It is clearly winter. The landscape outside my window this morning is barren, and the air is choked with dark fog. The land is bare and brown, dry and cold and the tree branches brittle and stark strain against the malicious bitter wind that threatens their very existence. It is clearly winter, and the shadows seem longer, deeper and darker. It is clearly winter, and it is strangely fitting. It is clearly winter, and it is a bleak reflection of the reality of grief
I could not have imagined on December 15th as my body gave in to the sweet relief of sleep that the shrill ring of the telephone that shattered the stillness of night would usher my children and I into what is very clearly a winter season in our lives. My children’s father, who despite the end of our marriage was the man who at one time was the one I loved the most, was gone. At 44 years of age his heart stopped beating and he slipped from life into death as the world slept leaving me to deliver the news to the 5 little lives tucked safely in their beds, blissfully unaware of the unthinkable reality that was to come.
Grief is quite honestly the harshest winter. The mundane tasks of daily living become magnified, and the joys and delights of humanity once soft and blurred suddenly become sharp and jagged. While winter will most certainly come to an end as one season gently slips into another, grief makes no such promise. Grief, like winter, is ushered in unwelcome and uninvited and for my sweet children, already seasoned travelers of the broken road, there is nothing to ease their pain. Even the morning brings no relief. It is instead quite simply a reminder of what they have lost. You cannot die of grief but it certainly feels like you can.
It is clearly winter and the earth is visually asleep. Nature stops growing and is quite simply at rest and the need for motion and doing is stilled and quiet and shifts into just being. The flowers are gone from our porch fronts, the grass is dry and brown often blanketed by a thin veil of frost, and the branches of the trees, void of leaves, stand menacing and bare outside of our windows. But even in winter I am left to wonder what lies beneath the things that are visible to our eyes. Grief is the harshest winter. It forces those it inhabits into a stilled reality. Our striving is quickly transformed into simply being because quite often that is all we are able to do. Life as we have known it simply disappears in the blink of an eye and we do for a time disappear lost in the haze of the harshest winter. But even in grief I am left to wonder what lies beneath the forced stillness of pain. I know without question that, just as winter alters the earth, grief can change us. I can’t see it yet but I wonder if the path to spring, an end to this harshest winter, simply requires our patience and the willingness to wake every morning in spite of pain. I suspect the journey for my sweet babies will be desolate; I imagine that there will be moments when we feel as if the cold and darkness will never end. But I believe in a God whose word says, “…I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you…” Isaiah 46:4
There is no getting over a great loss. The spaces between the times we miss him will grow longer but they will resurface again and again, the familiar ache of grief. But I believe that there is purpose in all things and that buried beneath the layer of frost on the once green grass is the gift of grief. There is the invitation of a merciful God who invites us to huddle in front of a fire for a long winter sleep until warmer days encourage our waking. And there is the gentle nudge of grace, the suggestion to sit in the arms of a loving God with the knowledge that out of pain something new will be born.
This road will not be easy but nothing worth doing ever is. We will not give up in this the harshest winter because in doing so we will miss the sweet promise of spring, the nurturing warmth and beauty of life in summer and the vibrant fulfillment of fall. The pains of this season will not overshadow the gift of the exceptional seasons most surely to come.