Both

In Michigan, we are lucky enough to enjoy all four seasons. Though some years, it seems, that we are hurried through one of them by Mother Nature’s insistence to hurry on to the next. Winter has always been my favorite season of the four. For two very different reasons.

First, I absolutely loved snow days when the kids were home from school. The outside world, and all its problems, didn’t matter for a while. There was nothing to worry about except what was right in front of us. The pure whiteness of the fresh snow begged the children to go outdoors. I’d spend about half an hour bundling them all up from head to toe then send them out the front door. Becca always seemed to come in before her brothers were ready. Little kids seem to endure cold temperatures much better than those who are older. When they did finally give in to the elements they’d come inside with sopping wet clothes and wind chapped cheeks. Becca would help them get out of their snow stuff as I made hot cocoa for all of us. Somehow, they would be sweaty under their clothing, their hair curly from the moisture and their hats, and they’d wrap their small hands around warm mugs. Sometimes, they even had whipped cream with peppermint sticks to stir their drink!

When they were very young . . . a nap usually followed an afternoon of outdoor fun. Little ones can endure the cold but when they get back into the warmth of indoors they tend to become drowsy. They’d fall into a deep sleep, bellies full of chocolate and faces sticky from the peppermint candy. Becca might take a nap, too. Or if I was really lucky she’d nestle up next to me on the couch and we’d watch a movie cuddled together under a blanket.

As they boys grew older, naps tended to fall away from favor, and I’d often be able to cajole them into a game or two. Our family has only two games we play together. Yahtzee, which I absolutely love . . . and Sorry! which generally ends in a fight because Gabriel hates how Matthew counts the squares by tapping his finger. And, I think Matthew might aggravate his brother on purpose. We STILL talk about it to this day!

Snow days, when we were all home together, were perfect every single time.

The second reason I prefer winter over any other season is because the outer world matches my inner self. Not icy, though I’ve been accused of that a few times in the past. But rather, I am not all sunny and happy and full of fun. Even before Becca’s death I wasn’t. Winter just matches me. It makes sense. Isolation isn’t seen as something bad when everyone is stuck inside of their homes. The beach isn’t full of throngs of people – every one of them having the best day of their lives. Michigan is beautiful in each season though summer here is the one that is talked about the most. It seems almost taboo to not be full of life during this time of the year. In winter, no one is insisting that you “come to the beach” or “come out on the boat” or “we’re having a campfire”. Fun things, yes, but hard for a bereaved mother to enjoy when all she can think of is her own child missing out.

Summer isn’t me. Winter is my time. The quiet solitude of the lake, beach, and forests. The coldness in the air is sharp. Images, in front of my eyes, seem clearer and more focused. I feel more alive. More at peace. Calm. This is the space for introspective and contemplative thinking. The darkness that comes as night falls earlier across the land lulls me into a dream like state. My thoughts have endless hours to chase each other and form themselves into something with weight. There is time to poke and prod and investigate what my soul is trying to tell me. The world, covered with a blanket of snow, is quiet enough for me to hear them. Still enough for me to listen. I find myself to be most creative during these coldest months of the year.

But, with the turn of the seasonal wheel, winter brings my most difficult days. The holidays are hard, for sure, but I have my own personal important dates mixed in with them, too. I’ve often said this time of year is like being in a boxing ring for me. Though I try to prepare, one hit after the other lands on me with stunning accuracy. Halloween marks the beginning of the match and Feb. 1 is the ringing of the final bell. Roughly every two and a half weeks during that period I am gut punched and I fall to my knees. Barely on my feet . . . another punch sends me to the mat.

Interestingly, my favorite season is also my most painful. I guess, in an odd way, this makes perfect sense. The deepest love I have in this life, that which I hold for my children, also causes me the most intense pain. With great light comes great darkness.

I guess that is the truth of the world. Without warmth would we know what cold actually felt like? Sorrow isn’t as deep when we don’t have the joy to measure it against. Life isn’t as precious unless we know the void left by losing it. We grieve as deeply as we love. It’s the price of being human.

So, here’s to winter. It blew in last night appearing to have every intention of staying for a while. I am joyful to know the world matches my soul again and will rejoice in the beauty it brings. The love I have for my deceased child will be matched with intense anguish that is brought to the surface during these icy days.

Beautifully painful. Or painfully beautiful.

I imagine . . . it’s both.

