Death As Snow

When I was growing up, a snow storm was a special treat. It blanketed the streets and houses in a coat of white — pure, quiet and full of promise. In the night, from my bedroom window, I would watch the falling snow visible under the golden halo of a street lamp and gauge it’s strength. Next morning I would awake with hope and anticipation, glancing out the window at the night’s accumulation as I made my way to the kitchen to learn the verdict. Was school closed? I held my breath. We dialed in the radio station, a station we listened to only for this news. Sometimes we were too soon or told ourselves we were as we listened to the announced list of closings several more times, willing the name of our school to appear. Oh, that exquisite burst of joy and relief as the familiar name of St. Francis finally came over the air. Yes!! The pause button for daily life had been pushed. The day was ours, free to spend as we liked. We could hardly wait to wiggle into our four layers of clothes and plunge into the crisp morning air and the soft chilly embrace of the mounded snow.

This experience of a snow day was to be repeated many times throughout my childhood in New Jersey. Snow, for me, has such a strong association of pleasure and freedom that even as an adult I find myself rejoicing in its appearance regardless of the inconvenience it might impose. Judging from the cheerfulness of others in the snowy streets, I would guess that many share this same early childhood conditioning. Nature has blessed us with a day off to follow our bliss.

I suppose people who grew up in California or other warm winter climates do not have anything comparable to a snow day from their childhood. Therefore they may not truly understand the association I now make between death and snow. And even those of you who share my snowstorm enthusiasm might wonder. Who would ever attribute joy and freedom with the loss of a loved one? And yet a recent death of a dear old friend and honorary family member brought this connection to mind.

Like a snowstorm, Roy’s death gave me permission to take a few days off to follow my heart. Although the logic of time and money dictated restraint, I took three days off to fly back to New Jersey to attend his memorial service and honor his death. Death gave me permission — an unanticipated snow day I could righteously claim!  Because his death was anticipated and his life limited by failing health, I was not sad. I could celebrate his deliverance with gratitude and immerse myself in a soft mound of memories and gentle grief.

To be sure, not all deaths are amenable to this snow day analogy. Some losses, like that of a spouse or child are too immense, too devastating to have any association of joy. More like a blizzard that breaks phone lines, topples trees and bursts water pipes, we are robbed of our security and sent into a world of unending cold. The storm is too scary, too overwhelming, too upending to be enjoyed even as it sets us free of everything we know.

In the course of our lives, we will encounter easy deaths, challenging deaths and impossible deaths. Savor what you can. Death takes us out of our normal routine and reminds us of the temporariness of life. It’s a chance to reflect on our past and consider what’s most important. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with family and friends and meet new people. To laugh, to cry, to share stories and to honor a person we loved. When death comes, take a snow day — give yourself permission to break from everyday life and listen to the voice of your heart.

Next month, for the first time, I will be screening the entire Secrets of Life and Death film series on successive Tuesdays at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley. It’s a great chance to take a snow day without having any one die.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at

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