A Different Kind of Darkness

“Everything just seems so dark,” my friend said through gulping tears. “My mom’s mind is just gone, no memories. Nothing. She doesn’t even know me anymore. Everything is just dark for her. For me.”

I wanted so much to respond with something lovely, something provocative. Something at least halfway helpful. I couldn’t. I just held her hand for a long while and let her cry. Then I went home to ponder, wonder about what I might have said to soothe my friend. I looked around to see if the leaves have started to turn yet after our cooler nights. Even that was a disaster.

In the end, I decided darkness isn’t all that bad. Of course, I can’t say that to my friend who is grieving, suffering the slow, protracted loss of her mother. I know what she’s feeling and there’s not much I can say to help.

But still, darkness can be seen as not all bad. After all, a darkened room is pretty good for sleeping. We can only see the night stars when everything around us is dark. Dark is supposedly as good as light because—as the story goes—each was created in equal value before being separated. I think we’re completely dark inside, and that dark is obviously good. Our brains and hearts and internal parts all work in secret beneath the covering of our skin, deep inside the pitch dark of our bodies. Even when we open our mouths to laugh or yawn or to tell our truths to each other, the light that passes through our bodies touches only our teeth and tongues. Our nostrils only go so far up. Beyond our eyes, it is very, very dark in there.

As we get older, we form wrinkles and fissures of light and dark. We drop our immaturity and find our bearings as grownups. We notice more how shadows move across the course of each day. We see fallacy in the notion that something is either all dark or all light, all good or all bad. We find nuance. We see shades of gray, and suddenly we find out that things we thought were yucky have a new flavor. Broccoli isn’t so bad after all.

For those of us who must watch a brilliant person fade into Alzheimer’s disease, it’s natural that we would call it all darkness and curse it forever. But I’ve watched my friend’s mother continue to have imaginative thought—even if it is steeped in a dark brew of forgetfulness and unreality.

I suppose I could say to my friend that, even though her mother has drastically changed, she is still filled with the color of love. A daughter’s greatest challenge will always be to allow her mother to be different, to no longer know her name, to forget their history. In other words, to be…dark.

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