#26: Darkness

The world is a dark place these days.

Metaphorically, yes, but literally, too. 

I wake up in the dark. I make breakfast and pack lunches in the dark. I drink my morning coffee in the dark. The world resists waking, the sun resists rising, my spirit resists moving forward. Every bit of me wants to stay rooted right here, in my spot, with my book, in my cozy house, wrapped in this strange cocoon of despair. 

I have not been OK of late, and I’ve spent so much of my time contemplating why.

My house, only a few weeks ago filled with so much laughter, squealing, giggles, excitement and love, is much quieter now. My sister-in-law, niece and nephew are back home in the states after their trip here for Christmas. My kids are back at school. Chris is back at the office. 

Christmas morning, 2021.

The end of something so anticipated has left me feeling as dark as the January mornings. 

A few days into the new year I realized that what I was holding onto was only making me feel emptier. I dug through the basement storage room and found the bins for the Christmas decorations. It was time to take them down, tuck them away, empty my house of the holidays, dismantle my son’s favorite time of year. For him, the day Christmas comes undone always feels unbearable. As a compromise, he keeps a tiny artificial tree up in his room for as long as he wants. Last year we put it away in July. 

This year I told him to watch a movie with his sister in the basement before I went to work. No need for him to watch his least favorite day play out. 

Alone upstairs, I undecorated the tree. I pulled twinkle lights off branches that let go of their needles without resistance. I cut the trunk to pieces so it would fit in my compost bin, and I dragged it all outside. I took down the stockings, the nativity scene, the garlands and the wreaths. I swept and vacuumed the piles of pine needles on the floor and replaced the furniture that had been moved to make room for the tree. Finally, I stacked the full bins next to the basement door, and then I leaned on the kitchen counter with my head in my hands and sobbed. 

When it was all over, when my house was tidy and put back together in its usual state, I sat in my heaviness – a feeling that had been with me for months and only grown as the calendar turned to a new year. 

I struggled mightily to get in the spirit for this holiday season only to find myself immeasurably sad about its end. Where did it go? Did I waste it? Miss it? I was too busy. Too sad. Too worried. Too tired. Too … everything.

Now it’s gone, and I hear the question echoing through the back of my mind – what will next Christmas look like? Will Chris be talking? Walking? Still have use of his one hand? 

Tree decorating, 2021.

Last year at this time we were fresh off of Chris’ feeding tube surgery. I suppose I felt like things were better. At least we no longer had to worry about Chris choking at every meal and losing weight because he couldn’t swallow enough. Last year, when 2020 gave way to 2021, I felt hopeful. I looked forward to things.  

When I laid in bed well before midnight on New Year’s Eve this year, staring up at the ceiling and thinking about the potential of the year to come, the thoughts were about potential loss, potential sadness. They were not hopeful or light or eager. They were worried and tired and scared.

On December 21, a mom in my community died. Melanie and I were friends but not close ones. We had kids in the same school, we lived in the same community, we shared some play dates, chaperoned a field trip together and, in June, we sat down in front of our computers and recorded a conversation about her illness – about dying, about living, about what we leave behind. 

She talked about her three little girls. She cried when she mentioned Christmas, about the constant notion that each holiday season could be her last, without knowing then that she had already lived her final one. Like so many moms, she was the one who made Christmas happen. Who, she wondered, would fill the stockings when she was gone? 

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1648231/8625385-what-we-leave-behind-melanie-masterson-s-life-with-terminal-cancer.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-8625385&player=small

When I read on Facebook that Melanie had died in hospice, I sat on my stairs with tears streaming down my face, my Christmas tree twinkling in front of me and holiday music filling my home, and I remembered what she said about the stockings. I would say my heart broke for her girls, but really, my heart was already broken, permanently cracked open, which only means the sadness and love flow in and out so much more easily, completely unfiltered. 

