There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. –Ecclesiastes 3
This time of year, looking to nature and to Biblical quotes seems appropriate. As the earth in our end of the world prepares to “shut down” and go dormant, we, too, face longer, darker days. Last month at our meeting, we had 3 new grievers join our “family” of survivors. For them, this IS the winter of their grief; think back to how you felt after your loved one died; the world was dark, dreary, and lonely. You were traversing new waters, new ways to live, and new, awful, feelings. It could have been July and yet you were in the depths of your grief; winter grief.
There are many articles printed about how to cope with winter. This also can apply to our winter grief: hunker down, slow down, take it easy. Initially, my grief felt like I was sinking in quicksand. My feet were heavy and my entire body was sluggish. Mom died in early September when the warmth of the few lasting summer days were high, the leaves were slowly turning their brilliant colors, and the beauty was all around me. Yet, what I felt and saw was emptiness, loneliness, and darkness.
“A time to be born and a time to die”. Was it her time to die? She certainly thought that it was. Did I? Absolutely not and certainly not like THAT. “A time to plant and a time to uproot.” I’ve trimmed my garden bushes way down; I’ve left some dead flowers so that the wind would scatter the seeds. I’ve “uprooted” dead flowers and bushes. I will be planting more spring bulbs. Mom planted many seeds in her life; her family is a testament to that. She uprooted our belief system, our “assumptive world” as my friend and fellow survivor, Craig, said at one time. I thought that Mom and I would be old together, still shopping at Marshall Field’s, lunching, and laughing. I thought her depression would disappear with enough time between dad’s death and her recovery. But that darn depression inserted itself in her way back when and it just grew and grew and grew. Like the heavy branches on a tree, eventually it pulled her down.
Mom’s youngest sister, my Aunt Shirley, and I correspond. Yes, we write letters to one another- not on a computer-in cursive, something that many schools don’t teach anymore. Aunt Shirley is 89 years old and the last of the 4 Klein girls. She answers my questions about her childhood and the last letter brought me to tears. “The damage was done long ago”, were here words about Mom. “I think if she could have gotten out of that big house with all the memories (my childhood home) then I think she would have felt much better. Her husband was only 61 when he died; mine was 87 and a bit easier to accept.” See? We are all STILL trying to make sense of it 38 years later.
“A time to weep and a time to laugh”. A new survivor asked me this week if she’d ever laugh and/or smile again. I reassured her that this would happen. The beginning of this journey is filled with days and days of tears; our eyes burn and our hearts ache. We wonder how this can ever get better. But it will, it will. I’m thinking a lot these days of my 7 friends and co-founders of SOS. I see pictures of Ernie hiking and showing that beautiful smile of hers. Lois and I can laugh together but we can also grow still and thoughtful as we talk about her daughter and my mom.
Ernie’s daughter, Sheryl, will always be with Ernie wherever she goes. I think of Connie, dead for a few years and finally reunited with her daughters. Her dry sense of humor and her dancing eyes always brought a smile to my face. “A time to search and a time to give up.” Ah, yes, the searching. The “why’s”. Eventually, with grief work, those “why’s” become less important but they never go away altogether. Pull them out when you need them; we are a species with a brain. We try to make sense of the senseless. To us, the ones left behind, it truly is a senseless act. To them, those who have died, it made sense. In their brains, it all made sense. I hope this never truly makes complete sense to you.
“A time to keep and a time to throw away.” For now, keep everything. The memories, the physical stuff (clothes, pictures, shoes, etc.) Make no critical decisions the first year is often good advice. I kept very little, and I regret that. I simply didn’t know any better. The few things I kept, are precious to me, and to my girls. Sherry, a survivor of her son’s death by suicide, kept everything and, after many, many, many years, was able to slowly give away and let go of the “stuff”. Let no one tell you what to keep and what to throw away.
“A time to speak and a time to be silent.” Follow your heart and trust yourself. Tell your story over and over again. This is how we make sense of it all. The best of humans will listen over and over again and encourage us to speak. When we don’t feel like speaking, we don’t. Simple as that. Your journey is your journey. There isn’t a manual on how to do this. Those of us in the group can listen and offer suggestions and ideas but you get to choose what works best for you.
November brings that wonderful family holiday, Thanksgiving. It may be a first holiday without them that you will be experiencing. Change it up, keep it the same, or ignore it. Set a place for your loved one or don’t; come to SOS and ask what’s worked for others. Once you survive that first holiday without him/her, you THEN get to look toward Christmas.
Protect yourself as best you can. That first Christmas for me (3 months after mom died) I couldn’t tolerate Christmas music or happiness. It took me a long time to appreciate holidays.
Embrace your loss and grieve; be who you best can be; remember that if you hadn’t loved so deeply you wouldn’t hurt so much. “To everything there is a season…” As our Midwest earth moves into the darkest, coldest time of the year, take care of YOU…The winter solstice will arrive and the days will lighten up. The metaphor of nature and our grief wraps itself around us…