How shadows have helped me appreciate the light and other thoughts on grief and change

It is rather peculiar that after such a long hiatus from blogging, I’m finally finding words again. Now, seven months after leaving Cambodia and a couple of months after finishing our #epictrip, the jumble that was my brain throughout the duration of our big transition, is finally starting to unscramble. Part of this could be because our girls are finally sleeping through the night. (Amazing how eight hours of sleep numerous nights in a row will clear the mind.)

But some things can only be processed – unraveled really – over time. Our Epic Trip might have ended when we landed on Canadian soil in June, but our Long Way Home continues. It is taking time, as one would expect of course, to regain a sense of belonging in Canada.

This past year has also been laced with many shadows that have coloured and discoloured our experience.

shadowsThose moments of beaming, glorious light – like exploring the Cappadocia region of Turkey, or wandering the old streets of Jerusalem, or bobbing around in the Dead Sea, or seeing my gorgeous little sister get married to an amazing life partner – have been punctuated by dark, cloudy spots. As I reflect on the past twelve months, I can piece together a common thread.


Lots of it.

Heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss.

We walked through grief and desperate sadness with very good friends. We left Cambodia. And while it was clearly our decision to do so, it does not change the inherent sense of bereavement – of the community, profound friendships and life we had there.

Then, death snuck up on us and caught us completely off guard. It punched us in the gut and left us in a crumpled ball on the floor. Literally.

These are the shadows. They are dark and gloomy and really hard. And, they are always there, lurking around just when the light seems to come out and dance.

When I read the following passage by Annie Dillard the other day, I was struck by it. It’s written in the context of darkness falling on Tinker Mountain and I couldn’t help but think how it sheds some light on my own story.

“Shadows define the real. If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,” as do the newly sighted, then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light. They give the light distance; they put it in its place. They inform my eyes of my location, here, here O Israel, here in the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of the nothingness between me and the light.” (‘Pilgrim At Tinker Creek’ (Harper Perennial. 2007. p 63)

I find great hope in this passage for these times of dislocating transition and lingering grief and sadness. Shadows are not static. They don’t stay there stuck in one place forever. And while at the moment I might only see them as ‘dark marks’ – blotches on an otherwise clean canvas – there is more to it than that. The shadows, as difficult as they are to handle sometimes, show us there absolutely, positively, is light.

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