Flailing in the dark

Darkness, like grief, a diagnosis, or an uncertain future is disorienting. We reach our arms out blindly hoping to touch something that will ground us, orient us, give us a sense of where we are and point us to where to step next.  

It is Winter now. The darkest season. I find winters difficult.

In the bustle of seasonal holiday preparations, I feel oddly out of sync and unmoored. Last year at this time, Molly was in a psychiatric hospital. The plan was to take her off her prescribed cocktail and reassess her treatment-resistant depression. They were operating in the dark – entering one mystery to solve another. After nearly two months, they still used words like “inconclusive” and “subclinical”. 

In other words, they were still flailing in the dark. 

I tried to get answers, to understand what they were thinking, but no one returned my calls. Not the hospital staff, not the resident, not the psychiatrist. I was left in a separate darkness – separated from her, and separated from the process. 

They released her to me shaken, trembling, barely coherent. They started her on a new medication regimen which landed her in the ER two weeks later.

After weeks of separation; evening visits where I was instructed to stay six feet away; inconsistent care and arbitrary rules; late night tearful calls asking me to remind her why she had agreed to this; they still couldn’t promise her a full recovery. 

In the face of so much uncertainty, we needed a sure thing to orient ourselves. We decided to downsize and simplify our lives. 

We proceeded to sell our home, move in with my in-laws and renovate a granny suite in my parents home. By early Fall, we were told we’d be settled in.

We spent my Christmas vacation days packing, saying goodbye to our beloved animal companions buried under trees in the backyard. The oak tree over Tucker, which never really thrived until we buried Mina beside him under a cheerful blooming cherry tree. I said goodbye to the gardens I had tended in my grief of losing Winston. And we said goodbye to the dreams we had for the place when we moved in. I got through the sadness by promising myself that next year, we’d have Christmas in our new, smaller and more manageable home.

It’s 12 months later and it’s the holiday season again. The Winter wraps its cold arms around us and surrounds us once again in darkness. And though we’ve enjoyed days in the warm Summer sun, Molly hasn’t yet emerged from her own darkness. The depression clings despite the adjustments to her medication regimens; despite cutting edge treatments that are not covered by insurance. And we still are not home.

As I write this, we are approaching the Winter solstice, the time when the night is longest. I feel the weight and substance of it. I want to be joyful, but I feel melancholy. I am like a car whose battery is drained. I try to ignite my Christmas cheer, but my engine doesn’t turn. 

One thing I have always loved about this time of year are the lights. I love the sparkle that gradually appears everywhere as people decorate for Christmas or Chanukah. And ironically, lights are all the more enchanting in the darkness. Much like stars in the night sky, to enjoy them you must settle in and wait for darkness to envelop you.

When you cannot proceed despite all your flailing in the dark, you must surrender to the unknown, reckon with disappointment and anger and grief. You must settle in and surrender. Those small, sparkling lights will appear precisely when the darkness has enveloped you.

Despite all my plans and efforts, I have not succeeded in getting us into our home by Christmas as I had promised a year ago. We are still guests in my in-laws’ house 10 months later. I continue to operate in survival mode. 

I’ve surrendered to the disappointment. I’ve nursed myself through the anger. I no longer fight the sadness. I snuggle in and watch as the darkness envelop me, and wait for the lights to appear. I reach out for something to ground me, and find Molly’s hand.

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