It’s hard to believe that the September days will soon be fading.
September is a month bursting at the seams… permeated with endings and new beginnings. The lazy days of summer begin to wane as fall schedules commence, yet, the season continues to linger along with the verdant foliage, lengthy days, and warm temperatures that beckon us to savor the last morsels of golden sunshine. The growing season nears its end and gardens and fields are full and ripe for harvest. Nature’s bounty is preserved as empty freezers and pantries begin to fill again with food that will sustain us through the cold dark days of winter. Along with physical nourishment, we store up the hope of a new school year full of promise. Looking back at the previous academic year, we lament how quickly our children have changed, all the while eagerly anticipating another period of transformation.
As a homeschooling mother, September had always been one of my favorite months. At the end of a summer spent pouring over books and curriculum choices for my own children and organizing a large homeschooling co-op of more than 30 families, it is exhilarating to begin executing the plan. Experience has taught me that plans don’t always translate into reality and adjustments must be made. I’ve had to learn, in planning, to focus on what is truly important and let the rest go…to be more realistic about what we will actually accomplish and leave room for rest. Last September, it seemed we finally hit our groove. My oldest son was headed to high school and the girls and I were looking forward to the new year. Sure, there were still math meltdowns and bad attitudes, but we were really focusing in on truth, goodness, and beauty. I insisted on beginning each morning with the most important things: prayer, Scripture, and reading aloud from great literature. Our days seemed to contain just the right balance of faith, academics, and wonder with space for creativity and spontaneity. With a new baby on the way, I knew there were adjustments that would inevitably need to be made but I was confident that we had built a solid foundation. We spent time after lunch swimming in the pool and basking in the sun. Mondays were spent at co-op and I committed to spending our Fridays attending Mass and doing something fun. We were learning together, praying together and enjoying one another. It was the beginning of what promised to be a be a beautiful school year.
The above picture was taken last year on a glorious Friday in September. My mom, the girls, and I ventured to the apple orchard. Instead of packing a lunch, we decided to try our luck putting something together at the orchard’s small market. We purchased some cheese, bologna, and a knife with which to cut it and huddled together at a small picnic table, eating and laughing at our makeshift lunch as the bees relentlessly swarmed, hoping for a tiny morsel. Afterward, the girls wove through the rows of crisp, colorful apples chasing one another with excited giggles and filling their bags to the brim with juicy treasures. They delighted in discovering all of the different varieties and dreamed about the applesauce, and desserts to be made. The day culminated with an afternoon Mass, three happy girls, and an exhausted pregnant mom.
That beautiful day, in all it’s simplicity, will forever be etched in my mind. As I recall those sweet memories, and see myself in my mind’s eye I want to shout, “Don’t you see? This is it! She’ll be gone soon! Hug her tighter! Don’t let her go!” I desperately desire to recapture that day in the orchard and breathe it all in again…every sight, sound, and smell. I want to bottle it up like a healing oil to be extracted on the darkest days. I would give anything to feel that warm sunshine on my back again and spend one more summer day with Evie and her sisters…all together.
But I can’t go back, and I can’t bottle it up. Time keeps moving forward. In just a little over a month from now, we will reach the anniversary of that fateful day and will no longer be able to say, “This time last year, we had Evie.” With each day that passes, we get further and further away from the memories of our sweet girl. I fear the day when it becomes obvious that all of my children have grown and Evie is still eleven in the pictures. It’s as if we are on a train speeding away from the station where our little girl stands on the platform waving goodbye. We can’t return, and the destination going forward seems painfully distant.
As these September days quickly slip by, I feel the sense of foreboding on a cellular level. The sights and smells bring me back to those days of blissful ignorance…when the year was full of promise and all was right with the world. So many things seem eerily similar to last year. We have started school again and as last year we begin our days with prayer, Scripture and literature. We spend time with friends on Fridays having fun. Our days continue to leave room for rest and free play. On the surface, it would seem that very little has changed.
But this school year, our world is horribly amiss.
Just like last year, I pick my son up from school daily. However, this year, I notice the twelve year-old girls walking home. They are young and energetic, carrying their heavy backpacks, talking and laughing. Ironically, as I pull to the stoplight I am looking straight into the entrance of the cemetery where my daughter’s body, once energetic and full of life, is buried.
The atmosphere is much more subdued as the girls and I sit together in the morning singing, reading, and praying, Evie is no longer physically present to eagerly answer every question. We move at a much slower pace. Our literature choices are geared toward a younger crowd and nobody is begging for “just one more chapter” anymore.
We no longer attend the large homeschooling co-op that I began and into which I poured much of my heart and energy. We tried going back as participants, but the long Monday morning drive past the hospital where Evie died, and the crowd proved a bit too overwhelming for a mom and two little girls grieving and coping with post-traumatic stress. We stick close to home now, for the most part, and have traded our large co-op for a very small one that meets at our place.
Perhaps the biggest change, since last September, is the one I see in the mirror. Some days, I barely recognize the person staring back at me. My mind is foggy and I feel like I’m moving in slow motion. I can’t handle a lot of social events or activities and am often left speechless in a group of people. Although I continue to go through the motions of my day and carry out the duties required of me, the internal flame that once burned with passion for organizing and planning, teaching my children, bringing other families together, and finding the perfect book seems to have been extinguished. Occasionally, a small spark of inspiration will light, but it’s quickly choked out by sorrow and exhaustion. In the aftermath of Evie’s death, much of who I once was has been buried in the rubble.
It seems that September, with all its beginnings and ends, will forever mark the end of our metaphorical summer and the beginning of a downward spiral into winter.
Yet, even in the darkness and desolation of winter, I am reminded that under the cold, hard ground exist roots that run deep and wide… providing nutrients and serving as an anchor to the life waiting to emerge.
In much the same way, my life, although unrecognizable at times, is rooted in the One who claimed me long before I ever became Evie’s mom. I am, and will remain, His child. He nourishes me with His very life. When I feel confused and directionless He keeps me grounded in truth. My family belongs to Him and no matter how dead and broken we might feel, He is with us, He loves us, and our purpose on this earth has not changed.
And although I often grow impatient with myself and my inability to live life as I used to, I am slowly learning that is ok to lie dormant in this season of winter: to let myself be held and loved, to lower my expectations, and allow God to do His healing work. I’m learning to recognize that grief has no timeline. It’s a painful process that we must simply walk through day by day. There’s nothing to do but live each moment and allow grief to do it’s work…to be quiet and wait.
Yet, we do not grieve without hope. Because we know that just as September marks the beginning of summer’s end, the end of our winter will mark the beginning of an eternal spring where our tears will turn to dancing and what once was dead will arise to new life.
“For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!”
Song of Songs 2:11-13