It's frigid in Chicagoland. Frigid isn't a good enough word for how cold it is. It's "arctic", according to The Weather Channel. The "blizzard" we were supposed to get (according to the aforementioned experts on the topic) was actually no biggie. I'm thankful for my snowblower and my fireplace, to be sure. But it was no blizzard. But now... it's cold. The kind of cold that cuts right into you. So cold that when I walk to my car from wherever I'm leaving, I draw in one last warm breath of air before heading out into the parking lot, exhaling ever-so-slowly while I trot to my parking spot, so as not to have to breathe in again until I'm safely behind the steering wheel. And then, I let it out with a scream, which invariably is clinging on to a blast of steam from deep within my throat. Somehow, that makes me feel warmer.
I was watching the beautiful snowfall last night, sitting by the fire, TJ fast asleep upstairs, and I thought for a bit about Leslie. She hated the winter. Hate is a four-letter word that I avoid using even more religiously than other four-letter words that most other people would deem far less "religious". But hate is just a horrible word. And Leslie hated winter. (Which tells you how much she loved her family, as she could never get herself to honestly consider moving out of the Midwest.) The post-Christmas months were particularly hard on her. January's cold snow and February's gray slush would invariably bring about a cloud of depression onto our home, which she would fight until her birthday in mid-March. And last night, as I considered all of this while watching the snow and the fire, (it was all the more frustrating to her that I love the winter as much as I do), it made me oddly happy for her that she was missing all the snow and bitter cold this time around. Sure, she would have loved cuddling on the couch under a blanket with a glass of wine by the fire... But undoubtedly, if she was looking down on me last night, she was in NO way wishing she could join me. I'm sure it gave her plenty of reason to throw her head back and laugh her contageous laugh once again, just thrilled to be warm and joyful, in the presence of Jesus. If there is snow in heaven, not a single flake ever falls on our Leslie, we can rest assured.
The house is coming along, and I am eager to have our "new home" put together. With the added bathroom in the basement and the newly finished hardwoods throughout the first floor (a necessity, according to insurance, in order to match and blend the newly replaced portions with what remained from before), it will be an even grander place than the one into which we moved a year ago last August. And as I mentioned before, the floodwaters took care of many hard decisions for me I was certain to face down the road... "What do I do with THIS...? I can't throw it away... but it's just taking up space..." Well... none of that stuff is taking up space any longer. At least not in my house. Am I happy about losing all of those things? No. Am I better off without them? I believe this is what they call "catharsis". "A purging of emotional burden." It just seems so fitting this all should happen at the onset of the new year, you know?
All the churning of "stuff" around the house has drawn some interesting reactions from TJ lately. The photos that have been spread around the house to dry, so many of Leslie's old things dug out of boxes, the general disorganization and chaos of the house... all of these things have indeed been hard on him. Or perhaps, they have provided an opportunity for him to experience his own catharsis, of sorts. Prior to all the "churning" around the house, I'd been so thankful with how he'd been doing. He just seems so happy, and "at peace" with our new life. He and I talk about Mommy almost every day. We pray and thank God for her, and that she is all better. We ask God to give her a great big hug for us. We talk about what she's probably doing today... "She's prob'ly playing band," TJ usually says, and that usually gets him talking about the drumset she's preparing for him. Routinely, he asks when we can go to Heaven. He wonders how old he will be. A couple of days ago he announced, "Daddy, when I'm a little bit older, I don't want to go to high school. I just want to go to Heaven."
Last week, I was picking him up at Dana's house (again, Leslie's sister, where he spends 3 days a week playing with his cousins), and Dana, Curt (her husband) and I got into a very good, emotional discussion about "moving on", "closure", missing Leslie, and the usual "healing" stuff. There were tears-- not the messy, bitter kind... the sweet, warm kind. On the drive home, TJ asked why we were crying. I explained to him that we were talking about Mommy. And that, even though we're so happy for Mommy now-- that she is all better now and having fun in Heaven with Jesus-- we still miss her, because we're still here, and not in Heaven with her. And sometimes, that makes us sad, even though we're happy for her... and sometimes it's okay to cry when you're sad... especially when you're happy and sad and all kinds of things, all at the same time. That set off another in-depth discussion (on a 3-year-old level) of Providence, Eternity, and the Scandal of Suffering. :) Later that drive, I looked back, and he'd fallen asleep, certainly with visions in his mind of Mommy laughing and dancing in Heaven. He woke up very late from his nap that afternoon-- well after sunset. He'd wet through in his bed, and was cold, cranky, sleepy, uncomfortable and inconsolable. After struggling a little, trying to get him changed, I gave up and just decided to give him some space until he could get his senses about him, and warm up to the idea of waking up and getting on with the evening. After he'd calmed, I returned to where he was sitting, 2/3 of the way up the stairs to his room, overlooking the mess strewn across the house (the photos, things, etc... all drying out and awaiting their fate). I just asked gently, "What's wrong buddy? What can I do for you?" He just looked at me, and broke down, beginning to cry, "I want my mom!"
He's been so unbelievably resilient throughout the past 5+ months since Mommy "went to Heaven", that the little melt-down completely caught me off guard. I just went up the stairs, scooped him up, held him tightly and began kissing his head. "I know, buddy. I miss her, too. I miss her, too." There's so much that little kid holds... So much that spins through his mind. As resilient as he is, this stuff will undoubtedly continue to bubble to the surface from time to time... Forever, most likely, until he is again united with Mommy in Heaven. This time, it was seeing Dana and Daddy cry about Mommy, and then seeing her things strewn about the house, that brought about this particular "bubbling-up"... this "catharsis", I guess, to stick with the theme.
Lord, be gentle. Have mercy on this child's heart. Certainly times like these are necessary for him to go through, in order to remember and love his mother, as we learn how to live without her. But God, hold him in Your arms when mine aren't warm enough. Let him touch your face when mine is not soft enough. Whisper peace into his ears when my words fall short. I do thank you for this winter, Lord... it is truly beautiful. And it is good to abide in Your warm shelter, as we weather the icy storm outside. I will abide. But I will also ask that you don't delay in bringing the spring.