When I was a journalist writing about baseball I tried to avoid using the word struggling. A struggling pitcher. A struggling hitter. Struggle, it seemed, was an easy out of a word. It offered no insight, didn’t touch the why, didn’t explain any reason for whatever slump someone was in. But in these last many months I have so often thought of the word struggle. I have struggled. I am struggling. I go for walks with my friends, and I learn they are struggling, too. We talk it all out, lay it all on the line, put words to every heartache. There are whys for our sadness but the how – how to fix this, how to climb out of the abyss – seems terribly elusive. 

When we have walked and talked ourselves ragged, we laugh pathetically and say, “It’s fine! Everything’s fine!” knowing that nothing could be further from the truth but that we also couldn’t feel further from the answers. 

Two years into a global pandemic we are all struggling to find the light. Darkness is everywhere for all of us. It greets us when we wake in the mornings, and it closes in on us too soon in the evenings. The days are both brief and endless. We slog through this heaviest part of winter wondering how to keep our children safe, how to keep our families safe, how to keep ourselves safe. 

We wonder how much more we can endure. 

We wonder where the light is.

A week ago I pulled myself from bed and went down to make lunches. From upstairs, Chris called for me. I went up and he pointed to the sink, where he had just spit up bright red blood. I texted one of his doctors. He needs to get it checked out, she said. I drove the kids to school and while I dropped them off someone hit my car. Later in the day water started leaking from our bedroom ceiling fan. 

Already teetering on the edge, I toppled. I tried to cope. I exercised. I journaled. I read. I took a long shower. None of it worked.

A friend texted me. “What do you need?” she asked, wanting to help. 

“A new life,” I responded. 

I am used to the darkness, but the truth is, this time around, I welcomed it.

One of the reasons for the darkness: An emergency trip to Toronto after Chris needed to be hospitalized for aspiration pneumonia while he was there for work in November.

Every setback, big or small, validated my right to be miserable. Let me just sit in this and be sad. Let me feel this despair wash over me completely. The darkness felt right; the heaviness, appropriate. 

I am not one to hide from my sadness or deny myself time and space for my grief. This, though, felt different. A friend who is no stranger to the darkness messaged to say sometimes you just have to feel it.

“I’ve been feeling it for so long now,” I replied, “that I know I have to actively fight against it before it sucks me under completely, you know?”

“I do know,” she wrote back. 

She knows. So many of us know, and when we say it out loud, at least we all know it together. So with that togetherness at my back, I have started fighting for the light. 

I lean into conversation with friends. I lean into hugs until I feel my shoulders relax. I lean into laughter until it feels real. I lean into my burning legs and pedal as hard as I can on my Peloton and, once the sweat is dripping from my forehead, I lean into my favorite songs, singing along so loudly my throat hurts and my breath is short. I sit in front of my computer and lean into how this all feels until words pour from my keyboard onto the screen. I lean into my family, into the warmth of my daughter’s tiny body against mine as she falls asleep at night, into my son’s wide smile and rosy cheeks when he comes home from the outdoor rink, into my husband’s arms when we crawl into bed at night.   

Even when I want to turn away — especially when I want to turn away — I lean in.

Hospital selfie.

January is always a hard month for me. All the best parts of winter are through and the warmth of spring is still so far away, but the truth is darkness is not the enemy. Darkness forces us to rest, to ponder, to confront the parts of us we have hidden away. 

We need the darkness, of course, to appreciate the light.

So I will keep trying, keep talking and pedaling and laughing and hugging and seeking out all the warmth and love and good in my little world. 

The darkness doesn’t lift, I’ve learned, on my schedule, but I’ve spent enough time in it to trust that one day, not too long from now, when I wake up in the morning, pour my coffee and look outside, I’ll see the sun coming up again.

27 responses to “#26: Darkness”

  1. your writing is such a gift. thank you for sharing your story with all of us. you are one inspiring human/mom/wife. xo

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  2. Though we have yet to meet, I’m amazed at how well you can put into such articulate words how I feel. For us, this Christmas wasn’t the complete disaster of last year’s but it still wasn’t Christmas; the loss of Leslie is still much too prevalent in our minds.

