November is a hard month. It’s the time of year in Minnesota when the cold winds of winter blow the brilliant color of October away. The sky turns from vibrant blue to thick clouds, and the darkness of night comes early and the sun rises late only to reveal the harsh lines of bare trees and faded flowers. It is the time that reminds us of what was and of what is yet to come.
Grieving for a child who has died from cancer is like living in a prolonged November.
It starts in the days that follow his funeral. You see the evidence of his life all around you. You find a hairbrush with his dark blonde curls still in it and you hold it for a while then place it back on the shelf. You pick up from the bathroom vanity the toothbrush he used just days ago and you think, I should throw this away, but you can’t, so you put it back in the cabinet. You decide not to wash the clothes in his dirty clothes basket because you don’t want to lose his scent, it is too precious. And you make his bed, but you know it will be a while before you can sit on it without remembering his last breath. You go through his school backpack and look at each homework assignment and run your fingers across the chicken scratch that was his handwriting, and you throw some of it out, but you keep most of it.
Time goes by and the cold winds settle down. You get used to living in the grayness and you get used to the chill in the air. You can walk by his room without crying, but you still can’t go in without tears. You learn to smile when people talk about him and you figure out how to answer questions like, “How many children do you have?” and, “What are their ages.” You look through his picture album and you can laugh through the tears.
Sometimes the clouds clear and the grey gives way to sunshine. Your heart is lighter despite the fact the trees remain bare and the evidence of summer is frost covered. You can throw the toothbrush away after holding it to your cheek one last time, and you sit on his bed and remember the good times when he was just a kid and not a kid with cancer. You learn to get up from his bed and walk out of his room before the memories of his last moments fill your mind and flood your eyes with tears. You learn to tuck those memories away for later.
And then, one day, you wake up and the ground is covered with fresh snow. You leave November behind. You know the winter will be cold and long and it won’t be easy. There will be days when the wind will whip and the chill with pierce; but you know spring is coming. A baby is on the way who will never know his uncle, but you look forward to the day when you can share the stories. And you are grateful for the life that was and the stories that will be remembered and shared for the years to come.
You know the grey of November will happen again but that’s okay. Because just like the seasons, this cycle of grief will pass and spring will come once more.