A few months after my 15 year old daughter died in a tragic car accident, I slipped into a routine of staying up until almost sunrise or later, and sleeping most of the day away. I wasn’t working at the time (bereavement leave) and lived entirely alone in a rural Appalachian area. In my mind, it just didn’t matter when I slept or woke. It was my life, and I, frankly, didn’t really care about it very much. The difference in the words morning and mourning mattered little to me. I was just busted .. flat out done with life!
At this point, the funeral was over as was the parade of well-meaning people. Family and friends didn’t generally show up unannounced at such a rural location. I kept up with my loved one’s by text, phone calls, social media and an occasional visit prompted by me. They thought I was coping — they thought I was fine. The entire community mourned for my daughter, and I kept a good public face.
In public, I developed a scholarship and initiated a book drive for local libraries in my daughter’s name. In private, I slept all day and no longer saw people on a regular basis. I became a hermit, a bit of a pretender and a lover of sleep.
Basically, I wanted to be left alone. I felt like I died with my daughter, and to this day, I still feel that thought is partially true. However, I didn’t physically die; my heart was still beating. I had an older child, Hank, away at college. I had to keep going for him, so I discovered the “great half way” between this world and the next — sleep — and in it, I found solace!
For me, sleep was the “Neverland” between this world and the next. The place between where my son and I lived and the place my daughter would forever reside — a place where we would, hopefully, all be together again, albeit much later. I existed in this Neverland for a great while – a place between here and there – a place where I could be with both of my children. Perhaps, a part of me still resides there today.
However, at that point, life was better when I slept. When I fell into sweet slumber, I could feel my daughter’s arms around my neck. I could smell her scent, both her natural Lilly smell and the Brown Sugar/Vanilla Bean Bath Wash she used each day. I could hear her voice — I could hear her deep, earthy, real laughter — I could see her smile. She was with me again — if only for a few hours. I’m sure many will argue that it was just memory, grief or trauma — or a combination of all of it — but I knew (still know) it was her spirit, and she was urging me to “get up.” I could feel her feisty spirit telling me to get off that couch. Lilly didn’t want me or Hank to stop… she wanted us to keep pushing forward until the day we were with her on the other side! I knew it then and I know it now!
So… I set my first goal to begin living again. — I would get up before noon! Worthy goal, you might think… and easy enough. I told myself that I had to keep living, that I didn’t have a choice. My son needed me. I thought that waking before noon, aka, getting up in the morning, was a good start. I was determined to accomplish my new goal. I kept a journal of the beginning and end date — 30 days — that was my goal. I set my alarm and determined that I would get up pre-noon, no matter how late I went to bed. This isn’t as easy as it sounds for some. Noon comes around early when you don’t go to sleep until 8 am and have little motivation to breath, let alone live.
However, I met my goal! I woke before noon every day for one month. I hauled myself out of bed the first morning and was lethargic and despondent. The lack of sleep coupled with the profound grief and lack of any interest in life made pushing through those tired hours difficult, but I was somehow motivated. This new goal gave me a reason to get up in the morning again… even if the only reason was because it was my goal! It was the same the second day and the 30th day. Somehow, this was my new job, and I took it seriously. I was going to, at least try, acquire this goal.
So it began… by getting out of bed everyday. I still stayed home unless it was necessary to go out for food or drink. I still avoided people. I still didn’t eat correctly, but I got out of bed. It was a goal I set and accomplished within the first few months. I’m quite proud of it! It was, quite possibly, the hardest goal I ever achieved in my life, and I did it!
In the following months, I pushed the wake up time forward to 11 am and then to 10 am, etc. Eventually, I was waking up when the rest of the world was waking…. even when the sun and the birds were waking up.
The first morning I awoke to the birds chirping in the spring of the next year, I cried. I’m not really sure if I cried due to the beauty of, again, witnessing the clear morning sunlight and hearing the spring birds hearkening the start of a new season or if I cried for sorrow that Lilly couldn’t see it that year. Then again, maybe, it was because of the guilt I felt because of feeling the joy of a new beginning –of renewal– that my daughter couldn’t ever see again. Perhaps, it was all of those feelings at one time, and a few more.
Nevertheless, I cried. I cried silent tears that come from a well inside us that require no effort to tap… and then… I chuckled a little (a deep, earthly, real laugh), and then I smiled — a real smile, not that of a pretender. There was no one there but me and the birds and my God and whatever spirits may be among us, yet it was the most profound experience of my life.
It was one of those moments only the bereaved really understand. That strange mixture of joy, loss, guilt and knowing. These moments are overwhelming and quite intangible at the time. In hindsight, they are milestones of a moment when we cross the threshold between an ending and a beginning. We have crossed a marker, even if for a moment as abstract, unspeakable and fleeting as a bird’s song or a spring breeze… “Mourning” Has Broken. In that moment we understand something that we can not explain to ourselves, let alone explain to anyone else. It is best explained in a song .
That morning, I closed my eyes and listened to the bird’s sing, felt the sun warming my face. The promising warmth of the spring breeze passed through my hair and, through my tears, I felt my daughter say, “I love you.”
NOTE: Please listen to the Cat Steven’s “Morning has Broken” link I have added to this page. I wrote my story from my heart but, somehow, the song came through. To all of the grieving — Mourning will break!