Turning Towards Light

Ruth Ann died five months ago. Meanwhile, the earth completed another quarter of its journey around the sun. Spring’s pastels of iris and dogwood are replaced by bold watermelon pink and purple crape myrtles, scarlet gladiolas, and orange day lilies that defy soaring heat and lack of rain. The last of the magnolia blossoms still perfume heavy summer air. The hours of light grow imperceptibly shorter each day, while the hours of night lengthen towards the darkness of winter.

I live in a precarious balance between light and darkness. Daylight hours of walking, music, knitting, and being encircled in the kindness of friends brings laughter, peace, and grounding among the living. Quiet nights bring reflection and sadness. In daylight, when I remember to breathe slowly and appreciate the fragility of all that I love, grace and gratitude can guide my way. Darker nights assail me with futility, with knowing all will be lost in the end, and leave me relieved to see the sunrise.

Someone had just passed away when I arrived at the Hospice unit last Tuesday. Family had not made it to the bedside before the patient’s final breath. I had unpacked my harp and was playing in the hallway outside this hospital room when the family arrived in a rush of heartbreak and weeping.  Once inside the room a young girl began keening,”No, no, no….I don’t want her to be dead.”

I kept playing. I kept fingers moving on the harp strings while her sobs crescendoed into wailing that echoed down the hallways with desperate cries of “No, no, no….come back, come back.” I hoped that Music could in some way comfort her fear and ease her pain, could in some way say to this family, “The world has felt this grief, and created these tunes to stand beside you on this hard journey.”

I’ve thought about this young girl all week. Thought about how she was able to scream her pain and give voice to the same words I mouthed so quietly to myself when I found out Ruth Ann was dead: No, no, no. . . . Come back, come back. . . . I don’t want you to be dead. And I see how these are everybody’s words, everybody’s desperate desire. The price of love is that we will tumble down in seemingly endless eddies of grief and fear when the ones we love leave us behind on this suddenly empty and lonely earth.

When I was twenty-something, I thought the Buddhist concept of non-attachment meant that we were not supposed to love, not supposed to care. That we were supposed to walk blasély through the world, indifferent to who and what it offered to us. Life and love and loss teach a different translation: that we must care about, and love, all that the world offers with all our heart, but with open hands. Open hands that do not clutch and grab at what is passing from them. Open hands that allow the heartbreak of endings. And open hands that once empty, are willing receptacles for approaching, as-yet-unknown joys.

In the heat and glare of a July day, darkness grows, and winter approaches. But today I remember that it is in the darkness of December, and the cold depths of winter, that the earth again turns towards light.



10 thoughts on “Turning Towards Light

  1. Perhaps, Janet, just perhaps it was your beautiful music that touched that young girl’s tortured soul with the gentle message that it was OK to release the grief she felt for the loved one she had lost. Such beautiful words … sigh.


  2. It is once again good to hear from you and how you are doing. I know the pain of grief having lost my mother at 38, but not the loss of such a dear close relationship as you and Ruth Ann’s. I can tell you are moving through it and am hoping your grief continues to be less painful. Your words today were quite poignant.


    1. Thanks, Nanci. I am trying to get back onto the writing horse as the grief fog starts to lift. At last, writing seems possible, and not a non-stop flight to sadness and tears.The experience at Hospice got me in touch with the universality of grief, which somehow makes my own less of a burden. Walking this path with others who’ve had to traverse it still helps so much. Thanks for your ongoing presence here!


  3. Beautifully written and so true of what the moments after loss truly feel like. I know that sorrow and how hard it is to let yourself feel it and resisting the urge to go numb.


    1. Thanks for reading and writing, C.B.. I think the grief fog is starting to lift and the writing logjam is starting to break up. What a journey this is. . . I appreciate your understanding it so much.


  4. So well expressed…..as you always seem to do. I too have studied some of the philosophy of Buddhism …..not as a religion, but as a guide. We learn from all the wisdom of those before us – whether it is from Buddha, Jesus, or other wise teachers…..the message is often the same, but in different words. I remember you writing earlier of the loss of your friend Ruth. A dear friend, can never be replaced. I am still grieving the loss of my mother in a quiet calm way. I have often wished I could just cry out as you witnessed with that young person, but that is not my way…..but instead I keep this huge loss in my life locked in. My husband is just recovering from open heart surgery and is doing very well but it is a reminder to me how delicate life is. That we just have embrace those dear to us. The loss of my mother has caused a shift in my view about life and I am still struggling with figuring out a new way of seeing. I think any loss in our lives takes time to absorb. Your friend Ruth Ann was so blessed to have you for a friend.

    I find comfort In practicing my harp….there were months where I could not bring myself to sit quietly to practice. I hope you find some comfort in your harp too. You are right about how days are filled…but nights bring reflection and sadness for things we cannot change, and we must keep moving forward to embrace what the future will unfold, but we also need to ride the waves of life, we need to accept where they take us.


    1. That “riding the waves of life” and accepting where they take us is such a challenge for me, yet there’s been no other option than to do just that as I learn to be in a world where Ruth Ann is not. My harp is my greatest source of solace these past five months. Ruth Ann loved me playing my harp for her. Being at my harp makes me remember our connection in a full and wonderful way instead of a grief-filled way. Thank you so much for your kind words and your understanding, Suzanne.


  5. You and your music will be a part of that young girl’s story for the rest of her life.

    Sent from my iPad



Comments are closed.