My nephew, Reid, died the first week of December. It was several years ago but once more he appears in the middle of my mind. His living and dying: both were hard, both perhaps longer than he wanted. I will never know. In truth, I understood him less than I imagined though I felt his burdens’ weight as I talked with him. He took refuge in my house awhile after one hospital stay; I took him to 12 step meetings. He was carried along by and troubled by life –powerful emotions, a puzzle of thoughts, and demons of addiction–until he was in his forties. He had a passion for life–music, skateboarding, movies, reading. Much more, and so many things unknown to me. I loved him as I knew how; we all loved him, yes. But despair can outweigh all the rest. Reid plunged from a bridge into the swift Willamette River, into silent darkness of a rainy night that was moving toward pale morning.
Really, I wanted to share, as usual, outdoorsy rambles, attractive pictures. But I find I cannot. Instead, I have found a few winter pictures, quite unlike the views outside my windows right now–green, damp, sunny to partly sunny with more rain on the wind. But they feel right: snow is quintessential December in my dreams. I burrow in this month between outings. And candlelight, oh, the flames tinting the greyness orange and yellow. It is a gentled magic, steady but mutable, rich and clarifying.
There is something about snow and candles that move me in unique ways. Still me. Then rouse me.
December’s onset brings Reid back to me a little. (It also, conversely, brings to me my mother’s December birth date: juxtaposition of death and birth dates is like seeing two birds of different colors and flight patterns move across the sky.). I can recall his smile when he was convivial, happy, at times–for a time. His eyes bright and dancing. And then, the obdurate pit of sorrow. There is our enduring complexity of family ties and lovingness. And this being alive-ness, and remaining alive, too, when others leave.
We have had or heard of too much death this year, I know. But, seemingly irrelevant to this post, I still want to offer snow. But to consider its shapeshifting beauty, its softness, its welcoming spirit, its austerity and daunting challenges that can offer victory. Like when I ice skate and fall and start off once more. That long slide on the toboggan, uproarious with laughter, into glittering white fluff, or a crunch of iciness. Oh, I long for it sometimes. It doesn’t snow much where I live in Oregon–though Mt. Hood dazzles me in the distance all winter long on my walks. But I grew up in snow, heaps of it, five foot drifts of it in the Michigan country. I made small houses of snow. So when it snows here I return to the shimmer and drift of winter’s wild glory. It eases a knot in me.
It somehow brings Reid to mind, too, hands stuffed in his packets, a half-smile, solemn eyes. Maybe it is the blood we have shared: cold plains of northern Midwest, the mountain and valley greens of Oregon.
The candles here are for Reid. But I light many for others, as well. And want them lit just for darkened days and nights, so they may be ignited with simplest joy more often, and for a prayer for peace shared among those of us who remain. Sit with that flame and remember: we have such capacity for hope and courage.
This year has been so much more arduous than what we expected. Millions in the world suffer from depression and though 2020 has brought us all to moments of great uncertainty and worry, too many feel pushed to the very brink. Suicides have increased greatly during the pandemic. If you feel suicidal or know anyone who shares suicidal thoughts, or mentions even a vague, possible plan to die, please seek help now. If you know someone who needs even kindly support, offer a listening ear, a helpful hand. There is nothing better than the community of humankind when moved to support and aid one another. Let’s be present for each other as much as we can–no charity is too small a thing–and listen to our own hearts as much as possible.