A New Blanket

By Jennifer Hartline Published on November 23, 2018

My favorite time of year is upon us, at long last. I live for the crisp, frosty air, the chill that beckons a warm blanket.

I have an inescapable sense that I’m being offered a new blanket this winter, and I’m not entirely pleased by it. I feel fear, relief, assurance, and resistance, all in variable measure.

I’m very fond of my old blanket, you see, I’m not quite ready to surrender it. I know this old blanket well, and I feel safe in it. I fear that to give it up means giving up something else … someone else … that I can’t bear to let go.

Clinging to Grief

My father died on a beautiful, clear winter night, two and a half years ago.

At first I was wrapped up in shock. Then disbelief, crushing sadness, bewilderment, anger, depression, blackness, emptiness. Grief was my invisible blanket. I have clung to it every day since his death, and in its strange way it has provided some security. It’s a reliable companion. If you’ve endured the loss of a loved one, I trust you have some sense of what I’m trying to say.

I felt he had simply vanished into thin air. I could not feel him anymore. For a long time I felt so totally disoriented and vulnerable. I begged him to talk to me, but I only heard silence.

I can close my eyes and feel his hand tightly around mine, and feel his stubbly cheek against mine, wet with tears on the last day we ever spoke, the last time I saw him before the deathbed held him down. I am frantic that that memory might fade and grow cold in time. I am terrified I might forget how he felt, that the sensation of his face against mine will disappear. It’s all I have left, this unutterable treasure of skin and bone and touch; fatherly warmth and filial affection. I long to stay in that moment with my arms wrapped around him.

But he is no longer here, and I have wrapped grief around myself instead. I fear it’s the only way I have to keep him with me.

With Reluctant Steps, and Slow

Grief may not be blackness and void now, but more a steadfast ache and sadness still watered by frequent tears. Any forward motion through this valley of death has been in spite of me, not because of me. I’ve gone kicking and screaming through the darkest days into brighter ones, being dragged, I think, by a benevolent and patient angel.

If I move into more shallow waters; if I step into a patch of sunlight; if I breathe in an invigorating air and feel my heart pound again, does it mean I have left him behind? If I loosen my grip on my blanket of grief, will I lose him all over again? 

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In the wee hours of morning recently, in that mysterious haze between sleep and waking, I saw him. His appearance was different somehow, in a way I can’t articulate. He beamed with joy. Not just happiness, but radiant joy. He didn’t say anything. He opened his arms to me, and I hesitated. Was it really him? Then I felt those arms close around me, and every doubt evaporated. I knew that strong frame and that embrace. I sank completely into him with relief and contentment. His cheek, his arms, his shoulder, his love. He felt like home.

I know he is home now. I know he lives, and he is wrapped up in, filled with, and taken over by love and joy and perfect peace. 

Death Isn’t Final, Yet It Is

Our Christian faith tells us with certainty that death is not the end. Death doesn’t have the last word. It’s not the final chapter.

That is true. Yet death is still final for now. The one we love is not here anymore to hold or touch or talk to. That is final. We will not have our loved one beside us again on this earth. What a severe and cruel blow that is, yet we must accept it. Life keeps going forward and we must go with it, without the loved one we ache for.

There will be bright days again. There will be joy again. It is okay to live.

Stay With Me

I don’t think he wants me to stay wrapped up in grief forever. I think he wants me to be brave, and let that old blanket be transformed, little by little, into a blanket of remembrance and gratitude and life. It’s going to take courage, but I think he wants me to trust that I don’t need to be wrapped in sadness and loss in order to keep him close. 

I am still wrapped in my father’s embrace, and death cannot take that away. Stay with me, Dad. I’m still getting used to this new blanket.

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