Jilly D.

Gently falling snow in the bleak midwinter: gift of being left alone

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2013 at 2:05 am

When Sam died I needed to be alone, to pull back, to shield myself from others’ grief because I could not bear their grief on top of mine.

I needed my grief like a shawl to protect me in the storm. Could not deal with others’ realities. Mine was purely liminal. The blur of faces at the funeral service, the unexpected visitors at the door, the unwanted phone calls. Their eyes pierced me with questions: how could this happen? what will you do? what can I do?

My entire universe collapsed around me and time could not march on. I wouldn’t let it. The outside world around me didn’t exist. I was with Sam and Sam alone. His spirit hovered near me. In the scent of the sheets, wearing his MadBomber rabbit lined winter hat, burning the wood he’d split.

I could not help anyone else with their grief over Sam. I needed their help with mine. But well-intentioned words inflicted new wounds.

“You’re still young and you’ll be able to move on and find a new love.”

“He was my first boyfriend and I loved him, too.”

“My brother died and I know how you feel.”

“He was my best friend and I owe him a big one.”

“If only I’d known…..”

And the most offensive verbal attempt to soothe my soul?

“Time heals all wounds.” I seriously considered punching an elderly woman in the face when I’d heard that line one too many times. Helping others grieve? Not my problem. I got served a plate already full of my own sorrow and there was nothing more I cared to sup.

Help arrived in unexpected ways.

When Bangs’ Ambulance arrived on the scene, there at my door was Bobby Arnold’s daughter in uniform and performing like a professional First Responder when all I could see was that teenage girl with a black lab puppy I knew a decade earlier. She put her arm around me and told me she would help me. Her steady reassurance, physical strength at my side, led me away from the horror of the scene at hand.

My parents got in the car and drove from Minnesota as soon as I called them sometime in the middle of that night in shock. Amy and Tracy got on a plane and I think I picked them up at an airport, but I don’t really remember much except that Tracy took over the driving before we got out of Elmira city limits. My sister came from Germany where she left Eric, her husband, and my niece, Emma, and nephew, Ben, on their family vacation at US Customs to catch a flight in time for the funeral. I gave Tina my passwords and she took charge of letting everyone know what was going on and also commanding their respect to give me some time and space to grieve. Her kindness is just letting me cry while we worked together the greatest gift.

Help came  in the form of soups and stews and salads delivered to my doorstep without need for conversation from friends and neighbors. I remember an incredible apple pie that arrived on an October afternoon, delivered silently by a woman who I had met only once. She said nothing. She put it in my hands, smiled, and walked away. It was the best pie I ever ate. It was the first food I had tasted in almost a month.

Scrabble one afternoon with Gloria, one of the church ladies from Cayutaville Methodist. His other “moms” came calling: Joyce and Pat. There were others who came and went but most required conversation I couldn’t yet stomach. More time passed.

Most real help came from people I hardly knew and least expected. Months after the funeral was over and life went on as usual for everyone else, strangers became helpers on my journey back from the brink of death. These strangers weren’t estranged by Sam’s death. They were part of my community. While I didn’t know (and may not yet fully know) who I was without Sam, others in my community felt sure they knew who I am, was, would be, could be, should be. Before I could take all of that in, I needed to know myself who I might be in the suddenness of my unbearable grief. Strangers became a refuge.

The bank teller who didn’t say anything about my red puffy eyes. The couple in the laundromat with their kids playing bumper cars with the wired baskets on wheels who acted like nothing was out of the ordinary except the dryers all had names. Skip, who owns the laundromat in Tburg, opened the doors when my arms where full and all he’d say was have a nice day.The incredible librarians at the Ulysses Philomatic Society demonstrated to me some of the best and most elegant methods for being both silent and supportive.

Months stretch into years. Death is personal. Death is private. Like a fresh wound, you pull it in, cover it, protect it. To sit quietly and breathe is a disciplined practice for personal refuge from the pain of separation.

The gift to those who grieve is silence. No words suffice. Like the gently falling snow in this bleak midwinter. God ripped open a feather pillow and the down silently falls upon us.

Compassionate quiet.

Lux veritas lux

Lux veritas lux


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