Snow storm and Grief
Not only that - I've driven through the Rockies in winter - skidding through black ice, snow and sleet along the canyon roads. I've traveled enough times to Kansas City on New Years on a highway known for its treachery. And did I mention that whenever I have a speaking engagement in some small prairie town that there is bound to be a white-knuckle storm?
But when I was growing up in the Fraser Valley, a snow storm meant big mushy snowflakes falling quietly overnight, giving everyone an excuse to call it a holiday in the morning.
But there was one storm... that I as a young teen will never forget. It came around the time my grandfather died. My aunts and uncles had gathered to be with my grandmother in one of their homes - I'm not even sure where they had gathered. All I know is that my father came home restless. The house my grandparents moved into during their latter years of retirement had been abandoned when grandfather had been taken to the hospital -- and no one had gone to check on it. Now with the storm and the unusual freezing temperatures.... It was actually something like ten below -- unheard of during those years.... Everything really needed to be checked. The pipes might freeze.
But no sooner was he home, the roads were impassable. It was unthinkable to take the car.
He would have to walk. The storm had taken on new life....
He wandered around the house asking if anyone wanted to go with him to check the house. It was about a mile away.
My sisters were busy - they said.
He looked at me. I couldn't believe that he would settle for me....
"It will be a tough walk. I want someone with me," he explained simply.
I nodded - actually I was very excited.
We bundled up - like never before. My father oversaw everything I put on - and wasn't satisfied till I felt like a Michelin Tire Man.
Then we headed out.
It was dark.
The houses were spaced far apart.
But we put our heads down - and leaned into the storm. I was surprised how easy it was to keep up with my father... as we trudged through the snow drifts that were growing by the minute. He didn't seem to be in any hurry.
We didn't say a word as we walked. Actually there was no energy left to talk - no space. The wind too strong... our scarves too tight. All we could do was walk and try to see through our freezing, snow-laden eyelashes.
It took an eternity, but we finally arrived. The house seemed forlorn and empty.
Once in the house, Dad checked the furnace, the windows and the water heater. He wrapped some of the pipes with insulation as I cleaned the kitchen... and tidied the living room.
We worked in silence - and slowly I realized, it wasn't only the storm outside nor the state of the house that was bothering my father. It was that nagging sadness that this house exuded. The place was filled to the brim with treasures and memories and he now felt bereft. It would never be the same.
My grandfather was a big, heavy, handsome man whose presence always filled a room. He had this soft chuckle, those twinkling blue eyes and wit. He saw everything... even me.
My father, who always sighed when he worked, was sighing with a new sadness as he finally came back up to tell me that he was ready to go. Then on our way out, he stopped in front of the big living room clock. We called it a grandfather clock - with ornate, dark cherry wood, and a weight-driven pendulum that used to chime on the hour. It was my grandfather's first extravagant purchase in this new country because he wanted to remember the clock he had left behind in Russia. It brought him so much happiness.
But there it was, not moving. The hands sitting on the hour. It had stopped very close to the time Grandfather had died. The symbolism wasn't lost on my father -- as he stood there in silence, murmuring to himself. I didn't really catch what he was saying.... I just knew it was an intense moment. And that he sighed... again and again.
And then we were heading out the front door back home, the storm worsening. The wind pushing even harder. This time - I was worried. Once or twice dad would stop or stumble... and we slowed down so he could catch his breath.
Then about three houses from our place, next to my Uncle Cornie's lovely farm house, my father stopped, then threw off his hat and his scarf - heaving, trying to catch his breath.
I grabbed his arm....
He fought for breath....
The moment wasn't lost on me. This was the location of the farm of his oldest brother, who had just died from cancer. Now his father had just died of a massive heart attack. Grief on grief. Dad was losing those closest to him. I held onto him until he could get himself under control and then we walked the last part home.
There was no one to greet us. My sisters were either sleeping or preoccupied.
My father sank into a chair and just sat there, mouth open, breathing heavily.
I sat beside him for a long time - as he sighed and sighed again as if his heart would break -- and it was breaking.
I don't know how that evening ended. Did mom come home? Did dad go back to be with his grieving family? Those details are lost....
All I remember is the importance of that walk against the wind. The tense silence as we walked -- and that emotional gasp of a breaking heart when it all became too much.
As I'm scrolling through my life looking for significant life experiences, or defining memories that might help me understand the decision to forgive when our daughter was murdered... I don't know why I am writing this memory. It has no lasting significance - at least not on the outside.
But does it show why we exercised such self-control and determination during those first raw days - weeks. Had I learned that when death breaks over us we put on our armor of clothes, layers of insulation, and step into the storm and walk and walk and walk until our heart breaks openly and we are left gasping for breath? Had I learned that when going out into the storm it is important to take someone with you? Had I learned that the grandfather clock stops - time stops - and death does not go unnoticed, which is oddly comforting?
I don't know. I just know that the wicked winter weather - the bitter cold that descended on us those seven weeks of Candace's disappearance and murder - did not feel unfamiliar.
But this time I was the one gasping for air....
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott