Friday, April 22, 2011

Singing in the Dark

The past two mornings, I’ve been up around 3:30 or 4:00 AM to go to the bathroom. Both mornings, I’ve heard some crazy birds chirping outside—they didn’t seem to realize that it was not yet dawn. It was pitch black outside and the sun wasn’t even close to the horizon.

When I got back into bed after hearing the birds this morning, I thought of this quote from Rabindranath Tagore that I just read again in the last few days:

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

As we approach the first anniversary of Hudson’s death, I have been thinking so much about all of the other bereaved mothers I have come to know along this terrible journey. I was at the store yesterday buying a gift for the last of Hudson’s friends turning two this week. I ran my fingers over toy after toy and book after book that Hudson would be playing with or reading now, staggering under the weight of the many moments in the many years ahead of me when I will wonder What would she be doing now? And every bereaved parent, whether their child never took a single breath or lived many decades, must endure the same lifetime of imagining. As my friend Melissa commented the other day, “Life shouldn't have to feel like this.” So true, and yet it is the reality that those of us who have lost a child must live with every day. Forever. And my heart breaks for all of us.

But then there are those crazy birds singing at 4:00AM.

Some of the mothers I have met are still traveling the darkest parts of this night—still fumbling through the earliest days of this awful grief, trying unsuccessfully to conceive again after the loss of a child, coping with other terrible losses or health problems on top of grieving a child. Others have already emerged into that earliest light of dawn, having made it just to the other side of the dark hours, seeing the light for what it is and able to bask in its healing powers, but with the receding night still over their shoulders and oftentimes feeling like they are right back there in the dark.

And some of us, like me, are in that in-between world, where it is still completely dark, but not for long. We are clinging here, looking forward, looking backward, singing a quiet song, but only to ourselves. It is a still-mournful song, but one that is tinged with hope, just like the gathering pink light on the edge of the world at dawn.

I’ve been incredibly grateful for all of the company I’ve had on this road through the night. Though we are all at different points along the journey, there are parts of the journey that are universal. Ready or not, I am soon to be among those mothers who have been thrust already into the light, hopefully to find that it is better on that side than I could have imagined it would be. I will be one of those mothers like those I turned to in the early days when I was frantically searching for companionship, for evidence that I was not alone, that I could survive this, that there would be joy again.

I am not there yet. I still sometimes feel like I have no more distance or perspective on the death of my child than I did in the minute after it happened. There are many moments, especially recently, when it still feels like yesterday that I last saw her smile, like yesterday that we said goodbye. I’ve been on recent hiatus again from visiting most of my friends’ blogs, because, as I told one of them, I feel like I have shut off all non-essential functions while I try to get through the next month. I can still very easily be yanked right back into the darkest dark of that awful night. I still feel incapable of offering any newly grieving mother any words of wisdom that might be remotely helpful in that dark, because I still return there myself on a not-infrequent basis.

But my song is here. It is growing louder. I can feel it. I have faith that the dawn will arrive soon enough. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I am singing anyway.

Until I get to the other side, until I have something more to say to my fellow travelers about what awaits them there, I will share another song, one I heard yesterday for the first time, that immediately brought all of my bereaved mother-friends to mind. I hope that a day will come when we have all survived into the dawn, hesitant though we may be, tempted though we may be to return to the inexplicable comfort of the darker part of the night. Until then, the one thing I can say is that you are not alone in this. Death will steal your innocence, but it will not steal your substance. And you are not alone.

As for me, as for now, I am just here. Singing with those birds at 4AM.

Timshel* by Mumford and Sons

Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And I will tell the night
Whisper, “Lose your sight”
But I can’t move the mountains for you

*I did a little bit of reading about this song.  It is apparently a meditation on themes in East of Eden by John Steinbeck, which I have not read.  But the summary that I read says that Steinbeck was exploring the possible meanings of the Hebrew word timshel used in the Book of Genesis when God discusses the concept of sin with Cain.  Steinbeck himself came to the conclusion that the word was intended to mean Thou mayest” triumph over sin, meaning, most importantly, that humans have the power of choice.  In that context, it is about the choice of good over evil, but as I meditate on this song, I am thinking about the ultimate choice that all bereaved people must eventually make to live in the light rather than continue to dwell in the dark.  To me, this is a much more difficult choice.  But I am not alone.


  1. Beautiful. I hope once Jackson arrives it will be clear to you that you have chosen the light and it was the right decision. Although your grief is darkness and that is the last place you saw Hudson, that is not where she dwells. She is in the light, too. By choosing the light, you will have joy and Jackson and a different kind of happiness than before. But Hudson will be there, too. Not as you want her to be, but there, forever inseparable from the fiber of your being.

    Walt Whitman:
    Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,
    Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
    You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light
    and of every moment of your life.

    Holding you in good thoughts,

  2. Truer words never written, but so very hard to carry out. Know you have so many loving souls behind you.

  3. Beautiful words, Mandy. I don't know what it is about our Brookland birds (ours seem to start singing as early as 2:30 - so we have to run white-noise to block them out). I won't be able to get so annoyed with them now because I'll be thinking of this hopeful image. love, Kate

  4. Nodding, hoping, having faith for you.

  5. Of course you are never alone, and i love what you have written about your fellow travelers in this journey. So well said Mandy. It is all so overwhelming, and like you I can't say how grateful I am for the company of my fellow travelers...

  6. Mandy,

    This post is beautiful and amazing. You write that you don't have anything to say to us, your fellow travelers, those who are less far in our journey than you are right now, but this post contradicts that idea. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this song.

    ~Amanda (metinperu)

  7. I love Mumford and Sons..what a special song..I am in tears..Hudson would like them as well..her personality..Barb D

  8. Mandy, I'm holding you and Hudson in my thoughts as the anniversary approaches. That dark place you talk about...I hate that we are here but I am glad that as we fumble around without any light to guide us we come across others here too, a solid hand in the darkness.

  9. Beautiful words, Mandy. Our fellow travelers have kept me sane in this awful, awful journey we are forced to take. And actually that is the one beautiful thing about losing my daughter -- to feel that greater connection to humankind, and realize the world is so full of love.
    Joy is on the horizon. sending love, Olivia

  10. A Powerful Read on Life. Renee P.

  11. Keeping singing baby girl...xoxo

  12. Maybe those crazy birds are another sign from your Hudson to help you through the darkest moments.

  13. I haven't commented in a while but wanted to chime in and say how beautifully powerful and poignant I found this post. The dichotomoy you describe of these two very separate, yet interconnected, worlds of darkness and light is strikingly descriptive of life itself.

    Keep singing-I can only hope that the quiet words will continue to grow louder as dawn approaches!

    “It's always darkest before the dawn.” ~Proverb

  14. I'm at the beginning of this journey. It's nice to know that I'm not alone.