Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Today is the winter solstice and the longest night of the year. After this, the days will begin to lengthen, minute by minute, until we reach the longest day of the year, next June. The winter solstice is a turning point, representing rebirth and new beginnings. 

This day is also significant to me because six years ago today my mother died after a long struggle with cancer.   

On December 21, 2010, we were on day five of the vigil and I had been by her bed all morning. In the afternoon Dad took over and I went outside to get some fresh air. There was a lot of snow that year, and the day had turned warm and foggy. I trudged around with my camera for awhile, and then went inside and made tea.

It was almost 3:30pm when Dad called my name in a voice that startled me. Mom's bed was in the living room, next to the wood stove which glowed orange in the cool winter light. I stood next to her feet, and Dad sat next to her head. Her breathing had become loud and ragged. Even now I wonder if she could hear what we said to her, and if we said the right things. I remember the conflict of wanting this awful struggle to end and not wanting her to go. Finally, it did end, and she did go. We buried her a few days later, on Christmas Eve, in the little cemetery down the road. It was snowing.

Since that time I have wanted to create my own rituals and traditions around the winter solstice, but this is the first year I have managed to do anything. I made cards, gave gifts, and had breakfast with close friends. Grieving is a deeply individual process. It changes and gets a little easier, but it never ends. Every December I struggle, and after the 21st the struggle eases up. My body holds memories in a way that is beyond rational thought. This year I was able to roll with it, to let the emotions be what they are and not feel overwhelmed. It has taken me six years to get to this point.  

These are the photos I shot in the hour before Mom died. They are absolutely precious to me, not because they are stellar images but because they remind me of what matters. When I look at these photos, I remember the details of that day. I remember my beautiful mother, who was a force of nature. I remember how short and precious life is. I think of all of the people in my life for whom I am grateful.  

If I love, I will grieve; that is the polarity of life. This is the gift of grief: now I can feel the pain of missing my mom and the exquisite joy of being alive all at once, and I am whole.