T.S. Eliot began his poem The Waste Land,
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Winter allows us to safely hide for a time, to use the inclement weather, the dark days, the long nights, as an excuse to close and cover the doors and windows and enclose ourselves in a security of our own creation that includes only the things we want in our reality and blocks the things we don’t. But winter will pass as surely as the sun rises and sets each day, spring will arrive with longer days, warmer temperatures and the exuberant rebirth of the world around us from that winter landscape, and we are faced with a return to that world outside of our own warm cocoon.
That return can be painful as we hold fast in the safe world we created from our carefully chosen memories, but the turn of the world around us pulls on us to open the doors, to let in the sunshine and smell the scents of flowers, soil, petrichor.
I first read this poem at a time when I was emerging from my own winter as a freshman in college, and even though time has changed me, and has changed my interpretations of many other things I read at that time, this is one passage that still strikes me with its truth each time I read the lines.
We can take this as an analogy with grief, both the grieving process in any season and the fact that the natural limiting of the winter season itself often lets us hold back on grieving, while spring opens us up to resume.
Spring arrives whether we want it to or not. Seeing green sprout from the soil and trees, hearing spring birds sing, smelling scents on the breeze, feeling the breeze on your skin so long covered by layers, all the ways the spring season touches all our senses can be jarring and painful if for some reason we don’t want to move forward with the change. The sensual changes in spring are so concentrated that they often give us the clearest indication of all the seasons that the season has changed, another year has come around, time has indeed passed even though in the dark nights of winter we could ignore it.
And in any season, we do tend to lock ourselves into our own colorless and limited reality when grieving, but if we are to heal we must face the return of spring and participate, though with the stirring of desire to change and move forward can we feel we betray the memories we’ve worked so hard to hold onto.
The flowers in my woodland and memorial garden come about in such quick succession and then suddenly the bleeding heart’s bright green sprouts have pushed aside the leaves, and just as quickly the pretty pink and white purses are lined up along an arching stem over the sleeping cat statue that guards the spot where I’ve mixed my beloved felines’ cremains with the soil. The bleeding heart, in good part because of its name and symbolic nature, brings the quick succession of spring changes to an end. All those that follow seem to come more slowly.
I’ve gone a few years with no losses, unusual, but watching the daffodils sprout and the forsythia and periwinkle bloom don’t make me dread to see the emergence of the bleeding heart’s first bright green leaves because I’m not ready, I just can’t accept that spring has come and one I loved so much isn’t with me any more. Some years I studiously avoid that area completely even while celebrating the other blooms in my gardens. Some years the number who I’ve placed there makes me want the return to come more slowly, so I have time to remember them all in their own time, and not all at once. I always wonder who will be next, and when, and how, and my mind wanders through my current household of healthy, loving cats.
This year I’ve been remembering Cookie, especially, remembering her following me around the yard, lying down to supervise planting or weeding, always happy to be with me. I also remember Namir, and that special time just the three of us spent together out in the yard for a few years. Spring always brings memories of my cats outside with me, and this year and am remembering them fondly. Perhaps their spirits are returning.
But each year I gather pace with the season and allow the return to ease me along toward the open heart of summer.
May you have a gentle transition for any grief you are carrying from winter to spring.
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