Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I am a survivor. When someone uses this phrase a couple possibilities jump to mind immediately. First one - a cancer survivor. To go through that particular valley and come out with life and hope, yes, I doff my hat and raise my applause. You are a survivor. Amazing.Then there are trauma survivors, and survivors of abuse. All these are testimonies to the strength God has given the human spirit.

But I am none of those. I am a survivor of despair. Despair wears many outfits - fear, hopelessness, heart sickness, depression. Despair was sown into me early, but in the mid nineties it became full blown clinical depression along with all the attendant darkness. If you have not met this demon of the black, you cannot picture the pain it inflicts.

There was a time when I longed to die. I saw not one glimmer of hope for the future. The best I could do was to breathe, one breath at a time. In the frozen solid winter of Alberta I would lay on the floor in the ray of sunlight coming in the window, and as it moved I would move with it to keep my face in the sun. Somehow that kept me on earth for one more day.

I shifted to the guest room because when I woke up at night with a start and a knife through my heart, unable to breath, I would disturb Steve. There in the guest room I lit a tea light in a blue glass bowl beside my bed and it would burn til morning. When I woke with agony I would look at the light and say, "God is here."

I didn't actually cry much - if crying has to do with sound and moaning. But my eyes didn't know I wasn't crying. Tears began pouring in the morning and sometimes flooded my face while I did the dishes or cleaned bedrooms. I couldn't stop them. I would drive to pick up my son from quizzing and I would have tears running down my face. He would say to his friend, "Don't worry about mom. She will be okay." And they would carry on like boys.

My friend, Joy, would take me for long drives into the mountains and listen to me try to untwist what my mind was doing to my theology, my self knowledge, my memory. Once she left me high on a rock in the mountains with a CD player and a CD and came back an hour later after I listened to the music, echoing over the canyons and back to my rocky bed. That experience was like my soul - raw and frozen and full of grandeur and beauty.

I cleaned out a small paint closet in the basement of my home and put a pillow and a lamp in it and would stay for an hour, morning and night, praying. My prayers were often wordless, mostly just clinging to God, or letting God cling to me. Sighs. Tears. I heard about what the mystics called the baptism of tears. They said you could collect your tears and when the valley was over have them poured over your head like a baptism. I could have done that if I had kept a mason jar nearby.

Because I felt so fragilely tied to this earth I wanted to hold someone's hand all the time. I would sit on the couch and just hold a hand. Old people must feel this way - they long to sit and hold a hand. We are impatient with them. But I understand that comfort. It was better than the best planned words.

Recently I woke up and realized that I don't live anywhere near this darkness anymore. I forget sometimes to remember what a miracle of LIFE it is to be hopeful, joyful, at peace. There was a day when I was certain the future held nothing for me.

I was wrong. So wrong. A friend took his life in Calgary, and all I could think of was, "if you had waited til tomorrow you would have changed your mind." Sometimes the present moment is unlivable.

So here's to all my friends and companions who are survivors, like me. We survive different things, but the grace of making it through our valley of the shadow of death is no small grace. We lose and find our minds. We lose and find our faith. We lose and find our hope.

Thank you to everyone who held those things for me when I lost my own. Such is love. Very small. Very practical. Love is about staying and letting someone survive.


Stephanie Lyell said...

This was beautifully written and a blessing to me and I am sure many. Thank you for putting your heart out there so that others can glean and learn and pick up some of the things that you have learned along the way.

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amberly said...

Beautifully articulated, friend. Thanks for writing it, from one survivor to another.

Anonymous said...

this is how I feel, too