Image of snow gum in Victorian high country, Australia
Stories, seasons & friends archive

Of grief and the snow gum

Winter. The aching cold creeps into my bones and stays. Like an unwelcome house guest, it distracts and drains me, apparently undeterred by my efforts to evict it.

Outside, driving winds come in powerful waves, their icy blast arriving unhindered, direct from the snowy Australian Alps to me. Showery skirmishes of rain pass through indecisively, even apologetically. Oh, when will the spring come?

Cold

My instinct is an urgent retreat from the cold. Layered and heated, desperately conserving warmth and energy, I crave the cocoon of indoor comfort. Paradoxically, once I’m warm I become mean-spirited, fractious and selfish. “Who left that door open?”

However, if I venture out into the chill air and walk briskly with my face to the wind, the sluggish tide in my bloodstream begins to flow, however reluctantly. I find myself generating heat instead of hoarding it. And while my extremities might still be frozen, I feel vital and animated. If I’m honest, I can feel strangely alive in winter.

Grief

The wintry, aching longing for the beloved one who is gone didn’t creep into my bones. It took me hostage and it’s a permanent resident now. Even more unwelcome than the chill air, more disturbing and demanding, it has reshaped and changed me irrevocably.

Just as the alpine winds contort and twist the snow gum’s trunk, so my body bears the irreversible and unyielding imprint of grief’s tempest. Eyes, when tired, that struggle to focus. Hair, greyer now. Heart, broken.

There’s a terrible, bewitching beauty in the snow gum, a beauty wrought by buffetting gales and battering snowstorms. How can it possibly survive or grow or endure?

Photo by Michael Specht, from Flickr (Creative Commons licence)
‘Snow tree’ Charlottes Pass, NSW. Photo by Michael Specht | Flickr.com (Creative Commons licence)

In the high country of the Alps, the snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora, subspecies niphophila) can withstand temperatures as low as -20°C. Not only that, but after a snowfall the branches of this non-deciduous tree bend lower and lower, causing the snow to slide off the leaves and preventing the branches from breaking. The trunk bows and conforms to the prevailing winds—it doesn’t resist and so will not snap.

For me, grief can often feel like I’m caught in a blizzard—relentless, numbing, energy-sapping. At other times it can feel like I’m caught in a drift of snow—heavy, paralysing, suffocating. But like the snow gum, I’m learning to adapt to grief, bending and yielding to its implacable severity. It sometimes leaves me wondering how I will survive, let alone grow or endure.

But in these moments of desperate extremity God reminds me that I am not a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6). Rather, I am a snow gum with solid roots anchoring me to the earth.

Shelter

With the knowledge of his unfailing word to strengthen and hold me fast, and the shelter of his compassion and love, I am able to withstand the howling gale and the fearful storm (Isaiah 25:4).

And if I’m honest, I can feel strangely alive in grief, because death has changed my perspective on life.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Featured image: ‘Snow gum’ Mt Howitt, VIC. Photo by Ben Kreunen | Flickr.com (Creative Commons licence)

2 Comments

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    Marianne Morton

    Hi Lee
    I am a sporadic user of Facebook and probably class myself as a bystander rather than contributor. But as we are FB Friends I was directed to your Blog.
    I thank God for his guiding hand. Your recent Grief & the Snow Gum post, touched me deeply. Thankyou for putting words to my aching heart. Thankyou for expressing our deep rooted love in Christ. Our shelter from the storm, or courage and support when all around seems chaotic.
    My beautiful sister has been gone now for just over a year. I too have been made strangely alive in grief Eccles.7:2 has been taken to heart.
    Marianne

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    Kathy Goddard

    After each of your publications I reflect on the calm I feel and the comfort knowing that God looks after our hearts and lives. Thank you for finishing, you look after so many in your day to day life, Lee, and I have extended your Blog to family and friends in US, so your reach is further than you can imagine. Thank you for sharing again–will catch up soon I hope. love Kathy

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