Grief, Loss & a Walk in the Park
This essay is dedicated to my friend Nicole Mahussier. I wrote this for you. I miss you.
My dog is older now, so he forces me to walk slower than I normally would. We go out to Town Centre park, and I walk him around the half-frozen lake. I see bits of hardened-into-ice snow still smattered across the mostly green grass. Everything seems slower, like time has paused here, or at least slowed long enough for me to notice it.
I hear a bird squawk overhead and I stop and wonder what kind of bird it was. Mostly so I could write about it. How its lone and tiny squawk took my breath away as I watched it soar off, solitary and brave across the blue sky. But now I don’t care about what kind of bird it was, because it was the sound and the soaring that made me notice. How it was close, but moving fast and far away from me. How the sound caught me for a second, and then faded away into something else. Something silent that I didn’t even want to hear.
I walked on, and smiled at the mom with the baby in the stroller and the little boy who was jumping up and down beside her, tugging on her arm. I used to be that mom. Enjoy it, I thought. They will be teenagers and out of your arms any day now. Time is slower today, but it is still moving on. It is still relentless, and offers me no comfort.
I saw the man next to the lake, hunched over in his parka and boots, his fishing rod defiantly stuck in the one part of the lake that wasn’t frozen over, as if to dare us all to deny his fantasy that spring is here already. It isn’t buddy, I thought, but good on you for shaking your first at the vagaries and insults of mother nature. I am not happy with her either these days. Fish away. I wish you a good catch.
The cold is all around me, but if I was honest, and not in the mood I seem to be in, I would say that there are plenty of hints of spring - the blueness of the sky that takes over the whole scene, the plants starting to bud up in the soil beds around the park entrance, the children playing on the swing sets, the young boys whizzing past me and my ever-so-slow dog on the way to their skateboard park.
Two years ago, I met a couple whose teenage son died young. I sat and talked with them and listened to their stories. Held them in my heart for awhile. They told me there is a memorial bench with his name on it in this park. I promised them I’d find it, and I’d visit it and remember him. Say a prayer there. Maybe sit on it and enjoy the view.
That bench has eluded me for two years now. I can’t find it. I have searched (I think) the whole place. When I walk the dog, I look. When my son plays soccer on the fields there, I look. When I go to the theatre there, I look. But I think about that boy every time. Today, I long to find his bench even more. I want to sit there. See if he has any answers for me, if he will finally reveal his secrets. I want to see if, maybe even for a minute, if my prayer for him will lighten up the load of grief that I saw following his parents like a cloud.
Why did you go so young? I’d say. Why you? Did God call you in some whisper that no one could hear but you? Or was it a simple walk into a different room? Do you still hear your mother’s cry?
And I would tell him to rest in peace, and be with God. And I would turn my prayers toward his parents that were left behind. The perpetual grievers that I couldn’t offer much to, just this still-unfulfilled promise to sit on his bench and remember their boy, and them, and let them feel that someone cared.
But even today, with the slow walk and the bright, bright sky and crisp promise of spring, he still hid from me.
I walked back toward the parking lot, and as I got to the car, I stood for a second and watched another bird soar off across the blue sky. I struck me just how green and beautiful the fir trees that lined the park looked today, their spire-like branches framing the road in front of me. They felt friendly, and I thought they were somehow trying to protect me from something lurking ahead of me that I don’t know is coming. Like the guardian angels I used to believe in had come back to me.
And I thought about that boy one last time as I helped my old dog up into the car for the drive home.
Well, wherever you are, wherever you go from here, I thought, I hope you go with God.