Reconciling Grief: Choosing Proper Conditions

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Winters are long in Minnesota.  Some years ago, however, winter seemed especially long.  I grew weary of its icy temperatures, sidewalks, and streets.  According to the calendar, spring had come over a month ago, but I was not convinced that it had—or that it would.

Then one day in May, temperatures climbed and the sun beamed.  The first real spring day had arrived!  As I looked around outdoors, I noticed an almost magical transformation around me: hosta plants poking through our backyard soil, buds forming on our red maple tree, and multi-colored tulips adorning neighborhood yards.

At last spring had broken through winter’s grasp!  But spring had been there all along, waiting, poised on the verge of breaking through winter’s hold.  Springtime life could not blossom until the proper conditions of warm temperatures and radiant sunshine had appeared.

When we grieve, we may wonder if we will ever feel good again.  Our grief, like winter, may linger long and become tiresome.  Though our grief will last as long as it needs to, we can facilitate the process toward new life by choosing “proper conditions.”  We too can choose a warm, nurturing climate: a safe, supportive setting of love, compassion, and understanding.

And perhaps we can offer these proper conditions to others—in an encouraging word or a listening ear—and assist them in emerging from their soul’s winter bleakness into new springtime life.

Red Maple 1
Red Maple tree in Minnesota backyard. Photo JStanton


Befriending Winter Darkness

Thick clouds and gentle rain fell over Charleston yesterday morning.  Though it prevented my early morning run, I felt relaxed and content as I engaged in quieter indoor activities instead.  The damp, bleak environment outside reminded me of so many dark days of winters past, when being indoors and doing quiet things was the mode of the day.  And it won’t be long now until winter will officially be with us.  Nudging us into the warmth of the indoors, the deep darkness of winter invites us to spend more time in quiet activities, to slow down and listen, to become more fully conscious.

It is that season of the year when we have the opportunity to hunker down, perhaps light a fire, brew a cup of tea, and befriend–even embrace–the darkness, where so much is given birth.  It is here in the quiet spaces of our lives that our spirit can deepen and where the light of hope, compassion, and peace can flower and grow.

Poet May Sarton (1912-1995) says it best:

Help us to be the always hopeful

gardeners of the spirit

who know that without darkness

nothing comes to birth

as without light

nothing flowers.





Coping with Grief during the Holidays

When we’ve suffered a significant loss, special days and holidays may be even more difficult. It’s a tall order to feel like celebrating when we’re deeply saddened, working through our feelings, and tending to financial details.  We may feel isolated and alone, wondering if anyone has had the same experience of grief that we are currently experiencing.

Suggestions to Help Manage the Holidays

During these holiday months, memories may emerge without warning. We recall how our loved one did things, what they liked or disliked, and what role they fulfilled during these special days. Here are a few thoughts to help manage these special days.

  • Come as you are.  Remember that you are grieving and you will experience this season than you have ever before.
  • Ask yourself:  What do I need at this time? How do I want the holidays to be?  For example, do you need more quiet this year?  Do you wish to enjoy just one event and let the rest go?  Do you want to experience a heightened sense of hope for your future?  Take time to reflect on these questions.
  • Expect contradictory feelings.  You may miss your loved one and look forward to attending a holiday event with friends.
  • Plan ahead.  If you do holiday shopping, make a list ahead of time and then shop when you’re having a good day.
  • Rework cherished traditions.  Be creative with your traditions.  Adapt them to fit your current needs.  For example, visit a soup kitchen or find someone who won’t receive a visitor.
  • Be aware of expectations.  If you feel pressured to celebrate the way you always have, ask yourself:  Whose expectations are these, mine or someone else’s?  Sometimes our own expectations make the pain more acute.  Be realistic about what you can do.  If others are putting expectations on you, simply say, “Not this year.”  You can always return to old traditions another year.
  • Express your feelings.  Your grief won’t go away because it’s the holiday season.  Find a trustworthy person to share your feelings with.
  • Let the spiritual dimension of the holidays speak to you.  Pray, meditate, or simply sit in a room that brings you comfort and beauty.

A Few Practical Ideas for the Holiday Journey

  • Play music that is comforting and meaningful to you.
  • Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  • Create a quilt, scrapbook, poem, prose, picture, or collage using colors, symbols, or images that remind you of your loss.
  • Have a moment of silence at the holiday table as a toast to honor your loved one.
  • Write a poem about your loved one and read it during a holiday ritual.
  • Play your loved one’s favorite game or music.
  • Don’t be afraid to have fun.  Laughter and joy are not disrespectful.  Remember that many bereaved persons do enjoy the holidays again.
  • Plan for after the holidays.

May your upcoming days be healing.

St. Kates Picture 2
St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Photo JStanton.


Part Three: What Did I Notice Today?

I could not have imagined it.

This week I visited the acclaimed Angel Oak, a Live Oak Tree located on Johns Island, not far from our home.  We had heard of its reputation, as had other visitors there, but I was not expecting the power of its beauty, uniqueness, and size.

I could not take in its powerful presence right away.  I needed to spend time with it and let it draw me in, as it did ever so gently, almost imperceptibly.  I needed to move slowly around its thick, sprawling branches, drooping low, then resting on the ground, then arising again toward the sky.

One woman, standing not far from me, said, “It’s kind of holy.”  And she was right.  Its silent, powerful, and authoritative presence spoke to me, and as I left the grounds, a sense of peace accompanied me.

Angel Oak 2Angel Oak 1Angel Oak 4Angel Oak 10



We Made It!

These three words–“WE MADE IT”–says it all!

After planning a retirement move from Minnesota to South Carolina for over a year, our dream of living closer to our son and being active outdoors throughout the year was materialized this past month.  On July 24 (our 44th wedding anniversary), we closed on our newly built house in Charleston.

It’s been a busy, if not hectic month, to say the least.  Those of you who have experienced a move, which is probably most of you, know the extent of work and planning that goes into such a process.  And packing and lifting and moving and stuffing boxes are only part of the experience.  There’s the emotional aspect as well.  Our exhaustion and excitement sometimes gave way to moments of homesickness, of missing Minnesota, where we lived so many years and made so many memories.

And now, after being in our new house in Charleston two and a half weeks, we are able to slow down a bit. Though not everything is put away, hung, or organized, I was able to take some time this morning to download pictures of our moving process. Though I try to stay away from simplistic cliches, I do believe that in this case pictures are worth a thousand words.  Hence, here are some pictures of our move that may well tell the story best.  Enjoy!

Our home of 22 years in Minneapolis
Our home of 22 years in Minneapolis
Our house sold in a few days.
Our house sold in a few days.
Boxes accumulated right to the very last day!
Boxes accumulate right to the very last day!

Rick is hard at work

And don't forget the garage!
And don’t forget the garage!
The movers arrive to our front door.
The movers arrive to our front door.
Four men (one unseen) move the Steinway.  This was our biggest worry.
Four men (one unseen) move the Steinway. This was our biggest worry.
The car is jam-packed and ready to start a long journey.
The car is jam-packed and ready to start a long journey.
Every night we loaded up a cart and carried into our hotel room.  Thank goodness for wheels!
Every night we loaded up a cart and carried into our hotel room. Thank goodness for wheels!
Pausing to reflect in the Smoky Mountains.
Pausing to reflect in the Smoky Mountains.
We stayed in downtown Charleston a few nights before closing on our house.  What a great view!
We stayed in downtown Charleston a few nights before closing on our house. What a great view!
We made it to our new home, grateful and exhausted. And then...
We made it to our new home! And then…
We do it all over again!
We do it all over again!