Suzanne Bossert

In this winter of our discontent, with a blitz of Boston blizzards rendering the whole world a frozen still-life, I am struck by the singular texture of our collective lamentations poured out on social media...

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In this winter of our discontent, with a blitz of Boston blizzards rendering the whole world a frozen still-life, I am struck by the singular texture of our collective lamentations poured out on social media. All of New England, it seems, can’t stop posting photos of impossibly long icicles and towering snow drifts. After a while, it’s easy to become numb to the severity of this snow.

In some ways our incessant commentary on this historic weather mirrors the dullness of life in a season of grief or spiritual wilderness. To the person experiencing it, loss and dislocation feels urgent and all-encompassing, worthy of post after post of distress. I mourn my mother in her passing–see how buried I am! See how dangerous the ice dams are,how brutal the wind, how impossible the promise of spring!  At some point, I feel guilty over my ruminations of death, my bleats of incredulous sadness blending inexorably with the gray skies into a monochrome landscape.  At what point does the timer ding, indicating enough already? What is the correct calculus, the acceptable actuary table of wilderness wandering or bereavement? What is the tolerance for lamentation, is there a high water mark beyond which sandbags must be stacked to block further damage?  

Perhaps so, and with good reason; and yet, it must be borne. The neighborhood dogs limp pitifully on the salty roads. Is there no end to it?

Grief is a wildly uncontrollable state, universal and unavoidable, yet unique every time.  It can slice cleanly through or tear the heart raggedly. Either way, there is a loss of what once was. I recently learned of a Portuguese word, “saudade,” which has no direct English translation. It roughly describes a state of profound yearning for something or someone who will never return. And in the Native American culture, there is something called “ghost sickness,” in which the loss of a loved one consumes a survivor, a “haunting” that leads to physical manifestations such as weakness, confusion, loss of appetite, sleep disruption, and even feelings of suffocation. It is the most common thing in human existence: people die. Mothers die. Why is it so hard to accept that I cannotdo anything to change it, I cannot do anything to return to a time on planet Earth when she was alive and breathing. And sadly, it appears as though I cannot return to who I myself was before either. 

Last month, my mother’s birthday came and went. How to observe what was once a happy anniversary? My heart felt like a trash-can fire propped against a chain-link fence: rustily-lit, but not throwing off enough warmth to ease the cold of ache. I tried to rouse myself by getting a birthday cake . . a tangible attempt to keep concrete the now irrevocably ephemeral. I remember standing before the bakery refrigerator case like a mannequin, staring dully at my options: icing in the shape of balloons, flowers, or Dora the Explorer? Cheerful muzak tinkled in the background as I realized the absurdity of my purchase. Finally, I chose the balloons, imagining them filled with helium, capable of lifting me out of this refractory despair, carrying me up higher and higher beyond the snow dunes, out beyond the jet stream of arctic air to a place of warm promise and new life……..God’s eternal spring, where the green blade riseth, as the old hymn goes. Resurrection when it’s time, right on time.

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