I lost both my mom and my grandma in the thick of winter. New York’s street corners were still covered by dirty snow and the toe of my boots kicked more than one pile of frozen ice as I felt the weight of grief settle into my body. It doesn’t matter that there was a 10 year difference between both losses, it mattered only that it all felt so foreign and familiar, at once.
In the tradition of loss and grief, the time immediately following their deaths wasn’t a lonely one. People packed into my childhood apartment to pray for nine nights and cry for just as many. They brought with them a warmth that sat next to grief’s frigid air, but was never able to fully supplant it.
With 17 years between me and my mom’s death, I now understand why.
The seasons still wrestle for attention in my life. There are bridge weeks in between winter and spring where the discomfort is palpable in my body and it always starts with the first full day of sunlight and warmer weather. A day that brings joy and hope for rebirth also brings a reminder of the years when I went from having my mom in the winter to not having her in the spring.
Those who have lost loved ones are thought of during the holiday season often. We acknowledge the pain they feel when gift giving holidays come around too – birthdays, graduations, weddings — but rarely do we (even those who live it personally) sit with the way minds and bodies can react to new seasons.
It was Portland’s first full day of sunshine that did it to me this year. I was sitting on our roofdeck with a smoothie and a prickling feeling in my gut that I couldn’t really pinpoint. Later I realized that it wasn’t my grief reminding me of what I had lost, it was my grief remembering the first time I realized I had actually lost it.
It sounds silly, but for a long time after you lose someone, it doesn’t feel like they’re actually gone. It’s why the “firsts” in that first year hurt so badly — they serve as detailed reminders of what you may well forget on other days. The numbness that came with my winter had thawed out by spring so with the change of the season, I felt everything viscerally for the first time. I haven’t stopped since.
My grief ebbs and flows like the seasons and over the years I’ve learned to hate its process less and less. My mom and grandma died 10 years apart, but with only a two month gap between their death anniversaries, January 10th and March 10th respectively. I see it as a bit of a blessing now because I only have to feel the pang of transitional seasons once a year for them both.
If I sat down a friend who hasn’t lost someone close to them and explained the nuance of how a day with more sun can make you feel more grey, I know it’d be hard to grasp. It’s like describing an invisibility cloak only you can see, for as descriptive as you are, it’ll still be hard to hold by someone else.
This is how I feel about spring and the changing of seasons.