The yard is doused. Covered. Crusted over by a slick brown carpet of dead oak leaves. It’s 80 degrees outside, and spring is in full busting-out mode here in Charleston, but thanks to the mixed-up deciduous habits of Quercus virginiana, it seems like fall too.  Raking leaves was autumnal agony in the Piedmont of North Carolina, where I grew up, but at least there was a chill in the air to energize the dreaded chore. Here, we rake all spring, amidst sweat and gnats and sneezing, and more raking.  Beside every driveway there are clusters of big brown bags from Lowes (plastic bags were recently outlawed) filled with leaves. They stand tall, like vertical baked potatoes, and taunt with the Lowes slogan, “Always keep improving.”

This seasonal jumble seems about right to me, as I head into these spring months so dense with last year’s dateline, so heavy with the thick pollen of memory. Just 330 days ago, these were the last months and weeks of my mother’s gutsy wrangling with ALS. Everywhere around us the beautiful world was greening, budding, breaking forth, but her beautiful leaves were falling, and falling fast.

I dread this spring. I love this spring. I am the awkwardly, gangly, grandly reaching branches of the live oak, losing leaves, welcoming new ones, all at the same time.

At Christmas, Susan gave me a lovely anthology of the literature of grief called In the Midst of Winter. It’s been by my bedside ever since. The book arranges poems, excerpts from classic literature and other nuggets of wisdom by season: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, using natural cycles and imagery to mark the typical progression and cycles of grief. Spring, Mary Jane Moffat, the anthology’s editor, writes, “is the period of great despair and yearning…this pull between the future and the past.” Or as Lady Ise, a 9th century Japanese poet said, the period when there is “nothing left to cling to.”

I am not fully in that spring, for I know I have great strong branches to cling to. Family, memories, gratitude, springtime itself.   I am in the spring  that is tentative, that loops back upon itself, and then the wind blows more leaves down. A spring of proms and Easter and Mother’s Day, all bookmarked by what was happening last year at this time.  Grief, as Moffat says, “is not tidy.” It is deciduous. It requires raking, and more raking.






~ by Stephanie on 03/20/2012.

One Response to “Autumnal.Leafy.Spring”

  1. I hope that when ALS claims me, as is inevitable, that I will be remembered as lovingly in the hearts of my family and friends as you so sweetly bring your mother’s memory to all of us.

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