    This year, like last year, our house is the only one on our street that keeps the Christmas lights on, every night. Until spring arrives. It helps to add a little light to the darkness. Hugs to you.

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  3. My struggles are not with ALS but the sentiments are nevertheless the same. Wanting time to move on while wanting to hold onto every second because I can’t be sure what’s next. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement that I am not powerless, that though I am struggling (I actually felt relief to read that word) I can still reach for what I need and want. I hope that for you, today is a good day.

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  4. I appreciate this so much. I hit a wall in December and absolutely fell apart in terms of mental health. Thankfully was able to find support, and really have appreciated the words of Pema Chodran for helping me find my way. This is HARD. I am sorry you are struggling, and I’m glad you’re letting other people who are struggling know they’re not alone. (I also know how much it meant for Melanie to be able to share her story through you.) You are such a light. Oh, and have you read PHOSPHORESCENCE, by Julia Baird?? So good. xo

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    • Hi Kerry – Thank you so much for reading and commenting. This winter has been so hard for so many, and so at least we know we are in it together. I’m so glad you got the help you needed. Pema is always a good way to find something hopeful to hold onto, but it is SO hard. Thank you for the book recommendation — I will add it to my list for sure. Xx

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  5. Sweet Kelsie, your writings always tug at my heart. I always just want to wrap you in my arms. Virtual hug here! Know that you and Chris are always in my prayers. I have a new neighbor and her name is Willa…thought of you immediately. I love you dear one and wish I could help carry your burden for you. Cindy

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  6. Im praying for you Kelsie, Chris and your entire family. God wont leave you, and — its perfectly OK — in any situation — to allow your human emotions time and space. God Bless you,

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  7. Beautifully written. You are a wonderful writer. I felt every emotion as I read this, just as you described it. But I also felt it because I’ve been there, lived it too. I lost my husband to ALS in May 2020 after a short 18-month battle. There will be light again, Kelsie, with help from God 🙏❤️

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  8. I found you on Twitter, I am not even sure how but your writing and candidness about sadness touch my heart. Your bravery to speak into the emotions of sadness and despair, I admire you for. I lost my parents and one of my children to the same disease, sadness is a thread that is woven into my daily life but there are days when the sun shines brighter. Thank you for sharing your good days and bad days with us….

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  9. Kelsie, I knew Melanie as well. Your interview with her was the first podcast I ever listened to. I knew that she did not have much time left and so I was not surprised when I saw she passed, but I was so sad. I wondered as well what Christmas was like in her house, for her darling girls. I am so sorry you are struggling so much. It’s a heavy weight that you carry. Your description of your day with blood, having your car hit, and then water through the fan, I just shuddered. What a series of awful events. I hope that some lightness comes your way.

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  10. No matter the love we have from family and friends, our time in the darkness is ours alone. It’s our “struggle”. How you write with such honesty about your struggles (and joys too by the way) , helps us who are on a similar path, cope. I wish I could encourage you as much as you do for others. Keep enjoying your coffee in the morning, the sun will come thru.

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    • Thank you for this, Colleen. It can be easy to feel like perhaps our sadness gets to be a bit too much to share with the world, and the instinct then can be to go internal, so your comment means lots to me. Xx

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  11. “It’s fine! Everything’s fine!” Our church just finished a series called “I’m Fine” (How God Meets Us When We’re Not). I have been praying for you and your family since Laura (Kinzel Stevenson) mentioned your crisis to me a couple years ago. I love that you are “leaning in” while facing the darkness. Thank you for sharing your struggles and your victories. Please keep on keeping on. Big hug!

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  12. Your strength continues to amaze me! The clarity in which you understand and acknowledge the way your are feeling is envied. I am thankful I have found your writings , you have a special gift. Thanks for sharing

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  13. Just what I needed to read this week. It’s so good for the soul to read someone else’s words that feel so close to home. And now it’s spring and the sun is shining. We made it!

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