everybody and we can use that trouble to move us forward or it can take us under; that the only thing we can really control is how we respond to circumstances. As with surfing, I told Ethan, now that he knows what to look for he no longer needs to chase waves and save his energy - he can put himself in a position to more easily ride them. I could tell by the look in his eyes Ethan got the metaphor.

The journey of grief doesn't seem to be too different from being in the ocean. Sometimes I can see grief coming, other times it hits me by surprise. But I’m learning what to look for, I’m learning to stop chasing waves of grief and how to better ride them out. And I know I’m not the only one in these terrible waters – so are my wife and kids. And I must care for them as while I learn to surf tides of trouble.