By Lori Miller
It is clearly winter. The landscape outside my window this morning is barren, and the air is choked with dark fog. The land is bare and brown, dry and cold, and the tree branches, brittle and stark, strain against the malicious bitter wind that threatens their very existence. It is clearly winter, and it is strangely fitting. It is clearly winter, and it is a bleak reflection of the reality of grief.
Grief is quite honestly the harshest winter. The mundane tasks of daily living become magnified, and the joys and delights of humanity once soft and blurred suddenly become sharp and jagged. While winter will most certainly come to an end as one season gently slips into another, grief makes no such promise.
It is clearly winter and the earth is visually asleep. Nature stops growing and is quite simply at rest and the need for motion and doing is stilled and quiet and shifts into just being. The flowers are gone from our porch fronts, the grass is dry and brown often blanketed by a thin veil of frost, and the branches of the trees, void of leaves, stand menacing and bare outside of our windows. Grief is the harshest winter. It forces those it inhabits into a stilled reality. Our striving is quickly transformed into simply being because quite often that is all we are able to do. Life as we have known it simply disappears in the blink of an eye.
On a bitter and barren December morning two years ago now, the shrill ring of the telephone in the stillness of night ushered my children and I into winter with the news that their father, who, despite our divorce, was the man I had at one time loved the most, was gone. At 44 years of age, his heart stopped beating. Grief, unwelcome and uninvited, especially for my sweet children, became our season. The words above were written just weeks after this significant loss, and as I return to them I am reminded of the days when loss was new. What I know today, however, is that buried in that season was the gift of grief. There was a gentle nudge of grace, the suggestion to sit in the arms of a loving God with the knowledge that out of pain something new will be born. I can say with absolute certainty in this very moment that the painful seasons in our lives do not overshadow the gift of the exceptional seasons to come.
Anniversary dates in grief are significant. They mark the passage of time on the road of loss and they are often met with a sense of dread. They are piercing reminders of our vulnerability to grief, the cost of loving and the breaking of a human heart. The process of mourning is a lifetime journey. Losses never entirely fade. There is a subtle softening of pain, but normalcy does not mean that loss is forgotten. Time doesn’t still the waves of grief, it just spaces them out as we build bridges that will ensure our forward movement. It makes them unpredictable and harder to talk about as other people turn in discomfort at our admission of those still tender places. Each year, as “that day” approaches, I find myself looking back to survey the full cycle of seasons. The bitter chill of winter and the unpredictability of spring, the sweet stillness of summer and the fullness of fall, all indications of my journey – not an easy one, but a meaningful one.
Loss has been a catalyst, of sorts, for me, the very thing that shook me awake and pointedly reminded me of my own dreams. It has been an awakening to the need to be in courageous pursuit of that which sets my soul on fire. This isn’t a journey that I wanted or imagined. I never wished to create art from death or prose from pain, but nothing has brought about more healing than lending my hands to create something whole from that which was broken.
I expect quiet measures of time when pain slips in stealthily to steal the spotlight, but I have learned to lean into the pain because resisting only feeds the suffering. I now fight the urge to curl into myself to soothe the ache in my soul, instead choosing to stretch my arms wide and open my hands to embrace the gift of growth in grief. It takes imposing courage and heart to endure grief day after day, season after season, but with each moment and milestone, the grace of an almighty God far exceeds the pain of denial. In the gentle hammock hung between what I know and what I feel is the invitation of a creative Creator to deconstruct my journey, I see that God often does his most profound work in the most barren and desolate seasons.
Nothing about loss is pretty. It is messy, painful, hard and real. But the vulnerability it invites might just be the strengthening of a soul purposed for something beautiful. This is what I know. I am not a broken heart, sharp and fragile. I am not this year or last. I am not the days that followed that night – and I am stronger for the weight I am called to bear. I am a story written as life unfolds and seasons change. And on those days when the leaves turn to hues of brown sugar cinnamon and ginger and the landscape slowly melts from summer cotton into winter fleece, the edges of grief are being transformed by an all sufficient God. They are being smoothed and rounded because surely the delight of harvest belongs to those who withstand the seed of sowing. Tucked within the embrace of loss is the delicate juxtaposition of sumptuous beauty in the falling apart of life, for I have seen God the Healer’s breathtaking ability to paint beauty out of dying. My soul has been engaged and refined in its encounters with adversity and chaos. The cracks and crevices quite simply make room for the Light of the World to abide.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”
Major Lori Miller is the Assistant Divisional Secretary for Women’s Ministry and the Secretary for Community Care in Kentucky-Tennessee Division. The mother of five, she recently completed her Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership at Trevecca Nazarene University.