ANN VAN DE WALLE
“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” - Joan Chittister, Benedictine Sister of Erie
If grief were a month, it would be February.
Though the calendar assures us that the days are getting longer, we turn our faces towards a sky that often denies us the warmth and light of the sun for which we are longing. The days drag on ever so slowly, and the promise of spring feels impossibly far away. Hibernation — the pull to stay in, to shut down — is tempting.
But we know that what we are experiencing right now is not all that there is. Underneath the barren ground, root systems are growing, and seeds are being prepped for spring, actually needing the harsh winter conditions to soften their tough coat to enable germination when temperatures warm in the spring.
So, too, with grief.
These bleak days of February are not simply cold, gray days. They are not punishment for the delights of summer or the majesty of fall. They are simply what is, a natural cycle. And as part of this cycle, February has purpose and meaning beyond what we can see. February is essential for the growth that is to come, and these brutal days create the necessary conditions for the earth to bloom in a few short months.
Grief is much the same. The suffering of grief is not punishment for something we did, but rather love transformed by loss. Grief is the way our human experience works, as natural and cyclical (and inevitable) as the seasons. And much like February, grief has a purpose and meaning beyond what we can access in the present, even providing the essential conditions for growth.
As we move through February, let us hold fast to the faithful confidence that amidst the darkness, there is growth. Let us hold our grief with reverence for the love it represents. Let us offer ourselves and each other tenderness and care to sustain us through these bleak days. And let us move through this month together, faces turned toward the sun, ready to feel the warmth and light of her promised and certain return.
Note: This essay was inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem, “Heavy” which can be found in Thirst, a collection of poems written while she was grieving the loss of her partner of over 40 years. It is an excellent companion for a grieving soul. The poem can be found here: https://wordsfortheyear.com/2014/01/25/heavy/.
Another companion poem for enduring the long days of winter, Oliver’s “The Winter Wood Arrives,” can also be found in Thirst as well as here: https://lifeonthecutoff.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/from-thirst-by-mary-oliver/
Ann Van de Walle is a Graduate Social Work Intern at Cornerstone of Hope Cleveland