The Vulnerability of Winter

This time of year makes me feel very vulnerable. The shorter days and longer nights make me vulnerable to more depression, sadness, internal unrest and fear. I have had this seasonal affective disorder since I was young and it isn’t improving with age. I find myself hiding under the covers in the mornings and crawling back under the covers as soon as the sun goes down.  I realize that I require more sun and heat than most people I think!  In my younger days I drank my way through fall and winter, which clearly didn’t help my ongoing mood. Now, I find myself counting the days until Spring peeks out and I have the certain hope of longer days and warm weather.

I don’t understand why I fall into this funk. I think some of it is throughout my life “bad things” seemed to happen in the dark half of the year. When I was 13 my grandfather died of an aneurysm on February 27, 1980. Aneurysms always scared me because they sound so scary. The word is spelled so it looks scary!! Who uses a “Y” where there could be a “I”?? Now that I have the same disease, I am still afraid of the dark and the noise I hear in my ears that reminds me that I have them.  So I don’t sleep much at night!  I remember some fairly vivid details about that time and experiencing my first non-animal death.  I remember my oldest brother came to the grade school to pick me up, which initially,  I thought was going to be something fun and it was so cool I had an older brother to do that!! He was a senior in high school, so the fact that he would pay any attention to me was a bonus!  Then I found out that it wasn’t for anything fun…it was for something no one wants to experience.  I remember my mom’s face, my dad’s helplessness, my brothers arguing, my mom telling me to pack something that I never wanted to wear again.  I thought that was weird, because as the chub in the family, I didn’t have a large wardrobe to pick from, so I grabbed a corduroy wine colored skirt, some lace blouse thing and some white sandles.  Did I mention it was FEBRUARY and COLD??? I remember the long car drive, and the sunset….oh that sunset so fiery red, orange and majestic purple, then the peace and quiet until we arrived.  Like a hush across the sky came this eery hush among the five of us.  We were trying to get there before.  Before.  Before.  Before what??? I didn’t know that there was a chance we could get there before he died!  But then there was that sunset, and the hush and the calm and the weirdest “okay” feeling of love and I knew that there was going to be no BEFORE…..and there wasn’t.  It wasn’t until years later did my mother talk about looking across the cemetery in the deep snow that she saw me standing in some white sandles with no socks that she realized that I had indeed taken her words to heart, “Wear something you never want to wear again” she said.  I did.  I didn’t want to wear them again.  She feels guilty to this day that there was that little girl in the snow.  I don’t feel that way.  I feel that she was right to this day, and on sad occasions, I choose something from my closet that reminds me of my grandfather on that day and I wear something I never want to wear again.

I made it nine more years before winter claimed another person I loved deeply.  My grandfather Cleland died January 1, 1989.  It was cold and dark and blowing and I was supposed to fly to Norway on the 7th of January for a month.  I was blessed enough to be there before…..I saw miracle after miracle and then….darkness.  I will forever be thankful for Marvel McDonald that morning.  She was an angel in the midst of my sadness.  Some people are just like that, aren’t they? She was.  I flew out, leaving my family and tried navigating grief as an adult of almost 22,  the same way that I was navigating my way across the icy cold tundra of Norway.  It was dark day and night and sometimes scary, for when I would try to sleep I would hear that rattle.  That unmistakeable death rattle and I would wake in a sweat only to realize that it was no longer him that I was hearing, but myself.  It was a long journey back…..from somewhere in my brain. Winter took on yet another cold reason that I couldn’t stand.

My Dad died December 22, 2014.  It was cold, windy wet and dark.  I could hear him say “Stay safe in the dark half of the year, Darlin.  Nothing good comes in the dark half.”  He was right.  Death comes so often in the dark.  Like a thief in the night cloaked safely in the darkness, it comes.  I am still trying to navigate this journey of grief.  I am very vocal about the way grief takes over during the weakness in me.  I make no apologies for grief and how it can pile drive you out of the blue and knock the absolute shit out of you even when, even when, even when you think you are handling it like a boss.  I do better in the light half of the year!  I love the memories of the days in the light!! I picture the days of sailing at the lake, the sun burns, the sand, the camping, vodka tonics and cold beer, Marlboro Lights, and the way Coppertone smells on your skin after a day in the hot sun.  I love the memories of the heat and the fun and I even love the memories of  painting fence and cleaning the barn, and working in the heat!  I love everything about the light half of the year, but now the DARK is upon me again.

Every year I pledge that I am going to make a pact with myself to do better, be stronger, try harder, get squared up, stand taller, accept what I can’t fix, all that stuff, then reality hits, and  I am still my unrealistic self!   I don’t know how I am going to attack this Dark Half of the year in 2018-2019…. I am going to crawl in a tanning bed and not to get tan….It’s light therapy and bigger than a headlight.  I am going to wear UGG’s day and night to keep my feet warm and I am going to go somewhere warm for a few days if nothing else.  If it’s only 11 Monday’s until Christmas, then that means there are only 25 Monday’s until April 1st.  That’s the plan of attack….

Until then, keep counting….stay safe in the dark half



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