Forsythia

Every year at this time, I see explosions of yellow-flowered branches springing from forsythia shrubs. The bright color alone is enough to bring a smile to my face; spring is coming, after all. More than that, I go back in time with these particular blooms.

Years ago when I walked my little boys to the little elementary school around the corner from our house, a line of forsythia shrubs lined the fence between the school playground and the backyard of the home next door. Often the dog that lived there would bark and run along the fence as kids walked by, something that adds even more texture to an already vivid memory that has stuck so firmly in my brain for more than two decades.

Every spring, whenever I see forsythia, I reflect on the simplicity of those days although, when I was in the middle of living them you couldn’t have convinced me they were simple. It’s funny how we learn and adjust as a normal part of life: “If I knew then what I know now…” and that sort of thing.

What is time, anyway?

Two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined all I’d learn and all the adjustments I’d be forced to make in such a relatively short time. Some brand new lessons have been learned and some old ones reinforced, lots of knowledge gained.

Most of all, of course, I’ve learned a lot about grief. I found out what it really feels like to lose a parent, which is different from any other type of loss. I can’t even describe it in a way someone who hasn’t been there yet could truly understand (and trust me, if you haven’t been there yet, you don’t want to know for yourself). Also, every person’s journey is unique.

I have learned that it really is possible to think of someone you’ll never see on earth again every single day. I’ve learned we all cope with grief in different ways and for various lengths of time. I’ve learned that we never move “on” from major loss, only “through.” Now that I know, I have adjusted my language to reflect my experience, so others realize that I know.

I am now a card-sending machine, because I discovered through my own experience that every time I have ever heard that a friend (no matter how close we are or how long it’s been since we’ve been in contact) has experienced a loss and I wondered if they would appreciate my reaching out, THEY WOULD. I certainly did. If I know you and I find out you have lost someone, I will call, text, or send a card because I know how much I have appreciated the care taken by so many of my friends–from my closest confidantes to those with whom I only connect once in a blue moon–to make sure I know I’m in their thoughts.

I have learned that time is weird. If I had a dollar of every time I have asked “What is time??” in the past two years, my Starbucks pink drinks would be paid in full for months. In the past two years, time has dragged and time has flown, sometimes simultaneously.

My dad is still here in so many ways and he is represented so well by a tiny family who loved him so. I hear his encouragement in my head when I’m upset or scared, and I hear his pride when I’ve accomplished something. I hear his jokes constantly.

Jim, who (to my knowledge) never used the word “besmirchment” in his life before December 2020, uses it all the time in the same playful way my dad did: “Wait, are you besmirching me?? I think that was a besmirchment!” His faux outrage matches my dad’s and it makes me laugh every time.

My sister is always good for a dose of “You know what Dad would say,” like when I’ve worn my jeans that have intentional rips in them for the sake of fashion. “You know what Dad would say…you have a hole in your jeans!” (Another favorite saying of my dad’s: “Are your jeans religious? Because they sure are holey!”) My mom finds joy every time we laugh together about old stories, and my kids love to verify facts: “Wasn’t that the time that Grandpa…?” We continue to carry the torch.

One of the most important lessons of all, and I have a reminder of it on my bedroom wall in the form of a cross stitch made for me by my friend Wendi, is that “Every day may not be good, but there is good in every day.” That’s a piece of wisdom by author Alice Morse Earle.

I have always searched for the good: in situations, in places, in people…but in the past two years I look for it with so much more intensity and intention than ever. Often the good stuff is right under our noses, just “normal” things that we end up taking for granted if we don’t make a point of noticing. Sometimes it’s life-changing and in-your-face, like what happened in December. Just a year after my dad passed and brought our family to its knees, our older son asked his girlfriend to marry him. She said yes, and it leveled up our happiness around here. They are perfect for each other, and, seemingly “just like that,” I’m looking forward to saying that I have a daughter, something I’ve always wanted. (And a very amazing one, too!) I’m thrilled for the happy couple, of course, but this is my blog: I’m getting a daughter!

Also, how is it that my first “baby,” the first child I walked to school past those forsythia shrubs, is getting married? What is time??

I read that forsythia flowers, which symbolize the coming warmth after winter, ”have a sunny and cheerful appearance that belies their complex symbolism.” That tracks.

Finally, a quote from aptly-named grief author Shelby Forsythia sums it all up and gives me another thing on which to reflect each year when I see brilliant yellow flowers bursting forth from the forsythia shrub: “Grief is not a linear slide into darkness. It is a cyclical path that eventually rotates into light. Spring comes after the cold, harsh winter. Yes, there are seasons when grief is louder and more disruptive, but there are also seasons when grief backs off, your strength returns, and night turns into morning.”

3 Comments

  • Nina

    Beautiful Melissa. I couldn’t agree more with all of this- and the cards! The cards mean so much. I too, send them all the time now. When you know, you know- and you do. ❤️

  • Stephanie Wilson

    Stunning, and also I could use the exact words to describe you: ”have a sunny and cheerful appearance that belies their complex symbolism.”

    I think of you so much and one of the losses I’m grieving is realizing what I’ve missed and ways I’ve not been there during major depression. Your words encourage me. It is a cycle but so hard to remember when the stretch you’re on looks like a very long road ahead of you… thank you for gifting me with this today and being the light I needed to see. I am so thankful for you. Love you!! – Steph

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