Tears in my paint box.

As I walked this morning, I took pictures of beautiful things, and mused.

As I thought about Christmas season heartache, I couldn’t  remember any teary sessions last Christmas over missing my husband. I was too busy navigating airports, interacting with family, dealing with extreme temperatures low and then high, ending the season in India of all places.

But it’s true what they say, that the holidays are the hardest. And now I’m back at it, though even what is hardest gets a little easier all the time. I suppose it helps that my life has been awfully busy again this December, though with an entirely different set of challenges that consume my attention and distract me from dwelling on things I can’t have. The challenges are much less than most people I know have to deal with! They can be grouped under two categories: 1) Being a single homeowner and 2) Getting older.

It’s also true, that I am creating my new life. At first, when I read that phrase in Fr. Alexis Trader‘s series on grief, which had providentially been written in time for my initial bereavement, I questioned it from my philosophical viewpoint. We can view our existence primarily as a given, as in, each breath that we breathe is a gift from God; our DNA is what it is, the home that nurtured us was not a result of our efforts. Or we can go with the modern idea that life is what we make it, we create our own reality.

But now we’re not talking about a philosophical stance; rather, it is each person standing with their heart before God in humility and thanksgiving. Every decision I make, at every fork in the road every moment of the day, is like choosing to dip my paintbrush in one color or another, to apply the paint in a unique way to the canvas that is my life. This imperative to choose is also a gift from God, an aspect of our humanity that can’t be avoided. The first choice to be made is whether to accept our life from God and thank Him for it.

As to the opportunities, limitations, paints allotted, it appears that some of us have only a few colors to choose from, while others seem to have thousands. And the palette changes daily. This was always true; I don’t know if something about the process changed when I became a widow, or if I have only needed to keep reminding myself of it to be assured that something creative is still going on.

Do I have legs? A home and a bank account? An idea, an urge, health, or pain? Did I sleep well, or am I suffering from foggy brain because of sleep deprivation? I can “paint” a prayer with everything, and that is the most divine creation; most days I make some kind of outward “picture” as well that is more or less satisfying. It’s not profitable to spend much time looking at the painting, but rather to keep the given tools in hand and keep working.

Walking in the fog this  morning, I was trying to get through the Lord’s Prayer without my thoughts flying off in a hundred directions. I must have started over five times and was as far as “Give us this day our daily bread,” when I was brought up sharp by a sensation, and all my thoughts vanished. I stopped and looked around, to see where the scent was coming from, and there was the juniper hedge along the sidewalk, pouring out its essence via every drop of drizzle.

Daily bread. If the sky is bread for the eyes, this intense juniper aroma, rich with memories of walks with my grandma, is certainly bread for my nose, and it goes right to my soul. I closed my eyes and stood next to the juniper long enough to take several deep breaths, and then continued on my way, and the fog continued to turn into something thicker and wetter. My flannel shirt was all fuzzy-misty, and water trickled down my face.

As I walked I kept thinking about my grandma, whose husband died when she was over 80 years old. She immediately sold the house that they had shared for 40 years, which everyone thought was hasty. The apartment she moved to was not smaller, and she still had three floors of stairs to climb, until she was over 100. But she could call the landlord about problems instead of calling the handyman directly. I’m not sure that was an improvement.

But wait — Didn’t that juniper smell get painted directly by God on to my life’s canvas? It was given as a completely whole and splendid thing; I contributed nothing.

And while I began this preachy ramble in the morning, by evening I could not understand the metaphor that seemed clear at noon, because I was feeling so achingly the absence of my husband. It was as though my tears spilled all over my paintbox and my vision was muddied. But I had planned to go to church, and I went. My spiritual father said that if I weren’t emotional during this season, he would worry that my heart had hardened to a stone. At times, my grief is the only color available.

When I came out of church, the full (solstice) moon was still rising. I drove down the road toward home and away from other lights, and the moon straight ahead of me became huge and clear and bright. It took my breath away, and as Christmas carols automatically started playing over my Bluetooth, I felt that the moon was also singing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Before I reached my house the Kingston Trio were singing, “All Through the Night,” which they had made into a Christmas carol by tweaking a couple of lines. If you’d like to hear the music, sung in the original Welsh, this is a nice rendition. One version I found online has a verse that expressed how I was feeling this evening:

Love, to thee my thoughts are turning
All through the night
All for thee my heart is yearning,
All through the night.
Though sad fate our lives may sever
Parting will not last forever,
There’s a hope that leaves me never,
All through the night.

