Grief has been walking alongside our family for almost ten months now, if you don't count the couple of months before Philip died when I was worried sick about him dying. That would make me at one year.
I grieved before in my life. Grieved the loss of friends. Of family members. Of friendships. Grieved the hardships suffered by other people in far away countries.
With the onset of the holiday season it seems like grief has decided that walking alongside is not nearly intimate enough. There are moments when it feels like grief is wrapping itself around my shoulders like a shawl. A necessary shawl that I need to wear right now, but not necessarily very playful or fashionable.
For example, Sunday morning church we sang the hymn "What Child is This." I began to cry with no real understanding. All of a sudden I remembered that was one of Philip's favorite Christmas hymns. My body knew the grief before my mind did. It wasn't fun to be crying once again in church.
I didn't feel like talking to anyone at church. Someone slipped me a gift for our family, tucked in an envelope. I opened it up in the truck as we prepared to leave for lunch and wept. The kindness and generosity of others is so overwhelming. Occasionally pain is overwhelming.
We had a serendipitous reunion with some of my and Philip's old seminary friends at lunch. They were passing through on I-81 and bothered to call. What a gift to reminisce with old friends. Friends who knew us in early marriage days, pre-diapers. We prayed for their baby as she dealt with a life threatening illness. I can still remember the shock as we heard the news. We shared holidays when it was too far to travel. Our kids shared birthday parties and tea parties and army men and legos. They even have a cat, Henry, who is our cat, Zacheus's child from years and years ago.
Now the kids are tall. We hadn't seen them for eight years or so. They wept with me by phone when they got the news about Philip. For some reason it was a true comfort to share the day with them on Sunday and weep together in person, even as we laughed. It was so comforting to have other friends be willing to join me and get all wrapped up in that painful black shawl of grief for a brief moment. Maybe Atlanta isn't that far away after all.
The girls had their piano recital the other evening. It was so lovely to hear them play. And made me sad to think that Philip wasn't sitting there beside me, humming along to the songs we would both have memorized, due to the girls' diligent practice. Looking at their tall backs and long hair, young ladies, made me miss him all the more, not being able to share the joys of parenting with him. It didn't help much when our amazing piano teacher concluded the program with a beautiful rendition of "It's Christmas Time Again" by Vince Guaraldi, one of our favorite songs of the season.
Life isn't all depressing or black. But it does seem like the waves of grief come a bit more frequently now that the work season has slowed down. The kids are sad. I had to make an executive decision to pause farmer's marketing for a few weeks to have enough energy to manage the farm, deal with grief, work on business paperwork, Christmas stuff and most importantly to have enough reserve to be available for the children who are missing their daddy very much right now and don't quite know what to do with the myriad of emotions that can bombard one all at the same time.
That decision gave me great relief, but also feelings of guilt. Trying to get over it, knowing that there is plenty of work to be done around here to keep me from getting lazy.
And the kids and I have started a new book this week. At the Back of the North Wind, by George McDonald. Perfect book to read as we listen to the howling wind sweeping through our valley. The weather forecast predicts warmer temperatures by weekend. Instead of farmer's market, I am hoping we will be able to butcher 40 or more roosters and old hens.
At some point we will decorate a christmas tree. Right now it is all we can do to occasionally light the advent candles at dinner. I keep reminding myself that all the professionals and non-professionals who have written about suffering and grief suggest that the only way to heal from grief is to grieve. You would think that at this point it wouldn't hurt quite so badly, but frankly, at moments, it is every bit as bad as it was a few months ago. Or at least that is my perception at the moment.
Thankfully the sweet moments continue to temper the sad ones. Unbelievably generous gifts from friends. Hugs and shared tears. Holiday flavors and meals with the kids. Yesterday my sweetest moment of the day was when Nora saw me prepare brussel sprouts to go with our supper. She said they were the cutest little vegetable she had ever seen. We cut them in half, sauteed them in a little coconut oil, added some cream and cheese at the end to make a sauce. I portioned out a few for her then added some curry powder for the rest of us. That along with pork loin roast, homemade sweet potato fries, baked in the oven, made for a feast. A dinner together with my children, even with the fussiness, even with the store bought meat and vegetables, was a sweet moment for me.
PS the next sweetest moment of my day yesterday was the moment I saw what I believe was Coco's little baby, kicking his or her mama in the flank. When will that little baby get here? End of January? Some new babies will mean lots of extra work, but lots of extra life as well.