For three months this winter, the mid-Atlantic was locked in a hard freeze. The ground was solid, trees bare, and the flower beds were buried under dirt-encrusted snow. Birds were mobbing the feeder out back, and I wondered how they manage to survive weather like that.
At this season, in the months after my Bonnie died, the barrenness of the landscape mirrored my inner bleakness. I described that in Loving Grief:
When we scattered the ashes, the land was bare and
brown and dry and cold. And we ourselves felt bare and
cold. We were feeling the death in us, Rebecca and I, and
hoping for spring to come, hoping for spring in us, hoping
for something to be reborn. … It was March, and there was nothing
growing, and we had no idea how beautiful this spot would become.
During my first cold winter without Bonnie, my memories of how warm and loving she was seemed like harsh reminders of my loss. In subsequent years, though, her life and her death have come to seem a part of a natural cycle, like the coming of a hard winter and the gradual revival of the world as the days grow longer and warmer.
A year after we scattered Bonnie’s ashes, there was again
nothing growing on the hillsides by the bridge. They were just
leaf-covered hillsides littered with some fallen trees that are
going back into the earth the way they’re supposed to, going
back to the earth the way Bonnie wanted to, because she saw
that it was right. She saw that going back to the earth was the
natural way of things. She saw that things begin and end, but
also that they move in cycles.
Just after New Year’s, I received a message from a man named Doug, for whom the loss of his wife of 35 years seemed unbearable. I wrote back, and I hope he has read the message and taken some encouragement from it. But I know that whatever the season, there’s always someone in Doug’s cold winter of grief, and there’s always someone who would want to help, if they knew the depth of that grief and if they knew what to say or do.
Usually, there’s not a lot our friends can do, because the resources that will bring us through the hard freeze of grief are within us. Friends do what they can to be helpful and comforting; sometimes that feels like a small, even futile, gesture. But because life and the heart have their cycles, people who are grieving will, I trust, come through this harsh grief to a gentler, warmer time when they can look back at the life of the person they love with acceptance and love.
Somewhere in this soil, somewhere under my feet, Bonnie’s
ashes were nursing growth. The contents of that little container
of ashes, which didn’t weigh much, are back in this place,
and are part of life still, part of the living earth, part of
growing, part of dying, part of the cycle that will continue
as long as there is life.
(Excerpts are taken from Paul Bennett’s Loving Grief, published by Larson Publications and available from any bookseller.)