FOR A WEEK our hills and roofs and lanes and plans have been under a white blanket of snow. And all through those muffled bright-quiet days of strange hibernation, I was in bed ill, unable to go out and enjoy the cold beautiful winterness that shone in eerily through the cottage windows. Instead I read voraciously whilst my dear Tom brought me broths and tonics. The combination of being snowed in and bunged up added a layer of odd sadness to my days; I felt the winter whispering its song of profound death and stopping, as we huddled inside, unable to do anything but stop.
The snows are gone now, replaced by howling winds. These cold dark January days have pricked the hearts of several people dear to me with the sadness of death, and in their beautiful griefs, I honour them.
Dear friends Andy and Nomi, with whom we spent happy days just before Christmas, are now struggling to hold the huge sadness of losing their baby, in the womb five months. They have spoken eloquently of this, the unfathomable sorrow of having to give birth to a baby already dead, and of her naming, and her being. To Lyra May I send love.
A week ago my friend Gretel Parker, whom many of you will know through her wonderful illustration, felt-craft and well-loved blog, lost her life-partner and sweetheart Andy, who was found dead in the snow last Sunday. I am reeling from this news, and cannot imagine what Gretel is feeling. A campaign has been started by her friends to help her manage financially in these next months, as Andy had no will. His wage supported them and enabled their recent purchase of their forever-house, so if you can help Gretel in any way not to have to think about money in the midst of her grief, I know her huge online community of friends would be grateful.
And this week saw the one year anniversary of the death of our dear friend Thomas. In Friday's cold snow, a gaggle of his friends and beloveds climbed the hill where he is buried and planted hundreds of trees in the earth where he lays. We miss him terribly. But this year I have watched his wife Lunar navigate this, the sharpest of paths, with a grace and strength I didn't know was possible. She has flown on warrior-wings through the feather-ripping gales of grief. She has mothered her young daughter with skill and beauty. She has honoured her own grief with the pain and tears and joys and memories and humour and discomfort and incongruity of the days that follow on. I am honoured to call her a friend; she emboldens us with her strength.
The photograph above was taken in 1926 by Alter Kacyzne, a writer, poet, journalist and passionate photographer of Jewish life in Poland. The photo shows the village gravedigger of Biała Podlaska, Lublin province, teaching his grandson to read, whilst the boy's grandmother looks on with pleasure.
Most of Alter Kacyzne's photographs were completely destroyed during the second world war. The only pictures which survived, together with the captions he gave them, were those he sent for publication to the American Yiddish journal Forwerts.
Alter Kacyzne was beaten to death together with five hundred other Jews in the cemetery of Tarnopol by local Ukrainian collaborators during the German occupation of Warsaw, and his wife perished in the Belżec death camp. Their daughter was sheltered by a Polish family and so survived the occupation. Who knows how many of the subjects of his beautiful photographs died similar deaths at the hands of the Nazis?
One of the books I read whilst in my snow-confined sick bed was Fugitive Pieces by Canadian poet Anne Michaels - a beautifully-wrought work telling two Holocaust stories with a fierce art and a fine delicacy, and of love's power, even amid such atrocity as humans are capable of.
Near the end of the book, I read this:
The night you and I met, Jakob, I heard you tell my wife that there's a moment when love makes us believe in death for the first time. You recognise the one whose loss, even contemplated, you'll carry forever, like a sleeping child. All grief, anyone's grief, you said, is the weight of a sleeping child.
And I think that's true.