When I tell you this blog is really four-blogs-in-one and that I started it four months ago just as October’s first chill sat still over those first fallen leaves – more yellow than green, leaving a crystallized shimmer across the earth, I am telling you because it also includes four seasons, four versions of me, and four paramount understandings that have altered how I am walking through everyday life. And admittedly that sounds a bit dramatic, but it is now, in these first days of February, fresh off of a major surgery that has allowed me ten days in a healing cocoon, that I have enough energy and enough insight and enough time to accurately put into words how I shifted through seasons of myself all while living an ordinary existence right through autumn and into winter.
October is a season of letting go and of settling in. A season of looking for places to land and spaces to hold. But this October turned into a season of holding hands – walking through grief with others who were being forced into the letting go. Not anything like the soft drifting of a tree’s final leaf making its way to the ground, but much more like a biting wind stripping branches, leaving them naked and barren. Not the soft closing of chapters, but more like the slamming of books before being tossed into the fire. October burned. I was sitting in silence with a friend in the last days of October, my hands curled around a white coffee mug – the white froth swirling across the bitter coffee. Silence because I wasn’t able to move the knot in my throat out of that safe space where it then decides whether it will become words or tears. I knew it wouldn’t be words. I had held so many hands in the previous days, held space for so many. I was thankful for a heart to do so, but my soul was running on fumes. I didn’t have the same hurts and wounds as those who sat with me during those days of October. Death. Broken marriages. Sick children. And so, I kept reaching out to hold hands, hold space. I could walk through this season with them, for them. I could let go of my own pain and help carry some of theirs.
I really thought I could until that October morning, the smell of coffee beans and sweet vanilla and fresh pastries hovering in the air, reminding me that it was autumn. So I let go, let the knot move up and find itself as a choking breath cry. And my friend held space for me, took my coffee mug and set it on the table and then held my hands. She prayed. And then she said, “This is grief. You’re grieving.” And I wanted to tell her that it couldn’t be because I hadn’t lost anyone I loved. I hadn’t spent weeks bedside trying to understand God’s plan. And then she said again, “This is grief. You’re grieving.” I had a name for the heaviness. Naming it made it feel lighter. It’s hard to grieve if you don’t know you’re grieving. Grieving what was and who was. Grieving the letting go of what was and who was. October was indeed a season of letting go, but I learned that when my hands had been pried open to let go, I left them open and grabbed onto other people’s hands, their grief, their scorching wounds.
October burned. Not a season of settling in. Grief is unsettling. It’s heavy and awkward. My grief was sending my daughter away to college and then saying goodbye to our family dog and then moving my son to another town to live with extended family. It was multiple feelings all settling into my thoughts, into my soul. Loneliness. Guilt. Regret. Failure. And so what I learned this past October is that Grief doesn’t wear one face. It shows up. Burns. Leaves scars. And then ashes. But I also learned that we wear many masks when Grief appears at our soul’s doorstep. We answer the door as the helper, the hand-holder. We smile and laugh. We dive into work and run from one thing to the next as fast as humanly possible. And October, like the trees freeing themselves of their scarlet and golden cloaks, also reminds us that letting go, the release, the naming of what we are feeling can be beautiful and freeing. It is only in the falling that we can find a new place, new space to settle.
November is a season of giving thanks, gratitude. Sitting with all of the pieces of what was and who was. Setting the table for an extra guest, Grief. And then introducing Grief to Gratitude. It’s an interesting phenomena that Grief and Gratitude grow together in unison. The introduction goes something like this, “Gratitude, this is Grief. I know her better as Failure and Loneliness.” And then Gratitude warmly smiles, reaching out her hand to shake hands with the darkness you’ve just recently named, and replies, “Oh yes, we’ve known each other forever.” And so it is. In the darkness of loneliness, there is the light of Gratitude. Memories full of head-thrown back laughter, simple moments surrounded by loved ones. In the darkness of failure and regret is the soft glow of happiness and health. November is a harvest – a gathering of it all. The Grief, the Gratitude, the darkness, the light and spreading it out across the table. It is gathering around it and understanding that its beauty is in the contrast. An understanding that we need it all, are better for it.
December is a season of opening doors, of letting the old out and of welcoming in the new. A goodbye and a hello all in the same breath. It is both a celebration and a relief. We made it! And we made it…December is reflection and hope. A look at what was and a vision of what is possible. Opportunity knocks, and we count down to opening the door. Even if we arrive to the midnight hour with little energy and even less hope, there is still that figurative turning of the page that welcomes us into its blankness. We go willingly. We are ready. In the buzz of resolutions and goal-setting, we start lighting the path for our next trip around the sun. For the past several years, I have chosen a guiding phrase to guide my life. Choose Happiness. Be Grateful. Simplify. Be Present. Live with Intention. And then this year, in my hand-holding, space-holding, dream-chasing, grief-naming, gratitude-introducing, I just wanted to be. Still. Quiet. Calm. Peaceful. Do less with more intention. Be Still. Pick up all I had gathered, all I had let go, all that had fallen and decide whether it was worth my worth to pick it back up in the new year. Be Still. Not responding with an automatic “yes” when I was a definite “no” in my heart. Taking time, giving space before a response, before an action. December is a closed door and an open window. A quiet whisper after the countdown saying, “You can do less and still be enough. Be Still. And Still Be.
January is a season of rest, of quiet. Hibernation. Winter, like all the seasons that precede her, is necessary. A time to shut down and shut in. Peace accompanies winter in the form of darkness lighted by the soft flickers of candles and of fires. It comes in the form of snow – those blankets that cover the earth, that absorb sound. Serenity. I walked into this new year bound and determined to do less, to Be Still, to figuratively hibernate, to rest. But this new year was absent of long cold days and of snow. January was spring-like, temperatures touching on the 60’s, and so there was no signal to slow down, to curl up, to stay home. And so I kept beat with 2023 – hand-holding, space-holding, dream-chasing – saying yes right away. More. Held the pace of spring and summer. Until the Universe reminded me of the necessity of winter, of rest. January reminded me with the flu followed by RSV followed by a pinched nerve in my neck followed by a hysterectomy. I found a new pace, a new beat out of necessity. We are not meant or built to go non-stop. Even in the spring-like days of January, the trees did not bud. They are deep in hibernation, allowing themselves the rest they deserve, so they can bloom when it’s their time. January is a reminder that rest is the seed of growth.
As we walk in this new season of February, along the path to spring and rebirth and renewal, may you let yourself be in whatever season it is you find yourself today. Name your Grief and introduce it to Gratitude. Let go. And hold on. Hold hands. Don’t forget your own. Hold space. Close doors. And open windows. Rest. Heal. Be here. Be still.