• Maggie Wheeler

The Hard Frost

The Happy Prince

“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the swallow. “I am going to the house of death. Death is the brother of sleep, is he not?”

And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips and fell down dead at his feet.

At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.

Oscar Wilde The Happy Prince

Oscar Wilde’s story of the Happy Prince, a 14-hankie fairy tale about the friendship between a swallow and a statue, is a “once you read it, you never forget it” kind of story. It’s about loyalty, valour, compassion and what real friendship means.

It’s also about devastating loss.

The excerpt above gave my second novel, The Brother of Sleep, its title and opened two of its sections. This worked extremely well thematically. The story had also haunted me for years, in a sad but good way, and using it in the novel was the tribute I needed to give to Wilde’s story.

The idea of the hard frost is also something that stays with you. Hard Frosts come to us when loss comes in waves, some expected but most not. The season of Hard Frost is familiar to all of us by now. As we grapple with achieving and now leaving behind the mid-points of our lives, the Hard Frosts come more often—no longer devastating in their surprise, but still blindsiding with their continued accrual.

This past winter brought a Hard Frost for me, and for several people I know. Three people lost in a short time. For me, one was elderly but well, one had been ill, and one was my age and recently diagnosed with cancer. And now all three souls are gone from this life. It is again stunning in its realization, overwhelming on its rollout, and disorienting with its massive change brought with a detachment completely impervious to our devastation.

Our hearts snap in two.

But Nature is nothing if not the consummate balancing act. Every act of entropy is matched by creation and renewal. Every winter has its spring. And the coming of the Hard Frost is our opportunity to embrace its initially unwanted gifts.

I think of a line from a favourite Carly Simon song, “Coming Around Again,” that goes “Don’t mind if I fall apart/There’s more room in a broken heart.” And it’s true.

When our hearts snap in two in the face of the Hard Frost, we are given the gift of pain—the great clarifier of Life. We are brutally reminded of the truths daily living often drowns out despite our best efforts: That life is brief, that we are blessed each day to be part of it, and that the people our lives encompass are limited engagements.

Nature never forces. We are all free to ignore the chance to renew our spirits and remain in the Hard Frost, or we can use the coming back to fully embrace the Big Spring that follows.

When the next Hard Frost comes, let your heart snap in two. You were blessed to have had people so hard to lose. There are still blessings all around you, now to be better loved with your broken, bigger heart.

Talk next week,


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