I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.
Spring is the season of rebirth, a resuscitation of our souls – breathing again after short days and bitter nights. Spring offers up her gifts of warmth, surprise sunburns, running-in-shorts weather. The arrival of the land’s best parts, unfurling leaves, nudging heads of half-dead perennials, promised resurrections.
The first violet flowers of grape hyacinth, lilting daffodils, scattered tulips round out my yard’s color palette. Sprouts of peonies thrill me with anticipation. Profuse weeds, confusing dandelions (Is it a flower or a weed?), bountiful mint. Random herbs installed years ago ready to flavor salsa and salads. This majestic season awaiting notice and honor.
I celebrate spring’s arrival alongside grief. Spring is my most difficult of seasons, the intersection of personal life and death – catching me by surprise every single year.
When tragedy happens, a body holds the memory. The subconscious at work, processing with thorough precision what an aware mind will come to understand. The grief surfaces often as an underlying malaise, an undefinable awareness, like shapeless fog hovering and coloring the moments.
Each spring my A-HA! happens. I could mark it on the calendar to save myself the repeated discovery.
Spring is the literal intersection of life and death. My mother died in May of 1984, the age of 37. Her life claimed by complications resulting from a sudden brain aneurysm. I was almost 12, my three siblings stair-stepped behind me. As I skid into the mid-40s, my youngest child approaching the same age I was that May day, I see clearer the harsh injustice of untimely death. This should not be my story, nor should spring be forever marred.
But it is.
Spring is when my world shifted upon its axis, innocence shattered, hope suspended, a child’s belief ignored. Spring is when I was denied a miracle that I believed we all deserved. Spring is when life as I knew it ended – the door slammed – new beginnings of unexpected chapters.
In the manner of these things, you keep going. Groceries get purchased, laundry is sorted, beds are carelessly made, little brothers’ hair brushed, pets fed (or not), school and church attended. Time advances, marching on, regardless of the grieving. No time-outs.
I grew up early, age twelve the moment I owned responsibility and was needed. My cracked childhood sewn together with imperfect stitches. A young life informed by death, my new lens, through which I squinted for glimmers of light, rays of hope.
One might consider this a tragedy. It is. But if you open to grief and reach a truce with God for maybe five minutes one afternoon, the shadows might part for a moment. And then, down the path, the darkness hides longer and longer, light peeking in brighter and brighter, at more frequent intervals. What shows up is this beautiful and breathtaking crafting of circumstances and people and almost perfect moments and seeming coincidences and awe-inspiring wonder that bloom out of the soil of despair.
Death does inform my life. Death is my lens, through which I live. Every decision, death weighs in. This just is.
But the fear, the fear of death is what has to be managed and surrendered. In living well and living loved, free from fear, I am informed by death but I am not ruled by death. Fear of death cannot define my existence, my work in the world – as a mother, a wife, friend, daughter, sister, human. While death can be a comfortable companion, the fear of death must be set aside, resulting in a life lived in defiance.
Death must never have the final say. The brave souls who grieve, who open themselves up to feeling – they know the proud scars they bear, scars of strength and impossibility, scars of grace and holding on, scars of wonder and new life. Grieving is living. Grieving the loss of my mother, the loss of my life and my innocence allows me to live better into my space. The reality and truth of death is ever-present. And the emergence of spring, hammers in the acute truth of loss.
Spring will always be melancholy, DNA holding my burden. And while death informs most of my days – the new shoots, fragrant blossoms, and dandelion orbs each proclaim victory. A new life was born from the death of my mother, the piecing of tragedy’s fragments bore within me a pride I own that is mine. The fertility of the soil signals the fertility of my story, abundant growth emerging from hopeless shambles. A new life born, a person who has become as a result of the tyranny of death.
Spring holds the hope, the landscape resurrected, the nourishment of the soil, the proclamation of victory over the vestiges of frozen cold.
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)
O death, you’ve got nothing on me.