I just had a hard day. A really hard, round the clock, 24 hours kind of day. A week ago, blizzard Charlotte came to town. I spent Thursday afternoon preparing – filled the tubs with water (we have a well), brought in stacks of firewood, got the car into the garage, and made sure I had milk and bread. And ice cream. Along with the rest of New England, I watched the Weather Channel, and hunkered down for a good old snowstorm. And then the lights went out. And my cell phone battery died. And I was….alone. And I was…stranded. And it was getting….cold. Without the daily distractions of emails, texts, and phone calls, I was left only with my thoughts. And for someone who is grieving, that is not a welcome place to be. Don’t get me wrong. Every day, I experience sadness, anger, and every other emotion that goes along with losing someone dear to you. But it seems to be on my terms and I make a point to keep moving; to keep living in the midst of it. But that day I didn’t have a choice. I was in the dark. Literally and emotionally. Grief was my constant companion. I felt trapped.
So I did the most logical thing. I decided to welcome Grief in for the duration. For a full 24 hours. I decided to give her my full attention. To let memories flood my mind and my heart. To give into whatever feelings she had for me. I went into my bedroom and dragged out the poster boards from under my bed that were covered with a life time of pictures. We displayed these at Mike’s services. As I removed each picture from the board, I let the story behind the photo come to me. And there were plenty of stories – most of them made me smile. And then I came across the picture of our wedding day. The one where we were standing with my Mom and Dad. And then it hit me. In the picture, I am the only one looking straight into the camera. And I am also now the only one still living on this earth. And the tears came. How did I get to this place in life? What on earth does God have in store for me next? But I kept going. Picture after picture until I had gone through them all. In the end, I sat back and realized yet again, what a rich life Mike and I had together. Not a single regret – not one. And so I patted myself on the back for doing that hard thing and thought Grief had left me.
And then the sun went down and the darkness settled over the house for the night. Little did I know that Grief had a full agenda for me. In order to keep the house temperature from dipping below 50 degrees I fueled the fire every 2-3 hours. I dozed on and off on the couch. And Grief reminded me that this was the same couch that I slept on in the fall. The one where I would pray long into the night and ask God to give Mike some comfort and rest as he lay in his recliner. I dozed off. As the temperature in the house dipped, I woke with a start to feed the fire. And when I did, Grief reminded me that I used to get up every 3 hours to give Mike his meds. Some nights I imagined what it would be like to sleep through the night uninterrupted. But I did not want to miss even a minute of the precious time Mike and I had together and so my desire for sleep left me. I decided there would be plenty of time to sleep – later. But now it is “later” and while there is plenty of time to sleep, it is like chasing your shadow.
Charlotte’s raging wind and storm increased outside. At times I could not tell if the snapping sounds were trees coming down, a transformer blowing, or the cracks of thunder. I heard sleet thrashing against the windows. The sound outside just emphasized how quiet the house had become inside. Grief asked if I remembered how quiet the house was during Mike’s last weeks at home. He had become so sensitive to sounds – even music did not soothe him anymore. Just the quiet. I remembered those tender times of silence at night when I massaged Mike’s feet – the only part of his body that did not hurt. He said he received great comfort from this small favor and I can still see him watching me as though it was the greatest gift he ever received. I will never forget the look in his eyes. We rarely talked and yet we had full conversations during those late night sessions. I cry when I remember those intimate times with him. And how much silence means to me now. It is not a place of emptiness, but one of great love and tenderness.
And then there was the storm itself. As I watched the snow pile up outside with my flashlight, Grief so boldly reminded me of storm Sandy that hit last fall. Mike was in the hospital when Sandy came. It was evident that Mike was nearing the end of this life. At the same time, we were awaiting the birth of our first grandson. Grief transported me back to that moment in October, as though it was yesterday. As the storm raged outside, I raged inside. How could I lose my husband and gain my grandson all at the same time? How could I possibly experience joy in the midst of such deep sorrow? I remember being told that Caleb Michael had been born. I held Mike’s unresponsive hand. And I wondered at the miracle of Caleb’s birth. At the timing. And it made me cry. A new life; for both Caleb and Mike. While I didn’t understand it, I accepted it. And I told Grief that one look at Caleb’s big smile and bright eyes tells me that this timing was not random. I like to think of Mike and Caleb passing on the way – one coming to this life and one leaving. And I imagine Mike telling Caleb about the wonders he would experience. And the joy. And the sorrows. But not to give up hope because there is a rich life ahead of him. And to be sure to love his Mom and Dad, his Auntie Molly and to save a few special smiles for Grandma G. But most of all, to get to know the One who loves him more than anyone else ever will, the One who has given Papa G life for all of eternity, and the One who promises to instruct and guide him through all the days of his life. That is what I told Grief about that moment in time. And she listened. And we cried.
The blizzard eventually stopped and the sun came out. The power came back and I danced a little dance. Grief is a part of my life. I cannot always give it my full attention as I did for those 24 hours. I know more memories will surface and I will recognize them and I will smile through the joy and cry in the sorrow. And then another 24 hours will come. I also know that eventually the joy will come a little quicker and the sorrow will not be as sharp. And while I do not know what lies in store for me in the future, I know my God will be with me every baby step of the way:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 23:8
And so, Grief will have her way. And I will have my moments. For now.