Death…so familiar yet completely unknown
Hurricanes, wild fires, tsunamis, even today’s prevailing enemy, the COVID-19 virus, I witness these disasters striking human persons all over the world. I shudder for them and just as quickly sense enormous relief that my home still stands, that my body and spirit remain healthy. But there is another less settling feeling hiding beneath the relief, the one that’s always there. At some unknown moment, death will come to me. That same awful reality that first shook my world when my best friend died when we were only nine years old is one I can never escape.
For this reason that Spring has always been my favorite season. As our days grow gradually warmer and longer, sunshine also pours forth from the earth that lay gray-brown and dull for so very many weeks. Yellow daffodils appear at almost every doorstep. Forsythia burst like fireworks from the banks of the Willamette River. Even on cloudy days, I take to wearing my sunglasses again.
the wisdom of spring
Spring is my mentor. Time, she says, to let go of what has already died. Just as we need to clear away the dried-out leaves of last years flowers, I need to clear my hours of that which deadens my soul.
In the spring of 1967, a court order forced me to return a foster child in my supervision to her biological family just before her adoption. It devasted me that none of the arguments I had mounted against this travesty of justice held sway. Tradition won out over reason. Just as the spring rains washed away the last of the dirty Chicago snow, they also washed away my desire to continue working toward change I seemed helpless to initiate.
wilted and gone
For three years I poured my heart and soul into helping neglected and abused children find care, love and nourishing in new homes. I worked with them and their new parents as children with damaged spirits slowly adjusted to the kind of childhood, I had taken for granted as had most of my friends. The children did not learn to trust easily. The parents were not always able to cope with the challenges. Sometimes the new families fell apart at the seams. But when it worked, when children and parents bonded into a new family unit, every bit of effort paid off. Still, the cases that fell through took their toll on my psyche a little at a time. And almost every week brought another abandoned, abused or neglected child into my caseload. The never-ending cycle made me feel like a hamster in a cage, and I was just one social worker in one agency out of hundreds.
Soon after I began working at Cook County Department of Child and Family Services, I married my college sweetheart Jay Ward. For two of those years we had been hoping for a baby, but I remained infertile for reasons without a discernible medical cause. In what might have been reaching for straws, the gynecologist speculated that my work stress might be causing my infertility.
every end is also a beginning
At first, I considered his advice unacceptable, a too easy answer to a question
he couldn’t answer. But once uttered, it could not be unsaid. It was one of many straws on the camel’s back. I just didn’t feel it yet. When Vicki Reagan disappeared immediately after I brought her back to her biological family, it was the last straw. I couldn’t carry my load any longer. This work I loved, work that I had believed was a perfect fit for my skills and my sense of self, could no longer sustain me.
If an older version of me needed to die, who would take her place? Not a daffodil, I didn’t burst into bloom where planted as soon as the snows washed away. Rather like a daisy, a seed scattered on the wind, drifting, randomly landing without real intent, I would flower briefly in different editions over the next few years. It would not be until I became a mother that I once again discovered a passion that could sustain me over many seasons.
“Some things happen for a reason,
Others just come with the season.”
Was there a time you felt your life was suspended between an ending and an unknown beginning? I’d love to hear about that.