Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. Mary Oliver
Like so many other kids, I was afraid of the dark when I was little. I invented all sorts of rules, designed to keep me safe from the imaginary creatures I was sure lived under my bed. All body parts tucked under the covers. No arms or legs hanging over the side. The door open to allow the nightlight in the hall to outline the shapes of my furniture and illuminate the dark corners of the room. Stuffed animals on guard. Parents down the hall.
Nighttime became a lot less scary as I got older. Roommates, housemates, a husband, the wails of my babies waking me from a dead sleep. Companions to face the monsters. The peace of a quiet house. The slowly lightening sky offering me a few more minutes or hours to myself before everyone else awakens. The humans I love most snug and safe under the same roof.
And then cancer, the cruelest of villains, entered our lives. Everything scary seemed to happen in the dark … fevers, seizures, disorientation, pain, the warning beeps of the oxygen saturation machine, falls in the bathroom, trips to the ER. Peace left the premises, leaving worry and fear in its place. Sleepless nights, dreading what lay ahead, lamenting what was lost, brooding over what was yet to come.
But the darkness brought gifts, too. Late night talks in rooms so dark I couldn’t see the hand in front of my face. Secrets shared, fears revealed. An opportunity to know my son in a way I might not ever have otherwise known him. “Sleepovers” with my daughter, small compensation for all the nights she had to spend away from me. Hugs and snuggles, kisses and cold little feet on my back. Lying awake listening to Jimmy breathe, knowing that he was still here.
Now that the worst has happened, the darkness no longer scares me. It helps that Buster’s hearing is razor sharp and nothing, not even a bobcat, can cross the yard unheard by him. And that I am past the early weeks and months of the most intense grief when sleep would not come to me, and darkness meant long, sleepless hours before the sun appeared.
Perhaps part of the healing is lying in the darkness, sitting with that black grief, absorbing the magnitude of all that is lost. Maybe there’s no way to get to gratitude without that. To a place where the remembering is even possible. The wonder of what was. The memory of the laughter. The joy of being together. The gift of all I have learned. The strength of our bond. The love that remains, even on the darkest days.