But for the first time ever I heard the traditional two verses of the lullaby not as something to sing to my child, but as God singing to me, and though the moon had gone behind a cloud, I knew that it, too, had been painted on my canvas.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night.

17 thoughts on “Tears in my paint box.

  1. Dear, dear Gretchen ~ This was beautiful!!!

    Again, I want to say that I am so sorry for your loss. Grief does have a way of sneaking up on us and it will until we are reunited with our loved ones and with God for eternity, where He will wipe all tears away.

    I absolutely loved the words to that carol. So comforting.

    This line that you wrote, grabbed me also, as I just finished the little book ‘The Empty Chair’ and the following that you wrote goes along with thoughts gleaned from the book.

    *something creative is still going on.*

    God isn’t finished with us yet. We are still alive and He has a plan for us. We need to keep our focus on Him, trusting in Him to take care of us in every situation.

    Love, hugs and continued prayers for you dear Gretchen ~ FlowerLady

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your writing is so beautiful. I am sorry that the loss of your husband feels so very strong but your perspective that grief is the only colour God can use to keep your heart from stone is very powerful. God’s words in that hymn really spoke to you and I am glad that he could comfort you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing these beautiful reflections. Two things especially stood out- the choice whether to thank God for what is in our life currently or not, and the encouragement not to stare at our own “picture” too long. Human nature, curved inward in a selfish huddle, wants to do just that, doesn’t it- navel gaze, and forget to look outside of itself, to see God’s goodness even in the painful times.

    I’m sorry for your loss- even with my spouse here still, it’s hard at Christmas not to think about those who aren’t. But like you said, maybe it’s better to remember and feel that color of grief than to push it aside, and to remember that the goodbyes aren’t forever- hoping that you have a very Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. God bless you, dear.  You are in my prayers.  I love that lullaby which goes back to my childhood memories.  May Joy find you and comfort you. Love, Christie

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gretchen, as Bethany and I chatted today in this season of both holy news – Advent! – and really hard news – the sounds of keys rattling to a fiery furnace prepared for me for a season – she commented that she thought I was anxious. It was what I knew but was trying not to look at. The sermon at church was on Zephaniah 3, and the Lord reassuring His people that He was still God and still WITH us, so we can “fear not.” That His love was a fierce, loyal love like that of a mother grizzly over her cub. And that was proven in the incarnation and what we can hold onto when we fear.

    As you no doubt remember, my own precious Dale went Home suddenly in 2010, at age 60 -and I am so keenly aware of his absence when hard things happen. He would have made things easier and less scary for me. “Two are better than one,” the Lord said. Now the Lord calls me to turn that trust to Him – where it should have been all along. Then she sent me a link to your blog post. I wept and wept as I read, as I walked with you in the fog and past the juniper bush and was startled by the beauty of the full moon. He is WITH us still, and I’m reminded again of my “life verse” – Ps 62:11-12, which says “One thing You have spoken; two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong, and that You, O Lord, are loving.” I am weak but He is strong. Perfectly strong. and perfectly loving. Always strong ENOUGH and loving ENOUGH for anything that comes my way in this fallen world. So thank you, Gretchen. He washes our eyes with tears that we might see.

    Kim Sorbello

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautifully, thoughtfully, and poignantly written. My heart squeezed a bit as I read. This morning, as I greeted a dear friend and asked how he was doing, he replied after a moment, “Getting old is hard.” God be with you, friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really appreciated this when I read this a while back (been busy and still catching up on it all!) … I know, statistically speaking, that my Husband may go before me and your journey in this and words are always an instructive comfort to me. Thank you. and the carol, how very moving and comforting. God bless you dear one!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Gretchen, I pray for blessings for you. It’s eleven years and more since my husband stopped being alive here on earth. I don’t get overwhelmed with grief as once I did. But the holidays are difficult times, even with my children and grandchildren all around me. I think of him every day. I love that Welsh carol which I used to sing as a lullaby to my children, long, long, ago. Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

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