I hadn’t thought about that day in years, but the pang of grief in his voice sent me back like a time traveler to third grade. Not mine, my son’s. The year when he felt his first loss. Real loss. Not a pet or a grandparent. Not even a ball game or a position on a cherished team. It was the year Cameron felt his first childhood season come abruptly to an end.
We, of course, had already seen countless mini-seasons begin and end in his eight short years of life. Sleeping in the bassinet by our bed — that season ended about a month after we trusted the monitor tethered to his crib. Hearing his every breath and peep somehow made it easy to accept the brevity of that season.
Then there was breastfeeding. That one was substantially longer thanks to the What to Expect genre of books. You don’t need to tell a Type-A first-time mother much more than one full year is ideal for immune system development and bonding. Nearly 365 days later, we were done with that.
And while it ended pretty much on a single day, it wasn’t traumatic or harsh. Instead it was more like the change in nature’s seasons — gradual, graceful and with plenty of time to adjust. First with the introduction of cereal, and then with little bites of soft yummy treats that delighted his palate and made him crave the next thing. The new thing. The thing he needed more than the comfort of what he had. Solid food. Like most seasonal neophytes though, he clung to the fading phase as he stretched to grasp the emerging one. When he needed comfort or got hurt or was tired, nursing represented more than a meal. It was solace and love, hugs and nutrition in one nifty, available anytime package. And then one spring day, it was time to move on. Natural. Gradual. Healthy. Done.
The season was over and a new one began.
Over and over this happened in rapid succession and with natural grace. No more wrapping him up like a burrito to prevent him from scratching his face with his curious hands. Or rolling up a blanket and wedging it in his side so he didn’t roll off the bed. No more onesies or pj’s with footies. No more playpen. No more walker. Farewell pampers, diaper genie, training potty, sippy cup. No more bibs and plates with compartments to keep the peas from touching the mashed potatoes. No more forks with nifty handles to make it easy for his tiny developing hands to grasp.
Crib to big boy bed. Trike to training wheels to helmet and hot wheels bike. Green Eggs and Ham to Bob Books to Easy Readers. Mommy and Me to Pre-K to Kinder. Barney, Blues Clues, Little Bear, Discovery Channel. The seasons had been changing with rapid and astounding speed, but to Cameron, it was just one big season. Life. Until third grade, that is. And then…
And then, one day, out of the blue, he woke up with an ache in his heart. A grief he couldn’t shake and didn’t quite understand.
“What’s wrong Buddy?”
“Things aren’t the same, Mom. I don’t like it that things aren’t the same.”
“We don’t do street parties anymore or play hockey with all the neighbors. I miss that.”
“Well Cam, you’re the youngest boy on the street and the older boys are moving on to the next stage of life. They are doing things that bigger boys do. Things you’ll be doing soon. “
“But I miss it Mom. I want it to be the same as it was. It’s never going to be the same, is it Mom?”
“No, Buddy, it won’t. It will be different. But the new things can’t happen unless you leave some of the old ones behind. It’s a season. Like winter changing into spring. You can’t keep the snow and have the flowers too. Both are good. Just different good.”
It was the kind of conversation that didn’t seem to soothe in the moment. The kind that goes the way of the farmer’s seed – slung into the soil with a hope and a prayer that it will be watered by other farmers, warmed by the sun and pop when the time is right. And pop it did.
A decade later, sitting in the parking lot of the Broward Mall, that conversation resurfaced as Cameron once again felt the ache that melting snow brings. We had been preparing for the spring of his adult life — the big move to Wake Forest University. Busy every waking second. Running from clothing stores, to license bureaus, to Bed Bath and Beyond and back again trying to imagine the things he’d need for the cell block sized room that would become his new home.As we approached the last few items on the list, we both came to the unspoken, uncomfortable conclusion that we’d forgotten something. Something important. Funny how staying madly busy deceives us into thinking that emotions can be crowded off the plate of preparation. Well, they can’t. Emotions are smarter, craftier and more determined than all our willpower put together. Bury them and they’ll demand an audience at the least convenient time. And they did. Right there in a parking lot on a Wednesday afternoon in August.
“It’s never gonna be the same, is it Mom?”
My mother heart contracted with the pain of labor as I struggled to breathe through the words I knew we needed to share.
“No Buddy, it won’t.”
Tears filled both our eyes and choked off the rest of my sentence. He kept going like a penitent before a priest.
“I think I realized this morning when we were annoyed with each other about where to go next that it doesn’t matter what we do at this point. It just matters that we savor these last few days together cuz it’s never gonna be the same.”
All I could do at that point was nod with closed eyes and pray for composure.
When my voice was steady enough to speak again, I plowed on, “Do you remember that day in third grade when you were sad that the neighbors didn’t play street hockey anymore?”
