How I Kayaked Through Grief’s Choppy Waters

After my brother died, our family’s love kept me on course

Sarah Paris


Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

An overwhelming peace and exhilaration raced from my toes to my fingertips. I dipped a cupped hand into the still, cool water and watched the ripples form. A small fish leaped from the watery depths over my kayak, and a pelican glided on the reflective surface ahead. I inhaled the sweet, humid air and paddled furiously from the dock. As the paddle carved into the blue glass of the Severn River, I felt like I’d kissed heaven.

In kayaking terminology, tracking is the kayak’s ability to maintain its course based on the strength of its design. A high-tracking boat will continue to move on course regardless of obstacles. Despite the chaos the past year had brought my way, as I paddled down the river, I felt like a high-tracker. But I stared down at the waves my paddle created, and wondered how I could ride the turbulent waters in my life.

And then the reality of why I was there, in Annapolis, Maryland, bowled me over. I could feel my lungs squeeze together; I tried to swallow the boulder of grief lodged in my throat. My boat spun around and threatened to capsize.

My sweet, encouraging, intelligent little brother was dead.

Matt died four days before, on September 13, 2020. I tracked low that day.

Flashes of childhood memories swam through my head. I grabbed and clung to the best ones, unwilling to accept their finality:

Matt and I comically danced to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” in the living room until we doubled up in laughter. We snuck out to my parent’s back porch for late-night talks about faith, music, and life. We constantly fought over who got the last Old Bay-coated blue crab at the end of a family crab feast. And, we’d share a collective eye roll as my mom took twenty minutes to tell a joke.

The first 2020 NFL season games began on the day I lost my brother. I’d looked forward to NFL Opening Sunday all week. I grew up with four brothers and then spent years bartending at a sports bar. NFL fandom became a stipulation of my existence.

Football ushered the first oasis of normalcy into the desert of my year. I’d met up with friends on outdoor…



Sarah Paris

Author of Signs My Toddler Has a Drinking Problem (humor collection).Freelance writer of all things. Looper features writer. Believer. Adventurer. Semi- funny.