In November, I am going to give a Zoom talk to The Compassionate Friends and although it is primarily aimed at TCF members, who are bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings, the event will be open to all.
My talk will focus on finding the mourning light after loss, and if you have ever wondered how and why the mourning light has become so important to me, this blog post (perhaps I should call it a prequel) will fill in some of the gaps.
Soon after James died in 2005, when I was avidly reading everything I could find about the loss of a child, to try to make some sense of what had happened, I came across a book by Carmella B’Hahn, called Mourning Has Broken. Carmella’s son Benjaya was unusual in that he was one of the UK’s first planned ‘water birth’ babies in 1986.
Tragically, at the age of five, Benjaya lost his life to water, falling into a river near his home.
A great communicator, Carmella wrote about Benjaya’s life and passing and at the end of her first book, she wrote,
My son/sun is shining still as he did upon the earth, breaking the mourning with his light.
These words stayed with me and I was fortunate to meet Carmella on two occasions, attending her grief workshops, early in my own loss. I held fast to the concept of light breaking through the mourning over the years and it is still a key ingredient in my personal recipe for living with grief.
As I headed towards publication of my first book in 2014, the title, Into the Mourning Light, kept coming to me. It seemed wholly appropriate and I sought Carmella’s permission to take a slant on her words; fortunately she willingly gave me her blessing at the time.
When I was finalising the second book, I had quite a debate with myself about the title, wondering whether I should choose something entirely different. But the book, though not exactly a sequel to the first, continually affirms the message of being in the mourning light, so in the end, it was obvious to me that I should call it Living in the Mourning Light.
I wouldn’t say I have coined the expression the mourning light, but it is certainly my favourite descriptor for life after loss. The analogy of the morning breaking after the darkness of the night is one we all recognise; but I wonder whether to challenge that by suggesting that perhaps the morning doesn’t break, but instead it gathers the light and that is what dispels the darkness.
The dusk and darkness fold themselves together like a cloak for the night, and when we wake in the pearly stillness of the dawn that always follows, maybe we should see that as the daily miracle that it is.
It is easy for me to summon up a list of the items that I carry in my grief toolbox which collectively support and sustain my life in the mourning light: but bear in mind that my list won’t be the same as your list. The commonality of endorphin boosting activities and processes is a given, though the preferences of each of us will be different. The individuality of grief is a given too; even between bereaved parents who have experienced similar loss and who tread similar recovery paths. The darkness stays longer with some people than others. The timeline for grieving is elastic.
Fifteen years since James died, I can still be broadsided by grief unexpectedly, though thankfully this is a rare occurrence now.
Once you have begun to emerge from the darkness of loss, once you have begun to unfurl, blinking in the light, like someone waking from a long sleep, you rarely go back to the black pit of despair where you started. But, you and only you, have to take the first steps along the walk in the darkness, you have to be moving towards the light of hope and life and joy, before you can look back and say, I know this pain is easing, I know this hurt is gradually diminishing. You can choose to look forward towards the light, or backwards towards the agonising darkness from which you have come. It is easy to say, Well it is obvious, I am always going to walk towards that light. Why would I want to be in the dark? But sometimes, you can feel that there is a need to sit in that dark place for a little while, to be fully in it, to realise how far you have come and how much further forward you can go.
And you know, we need not fear being totally alone in the darkness, ever. For we are never truly alone.
Whatever your spiritual beliefs, there is massive comfort in knowing that. For myself, I am daily comforted by my faith and my conviction that those whom I have lost are not truly gone and we will be reunited one day.
Thank God/goodness/heavens for the human resilience with which we are gifted that sees our return to (almost) normal daily living after loss! The mourning light can never be quite the same as pre-bereavement light; the dimming reflective of that of the soul light of those whom we have lost, but nonetheless I still hold true to the following, which I wrote in Living in the Mourning Light:
Today, after these years of loss, I can share the optimism that comes from a life full of new connections, exciting beginnings and a truly positive thought process, all of which reflect how it is possible to come out of the darkest despondency of grief into the suffused brilliance and the quiet joy of the mourning light.
I hope these thoughts and feelings are those which I can express in the talk when the time comes.