04 August 2013

Light at the end of the summertime grief tunnel

Summertime grief looks different to me than spring grief. Summertime grief is my sabbatical, my respite from most things grief-filled. It is my light at the end of the tunnel.

I took the picture above about three weeks ago, during a writer's retreat—eight bliss-filled days at Fort Worden Park in Port Townsend. Eight days of reading, writing and critiquing other writer's work. Eight days on the Sound with the blue water stretched out before me on the bluff and this photograph at Artillery Hill in Fort Worden.

Eight days to reflect, to revise, to create, to explore.

Inevitably my writing turns to grief. Whether it’s the grief for my daughter, the grief for my father or the two of them together inextricably linked no matter how different each of the griefs actually are.

My childhood grief was of a different sort. My childhood grief began on a dark late January day when my father died. It began with a complicated, misunderstood, misdirected kind of grief that was hardly understood or explored in the 1980s when people still died mostly in hospitals, often alone, and children were discouraged from going to them even for daytime visitations. It occurred during a time in my childhood when I wasn’t equipped with the right kind of questions, and no one was encouraged to otherwise explore alternative methods for dealing with a young child’s grief.

So that grief of my childhood was mostly unexplored, under-developed, uninformed.

Then Grace died thirty years later. And the only thing I was certain about was that our family would not grieve in the same manner of my childhood. Grief would not be hidden. Grief would not be tucked away. Grief would not be buried with our daughter.

Instead, grief was and is out on the table—raw, changing, and filled with surprises of its own.

Now, ten years later, most of my writing around Grace’s grief takes place in the months of May and June. Most of my writing around Grace’s grief takes place in the lonely nights and early mornings of my ruminations.

Then, just like that, sometime in early June, it disappears again, tucked away to shift and lean toward something new that arises the following year.

In the early days, grief was raw even in the summer months. Grief was building toward the due date, when the real birth was supposed to happen in July. And so the month of June was counting weeks until the due date.

But in the later years, grief no longer presents itself the same way. Grief melts back into my bones and tucks itself away—far enough that most people hardly notice, but close enough that when I wake up each morning, Grace still presents herself to me in ways that are surprising.

Grief in the summertime is closer, more intimate, more private.

Grief in the summertime provides me the space to write about and explore other topics.

Grief in the summertime allows me to breathe. And sometimes in those breaths, other surprising kinds of feelings emerge.

And once again, I am changed by all things Grace.