Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Searching for Light in a Dark Autumn

Finding a Path to Light in This
Darkest Autumn
Crimson and gold leaves lit my path through the New England cemetery I visited in October. Bright red beckoned me from the roadsides. I walked through fallen leaves, lifting them with the tips of my shoes and tossing them to clear my way.
Autumn in New England always signaled endings for me during the years I lived there. I’m far more comfortable with my Florida falls, which spark my senses with a taste of cooler, not cold, weather and signal beginnings to me—time to leave the house and enjoy the outdoors, time to open windows and leave air conditioning behind for a few short months.
After my years in the Northeast, when I returned to Florida, I was grateful to leave those shorter, darker days behind me. I continue to be soothed by the constant green of the leaf-filled trees and shrubs, and the ever-present flowers that give this state its name.
This autumn of 2016 in Florida has had few cool days to delight me. The heat continues with slight respites of below-90-degree days. They arrive in short bursts, strung together like beads from a broken string of pearls.
Today, the shortest, darkest day, I feel the dark envelope me, as it has since November 9. That dark is meshed into the fibers of my heart. Other emotions accompany that dark: fear, wariness, concern, heartbreak for the oppressed, whether that oppression stems from gender, color, ethnicity, economic status, spiritual beliefs . . .
I know that after today’s dark hours—complicated here in my Florida home by a sunless sky—mere minutes of light tack themselves onto these light-deprived hours. That extra light beckons me to the bottom of my personal Pandora’s box, where I find hope. I open the lid wide and release it. It does not dispel the maladies swarming our globe, but like that hint of light, hope illuminates a path in which I shall walk to alleviate my fears and make me less afraid of the dark.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Sometimes Darkness Can Show You the Light"

The following blog is the text of a talk I gave at the Vero Beach, Florida, observance of  The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting Service on December 11, 2016.
“Sometimes Darkness
Can Show You the Light”
I probably don’t strike most people as a heavy-metal fan. I don’t quite have the right look or the temperament. Most heavy metal seems too loud, too rude, and far too crude for my tastes. However, my twenty-three-year-old son is a fan, and he often persuades me to watch metal music videos. One group, Disturbed, has caught my attention and even appreciation. The fine voice and intensity of Disturb’s lead singer, David Draiman, has made me rethink my anti-metal sentiments. This Thanksgiving, I didn’t want to pause my food prep to watch a Disturbed video, but after some urging from my son, I gave in. The video we watched is the song, “The Light.” Draiman again caught my attention and held it when he sang, “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.”
The phrase got my attention because I had been writing my talk for this evening and my focus was on light. After the video, I wrote the words on my whiteboard: “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.” The words resonated with me because I don’t think we often consider that darkness has anything to offer us—except more darkness. We seek light in darkness, but I don’t think we often believe darkness shows us anything. I started to consider just what the darkness has to offer us.
Those of us here this evening have experienced a particular darkness—the death of someone we love and hold dear, whether it be a son, daughter, grandchild, sibling...
After such a devastating loss, initially, darkness is all we experience. Few times in our lives will be darker than those days surrounding our child’s death. Few life experiences rival the grief, the pain, the all-encompassing sadness surrounding our loss. The death of our child means one of the brightest lights in our life is no longer burning. Because that light is extinguished, we are plunged into the dark, to the darkest days we could ever imagine.
The dark is so overwhelming that early on, it is all we sense—and all we feel. It is the absence of light—tangible light as well as emotional and psychological light—that is so troubling to our spirits early on in the mourning process. One of the most wrenching parts of our grief is that a light of our life has gone out. We are steeped in darkness and yet a part of us, even though we may be unaware, hungers for light.
I agree with David Draiman, though: “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.” I know and you know what the worst darkness feels like. I also know that in the trenches of that darkness, even though we might believe in our hearts and souls that light is forever gone, we still crave it. But to once again experience light, I think a time comes that we have to face our darkness head on. When we are ready, we can open our eyes and hearts and look at and through the dark. By doing so, we will find that darkness has something to show us: the light. And that light comes and is present in many forms.
When the time is right, we can start to open our eyes and look at the darkness. It is then that we begin to spot a tiny glimmer of light. That light can be a touch, look, or word of love, a memory that fills us with gratitude for the one we’ve lost, a hand or heart to help us manage our grief, a bit of unexpected joy. When I started looking through the darkness in my life and my soul after my daughter Alexa died, I saw that I was not alone. As I began to see some light, I also felt hands and hearts reach out to hold and carry my heart to help me bear my sorrow. As the light expanded, I gained a new, deeper understanding of the precious gift of life and love.
As the darkness continued to show me the light, I developed a more evolved sense of compassion and empathy. Those who had experienced loss before me showed me those lights of compassion and empathy. In turn, as I further faced and walked through the darkness, I began to hold my own light for others in the midst of their own darkness of grief and loss.
When we reach the point in our grief journey that we can look at the darkness, it’s not always as overwhelming as we fear. My own darkness showed me people and hands and hearts ready to be my light. It is a precious gift when darkness shows us the light. It’s there. That light is here, in each of our hearts.
I probably will not ever be a full-fledged metal fan. But when my son says, “Listen to this,” I will. I might learn something, as I did from David Draiman: “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.”

Disturbed, “The Light,” video with lyrics:

Disturbed, “The Light,” official video: