Spring comes early in Texas. On days heavy with moist, low-lying clouds and the scent of new life bursting from every flower and bush, my head and heart begin to rattle with the primal rhythm of grief. This time of year evokes the entire range of joy and sorrow I have ever known - or expect to know - in my lifetime.
When Leighton called on a balmy spring evening, love blossomed; we were married a year later the week after Easter. Seventeen years later he got sick a few days after what would be his final Easter Sunday service. That year, I missed spring. The next year my father died the week after Easter. And so memories of the best and worst of life wave through my being, my spirit powerless to resist the emotional and spiritual tug of the kaleidoscopic associations that wash over my soul at this time of year, “Love and faithfulness meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven” (Psalm 85:10-11 NIV).
The rhythm of the seasons is part of God’s order in the world, “You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting” (Psalm 104:19 NRSV). If you think about it, there’s something comforting about the predictability and reliability of the cycle of nature we call seasons, even though we grumble when winter is too long, spring too rainy, summer too hot, and autumn too cold. The challenge of grief is finding a new rhythm to life, defining the seasons of our heart with a new order of life without the presence of our loved one.
The husband of a dear friend died in January, 2006 after a traumatic event and a life and death hospital stay. For her, the holidays are a time of recalled pain and sadness, despite her good spirit and determination to seek the joy of Christmas. And though she's moved forward into the springtime of her personal grief, winter will always be for her a season laden with powerful memories of her beloved husband and their time of inevitable parting.
A unique aspect of grief is that it has tenacious emotional muscle memory. Sometimes we wish it were not so, but a time or place or smell or event can trigger our grief anew, transporting us again and again to the moment of loss that forever changed our life. This is the very nature of grief. We cannot will it to be otherwise because our heart remembers, always.
In grief there are seasons that parallel those of nature, though we don’t necessarily experience them in the same order. With the death of our loved one we exist for a while in our own personal bleak midwinter, its bitter cold our sorrow, pain, and desolation. There is little warmth, we cannot be comforted. As we grieve we endure the oppressive, “no end in sight” heat of summer - we struggle and grow, adjust and finally accept the death of our loved one. And in the springtime of our grief, we begin to relax and slowly reawaken to new life, new possibility, and hope for the future. When at last we experience the autumn of our grief, we bask in the burnished glow of a deeper faith, the rough edges of our grief now mellowed by time, our spirit warmed by the golden radiance of God’s transformative grace. Consider the seasons of grief - and of life.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;…a time to break 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 3:1-4 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the steadiness of your order.