It’s no secret… I am devoted to summer when pjs stay longer in my bureau drawer, my daily exercise can include the sunset, and the increased hours of sunlight accommodate my diminished night vision. Sure, the crisp clean air that follows a beautiful snowfall is enchanting, but winter’s early hours of darkness make its reputation for being dim, dank and damp, a fitting one. Next week, December 21st at precisely 9:27 p.m. in the northern hemisphere we will experience, as we do each year, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of light, the longest day of darkness, a.k.a. the first day of winter.
Darkness is neither a revered place nor a desirable state of mind. Think about how many children fear the dark; consider the growing number of teens and adults who suffer seasonal affective disorder. Hence, it is no surprise that a plethora of rituals involving “light” surround the coming of winter. Beginning with the celebration of the solstice, winter darkness is combatted with celebrations of light, life, and merriment. Indeed, most winter holidays developed as an attempt to bring us out of the dark, making this a season of light. Many rituals of these celebrations involve candles or fire, including Diwali, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa, the Lunar New Year, Lohri, The Chinese Lantern Festival, and February 2nd Candlemas. A growing number of towns and cities also hold a festival of lights event to celebrate their community. Rituals of light can be a source of hope and healing, but for someone grieving a death loss these can also be a trigger for loneliness. Despite a temptation to cocoon ourselves in hibernation during the winter months, there remains many opportunities to balance isolation with sitting in the light with others. Grief beckons the bereaved to not only value the mystery of the dark, but to appreciate the grace of the light.
Despite winter’s diminished daylight when flowers cease to bloom and grass lays fallow, there is promise in the darkness. As the season when mother earth rests, it is good for the grieving heart to join earth’s precious pause, the miraculous months of earth’s pregnancy. Paul Theroux expressed it perfectly, “Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” Embracing the mystery as the earth awaits its spring, living in the dark, adjusting our hearts to night vision with hope for all that is germinating in darkness, brings peace to a broken heart. Moreover, it can move us from traumatic stress to traumatic growth. In this way, winter can be a worthy companion for the grieving heart.
In the town of Holden there is a great gift shop named “Soulstice.” Every time I visit it, my eyes and heart feast on beautiful handmade gifts by local artisans. Not only do I love this store, but I also love its name, for solstice celebrations offer a unique opportunity for the soul to honor mother earth’s life cycle of light and darkness. This year, as I grieve a recent death loss, I will remember my loved one on the Solstice, making it a Soul-stice day by honoring the light she brought to my life, remembering our happy days, driving out the darkness of my grief while I sit in her luminosity. I will try to embrace grief’s dark days by basking in the glow of memory and spirit. I will light a candle for her, bring her brightness into my sacred space, and spend precious time in her presence. I will grant my soul its craving need to remember and rejoice in all we shared.
December 21st marks the longest day of dark, no doubt a mirror of the long, painful days our grief has met. But December 22nd begins the longer days of light, moving ever so slowly and gently toward more light… so keep hope…the day after the Winter Solstice, summer is on the horizon.
“In the depth of winter, I find within me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus