Reflections on 2021: One Long Winter
“We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.” – Katharine May, ‘Wintering’
In 2020 the onset of the now very familiar pandemic stripped back our lives. Everyone had to learn new rhythms as we shuffled from lockdown to lockdown and lived in new uncertain times.
2021 was a different kind of year for me: If 2020 washed away the blossom of the Spring of my life then the events of 2021 whipped away the leaves left on my branches. This dramatic Narnia-like plunge into a season of ‘wintering’ has been a very hidden and private journey though. I realise, as I come to this blog, I have barely written here all year. I realise that though I have plenty of words I can write in my daily work I am struggling to find the right ones to sum up this year that has passed.
Passed it has. Past and passed, gone and behind, yet still sticking in my gut a heavy and unwelcome stone. 2021 was a year of grief in a way I had not experienced grief before. This was the year – and will always be the year – my beloved father left us.
While there is much else to reflect on in 2021 – there have been beautiful days full of laughter; achievements and milestones reached; new beginnings and courses of learning that have taken me deeper into my understanding of my faith and the world around us; there has been COP26; there has been days in the healing Indian Ocean chasing turtles. There has been so much joy. But every second of that joy is built around the sudden and often jolting way I remember that my dad is gone.
In my garden some tall plants grow. My dad planted them in the Spring before he died. They still stand strong and tall. In my kitchen my dad’s fish tank now sits on my worktop. The fish that came in that tank in a unadvisedly haphazard transfer from one house to another are all still swimming about. I watch the tank promising my dad in my head that I will keep those fish alive forever. This is a stupid promise and unless the tank is imbued with magic water not one I can keep. I have my dad’s lamp safely tucked away ready to one day stand in my spare room and to cast a light – for now it is painful to look at.
This grief wasn’t an invited guest but it has been a visitor I have strangely embraced. I have, since 21 May 2021, automatically accepted that in the midst of the aching sadness there is a chance to love and learn. In 2021 I have felt the kind of acceptance of myself and of the world around me I have never, ever felt before and I think it has been the grief washing away all the nonsense we spend much of our human lives worrying about. Grief is sharp in it’s early days and it reminds you what matters. Grief came in and blasted open the doors but with that came fresh air and the ability to breathe.
My dad was a source of great calm. A quiet man and a humble man. A man I could also have hour long conversations with about the world in a way I couldn’t with anyone else in my family. He and I thought in the same way. Now those conversations are me whispering into the wind, “What do you think dad?” I won’t get a reply. But I am so grateful that for 39 years of my life I did have a dad who listened to me. I am grateful I had a dad who was proud of me. I am grateful that I had so many chances to unpick the way the world works with a man who was so thoughtful and generous. I am grateful he was my father.
So what have I learnt in 2021? What has grief schooled me in so far?
Death is the most poignant reminder of what it means to be alive and to love. That is what I am taking from this year. The clocks stopped for a moment on 21 May 2021 in the middle of the night as I kissed my dad goodbye in a hospital room in a city five hours away from home. But the world kept turning. Dad is still with me all the time. Not in a cliched greeting-card way, but in everything I do because he was and always will be part of what makes me who I am. And I am alive and I don’t want to waste a second of this very precious life we all get.
So thank you 2021 for the reminder that life is not linear. It is an ever-changing and unpredictable path in a foreign land. Thank you 2021 for reminding me in a time of loss how deeply loved I am.
Wishing anyone else who has been in a season of loss, grief or ‘Winter’ peace this holiday season.
Always, love and light.
Post image: Jan Huber for Unsplash.