Grieving the Loss of Snow
Updated: Apr 28, 2022
Last week a massive snowstorm rolled through much of North Dakota. We received 21 inches of snow in Bismarck-Mandan over a five-day stretch. Minot - about 100 miles north of us - received an unofficial total of 48 inches! It’s APRIL!
Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of time outside whether it was blowing snow, shoveling, or playing in the backyard. Day after day, Rachel and Linnea would bundle up to play in the snow until their snow pants and jackets were soaked.
Linnea loved it so much.
Months ago, she didn’t want to go outside. Now, we can’t keep her inside.
And I love it so much.
She is getting older and learning to enjoy more experiences.
Last night, when I was out grilling burgers for supper, the kids got their snow gear on and headed outside again.
Linnea ran straight to the snowman on the other side of the garage to check on the snowman that she and Rachel built the day before.
“Dad, come look at what happened to the snowman,” she called out to me.
When I rounded the corner, I didn’t notice anything particularly. The head was still attached and the stick arms were still there.
“What’s wrong with the snowman, Linnea?”
“Stuff is falling off it. The buttons fell to the ground,” she said.
And she was right. In front of the snowman, there were a few pieces of bark that had fallen from the front of the snowman. It was in the 30s yesterday and the melting released the brown bark from the second snowball.
“But I don’t want the snow to melt!” she said after I explained that the snow was melting.
Over the next twenty minutes, Linnea walked through many of the steps of grief. She was shocked that snow would want to melt at all. She sat in the snow and begged it to stay. Instead of enjoying the snow for the fifteen minutes she was outside, she spent that time wishing it would never go away in the first place.
When we finally did come inside, she peeled her coat and snow pants off of herself and then melted into a puddle on the floor. After a short while, I knelt down next to her and held her as she reminisced about how great the fluffy snow once was.
When I look back on the events of last night, I think it’s kind of funny that she would be so broken about snow melting (especially since we still have over a foot of the white stuff on the ground). But this isn’t meant to make light of our need for precipitation of any kind and it certainly isn’t meant to make light of the process that we all go through when we lose something we love.
But, when Linnea started to share her desire for the snow to stay, I saw in her many of the same things I experienced after Anders died. I was given a chance, for twenty minutes, to walk with someone through the steps of grieving.
So what did I learn from this?
1. Get Down on Their Level
People that are grieving don’t always have the same posture they had before the event they are grieving. For Linnea, her normally busy self spent much of her time sitting on the ground. For someone grieving the loss of a loved one, a job, or a broken relationship that posture may be a physical posture on the ground or stuck in bed. But it may be a separation from the world as they remain in their home or go places they may not normally go.
Rachel and I spent much of our time in the weeks and months after Anders died staying at home. I canceled most of the commitments I had for a number of months into the future. I needed to get back to my job (and my high school students) during the day, but at night I was in a routine of spending my time sitting at home.
People that are walking through grief often need a friend to show they care. One of the biggest ways people showed us they cared is by getting on our level - coming over to our house, stopping by my classroom during my prep period, bringing us essentials like toilet paper and kleenex so we didn’t need to go to the store, and yes sometimes even getting down on the ground with us. People got down on our level - they met us where we were at. People didn’t expect us to come to them.
2. Use Words Wisely
Linnea didn’t want to hear from me that it is mid-April and that snow isn’t supposed to still be on the ground. What she wanted to hear from me was that the snow was going to stay forever. Since I know it is not going to stay forever, the best I could do for her was to shut my mouth. I let her spend time being sad for a short while.
She also needed some encouragement. She needed to know that it was safe to be sad for a bit. She needed to know that I was there for her. She needed to feel my presence. As she melted into a puddle on the kitchen floor, I sat with her for a few minutes - not offering any solution to her problem and not trying to fix her sadness. I gave her time to process it on her own.
In the earliest stages of our grief, there were a number of people that showed up in our life and then just spent time with us. Silent. They didn’t know what to say and so they didn’t say anything. And that was ok. That was exactly what we needed.
Too often the silence is uncomfortable. But, when you enter the space of someone going through a difficult time, there is little that you can say that will make things better at that moment. There is certainly a time to speak but often follows a time of listening.
3. Be Ready to Act
After a few minutes of sitting on the floor, Linnea looked at me and said, “Dad, what can I help you with?” She had gotten through the feeling of sadness and was now looking to move on to something else. That something else was building a salad for our supper.
It was a small thing but it was an important thing. She took time to process her feelings and then was looking for a way to contribute to the family again.
We spent months isolating ourselves from others. We didn’t go to many events. We didn’t invite people over for food and games. But when we were ready to go out to eat or out to an event, others were ready to say yes. So, if you are walking with others that are going through the grieving process, be ready to act and say yes.
Linnea’s processing of the melting of snow is a great reminder of people process all sorts of losses in their life. Even though the timeline for Linnea was much shorter than the timeline other people go through in loss, there still is much to take away from watching her process the reality of snowmelt.
It reminded me of our walk through grief. And it reminded me of Jesus’ walk with others who grieved.
In John 11, Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies. Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha call for Jesus (who was a two days walk from the town of Bethany). Jesus arrives at Mary and Martha’s side four days after Lazarus was laid in the tomb.
He came to Mary and Martha after a two-day walk.
He listened to both Martha and Mary before speaking.
He was calm in the midst of Martha's accusations that Lazarus wouldn’t have died had Jesus been there.
He stayed by Martha’s side.
He reminded both sisters of the truth and hope of the Gospel.
When he saw Mary’s state of mourning, he was moved and wept himself.
He acted in a way that only God could - raised Lazarus from the dead.
We may not be able to completely solve the problems for others by reversing course on why people are grieving but we can use Jesus’ actions as a model. Go to people. Listen. Be a calm in the midst of a storm. Stay with those that are struggling. Remind them of the hope of the Gospel. Weep with them. Be ready to act.
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