Darkness and Light

Here in the Northern hemisphere, the days are getting darker and darker. As we get closer to the Solstice on the 21st, at least where I live, it can seem as though we are descending into an ever deepening and never-ending darkness. Much like grief, at best the light peeks through for a few hours, and even when it does, the world still seems grey and flat. The light remains hidden.

Yet this is the time of year where we celebrate light. Christians talk of Jesus being born as the Light of the World. We talk of how the shepherds had their way to the Christ-child illuminated by an angel whose light shone around them, and the Wise Men also were led by the light of the star. In Judaism, this time of year marks Hanukkah, also sometimes colloquially referred to as the Festival of Lights. Each night, a candle is lit to commemorate the rededication of the temple, and to represent a miracle: that the oil used to light the lamps lasted for 8 days. Light is perhaps never more noticeable than in its absence.

On my return home from the Southern hemisphere a few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to watch a film called “Light” which explores more of this idea of lightness and darkness. The short film tells the story of Omar, who finds himself falling into the darkness of grief. The story tells just of the immediate aftermath of his son’s stillbirth. As he calls his mother back in Lebanon to tell her the horrible news, she implores him to take care of his son and prepare his body for burial in the traditional Islamic way. The enormity of this task, seemingly so simple, nearly derails him. The film got me thinking about our double-meaning of the word ‘light’. Preparing your son’s body for burial is a heavy task. It isn’t to be taken lightly. And yet at 5 months gestation, this little boy likely weighed only about a pound. Omar is surrounded by light. The hospital windows are large. The room he sits in, waiting for his wife to return from surgery, is painted white. In just 13 minutes, you can sense the darkness fall around him as shock turns to grief. Omar is in a world of darkness. He is a recent immigrant, knowing no one in this new country, not knowing the customs or having close friends and family. He is even separated from his wife temporarily as she is still in recovery. And yet, far on the other side of the world, there is this light: his mother. Her voice over the phone, at once calming and yet clearly agitated at the loss of her grandson, is Omar’s connection to the light. She provides for him a pathway, a light at the end of the tunnel, a way forward. In her instructions to him on how to prepare his son for burial, she is recognizing the value of her son’s life. Stillborn at just 5 months, his life too had meaning and is deserving of the same ceremony and respect as an adult. If you get the opportunity to see Light, please do. For me, it was a beautiful reminder of the universality of loss. It will be playing at the Dubai International Film Festival this week.

As we approach the holidays, with so many difficult times and difficult memories, spend a few moments to think about your light. Even in near total darkness, can you find the light? Like Omar, you might find your light in a relationship with your spouse, a close friend or relative.  You might find a light in your religious or spiritual faith or practices. You may find light in a new mission: to comfort others experiencing stillbirth, infertility or pregnancy loss, or working towards stillbirth prevention. Your light might be as small as a single candle, or as large as “the glory of the Lord”. When darkness is near absolute, it can be hard to believe that one day, the light will return. That the shadows of grief will become smaller and smaller. This month, focus on the light.

This post first appeared on Still Standing Magazine.

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