It’s been a rough few years. Long before the pandemic hit, our family grappled with the devastating diagnosis Sean’s dad received of throat cancer. We watched him battle bravely, but eventually lose the ability to speak, then swallow. He went into hospice where we had the honor of helping care for him to the end of his life. But end-of-life is no walk in the park. As one hospice nurse told me years ago, “We struggle coming into this world and we struggle going out of this world.” I’ve never heard a truer statement.
Even before we were able to have my father-in-law’s funeral, my mother’s dementia took a startling turn. We’d been watching my mom succumb to Alzheimer’s for months, but it was so slow that we’d hardly noticed the small things, and the small things turned out to be enormous things that my father was unable to handle on his own anymore.
Just two weeks after Don’s funeral, we made the heartbreaking decision to put my mom into memory care. Soon after, my dad began to show alarming signs of memory loss and he followed my mom, but into the independent living wing of the same retirement center.
Though I’ve summed it up nicely here in a few paragraphs, anyone who has taken any of these journeys knows the angst, pain and even terror of it. As my mom battled severe mania and my dad became engulfed in grief, I tried everything to help, but to no end. I replayed the last days Don had on this earth over and over in my head. My mind wouldn’t stop, no matter what I tried.
Even though I felt that I was handling everything well on the outside, my body began to betray that false sense of pulled togetherness, and I began losing sleep.
Lots of sleep.
I started having nightmares. Waking up in cold sweats. Falling asleep to then, only seconds later, wake up gasping for air.
And most strangely of all, I began fearing the dark.
Even as a kid, I was not, in general, afraid of the dark. I kind of liked it. I’d lay in bed and think, quiet engulfing me, moonlight, if I was lucky enough, swimming against the carpet around my bed. As an adult, I still loved it. I’d sit out on my back porch in the warmer nights and try to glimpse a star or at least a satellite. And as I hit midlife, dark was a welcomed companion as sleep hit me harder and earlier.
But everything was different now. I hated turning out my lamp by my bed. Instead, I read or scrolled through social media for hours, waited until I was nodding off, the phone hitting my face. I’d quickly shut off my light and close my eyes, praying for instant sleep. If it didn’t happen, I’d turn the light back on and start over.
I consumed melatonin and sleeping pills, none of which helped the dark seem any less dark.
And I started noticing how dark the dark was. In November I took my sister for an early morning surgery. We left her house in the country before 5 a.m. I walked out her front door to load a bag and felt swallowed up by the dark.
In the city there is always a light somewhere, some place. But on one-hundred acres of farmland, it’s black and thick and suffocating. Even the stars were gone.
I stood on her porch, afraid to even go to my car. What’s lurking out here? I wondered.
It turned out to only be me. I was the one bringing all the fear.
After many months of this, I knew I needed help, so I sought out a therapist. As we worked through this gripping fear I was experiencing, she recommended a book called Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren.
The first thing I noticed was that the book was written by a female Anglican priest. Having no real experience with the Anglican church, I wondered what this was going to be all about.
It turns out it was very Anglican, and one of the best experiences of my life.
The book begins by explaining the source of its inspiration, The Book of Common Prayer. I grew up Baptist, then worked in the Methodist church, and now am with the Evangelical Covenant denomination, so I couldn’t say I’d ever cracked open the Book of Common Prayer, though I’d heard of it through the years.
But rather than dive into the topic with the formality that I expected, Tish Harrison Warren warmed up the hundreds-year-old prayer book and made it relatable, while emphasizing the rich history of it and the remarkable way we can lean into the voices of the millions of Christian brothers and sisters who’ve prayed these prayers before us.
Besides being personal in nature and deep with insight (for instance, she goes into the history of darkness, which was stunningly interesting), the book has its own lyrical quality that I found extremely comforting. I made a point of reading it at night. I wanted to challenge the notion that the dark had me in its eternal grip.
Warren points out how much we take light for granted. We’re scared of the dark so we switch on a light. Our ancestors didn’t have that luxury, and these prayers, the prayers of the night, were what kept them steady in the Lord as they waited hours for the sun. God was their light. Their only light for half of a day.
I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re going through what you might describe as “the dark night of the soul” in your life. Are you grieving? Shifting in life? Grappling with depression or illness? Many of these things tend to strike fear and dread in us in the dead of night.
I learned from the book to embrace the night, and to remember that God is the Lord of even the darkness, and what amazing things he can do within it.
Available wherever you buy books.
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