Ice pelts my window.
It calls me to relive memories of that earlier ice storm, which paralyzed our city and sent the National Guard with chain saws to our front yard. I am haunted by the remains of those once beautiful trees. But no matter; the trees were blocking traffic and what was dead had to be removed to allow life to return to the neighborhood.
But even now I see those decapitated trees. We were lucky a tree did not hit our house; two weeks earlier, I had hired an arborist to remove a weak Siberian Elm from the back yard, whose wide network of limbs covered the back west of our home and the east half of our neighbor’s. The healthier Siberian Elm in the front did not survive.
Last year’s ice storm, mild by comparison, woke me from a deep sleep. Hearing the ice made me edgy. And now this most recent ice storm, the one of two days ago, has converged to rest on top of two years of ice-storm memories. Is there no disaster relief? How many stratum will eventually build up before I can shake the memories surrounding that first devastating ice storm – the one of December 9, 2007?
I recall the date with ease. It is not ancient history, after all. But even if it were, I fear time will not lessen its grip over me. Last year’s tossing and turning, as ice slammed against our rooftop, forced me from a warm bed to release sleep-robbing thoughts on paper. “Stop your whining,” I told them then. And for a while, they grew still.
But the thoughts follow in the wake of every ice storm. They are relentless. There is nothing to fear, I tell myself. Compared to many in the neighborhood, our losses were minor two years ago — no heat and power for three days and one old Elm tree gone forever — if we survived once, we can survive again.
But I wonder now, as I wondered then, whether the brevity of our suffering was a rare sort of grace given to those in mourning.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Two days before the 2007 storm hit, we laid my mother’s body to rest. And because the ice storm followed mom’s death so closely, I fear I may forever associate one with the other. Will I always wake up at night when I hear ice hitting the rooftop? Will I always recall that moment of dark fancy – while living in our unlit cold home during the 2007 storm – when I wondered whether slinging around ice was mom’s way of venting anger from the grave, in the same way she infrequently resorted to slinging around a pot or pan, or slamming a door or drawer to vent her anger at life?
Mom was not angry about dying. She had told my sister – a few months before her stroke, with no forecast of death close in hand – that she was ready to die. If others of us weren’t as ready, then surely the inevitably of death’s appearance could make us so.
But making ready is not always easy. When storms are coming, people prepare to live life amidst destruction, buying batteries and water and ready-to-eat food. When the storm is death, we each prepare in our own ways. My way involved tears. Lots of tears. I cried for an entire week, praying for a miracle, blubbering by my mother’s deathbed, until I finally told her the day before she died, that it was okay it she needed ‘to go.’
Swifter than any could have imagined, Mom died. My maternal side of the family tree was gone. The strong oak that I could never imagine being without, the tree I liked to lean upon to gather strength, was felled by death. When the hospital called, we couldn’t get there fast enough. We went anyway. She died on a Wednesday night and an hour later we gathered by her bedside to whisper our final goodbyes. We buried her two days later. It was a cold Friday afternoon.
After six weeks of hope and one week of grief, all within the confines of an ICU room, I was ready to get on with the business of living. But nature had other ideas. That life-stopping ice storm came, and I was robbed of all mind-numbing distractions. No television. No books to read in an unlit house. I was left alone to grieve in the dark and cold.
And so the memories come with every ice storm; the grief spigot opens to invite me to chip away at the remains of grief. Yet, with tender mercy, it also invites me to remember Mom’s life and the way she absolutely loved to look out her window on falling snow. And so last Thursday, in honor of Mom, I stopped life to look out my window. And it was beautiful. Then standing still, I listened. The ice no longer sounded like pots and pans banging. Instead, I heard hundreds of little bugs crashing into my windshield.
Someday, I think, the ice will become itself again.