When the Season Doesn't Change
Updated: Sep 28, 2018
"There is an appointed time for everything and a time for every affair under the heavens... a time to tear down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance." (Ecclesiastes 3)
I think Clare must have asked me 5 times when I would be putting up our fall decorations. I felt so tired and heavy. I just couldn't get my act together. And I love fall – it is my favorite season, and not just because my birthday is in November. Back to school, a fresh start, crisp cool air. (or in this case, weeks of rain.) I love living in a temperate state where we really experience all four seasons. We have new beginnings every few months and a new experience of weather and nature and clothing. Eventually, I found the energy to drag the totes upstairs and bring the fall season into our home. Light the Apple Cider Yankee Candle. Wash and iron the fall placemats. Fill a centerpiece with gourds and leaves and mini-pumpkins. It normally brings me such joy.
I was struggling. John Paul Raphael was born in winter. I had done this change of season as a grieving mother twice before – winter to spring, spring to summer… But this seemed different. Instead of feeling like the weight of grief had lightened over the last 38 weeks, it felt like it was settling in. Pressing down. I am doing well enough to force myself to go through the motions and put out the pumpkins and the leaf garland. But it is all a little (or a lot) empty for me. False. Time marches on. The pages of the calendar turn. Seasons change. But my season of grief is still here. And the hard truth that I am leaning into right now is that I don’t think that will really change. Yes, the weather or the storms or the temperature of this unique season will shift and ebb and flow, but the main lesson I have learned almost 9 months in to this journey is that grief does not leave. The weight of it will stay. It is a forever season. Because it is a forever love I carry for my son.
It is this reality about grief that presses a little harder right now – the length of it. That my husband and I will carry this grief for John Paul Raphael until we die. There is no way to put it down. No way to get a break from it. All methods of numbing it or dulling it are unhealthy and self-sabotaging (not that I don’t utilize them occasionally!). It is just there. A forever season that reminds me of the Elmo’s Christmas video my kids used to watch where Elmo wished for it to be Christmas every day. Boy, that Christmas tree and garland don’t look so fresh after 38 weeks. Sure, the weight of the grief can make me stumble sometimes, but it is the length of it right now that leaves me breathless. Decades stretched ahead of me feeling this way, or some similar version of it. And I don’t really want to escape it – I know deep in my heart the sadness and grief are just the love without the beloved. The transitive verb without the direct object. And never ever would I go back to a life where John Paul Raphael himself had not existed. But I am so, so tired inside.
This season of grief is challenged not just by the passing of time but by the arrival of a season of joy – two of our daughters engaged in the last 5 weeks. This presents another new hurdle: the desire to be present and live joy and excitement and celebrate with them and their fiancé’s while still hunched with the weight of sorrow. The snaky whispers of shame swirl around me saying – really? You are STILL so sad? It’s been 8 months or 9 months or 10 months??? You aren’t OVER this yet? Why are you making this such a big DEAL???? No one says this of course, but in my moments of weakness and emotional fatigue I sometimes land there myself. When I do, I wrap my own arms around my heart and remind myself of truths that spring from self-compassion. I give myself permission to just be in this season. To still be so sad. To still need so much space and breath to grieve. To be in a season of joy on a Sunday and spend the day in bed crying on Monday. To be excited to teach Religious Ed and lead my bible study and go the gym every day and still be frozen with disorientation as I stare blankly in the grocery store or can’t face the fall decorations or weep because it is 2:43 pm on a Friday, the hour and day he died. It doesn't have to make sense. It is all one big messy season and I don’t know when it is going to change. Death and life so beautifully close.
Blankie is still my comfort. The soft blue plush blanket that held John Paul Raphael every moment of his life. It is my companion as I sleep and at mass and in the car and often as I go into stores or to lunch with friends. I judge myself for this sometimes – how long are you really going to carry that around?? hisses this snotty, bossy other part of me, the part that can still sometimes care what other people think. But I shush her and hold blankie tighter. This too is a season—needing the physical comfort of this blanket in my arms. The smell of sandalwood sprayed freshly onto the soft blue cloth every few days. Something to hold and carry when I cannot have him for whom my heart longs.
I can tell that, even if this season of grief hasn’t changed, and likely won’t, I myself am changing around it. Shifting, softening here, strengthening there, making space to hold the weight of it all within me and still move forward with the mission and plan the Lord has for my life and for the life and death of my son.
Happy Fall to you all.
Let Yourself be loved.