Pond Water: Learning to Weather the Storm of Grief
We flushed the toilet using pond water and we took turns in a vigil by the gas stove, our only source of heat. In this way, we survived a power outage one winter during my childhood.
I didn’t imagine my parents were teaching me how to weather a crisis, a physical one. Many years later, I’d need this skill for an emotional crisis, for their deaths. For separation from them.
All my life, my parents placed building blocks in my life on crisis management. The utility outages sort of run together in my mind as though they happened singularly. In truth, we faced a handful of times together as a family, braving the cold after ice storms and utility malfunctions. I learned self-reliance, perseverance and ingenuity.
These incidents came to mind after Memphis experienced high winds last week that knocked out electricity to thousands of homes. We didn’t have power overnight, for more than eight hours. At this writing, about 30,000 customers continue to be sitting in the heat with no power for the a/c.
I grew up outside of Memphis. There in the country where trees flourished beside power lines, we experienced electrical outages quite regularly. And so I know just what to do.
I hauled out the flashlights and candles immediately. Without a TV and a light to read by, my husband and I passed time in conversation.
As a girl, I knew to resist getting into the refrigerator, so the cold air remained inside and preserved our food. I realize now how fortunate my family was to own a gas stove. As long as the propone tank functioned, we were able to cook. Without electricity, our pump for the well didn’t work, and the dirty dishes piled up in the sink.
These power outages, which came almost exclusively at winter time in my childhood, only possessed so much, well, power. We were going to be uncomfortable and inconvenienced, but we weren’t going to die. No, facing death came later.
In the same living room where we all gathered to sleep during these power outages, my mother died in the night, three years after Dad. It was a summer night. I can’t say I knew exactly how to cope. I went through the house to take the valuables away for safe keeping, and I rummaged through drawers and cabinets for clothes she’d wear and photos we’d use in the funeral.
But how to survive without her? This was unchartered territory. It was a crisis.
Perhaps because of the smaller crises my parents walked us through, however, I knew tomorrow would come. This moment would pass. And the next one. I would be uncomfortable with regret. I would be inconvenienced by the ambush of grief, sorrow’s sudden re-emergence while I tried to work, or shop, or worship. And life would go on.
I’d see my parents’ hands in my life week after week after week. They built into me the ability to survive. What they left behind got me through the storm.
How did your parents teach you to weather a crisis? Are you handing down those same lessons to your children? Do they know how you learned them?
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