Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snow Changed My Perspective, at Least for a While

Snow days have made everything a bit different the last few days.

I've eaten too much, sat around the house by myself and probably not gotten enough exercise, even though I did get outside every day and do chores as well as ride my bike.

When I saw Ethan's name tattooed on my wrist while getting ready for bed Saturday night, I realized I had allowed the snow, which made everything outside my home address feel unreal, make my grief unreal as well.

Ethan preferred the winter to the summer, not that he ever spent a lot of time outdoors. He liked cold and never wore long sleeved shirts and seldom a "real" coat, even on the most bitter days. Snow days, however, would have worked their magic on him as well. When he was a boy he'd have been out in it as long as he was allowed, coming in with wet clothes and soaking feet to take a hot shower and warm up.

Yet for some reason I haven't felt sorrow that he missed this snow. The transformative blanket of the snow seems to have also covered my heart and insulated it from my grief.

Trying to uncover the reason, I think it's because dealing with the snow, the worry of digging out and knowing family had to be on the roads, forced me to live in the moment for a few days.

Perhaps this is how the women 100 years ago survived burying baby after baby. Could it have been that the struggle just to survive meant less time to dwell on the child who was no longer there? When you were trying to nurse the rest of the family through a measles outbreak, or make sure you had enough food to get through the winter without the convenience of a quick trip to the grocer, you surely didn't have time to fall apart for anything.

In the cemetery where Ethan is buried, there is a row of small, nearly identical tombstones bearing the names of dead children; children who died within a few weeks time during some disease outbreak and who were all the children of the same parents. Even before Ethan's body joined the bones of those lost children in the hard Virginia soil, I had wondered how their mother managed to keep going. Why weren't her bones resting beneath a tombstone bearing the same dates? How could she stand, time and time again, by those small holes in the ground and say goodbye to her babies without curling up and dying as well?

When we laid Ethan's body to rest, I remembered those children and the others at whose graves I stood throughout my whole life and wondered. I thought of Ethan's tombstone there among them and the questions his death at 23 might create in the generations to come. I thought of those other mothers, burying their children and wondered how they had found the strength to walk away from the graveyard and go on living.

I wonder if during the last few days I've come to understand their strength, if not to possess it. Although survival was never a question for me, the intense focus on the moment changed my perspective.

It was not that I didn't think of Ethan, or that I didn't sometimes feel sad for his loss, but my focus on the living strands of my family trying to stay warm and navigate through the snow, on my isolation, on concerns about others I cared about who had to be out in the weather, kept my attention. The vast well of grief that sometimes opens unexpectedly in my chest has been closed since the day the snow swept in five days ago, and that's a long time for me.

The state truck passed yesterday, although a neighbor's farm tractor, more accustomed to plowing red Carolina clay than pushing 18 inches of pristine snow, had opened the road and cleared my driveway on Friday. The ground is still white and the world not the view I'm used to seeing, so I have to wonder how my emotions will shift yet again when life returns to "normal."

However it changes, I hope I can remember to give my energy and my focus, my emotional stability, more to what is here and now, what is real instead of what could have been, what I have instead of what I've lost.

I know that will be a step in the journey and one I may have to repeat many times before it becomes habit. Still, I hope even when the sun shines and the red mud returns, that I can hold on to the memory of the peace of snow.

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