Picture of wooded landscape, trees without leaves, and a sunny but cloudy blue sky.

The hope of spring

Today is the first day of spring.

Personally, my favorite season is summer, but I have an appreciation for spring. With it comes hints of sunshine and heat, alongside occasional reminders of the winter you’re trying to leave behind.

It seems almost poetic to me that the trajectory of grief following the death of my mother has followed the changing of seasons. They appear so closely related that I can’t tell which is more true: has my grief mirrored the changing of the seasons, or has the harshness of this year’s winter made my grief that much more severe?

It’s impossible for me to discern that right now. But in case there is someone out there going through something similar and happens to stumble upon my writing, I hope my transparency can help shed some light on what is to come.

I’ve never dealt with depression before, but after the start of the new year I figured out that things were not good. Sadness is normal and expected after the death of someone close, but this was a powerful force that I hadn’t experienced before. In an earlier post, I wrote:

The worst was around the three-month mark. January 12 was a very low day for me. It was emotionally debilitating, and when it hit me it really came out of nowhere. There was a point that day when I took a shower and laid down in the tub. I didn’t have the energy to stand. I felt so broken. I cried so much. And the strangest thing is I can’t fully explain why. I suppose that was simply the day my mind chose to grieve, and my body was forced to submit.

Shortly after that, I start seeing a counselor. When I called to set up the appointment, the counselor asked me why I felt like I needed help. I explained that my mother had died, and that had reached a point where I simply did not care about anything. However, I had done some research online and I didn’t think I had enough of the symptoms of having depression.

At my first appointment, I answered some questions. The counselor said without hesitation, “You’re depressed. We have a lot of work to do.”

I have been working on me, and I have some good help. My wife, Amy, has been fantastic. There have been many times in the past few months where she’s said to me, “How can I support you?” This has been an immense help. If you’re going through anything like this, find some support and let others help you. I’m not real good at asking for help when I need it, but I’m learning.

This experience has really highlighted to me the state of mental health in the United States. Of course, the counselor I picked doesn’t take insurance, so I’m paying for all of this out of pocket. That’s fine, because I get along well with the counselor I chose, and the whole experience has set me on a better path. But really, what year is this? It should be easier and more affordable to get help with mental health issues than it is.

It’s also shown me that those closest to you — friends, co-workers, people who rely on you for stability — might not fully understand how to interact with you during a time of grieving. I’ll probably write more on this in the future as a guidebook of sorts of how to help someone who has been burdened by the pain of loss. I will say that death in the modern age is a strange thing. Social media can be haunting, and the digital artifacts of someone you’ve lost can be especially triggering. These are tricky waters to navigate.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how many people who have been a part of my life in some way who have died, many within recent memory. In the last year I can think of a girl I grew up with in my hometown, the dad of my childhood friend, the guy that owned the hardware store back home, the woman I worked with when I worked at Toys R Us in my college days, a mentor, and of course, mom.

Sometimes it feels like death is all around me. I suppose it is for all of us, but now I’m more susceptible to its presence.

That’s not to say I’m in despair. In fact, I have hope, and it’s nice to have it back.

This is a fairly recent change. It took about four-and-a-half months before things started to turn better, around the beginning of March. I wasn’t as sad anymore. There has been a level of acceptance that has come over me about mom’s death that has enabled a bit of peace that’s been missing since October. I started noticing it when I had some really good laughs at work. My co-worker made me laugh to the point where I was in tears, and then things started moving up from there.

That’s not to say that I’m all sunshine and roses. In the last few weeks I had a couple of really strong moments where I really wanted to talk to mom. One night, I sat at the dinner table and the tears just started coming. I don’t know what triggered it; the tears just came out. I had my moment, it passed, and then I got back to eating my food.

And that’s how all this has worked to this point.

I am so heartbroken now when I hear about someone who is experiencing loss. A friend of mine posted about the unexpected death of his young friend, and my heart sank. A co-worker was telling me about the death of his beloved dog, and I instantly felt so much compassion for him. Another co-worker also lost her mom unexpectedly; my empathy for her runs deep.

I miss my mom.

And yet, there are new lessons being learned here which I admit, I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. The food that I enjoy tastes better than it did before. The sun on my face feels even more spectacular than it did before October. The laughter and silliness of my children are a greater blessing than I have experienced to date.

Here is the lesson I’m starting to absorb: death can be a powerful teacher, if you allow it. I’m so glad that spring is here. The earth is muddy, the rains are cool, and the winds are ever shifting. I am eager to see what grows from this season I am in.

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