What it says

March, march, march–how do you do it? Just as the daffodils poke their noses through the soil, a return to winter, heavy snow. Not that it isn’t beautiful–bright crystals shining on the roof, crystals on the back deck so intricately lit by morning sun I don’t want the dog to walk on them (but walk on them she does). I know if I got close enough today each microcosm of snow, each inimitable structure could mesmerize me for a long moment, pull me sharply into the present. But how hard it is sometimes to allow this kind of immersion, to let myself be pulled out of my mind with its lists and calibrations into that sharp, beautiful presence that abounds within time (not, I am sure, outside of it).

In March, I resist morbidity, moroseness (though these are my tendencies). The whole month leads itself toward the thought of my dad, who died long long ago, at the end of this month. In March that year, nearly 25 years ago now, his mother died, his aunt died, then he died–all in the span of a few weeks. The reports came to me and I accepted each of them, calibrating and re-calibrating my universe. That March, I learned what could be accommodated, what couldn’t (not then, not yet). Death at a distance could be. Death on the living room couch, not so much. It has taken me a lifetime to accommodate that pain.

My sister in law’s best friend lost her mom to cancer last week. That’s what got Dad too, and many years later, my mom. So essential to grieve, to grieve, to go on grieving. To do the work that grieving is. Not to stop, or believe it’s over. To understand that grief cycles, like snow, shocks us awake with the pain of its imminence. And, like snow, melts–yes. But what melts does not disappear. It simply changes form.

Each March, I go into it, I get close to it again. It took me years to understand that I did this. Then I woke up to the cycle, my body’s way of honouring what it knew. But all these years past his death, I think there are other things to honour this time of year, too. So I’m trying to count them up, notice them. Trying this month to let joy rise through the soil, despite the snow.

This morning, I’m sitting by a window looking out to snow, blue sky. A blue plate at my elbow with my dad’s favourite breakfast–whole grain toast, brown sugar, cinnamon, and sliced strawberries (though the strawberries would have come from our garden in July not from a supermarket in March). So much joy in these small memories, these tiny replications, retrievals, of what was.

We need the joy that comes with the thaw. We need the thaw–our hearts were made to thaw, freeze, thaw again. And there isn’t an endpoint: it isn’t freeze or thaw as a destination. Grief is something we cycle through. Once we touch it, it is with us. But joy is with us too. It, too, surprises us with its sudden, undeniable presence. The trick is to let each thing inhabit you for a while, to practice the kind of acceptance we train for when snow falls on daffodils–the cancer flower, by the way, a symbol of hope, of possibility.

But you can’t force spring; it just happens. So I’m trying, too, to sit with the weight of snow and let it settle, let it not melt, not yet. Trying to sit with my own sorrow, and not my own.

I rehearse for myself the joys of March. My friend Jenn was born. My niece was born. St. Patrick died this month too and I celebrate by eating and drinking too much and remembering Dad in his green bow tie, his wide smile, thick brown beard with glints of red. As my own daughter knows–as all children know–anything that glints or sparkles (a rogue red hair in a brown beard, a crystalline snowflake on a winter/spring roof) is a gift–and also a clue, a reminder. It is a call from this beautiful world to our distracted minds, hearts. It says, get closer. It says, get down on your knees, examine the snow.

It says, the thaw is not the point. Even the daffodils are not the point. It says, not later.

It says, now, now, now.


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