In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
~ Christina Rossetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter”
We were driving to church with my Spotify Christmas playlist guiding the way. A particular version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas*” came on. It’s one of the more melancholy Christmas songs, but I’ve always loved its ability to capture the longing for joyful togetherness in years when it simply isn’t there. Maybe next year, if allowed. These things are beyond our control.
Christmas is doubly difficult this year without my father. I’ve found myself sinking into a quieter, subdued holiday. That includes the music I listen to.
Church was a few blocks away when the song caught up with me. I began to ugly-sob, struck by a horrible thought. My dad’s gravesite would be covered with snow. The idea of snow piling and drifting up onto his headstone and wreath broke my heart anew. I know he isn’t there. He doesn’t feel the cold or the dark or the loneliness. It was completely irrational, which is one of grief’s disguises.
I wasn’t bothered by the idea of my dad’s cremated body filling an urn placed on top of my mom’s dining room buffet. When he was finally interred in a plot at a veteran’s cemetery, thoughts of sun and wind rushing over and around his resting place didn’t gut me. But snow and the winter solstice spinning our way are crushingly sad. Snow on snow, snow on snow, as if one burial wasn’t enough.
In “It’s A Wonderful Life” George Bailey is gifted a vision of what life would be like had he never been born. Clarence the Angel takes him on a tour of rowdy, decrepit Pottersville. One of the last stops they make is at Harry Bailey’s headstone. The wind and snow relentlessly pound the child’s marker. George realizes the only reason that marker exists is because he didn’t. In Pottersville, there is a raging blizzard, as if the ugliness and injustice of such a place can fish brutal weather out of the air.
Back in idyllic Bedford Falls, there is no storm. There is no headstone, either.
My husband parked in the church lot and turned off the engine. “Are you okay?”
I said “no”. Usually, I say “yeah” or “I will be.”
He probably thought he wasn’t hearing correctly, because he asked again. Still, no.
I tried to explain what set me off—the idea of snow piling on top of my dad’s grave and how it made me unbearably, irrationally sad. He said he was sorry. The kids started unbuckling, oblivious to what was going on up front. They opened the sliding door and climbed out into the cold. I sat for a few beats and joined them.
First, his body was destroyed by cancer, then fire. Then, he was scooped into a plastic bag tied and tagged shut. That was settled in a deep brown wooden box. Finally, he was buried under the dirt of my hometown, topped by sod. I think I understand now. Snow is something else beyond my control. It’s another layer of separation between what was last Christmas and what is this Christmas.
…Through the years, we all will be together
If the Lord allows…
It’s a snow on snow, snow on snow Christmas. It’s a muddle. It’s here.
Yet, I am comforted. My dad is missed, but he’s free.
Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and Earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.