Coming Out of a ‘Cold Winter of Grief’

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.)

Paul Bennett

More Articles Written by Paul

Paul Bennett is a writer living near Washington, DC. He was married to Bonnie Bunting for twenty years. After her death in 2002, he began writing and speaking about grief and about his exploration of spiritual and emotional growth as he built a new life. His book, Loving Grief, published by Larson Publications, was named “Best Inspirational Book” for the fall of 2009 by The Montserrat Review. For more information on the book, visit To listen to Paul’s interview with Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley, click on the following link: A video of Paul reading from Loving Grief is on the AARP site at:


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  • Deb Kosmer says:

    You express yourself so well. This is beautifully written. I am sorry for your loss. I am sure your writing has helped others hoping for Spring.

  • I lost my wife Donna, 0ct 18,2009 After 30 years of marraige 3 wonderful children. She died from cancer, Leukemia a hard fought battle of two years there are so few widowers and it’s hard find some perspective from the male side. I been in groups, read 2 books on grieving and I have had 1 on 1 counseling.The memories keep flooding back..more so now as the 1st year approaches without her. God gave all the family 11 final days with her in our home she passed in my arms. I have such a void in my life we all feel like we were cheated the joy she gave us was taken to soon from us you never think it happens to you till it does. we planed growing old together and I still feel so lost without her. Your words have given me inspiration we both knew our journey here is just part of the cycle you speak of. Her spirit is with me and we will meet again she was the angel on earth in our lives and those memories bring joy to our hearts.

  • Paul Bennett says:


    Of course, it’s natural that memories come flooding back. Think what would be missing from your life if the memories of Donna disappeared! (There’s a short fable about this possibility in my book, Loving Grief.)

    The real question is, how do we respond to these memories? Do we receive them as afflictions or as gifts? Bonnie’s daughter, my stepdaughter, had a baby girl this week, and with the joy of that new life came lots of tears as I imagined how Bonnie would have loved her granddaughter. I hold it as a tremendous gift that, thanks to years of living with Bonnie and loving her, I can imagine her loving her granddaughter.

    Stephen, it sounds from here as if you are moving toward a time when you can gratefully treasure the 30 years you had with Donna, and focus on how the time you had with her has given you the ability to create the next part of your life, in ways that would be impossible without the way she shaped you. Neither Bonnie nor I would have predicted the life I live now, but without my years of loving her and being loved by her, this life would not be possible.

    With all best wishes for your future,