 

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Excavating Muskegon

I found another piece of my Becca.

A piece I knew I would stumble upon, sooner or later, it just happened to be sooner than expected. That’s ok, though. I wasn’t completely prepared to find it . . . but all of a sudden, there she was.

Muskegon holds very little history for my children and I. In fact, it’s the place that has the least amount of history along the Lake Michigan shoreline. There are other places, beaches mostly, that we spent much more time together. One in particular, Kirk Park, is the most difficult to think about visiting. My stomach clenches and my legs feel as if they can’t hold up my weight. I’m not ready to visit there, yet.

The knowledge that there is a soccer field, in Muskegon, that we’d been to has been in the back of my mind since moving here. I think a few weeks had passed before I remembered the name of the street we took to reach it happened to be the same one I drive down to get home every day. The field is about half a mile to the right of the first intersection I pass through when I exit the highway. In my memory, it wasn’t that close the freeway at all. In trying to figure it out I recalled that we had gotten lost and driven right past it and had to backtrack a good ways!

The sad thing is: I can not remember if Becca rode with us for the long drive or if she met us out there. I can’t call her to ask, either. That is one of the things I hate, among the thousands there are to hate, about her dying. I am the keeper of all the memories . . . and when I can not remember a detail, I fail. And she is erased a little more.

My car, at the time (and many other times in our life) wasn’t the most reliable, so the drive was stressful for me. I wonder if the boys could tell? But, I wanted to at least seem as if we were as carefree as all the other families seemed to be. I should have realized we had what really matters, love.. Anyway, I remember Becca and I sitting on the small section of bleachers next to the soccer field. Was it a hot day? Or a cold one? I can’t remember. The feeling of my daughter next to me, and my boys running around on the field, is what I can remember. I am happy I have not forgotten how she feels.

Becca was always over the top when it came to emotions. She was a very dramatic girl! Which grew into her being a very dramatic young woman. One of the things I both loved and admired about her!! She was not shy when it came to expressing her feelings! Happy or sad, you knew!. On that day, long ago, my girl – the boys big sister, jumped up and rushed down the bleachers. Before I knew it, she was running up and down the sidelines, jumping like a fool, and cheering for her brothers. She possessed an ability to behave ridiculously without any fear of what she might look like to others. Becca was wise. Wiser than me. I didn’t conquer that fear (and some days I haven’t at all) until after she’d been killed. What is there to fear? I’ve lived through the worst, haven’t I?

I imagine her brothers might have been a bit embarrassed, then. I wonder if they remember this day? Or how much their sister loved them. Could they tell they were everything to her? I hope they could. I hope they both realize that now. That girl would have done anything for them. And, I know, they would have done anything they could for her, too. The three of them loved each other more than I ever could have hoped for. She was theirs and they were hers and I am so blessed to have been a part of this family.

My boys have had days when I know they could have used a big sister. For advice. Or support. Maybe kick someone’s ass. (She would have done all three, happily.) I’ve had days when her words would have jerked me out of my low places and set me right again. Every day without her is hard, but, there are days that are nearly unbearable because of her absence.

Then there are the days when I find a bit of her and, for a moment, she’s next to me. Maybe my journey isn’t meant to be moving away from the explosive impact of her death. Instead, what if it’s about going forward to excavate the pieces of our life that landed far away?

When I was young, I wanted to be an archaeologist, digging up treasures from civilizations long gone from this earth. Like most children that dream about this career, we envision ourselves in a far away land, digging up the tomb of an ancient ruler filled with gold or finding proof of a people we weren’t sure existed. My younger self (the one who was still in consistent contact with my soul) possibly knew I would be searching out a different kind of treasure one day. Searching for and gathering my most precious memories.

Discovering this piece of Becca has allowed me to remember the joy of life in that girl! Her laughter is ringing through my head! The love the three of them felt for each other is warm as it surrounds me. The happiness we all had together, even though we didn’t have much materially, brings a smile to my face and new tears to my eyes. I found a perfect moment, again.

Carrying the weight of my dead child is exhausting. But, it’s a heaviness I can not put down. Yet, picking up pieces of her while I travel makes the weight a little lighter. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but I’m glad that those of you who don’t understand, don’t.

Maybe tomorrow I will be strong enough to walk up those bleachers from years ago. Or, maybe all I will be able to do is glance in that direction. Either way . . . I’ve found gold.

My Becca.