The Two Sides of Fall

Screen_Shot_2015-08-23_at_9.14.57_AM.pngKelly Lynn's post about autumn inspired me this week. She was speaking to the idea of how grief makes us live in black and white for a time... how it removes all the color from our lives. This year, as her favorite season approaches she is seeing in color again for the first time since Don died. She and I have gone through these colorless years together... endless hours on the phone together about this shitty existence. It is so beautiful that both of us are beginning to see color again.

As the fall season approaches, I am finding myself with a newfound excitement I have not had in years. I have always loved the fall. It's my favorite season and I have not given up on trying to enjoy it since his death. Fall of 2012 was a very different one though. Instead of enjoying the colors and the crisp air, the pumpkins and festivals and halloween parties and haunted houses... I was embracing another side of this season. Everything was going dormant... effectively, looking dead from the outside. It seemed fitting as this was the first season after my fiance died in June that year. I remember wrapping myself up in the nature, because it's outward appearance so completely matched my heart inside. (In Texas, you see, we don't have the beautiful turning of colors... more like a anticlimactic slight yellowing, followed by everything just dumping its leaves in apathy.) Nature was preparing for the bleak, quiet, barreness of winter. And so was I. I spent hours every day just sitting outside in nature... feeling it's colorless heart beat with mine. Somehow it felt like I wasn't so alone...

By the time a year passed and fall was around again, I found myself looking forward to it for these reasons... for the insulating feel that nature in fall had created for me the year before. Some sort of sanctuary was there for me... a time and a place to go deeply inside myself and begin preparing to hibernate from the world with my grief. Within that colorless world, I in fact found there to still be an enormous range of beauty – the sweeping whites all the way down to the blackest blacks. Living in the landscape of grief is all about contrast, after all.

That's how I explored grief in the fall... navigating the many variations of grays and getting to know each one of them. And although it was full of pain and tears and I was terrified I'd never be able to welcome the other side of fall again... the festivals and pumpkin pies and costumes and colors... I had found new meaning for autumn for a time.

I recently read an essay on grief where the woman, Rachel Ward, said "When you experience a loss like this, you get to see a really wild new amount of life. Suddenly the parameters of the type of sad you can feel, or the type of happy you can feel is busted open. The spectrum from happy to sad isn’t a foot wide anymore – it’s as far as your arms can stretch and then to the edges of the room and then up the block...”

I've been trying to put that into words for years. How accurately she says it. That is exactly how my life feels now. And has felt since he died. So much has happened to me and within me. And his death has really busted open the doors of what is possible in just about every area of my life. The reason I share this here is because it is so appropriate to this year...

This year is the first that I am truly and deeply excited for fall, for living fully in fall again. After several years of warming up to celebrating instead of hibernating during this season... this one is going to be different. This fall season, I will be spending a few weeks up in Ohio with Mike, the man I started dating back in February. This fall season I will not only be embracing the beauty of fall as I used to be able to... but in fact I will be experiencing a whole kind of fall than I ever have in my life. It will be the first time I will be seeing a part of the country where the leaves turn in full glory – something I have wanted for since I was a child. How appropriate that re-entering love with Mike is the thing that is taking me to this place of exploding color. How appropriate that Drew's death has ultimately lead me not only to new spectrums of the sadness of fall, but now, quite literally, to a new range of colors that I have never seen before.

It has taken a long time to get here. To get through the colorless fog. A lot more time than I wanted it to take. But there is one thing I want to share about that first horrible fall after his death. I did manage to do one thing to celebrate that season. Because it was our tradition and something we loved together and I didn't want to give it up. I went with one of my oldest friends to a haunted house. It was actually one of the most pivotal things that happened in those early months, because for the 5 minutes or so we were in the haunted house, my mind was being jolted left and right. Shaken up. Stirred. Surprised. In the best of ways.

The moment we rushed out the door, I found myself in a deep belly laugh! I was in such complete and utter shock... I was laughing! Really laughing!! I knew right then that something big had happened. For a moment, I could see color again. I had completely forgotten my pain. And for those short 5 minutes of sensory overstimulation, I was just another gal enjoying the moment being scared and made to laugh and play. It reminded me that I can still laugh, and that sometimes it is important to do something to jolt myself, to shake myself up, to grab onto the small part of me that can still play and pull her out into the present moment with me. It was huge to realize this was even still possible at all. It helped me to see that if I kept choosing to do things to shake myself up, I would somehow be able to keep my joy alive in the midst of this long and tiresome journey through grief. I would still see bits of color, now and again, until gradually my world could be filled with color once more.  

Resources: "I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your email, my husband coughed to death two years ago" by Rachel Ward

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  • Sarah Treanor
    commented 2015-08-25 16:14:25 -0700
    Thank you Karrlin! And Kelley… yes! One of these days!
  • Karrlin Bain
    commented 2015-08-23 07:39:15 -0700
    I’m loving this life of yours and also feel the same way about your writing!!! Beautiful piece!!
  • Kelley Lynn
    commented 2015-08-23 07:27:30 -0700
    I actually remember you doing that haunted house, and how much fun you said you had. You are going to love the autumn leaves. One day, you NEED to come to where I grew up in Massachusetts. They are truly the most beautiful in New England. Mass, Vermont, New Hampshire. The leaves are stunning in October.