A Proposal: Thoughts on Grief and Joy


Snow kisses my flushed cheeks and melts immediately against the warmth.  Naked branches click together in excitement, keeping time with my rapidly beating heart.  All around me are the bushes, trees, hidden caves and veiled trails that hold the stories of my youth—tales of adventures no one, not even my own memory, can readily tell. 

We are in the park I’ve played in for twenty years.  Twenty winters of sledding until my brothers or I broke something.  Twenty summers of hiking, volleyball and imagination.

We are in the park where I’ve done everything a person can think up to do in twenty years.  But now—something new.

Ryan is proposing.

At lease he is assuring me that’s what he’s doing after I ask, “Are you kidding?”  But his reiteration of the question, and the spreading dark stain of melting snow on his jeans as he kneels in the white powder, convinces me that proposing is in fact what he is doing.

Meaning, answering is what I should be doing.

Doubt is not what delays my yes—not lack of love.  I knew this moment would come as soon as we went on our first date.  The words I love you sprung out of my mouth as easily the first time as the million times hence, as if from a well I had been born with—a stymied well until Ryan held my hand.

No, doubt and love are not the causes of this silence in the park.  This moment—passing quickly in actual time, but eternal in the weight of thought it carries and in the memory Ryan will develop of this day—is filled with a realization I cannot quite grasp.  A realization I feel I must see through, at least in part, before I promise my life to Ryan in the snow.

Without knowing why I know, I know I can only have this realization in this park at this moment as the scenes of my life play around the trees, on the soccer fields and over the playground: the hot lava game Luke, Caleb and I played incessantly over the bark chips; the time my kite flew for the first time with my Daddy’s arms encircling mine as we guided the taut string; my last spanking after I hid from my family because I needed “alone time,” causing my parents to think I’d been kidnapped as they searched for me in panic; the black eye at the end of harrowing day of sledding and Daddy’s insistence that we not tell Mama how I got it; and my first real kiss with my high school boyfriend on one of the hidden trails I found with my brothers during a game of Robin Hood.

My proposal will now be one of my park stories—the stories I will tell our children as we picnic in this same park.

But the realization goes beyond the memories held in the frozen grass beneath my wet shoes.  My Papa’s funeral last night and my first ticket as I drove my brothers home to get away from the wake at Gramma’s house is part of it too—this epiphany beyond my grasp.  The days and nights the last two weeks, sitting next to Papa’s bed as he struggled for breath, knowing I was watching him die and the cancer growing in Mama’s belly even though we do not know it yet.  All this is encompassed in my hesitation.

Ryan’s pleading eyes and soaked knee will not wait for me to wrap my thoughts in a cohesive package, so:

“Yes!” I’m say, the word coming from the same well as my love.  And as Ryan twirls me around into our new life, I can see my package in all its cohesiveness for the first time.

New life.

God is offering me new life in this wonderful man with his arms around me.  Ryan’s proposal is God’s answer to my devastation over my papa’s death and the further desolation I will experience when they discover Mama’s cancer. 

This is what God means in I Thessalonians when he says we are to grieve with hope.  These moments, the childhood joys and the proposals and the births and the new homes, are the antidote to all-consuming grief.

The culmination of my epiphany is not flashing before me like the fireworks I’ve watched here for twenty 4th of July’s, but sliding over me like the cooling waters of the lake across the street.  I’m kissing Ryan and laughing at what this means—this yes and this ring. 

I am going to marry this man.