The calendar tells me that the vernal equinox has arrived though the snow still covers much of the yard. But I sense it, we are on the cusp of a new season. And for the first time in a long time I feel as if my life may be ready to shed its winter clothes parallel to the changes around me.
I have heard and talked much of the seasons of grief, but this is the first time since that day I feel like I actually understand what that means. Until this moment it was just a theory untested.
When I look into my yard each day to see the sun rising earlier and the patches of grass and earth growing I feel not only the ache of loss, but also this fragile anticipation. The lawn is still brown and there are no signs of life in the dirt; yet I know underneath this seemingly lifeless layer something is happening. Those early stages of life are waking up and preparing to make their journey out of the dark. As the harshness of wintertime fades new buds, teaming with life, prepare to move from survival to fruitfulness.
It has been a timely reminder in the necessity of allowing each season to run it’s course. I have been on the receiving end of many blunders from the moment that Colin and Madeline left this earth. Trying to put into words how to avoid causing extra pain in these situations is complex. I have perused many articles itemizing the dos and don’ts of grief never finding one that fit exactly. Being such a personal journey it can be hard to truly understand what others are going through even if your stories are similar. Everyone’s “list” and “path” will be unique to them.
But one constant that I believe is so important as you stand beside those who grieve – family, friends, acquaintances, strangers – is to be aware of the season they are in. When that winter storm hits be ready with the parka and mittens, the hot cocoa and extra blankets. And even when you are ready to move on look for the signs in the grieved, not your environment. You may need to keep stoking their fire as you plant your garden and shovel some snow before you head to the beach. Trying to coax that tender shoot out into a winter frost can be catastrophic. Underneath, where eyes can’t see, that root knows when it is right. It won’t be rushed and it doesn’t need you to remind it to grow. Eventually the signs that Spring is on its way will come. Stop. Remain patient. Wait.
As you stand in silence with rubber boots and an umbrella in hand you may be astonished when they finally turn and ask for the tools of Spring. And as alluring as the picture of springtime is in the backdrop of Winter’s grey it is still a time of great challenge with much to overcome.
Even in this new season the hint of summer is not quite on the horizon.
For the last few weeks I have been mulling over one of my eldest son’s revelations in his Victim Impact statement. “It is hard to make friends.” It devastated me when he wrote it because I could see this reflected in his life as he is terrified to get hurt again. But it has continued to hover over everything since then as I’ve tried to figure out how this truth applied to me. Just like that puzzle piece you aren’t quite sure if it was in the wrong box so you put it to the side and wait to see how the picture assembles. And as more parts begin to fit you hope to be able to tell if this wayward piece is even part of the puzzle at all.
As someone who is very analytical and likes to avoid every crisis I couldn’t tell if I wanted it to interlock or not but recent events have proven that it does belong and it seems so obvious now.
That small sentence is a part of almost everyone’s picture. Making friends is difficult; there is courage behind every new relationship and sacrifice behind every sustained one. I don’t believe that there is any way around this. One cannot insulate themselves from the pain that our interactions bring.
I see two extremes in which we try to save ourselves from this catastrophe: the first one being, my knee-jerk reaction, exclusion. We avoid people and connection. We keep our distance and never really let people in. We find that comfortable boundary within and always make sure to stay on one side of it. The relationships are few and can be shallow as we begin to believe the things about ourselves that we tell others. It becomes easy to think that we are as one dimensional as we portray.
And the other side is over-inclusion. We embrace everyone and try to connect with everything. Our friend list is extensive but often surface. We have lots of relationships but few that are deep or meaningful. When someone starts to get too close we distance ourselves and find a new distraction to focus on. We convince ourselves that we are willing to get out there and we aren’t afraid to get hurt, but in reality we are terrified to let anyone get too close and just use our extensive friendship résumé to excuse how we cycle through people
And as opposite as these two contrasting responses are they share so many similarities. These are the self defence mechanisms that we use to protect our hearts. These are the ways in which we try to minimize the pain that connection brings. And though they continue to fail us we cling to the hope that they make it easier. They both keep people at a distance. They both result in the same sad ending.
So as I start to examine the vacancy in my life that Colin and Madeline left I find myself vacillating between these two extremes. Desperately wanting true connection, but needing to guard myself against the risks involved. And that is the juxtaposition of it all, if you don’t have real relationships it hurts yet if you do have real relationships it hurts too.
And so I sit at my table with that piece in my hand. I know exactly where it goes as it’s matching outline is there staring back at me. I’m still tempted to set it aside and work on something more interesting or even throw it in a different box. But it won’t change the fact that making friends is hard.