As I packed away another season of Christmas decorations I lingered over a few that have become sweet symbols of the past. Mostly they are the worn ornaments made by my daughters during their pre-school and elementary school years. I am not sure why I am so attached to these things but I know it runs deep.
Looking at the abundance of homemade tree ornaments filling up the storage bins, I realize my zeal has resulted in too many "things on strings" for the tree. It's time to cull the herd of crafts, as it were. And yet, as odd as it sounds, it's a struggle.
I thought about other things as strong symbols as I read a front page item in the Sunday NYTimes regarding what the town of Newtown CT is doing with its many memorials to the sweet lives lost in December. The items carry more than memories - they embody the desire to hold up those lives as important. They also give people a place to grieve. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/nyregion/as-memorials-pile-up-newtown-struggles-to-move-on.html
Grief has a clear beginning but where it ends, if it ever ends, is vague at best.
Officials in Newtown CT began the process of removing the most elaborate memorials a couple of weeks following the shooting. The town's selectwoman, Patricia Llodra, waded into those delicate waters with sensitivity and focus. The community was alerted by phone about the removals. Plans have been made to process organic materials into "sacred soil" in a future memorial. Stuffed animals and other inorganic materials will be processed into bricks for use in constructing a tribute.
Families of those killed were given police protected time to visit the memorials privately. Then, in the middle of the night, items were removed.
Practical reasons like harsh winter weather pummeling the memorial items, rendering them as sad reminders instead of sweet honor guards, along with traffic issues moved town officials to take some action. I applaud the light, thoughtful touch this effort is being given.
Grief's path is marked by infinitesimal movement. The term "moving on" is often used and perhaps this is Newtown's effort to do so. I'd like to think it is more of a way to simply move regardless of direction.
My friend Linda, whose 22 year old son died in May, recently shared one of the things she realized during this past difficult holiday, "I believe I can survive my grief. I'm learning to move through it." I relish her awareness. We don't so much get over or under grief, but if we can come out on the other side of it, we learn how capable we are. If and how we do this is where the work of love takes place.
There is a local roadside memorial to a young woman named Amy that I used to pass each Saturday I drove home from taking my daughter to dance class in the city. (It sits along the southbound on ramp to Rte. 1 as you exit Rte. 476 in Springfield PA) It marks the spot where this young woman was brutally abducted; she was later found murdered in a North Philly lot. It has had various incarnations over the years with signs and symbols but they have all gone. Someone planted a tree in her honor and it flourishes. I think of her every time I pass that spot. I hope those who loved her are also flourishing.
It's not the spot where someone dies that contains meaning about their life; it is the spot where we started grieving. If we can learn to give our focus to how we loved their lives, then perhaps the place where they died receives a more balanced treatment.
My grandparents died in 1979. The cemetery was near my home so I would stop by their gravesite to have some silent time with them. Once I moved away a few years later, those visits ended. I think the last time I was at their gravesite was at their son's burial in 2000. I think I've learned to spend silent time with them in other ways.
The Bible says it well but Pete Seeger's lyrics sung by the Byrds adapted it best: "To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn) There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn) And a time to every purpose, under Heaven."