The treachery of spring


As I write this, it is a beautiful spring day. All of the pinks and yellows are blooming, and the trees are beginning to come into leaf.

This is the kind of day that has always invigorated me. After a long winter of dark, cold days that sap my energy and make me huddle in, the spring awakens me, literally. I get out of bed earlier. My mind begins to clear. I make plans.

Spring had always been a boost for my spirit. Grief took that away from me. Two and a half years after my husband died, I wrote this in my journal:

Beautiful day out. 60 degrees, sunny. Took a walk around the block, then sat in the bamboo garden for about 20 minutes. And got overwhelmed by sadness and indignation. It’s so beautiful out there, peaceful, tranquil. The bamboo is growing, the fronds are waving in the breeze, when I sit at the table all I see is the bamboo, the brick of the patio, the bamboo wall. And John’s not here to enjoy his handiwork. He created this lovely spot – his vision, his effort, his sweat. How can he not be here? And how can I move away from this house when so much of him is planted here? Part of me wants to run away, part of me wants to stay forever.

Another spring is coming. Another spring without John to tend the bamboo, go kayaking, hike. How can there be a spring without John Monsees to revel in it????

And, a month later:

Beautiful days make me sad.

Too many dreary days depress me – but lovely sunny breezy days make me sad for John, that he’s not here to enjoy them.

How he would have loved today – sunny, 70°, the forsythia budding, his tiger lilies sending up green shoots in the bamboo garden.

How much of this sadness is for me, missing him? And how much is for him, missing this day?

I’m filled with regret for everything he is missing, for everything he’ll never have the chance to do.

How do we get back the simple joy of a beautiful day when our loved one isn’t here to share it?

In my deepest time of grief, every day was dark. There were worse days and better days, but they ranged from pitch black to muddy to gray. It was like experiencing life through a wall of gelatin, seeing only indistinct parts of it, blocked from perceiving the whole or fully interacting with it.

A beautiful day only threw my despair into sharper relief. It felt like a cruel torment, knowing that life was continuing, that other people were enjoying family and picnics and flowers, while my universe had stopped. Instead of the normal spinning of the earth, my world was a downward spiral of pain, loneliness, and fear.

I don’t think my family and friends knew how bad it was. I worked very hard to appear as “okay” as I could, to keep the truth from the people closest to me. Why? I’m lucky – I have loving and supportive family and friends, and a number of people who would have come to me if I had only asked. So why wasn't I honest about what I needed?

I was scared. I was ashamed. I was confused. I didn’t know how to ask. I didn't know what I needed -- the only thing I knew I needed was for his death not to have happened.

Right after John died, people naturally came to be with me. On that awful night when I came home and found his body, when the police officer who’d arrived with the paramedics asked if there was someone I could call, I phoned my best friend. She came immediately; she helped me through that worst, first night; she slept on my sofa that whole week, despite being allergic to my cat, so that I wouldn’t be alone in the house. She took practical, loving care of me for weeks after that, too … making sure I was eating, getting me out of the house just enough, doing what she could. She had a marvelous instinct for knowing when I needed to be left alone and when I needed to be gently prodded to get dressed and venture out.

That first week, I was surrounded by people. The house was filled with laughter and conversation, our family and friends and colleagues telling wonderful stories about John’s adventures and misadventures. It was truly heartwarming, but at the time I only knew that on an intellectual level. I was too numb, too in shock to actually feel it.

Then that week ended. Thanksgiving came. Then Chanuka, and Christmas. And New Year’s. And my birthday. And the anniversary of the day we met, the day we got engaged. His birthday. And spring.

I don’t even remember that first spring, or much of the next one. It was the third year when I realized how treacherous, how cruel it was that the earth continued in its normal cycles of waxing and waning but my own heart was still.

And I didn’t want to be a burden. I didn’t want anyone I loved to know just how horrible everything had become for me. I didn’t want them to know that, maybe, this could happen to them, too.

So, like so many grievers, I isolated. Not literally – I carried on, I got up and dressed and out most days. I went to work, I went out to dinner with friends, I went to concerts, I went to book group meetings, I went back to chorus rehearsals. And when asked how I was, I’d say “okay” or “as well as I can be” or “I’m sad, but fine.”

It was a lie. I wasn’t okay, or well, or fine. I was drowning in grief, and that reality was stronger than anything in the physical world.

But I got through it. Not because time heals. (All time does is pass.) But because I found connection in online social networks for grievers. And I found the healing power of journal writing. And I worked with counselors who, while not able to specifically guide me in resolving my grief, did help me become more emotionally resilient and self-aware.

And then, finally, I realized that my experiences could help other people who were going through similar situations. I became a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist and, in the process, finally discovered what had been emotionally incomplete in my relationship with my husband and resolved it. And now my days are bright, my world spins in time with the earth, my spirit soars at the beauty of forsythia and magnolias and cherry trees and daffodils, and spring once again feels like renewal.

Do I wish John were here to enjoy it with me? Of course. Do I miss him? Every day. Am I angry that there is still beauty in the world? Not anymore.

I remember spring days we spent together, and I smile. I may also cry a little sometimes, but I smile through the tears with true gratitude and happiness for what we shared.

How has grief caused you to isolate? Have you found reconnection? Please share your story , or any thoughts, in the comments here or on my Facebook page.

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