Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | January 12, 2011

January Snowstorm



A blizzard of emotions today: the tiniest, weirdest, most random moments are telling me stories and making me teary. Things that should make me happy are breaking my heart, and vice versa. What a sad and beautiful world. That I still live in. Since I didn’t die. When J. did.

I woke at snowy pale daybreak and got to lie in my sweet warm bed (alone, as always, now), listening to the storm outside, and the school cancellations on the radio. In recent years past I would have leaped up at first consciousness to keep my terminally ill husband from doing what he saw as his husbandly duty: pull on boots and hat, fire up the benevolent bright orange monster mega-horsepower snowblower, clear the driveway. The fact that he may or may not have been attached to the chemo pump pulsing its magical poison through his veins meant nothing – if he was able, he was shoveling. If he was not able, he was fretting about it.

When this thought came to me, cozily ensconced under layers of down and flannel and wool, it made me sadder than I would have thought possible: You can stay in bed as long as you want. Being widowed means oh so many things, and one of them is that I can take my own sweet time digging out after a snowstorm. I may as well see this as a positive. For today anyway. At least until I get up. To shovel.

Later in the morning, I took a picture of the snow-covered woodpile to send to our daughter A., who is in the tropics for the winter. I hope that seeing the backyard under a foot of wind-driven snow will make her less homesick, not more. The view is from the back porch. The image has a strange angle, a disconcerting feeling of familiar objects seen from too high off the ground. That is what J’s photographs always looked like to me: he was 6’6″, a foot taller than me, and I always felt that his pictures had a strange angle, a feeling of being too high off the ground. Again I am sucker-punched by that free-floating sadness that is always looking for a place to land.

Once we moved to this busy street, it was a given that during every snow storm, J. would rant about the snowplow. I thought he was completely unreasonable in his rage at the city plow trucks, who (according to him) would lie in wait for the chance to bury our driveway and long street-side walk in the snowplow’s fresh chunky drift the minute we got done shoveling out from the last plow-pass.

Our conscientious and affable next-door neighbor now drives an enormous plow truck for the city. Today he drove by at twilight, honking and waving. He saw me shoveling, and carefully aimed his plow so the spray of snow was several feet away from doing any damage to my freshly shoveled walk. He kindly and skillfully scooped up a mountain of snow and deposited it yards away from his driveway, and from ours. He saved me a lot of work in that ten seconds of aiming his gigantic plow blade just so. I should be happy and grateful. Why should that make me cry, standing alone in the blustery darkened street, leaning on my shovel, with the winter wind whipping tears from my cold cheeks? Wishing, of course, that J. was here to see and appreciate our friend’s gesture.

My maternal grandmother moved to Florida soon after the death of my grandfather, shortly before I was born. She sold everything she owned, all the imposing dark wood furniture and heirloom china and cherished silver, and started over in a brand new poolside condominium with all new possessions in white wicker and Florida lime green and bright turquoise. She never came back to winter again, even for a visit. As an adult I learned that her dearest love – also named James, although no relation – had suffered a heart attack during a terrible snow storm and the rescue squad had not been able to get through to save his life. He had died in their house, that of the polished mahogany sideboards and weighty rich Oriental rugs, while she waited on the floor beside him for the ambulance that never came. As a child I never knew how she could abandon the place she had lived all her life, leave her children and grandchildren and friends, build a new life, and never look back.

But I think, now, that maybe I understand.



  1. As always, your writing is so beautiful, Carolyn.

    I have a problem with snow now. The winter that Don was doing chemo, coincided with the second or third most snowfall in the entire times of keeping records in eastern Ontario. I spent hours and hours digging us out almost every one or two days — time I could have spent with Don. But instead, there I was trying to find places to put the ever-increasing heap of snow that threatened to block the path so that I couldn’t get him out to the van for treatments or the countless trips to emergency. I’ve only been in snow a couple of times since then and it triggers a PTSD type response. I well understand your grandmother who left everything and went to Florida. That’s pretty much what I have done. If at all possible, I will never spend another winter in the north.


  2. Hi Bev- I’ve heard you talk about all that shoveling before, and I think about you whenever it snows here. We all have these little bits of similarity, no matter what our stories are. I had a weird unexpected PTSD thing a few months ago when the power went out during a thunderstorm. It was because the previous time the power went out, it was also during a thunderstorm, a week or two before Jeff died, and I had some horrible scary kind of mini nervous breakdown. Now, why that happened, I don’t know. There was no good reason for it. J was already in bed; he needed nothing with electricity in theory or in practice; there was no danger and no reason to be afraid; I’ve always loved thunderstorms. But not that time. And not since. I hate that – now thunderstorms are taken away from me too?


  3. Hi Carolyn – It’s so true that even the things that we love can become a very negative stimulus for us. I once loved snow – hiking and snowshoeing through it, but no more. When you see how these kinds of experiences become imprinted on our psyches — well, you realize just how much we have been through and how deeply we have been hurt and changed.

    Liked by 1 person

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