white hot

This year, Glow in the Woods celebrates its fifth anniversary. I asked some of our previous regular contributors to reflect on their grief as time has progressed. I am so honored to welcome Janis here for a guest post. I cannot begin to express how much gratitude I had for Janis' writing, friendship, and compassion in the early years of my own grief. Her writing weaves the ancient ritual and art of grief into the fabric of her family's life. Today is the birthday of Ferdinand, Janis's third child, stillborn on July 29, 2007. You can read her work from Glow here. Janis blogs at Ferdinand's Gifts. We are so grateful to welcome her home.--Angie

One winter night, I watched as a silent snowflake surfaced in the dark velvet of the night. It seemed to have appeared from nowhere, most stealthily, as if it took to the tight black skin of the night, made a small, sharp clean slit and slipped through silently, violating the dark with its sudden white. And soon, more invisible slits, more flakes, and the inky blanket of night became awashed in white.

photo by gregw.

I then realized that I had just witnessed a metaphor for how grief can surface so furtively. Quiet, but powerful, it often takes your breath away.

This year, Ferdinand would have been six. Six years seem like very long ago on some days, beyond the edge of eternity, yet the visceral ache still feels like it only happened this morning. I still pivot around to face my twisted, screaming face like meeting a cloned ghost of myself.

Snowflakes will accumulate, melt and vaporize to some mysterious destination, but they never really vanish. Sooner or later, they return. This is how grief is like for me. It has a cycle of its own, a mind of its own.

I really have nothing new to add to this subject of grief. I merely join in the recurring chorus: It will get better. The pain will dull, but it will not go away. You will not forget, even if on some days it feels so. As you slowly find strength and courage to trudge forward, the myriad details of life will settle over your wound like soft fibers, cushioning the pain. But one day, someone or something- a tune, a glimpse, a word, a hue, a sigh- will trigger a windstorm that will blow away the layers upon layers of time, and reveal the wound afresh.

Every time I touch that painful spot again, I recoil. Sometimes it is because I have not thought about it for quite some time. Sometimes it is because I could not believe I had that pain inflicted upon me. Sometimes I am overcome with incredulity that somehow I had survived.

Here is the paradox, at least for me: the further I spiral out on my journey as a bereaved mother, the length of time I feel my grief feels shorter, but also more intense. I think, it’s because the longer you walk, the lonelier the journey. It is not a bitter loneliness, just loneliness. As the days go by, people tend to bring it up less, or not at all. Probably they are afraid to dig up an undesirable and agonizing past, or to dredge up painful memories. Even for myself, I bring up Ferdinand less and less with the girls. I will never wish for them to forget, but I also cannot bear to remember how young, and how grieved they were. They were so little then, and so sad, discombobulated, and intensely perturbed I felt that must be enough for a lifetime. I promised myself that I will never avoid the topic of Ferdinand, but I seldom demonstrated my grief to them, though I show them little snippets of writing, or small art pieces that I make in his memory, and they know I look for star-motif items to wear in honor and memory of our little star voyager.

These days, it feels a lot like “me and my grief” and that kind of grief burns hotter. According to the scale of color temperature, “red hot” belongs to the lowest burning temperatures; as the burning temperature increases, the color of the burning object changes from red to orange, yellow, white and finally bluish-white. That also accounts for the different colors of fireworks. My firework of grief is white-hot. The longer it smoldered within, the hotter it has gotten. Time did not smother it, nor tame it. It has changed in interesting ways, grief is a funny thing. I do sometimes wonder what pyrotechnic display I would achieve had I channeled my grief energy outward in other ways, but I have mainly chosen to be silent.

White-hot is not uncomfortable, just what it is right now.  Short periods of intense, shattering grief.  I feel him comfortably in my heart, and I still do not believe time is linear and therefore we must meet again. I do feel some regret for not harnessing that fire and doing more for the community. But hopefully, that will change.

How about you, did grieving turn you inward or has it inspired you to reach out to the world more? Do you feel your relationship to grief changes as time goes by?