Demeter lost someone she loved dearly. At first it was so unreal that she didn’t notice where she was. She loved this person, and now they were dead.
How could this be?
Why hadn’t the world stopped at the moment of death?
How could people go about their lives as though something so earth shattering had never happened?
Her days were full of people, funeral arrangements, flowers and casseroles. The funeral came and was over. Everybody left. Then she noticed it.
She was no longer in that place that was so familiar to her. She was in the wilderness. An unruly forest of Beech, Maple, Birch, Oak and Elm trees. Of bushes and vines and no clear paths. The trees were tall and crowded in around her.
The wind through the trees was cold and bitter. The leaves of the trees were yellow, orange, red and brown. As she walked through the forest swirls of leaves blew across her path. They hit her face and became entangled in her hair. They seemed to mirror her own confusion and swirling emotions.
Everything was different. Where once she had wandered the clear, cool, shaded paths under trees replete with lush green leaves, there was now a barren wilderness of fallen, dead leaves and bone chilling breezes. The leaves swirled, an echo of her own jumble of emotions.
She pulled her coat tight and struggled on.
Every once in a while she came to a clearing that was vaguely familiar. There she did mundane things. Things that were once normal. but now felt wrong to do.
How could she get on with life when everything was so broken?
And then she was in the forest again struggling on.
One day she noticed the forest had changed. The branches of the trees were now completely bare. Their limbs were stark black, a contrast to the snow she now saw was on the ground. Every sound was muffled. She trudged through ever deepening snow drifts. She witnessed the silent snow falling without a sound. She heard no sounds just the crying of her heart.
The clearings, when she could find them, sat oddly in this winter landscape, and she hurried out of them. The confusing wilderness of the forest felt more comfortable than the appalling mundanity of the clearings.
Much further on she realised she could hear a bird song. Then she noticed the crunching of her feet on the ground and saw the snow had gone. As she looked out across the stark forest, she could see crocuses and snowdrops emerging from the dark soil. Up in the trees there was a hint of green across the tips of the branches. Her mood lifted slightly. She walked on through the forest. Some days she felt the hope of spring, others she was pulled back into the cold of winter. But as the days went on the winter weather gave way to more consistent warmth. The trees filled out with leaves and the ground burst forth with snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, jonquils, tulips and more flowers than she could identify. There was less contrast with the clearings she now came across.
She still found the clearings hard. The familiarity of them was comforting, but it felt disloyal to spend too long in them, so she hurried back into the trees.
Then one day she saw through the trees a very large clearing. The sun shining through the branches felt hot. She noticed the flowers were all gone and the leaves on the trees were fading. From the clearing she heard the sound of people. As she emerged into the sunlight she saw many familiar faces. It felt good to be amongst people again. She realised she didn’t feel as guilty about being out of the wilderness.
As she moved around the group of friends she saw Amy pulling some leaves out of her hair. She remembered Amy had lost the job she loved and had been struggling to find a new one. She told Demeter she had been in a wilderness but was pleased to find this clearing.
Joseph was a little further along. He was brushing snow off his shoulder. Demeter remembered he left his home country to move to her country to make a new home and had found the transition hard. He told her he had been in a forest wilderness and hoped this clearing was a sign of things improving.
Then she saw Phoebe picking at petals caught up in her clothing. Phoebe shared with her the difficult journey she had been on in a forest wilderness following the amputation of her leg. She was feeling more positive about her life now and was loving the clearing.
As she looked around, Demeter realised all the people there had experienced some sort of loss. Ryan had his house broken into and lost his sense of safety in his own home. Peggy’s marriage had ended and she had found it hard trekking through her wilderness. Abbie’s dog had died, Max had moved interstate, Jim had lost his house in a fire. The list went on.
Demeter stayed for a while in her summer clearing. Seeing how her friends had lost things too and struggled helped her to feel less crazy. It was good to sit in the warmth and be with friends.
At the end of the day she left the clearing and moved into the forest of her life. It wasn’t the forest she had lived in before her loss. Neither was it the wilderness forest. This one seemed more manageable. Some days were full of swirling, multi-coloured leaves and bitter winds, others were stark snow filled vistas. There were ones that were full of leaf buds and baby animals. And there were ones where she caught up with her friends. And there were always clearings to enter.
Demeter understood that this forest was her life now. It wasn’t the forest of her old life but it was the forest of her future, of her new life walking with grief, and it was okay.