“Like it was yesterday,” he said. “And I know what you’re gonna say. This is the end of a season. I know. It’s natural. I know.”
“I’ve been thinking. There’s more to the seasons thing than we’ve explored together,” I responded. “More than the fact that one ends and another begins.”
“Do you remember our first winter ski trip? When you did all those snow things for the first time? First snowball? Standing on skis? Flying in a tube down a hill? Riding a lift and looking down at the tops of the trees?”
“How could I forget? It was awesome.”
“I’ve been thinking about how distorted our view must be of seasons because we don’t really have them in Florida. We go and visit them on ski trips and vacations. So, to us, they begin and end very abruptly and artificially. We go from the snow to the spring in the length of a plane ride. The snow is gone as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign dings off at 30,000 feet and the Bougainvilleas are already blooming a few hours later when we land in sunny Ft. Lauderdale. But that isn’t how it really works. God designed seasons to be much more gentle.”
“Gradual you mean?”
“Yep. The snow doesn’t just disappear one day. It gets icy and starts to melt and isn’t so fun to ski on anymore. But even while that’s happening, little sprigs of grass pop up in the slush. Just when it seems like the mud has ruined all the beauty of winter, the blossoms pop up in the middle of the mess. It’s like they are screaming, look at me! Look at me! Look at what’s ahead. Isn’t it beautiful! They are both happening at the same time — one season is coming to an end while another is beginning. The overlap has got to be intentional. It’s got to be divine. It’s not sudden or harsh. It’s gentle. Surely this is God’s way of giving us time to adjust. I think He knows that we need to see remnants of snow while we’re excited about the newness of spring. It’s really brilliant when you think about it.”
Cameron just sat there quietly for a few minutes letting it all soak in and then, in a nanosecond, transformed into the parent. Touching my arm softly and looking compassionately in my eyes he whispered in such a fatherly tone to his now melted mother. “But Mom, it’s ok to miss the snow.”
Not another word needed to be spoken. It was done. Summarized. Nutshelled. Zipdrived. Condensed into the smallest necessary nugget of truth. He didn’t know it at the time, but I had been reading a book about transitions to help me sort through the deluge of emotions that seemed to be hitting me faster than I could absorb. He had just squished the whole book in one proverbial phrase — it’s OK to miss the snow. If we don’t pause to take stock of the things that will never be the same and bid them a proper farewell, it makes embracing the new season that much harder. Indeed, it tempts us to forever look back. Seasons do bring newness, but they also bear witness to the things that are complete. They bear witness to loss. Necessary loss, yes. But loss, nevertheless.
I’ve often wondered why Solomon, Scripture’s wisest human, says in Ecclesiastes that the end of a thing is better than the beginning. My logical mind says the exact opposite. Beginnings are filled with hope and possibility. Opportunity and expectation. Idealism and determination. But endings? Endings just seem sad.
But Cameron, in one marvelously pithy phrase, was the farmer that watered the seed of Scripture that had been lodged deep in the soil of my heart all these years. Indeed, endings are better than beginnings, because if you are standing at a finish line or at the end of a season, and you are grieving the parts that will never be the same, that means the snow was excellent that winter! It may not have been perfect, and it may have iced over or melted a time or two, but there were some amazing runs, some heart stopping drops and some blind curves that opened into breathtaking vistas.
If you are deeply grieving the things that will never be the same, it means you didn’t just dream it, or plan it, or wonder if it would ever happen. You went for it. You started and you didn’t quit when it got hard. You persevered when the odds were stacked against you. You stared failure in the face and you told it how much bigger your God was than fear’s vapid threats. You believed in things you couldn’t see. And you climbed into God’s lap over and over again until the peace that exceeds understanding blanketed your soul. You trusted when you didn’t understand why and you did the best you could when you didn’t know how. As hard as you laughed, you cried, and as deeply as you doubted, you believed. You screwed up and got up and screwed up again. You forgave and you were forgiven. You confessed and you encouraged and you stood in awe.
If you are grieving the things that will never be the same at the end of a hardy season, it means that you are holding fruit my friend. And there isn’t much better in all of life than that.
Like my husband, I didn’t really know how I was gonna get through the last moments before we left our son four states away for the spring of his life. But God did. Turns out the induction ceremony at his college included an activity called rolling the quad. The Class of 2017, surrounded by all the parents on the gorgeous lawn at Wake Forest University, covered the Maple trees with snow-white toilet paper, a tradition they will repeat every time the Demon Deacons win a game. For everybody else, it was a welcome break from the emotion of separation at the end of a major season. But for me, it was a winter wonderland wink from God who gave me one last beautiful glimpse of snow covered trees just before the final thaw of childhood. Forever etched in my heart will be the image of my little boy melting into the puffy white Maples to start the spring of his life.
And yes, I will miss the snow.
But now I know that it’s OK!