Watching The Light Leave

In winter, you’re never more than a few steps from darkness. Katherine May

As December approaches, I find myself staring out the window in the late afternoon more and more. Waiting for the herd of neighborhood deer to appear on the other side of our chain link fence. Bucks and does with fawns trailing behind. They show up like clockwork at 4:00 pm every day, hungry and entitled. As they saunter in and begin devouring the dry, brown grass, I watch the light wane and ponder my ‘to do’ list. The mountain of what I didn’t get done, all that I have left to do.

There’s something about the advent of winter that conjures a feeling of scarcity for me. The way the heat evaporates, leaving me to pull my cardigan more tightly around my cold core. The way the sunshine shrinks and the days shorten. I drag myself out of bed in the dark, sleep deprived and cranky, and struggle to leave my work early enough to walk Buster before nightfall. It’s the time of year when I count my losses instead of my joys. When I remember who is gone, instead of focusing on who is still here. The empty seats at our holiday table. The gifts I no longer need to buy. The homecomings and visits that will never happen again.

One of the many things no one tells you about grief is that it is forever changing. Easing in some ways, growing more excruciating in others. I no longer cry at the mention of Jimmy’s name or run an endless loop tape of the worst moments of his final days in my head. Nine winters in, I can smile as I remember Jimmy as he lived – funny and playful and full of Snapple facts. At the same time, each season brings new, unexpected pain. The outings and adventures Jimmy is not here to be part of, the trips he can’t take, the experiences he never had and now never will.

I thought I had mastered the holidays. Accepted the absence of my parents and my son, only to find that this year I cannot stop scrolling endlessly through shiny Instagram photos of other people’s seemingly happy families. The large gatherings around tables full of colorful homemade food. The easy gratitude and happiness pouring out of the frame. The stories and histories of multiple generations together in one place with no sign or mention of who is lost or missing.

Maple tree covered in red leaves in fallI’ve never been a winter person. I don’t like the dark, and the cold weighs on me once the novelty wears off. I am too busy to hibernate and move too fast to lie fallow. Despite the longer nights, I sleep less, often struggling to fall asleep or waking up at 2:00 am from a bad dream, filled with despair over what has already happened or catastrophizing about what the future may hold.

This winter, I am learning to find refuge in the grainy, gray days and release my expectations of what should have been. To breathe into the sparse silence and appreciate the bitter beauty of winter – the maple trees in our neighborhood, covered with crimson and pumpkin-colored leaves; the magenta and violet 5:00 pm sunsets made all the more striking by the dark outline of the houses and bare trees in front of them. To hold on tightly to the people I love most and remember the other seasons when I found what I needed to go on.

Spring light still feels a long way off, yet I know it will come back in small increments, often without my noticing it. A little one day, a bit more the next, until my spirits lift and my grief feels less heavy to carry. Grief is not linear and neither are our lives. We meander and wander off course. We bud and blossom, shimmer with color, lose our leaves. And when the light returns, we begin anew.

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