The beauty of GREEN

Three significant losses in my adult life – of a love, a pregnancy and a parent – all happened during the winter months. There was compassion in the dark evenings, relief in experiencing grief at a time when the season matched my mood. There was no pressure to be outside watching other people enjoying themselves. I would rush home after the distraction of a day’s work to find grief waiting, cruel and friendly, behind my front door.

On each occasion I found I was looking forward to spring, hoping that the lightening of the days might bring a corresponding uplift of my spirit.

I was most conscious of Lent after the death, early in the year, of my father, who was a clergyman. His death was timely. I had had time to prepare for it and the sorrowing that followed was predictable and straightforward. I waited for Easter Day, the day on which he’d been born, and greeted it with a celebratory ritual on the beach. The other griefs were messier; Life and love stopped in their tracks. The mourning process didn’t stick to my timetable. Summer came and went, autumn moved on into the following winter and still I was sometimes door-stepped by acute pain.

How long, Oh Lord? I imagine that even the most resilient and patient person (I am not one) wants to avoid pain. The impulse to deny grief, squash it down or rush the stages of bereavement is understandable. I’d read about them in Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s On Death and Dying – and here I was, doing very well, arrived at anger already! Soon the past and its pain would be behind me. That’s what moving on is about, right ? We’re surrounded by a news culture in which reporters – no sooner than noting a tragedy – talk about individuals and communities “coming to terms” with their losses, achieving “closure” and getting on with their lives. Dealing with loss is presented as a linear process leading towards some future, fixed and fictional end-point of acceptance and resolution.

In his poem “The Trees” Philip Larkin likens the changing of the seasons to human experience. He observes the life cycle of trees, their buds relaxing and spreading until they are in full leaf. A sight to lift the spirits, surely? But he describes their greenness as “ a kind of grief.” When I first came across the phrase, I thought a notoriously gloomy poet was simply reminding us of the inevitability of death; the leaves will die just as last years did. But on further reading it soon struck me as a powerful message of hope. The beauty of green speaks positively about grief which recognises the precious nature of what has been lost. The tree can be reborn – move on into the next year – but only, as Larkin says, by writing itself down in rings of grain in the trunk. It’s a poem about the circle of hope and despair, life and death. It also says to me that you can’t cut corners when you are going through grief, but it is possible to allow some light into those corners. It’s a good poem for Lent when Christians hope for Easter, but only through the experience of Good Friday. Death but also Life. Despair. But also the Hope, year on year, that the green blade will rise from the buried grain.

Rosie Dawson is a broadcast journalist and documentary maker who specialises in religious affairs.