My Inner Blizzard

It’s quiet here this afternoon, so quiet, after the big blizzard. My husband has taken our weekend guest into Boston before giving him a ride to the airport. My son is out with a friend, sledding. Fly high! I think. It’s New Year’s Day of the Year of the Snake—Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!—my son’s year. Last night, we celebrated with friends.

Beginnings and endings: I feel them keenly today.

"Fresh Pond Snow" © Martha Nichols

Two weeks ago, I sat with my mother when she died, my fingers resting on the dry crown of her head. Her lovely brown hair was still only flecked with gray. I held my brother’s hand as she took her last breath, and then we looked at each other, shocked.

Is that it?

The silence then, that’s what reminds me of the silence in the house now. She died hours after midnight, in California. Today the sky is blue, the sun almost painful as it glints off stalks of ice and snowy roof lines. But that silence was as full as this cloudless sky.

"Blue Sky After Blizzard"
© Martha Nichols

I remember the blue outside her bedroom window the day before, even as she struggled for breath and didn’t respond to us or to her favorite Joan Baez CD or to the songs we sang. Swing low, sweet chariot. Birds tussled on the backyard fence and in the shimmer of green leaves.

Yesterday, after the snow, I thought, I’ll take a walk. I’ll throw on my old cross-country skis, I’ll join the happy hordes snowshoeing and tramping down the roads that are normally overtaken by cars. I’ll be a good citizen, I’ll help shovel our sidewalk.

I didn’t leave the house.

At the height of the storm, I looked out our second-floor window at the snow blowing sideways, the power lines whipping like a jump rope with giants on either end. I should have been worried. I felt numb instead.

"Sun After Blizzard"
© Martha Nichols

People understand, of course. But it’s a burden when others look too sympathetic, when I feel required to explain. There is no explaining. Yet sometimes I find myself compulsively describing what happened, as if I’m counting up shiny little nuggets of colored glass, rattling them in my hand. See? See? Beautiful. Awful. Broken.

A few minutes ago, I fell asleep with a bar of sun across my bare legs and striped socks. I woke to a single bird chirping.

I remember: The birds on Mom’s backyard fence, the same bars of sun. Her face exposed by brightness, going transparent, the fragile bones poking through. The purplish shadows around her nose. The scent of roses, as I dabbed perfume on her temples—the fragrance I smelled when I woke the morning after she’d died. I thought the perfume still lingered on my fingers, then realized it was gone.

Now, that single bird, waking me from a restless sleep, into this first cold, sunny day of the Lunar New Year. I am awake, Mom.

"Nick's Altar to Grandma" © Martha Nichols

4 thoughts on “My Inner Blizzard

  1. A wise woman once said to me, “The presence of an absence is overwhelming.” There is no filling that absence and you are right to just sit with your grief.

  2. Thanks, Judith. You’re right, the absence can’t be filled by any conventional sentiments. It just is. I felt compelled to write this post yesterday because of the images in my head, all jumbled, not sense-making,exactly, but they suddenly had a clarity like poetry. They helped bring the feelings back. And it helped, too, when we later lit the candles at the altar my son had constructed for his grandmother.

  3. Martha,
    This is glorious. The quiet that permeates us after death brings with it that terrible sucking sensation of grief, when we feel as if we are being pulled under water, but also this sensation of the world cracking open, the light streaming in. We can only feel this if it’s quiet. Before then, all is noise and chaos as our emotions battle one another, as the “what ifs?” and the “whys” assault us.
    I am glad that you got to a moment of quiet.
    I know that you still have a long way to go, but I hope that the moments of quiet become more frequent, and that they bring with them more peace, less drowning. You’re moving through this right now. The only way through is through. But your friends will do whatever they can do to help you.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Lorraine, I’m glad I wrote this, too. I’ve been keeping a journal, certainly, but part of getting through grief for me—a writer—is letting the words flow. I can’t do it yet in any organized way, but this kind of writing here, on a blog, works for me. It’s semi-public; it’s a creative way to connect, and my mother would have appreciated the way creative work can take one to a new place.

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