The fulcrum of the winter solstice has passed and the subtle lengthening of days has begun. It is as gentle as a lover’s gaze, this passing between dark and light. Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, we had clear skies and the crowning, full moon was visible as the rains and winds that pounded our streets and drummed our hearts the day before had scampered out of town.
Nature knows that to make a sudden shift from dark to light would throw the ecosystem into chaos. Have you ever had a time when someone has awakened you by turning the lights on in a darkened room? It is disorienting. The seeds, trees, bears, birds, elk, rivers, earth need the deep of a winter season to prepare for spring. Yet it is in the first “official” day of winter that those first steps toward spring’s opulent growth begin. And there is the tension. The both/and of moving forward while resting.
Some losses come into our lives as subtle as shortening nights, such as emotional distance from once cherished friends, not being valued by colleagues where once you were the “go to” person, or coming to terms with aging. One day you wake up and wonder what happened.
Then there are losses like a light being turned on abruptly in your sleepy life, leaving you dazed and confused. A death or sudden absence. Destruction of a safe place. Uninterrupted physical pain. A switch is flipped to “on” and as your eyes adjust, you see there is no going back to “what was.”
Grief, as a companion, understands that you can’t go back, but knows you need rest in the darkness. Like a winter season, Grief does not hurry you toward light and growth in the shock of loss.
Our society prefers the “flip an ‘on’ switch” method of grieving—three days off work, if you are lucky. Come back, eyes blinking in the incandescent light, be ready to perform, no matter how deep the loss. And if what or who you are grieving is judged as “less than,” such as death of pets, cousins, a best friend, the neighbor that was like a grandparent, that increases the wattage bouncing against the retina of your heart. Rushed back into routines and clatter of life, you are the forced paperwhite blooming in a pot when you want to be the daffodil bulb deep underground.
The full moon I experienced on winter solstice cast a filtered light, enough to guide steps but not overwhelm my vision. I walked around the familiar small park by my home only seeing what was right before me. Grief knows we can’t see more than a step or two ahead and is a wise guide. And for those new moon nights of total darkness, sitting in the breath of the stillness is enough.
Spring equinox will eventually arrive and winter will become a distant memory. And though expansion of daylight follows a linear progression of coaxing the sun up earlier and cajoling it to stay up later, our life seasons are not linear. There will be times when you feel on the verge of spring, and winter returns. Joy was in your peripheral vision and then slipped away. Welcome Grief back, to sit with you at your own winter solstice fulcrum, then move forward as slow as the lengthening days of winter. You will find your place in both the spring garden of opulence with Joy and the winter garden of rest with Grief.
What was a time you were “dazed and confused” into loss by the flipping on of a switch? Were you allowed time to sit with your loss or did you have to go back to the “incandescent light” sooner than you were ready? How comfortable are you sitting in the darkness, or do you prefer the busyness of light?
This is my first Christmas without my mother. In looking back at photos, I realized the last photo I have of her was taken on Christmas Day 2017. She was tired and not able to go out for our family gathering, so my son, daughter, and I stopped by to deliver presents later in the afternoon. I wish I had taken my picture with her.
One of her Christmas traditions was making sausage rolls—very English, like her. This year, I am making sausage rolls for Christmas brunch to honor her. I miss her.
If there is someone you are missing from a holiday celebration this year, how are you honoring them?
For those of you who celebrating the wonder and joy of the birth of Jesus this season. Merry Christmas!
For all, if you are grieving or know someone who is, may kindness and gentleness be the gift you offer to yourself and all you meet.