What Gets You Through

Healing a Heart
By Sara Barry

As I write this, I’m coming down off a sugar high from our first sugar shack visit of the season. Pancakes dotted with blueberries; crisp, salty bacon; hot coffee; and of course plenty of sweet, fresh syrup. Waiting for our pancakes, I stood with my girls as they took turns climbing the steps to look down into the evaporator where sap in different stages of transformation bubbled wildly. I breathed deeply, taking in the moist, maple-laden air. This tradition gets me through the long, tail end of winter and the messy start to spring.

Nine years ago, Brian and I muddled through our early grief by falling back often on “normal” or what we had done in our life before. Come the last weekend in February and every weekend in March, “normal” meant these pancake pilgrimages. But one weekend that year, we couldn’t quite face going to our usual spot alone when we thought we’d be there with a baby, so we modified tradition. We went to a sugar shack, but one new to us.

I remember my first visit to this sugar shack vividly with the blur and sharp particular details of early grief. I remember the long tables and loud hum of the busy, high ceilinged room, the steam swirling up and out from the evaporator on the upper level of the dining area. I remember Carol, putting a hand on my arm as we ordered at the counter. I had met her about a month before at my first Empty Arms meeting, and she scanned the room for me: no babies to trigger my fragile self.

Mostly I remember the sunlight that streamed through a wall of windows on the front of the building. I felt the brightness around me, but not in me.

Today, I sat lazy and satiated in the sun that poured through those windows. Daffodils raised their yellow trumpets on the table. The outside thermometer read in the 30s, but the sun inside and out felt warmer.

Nine years ago, I held onto every tiny speck of hope that spring would come, that grief would mellow. Today, spring seems imminent and grief is one thread woven into my life, one where my smile reaches my eyes as I look up at the bright sky, one where my lungs expand with the moist, syrupy steam and my heart expands with love and joy. 


In the early days of grief, I sought out little pockets of comfort and hope. In addition to our sugar shack visits, I kept flowers on my table all through the winter. I fell into the deliberate rhythms of my kitchen, cooking comfort foods, day after day. I stood in the cold sunshine and noticed the light even when it offered no warmth.

What got you through you the early days?