By Mandy Hitchcock
About a year after my seventeen-month-old daughter Hudson died from a sudden bacterial infection, I began to notice these birds singing outside my house at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. I’d get up to go to the bathroom, and instead of the carpet of silence I would usually expect in the deep dark of the night, I would hear birds chirping loudly and incessantly, almost as if they had no idea that it was pitch black out there.
They pissed me off. What business did they have singing at that hour of the night? Why were they interfering with my sleep, the only time I had any hope at all of escaping the giant elephant that had been balancing on one huge, ruffle-trimmed foot right in the middle of my sternum during every waking hour since my daughter died?
After many nights of this relentless middle-of-the-night noise, I recalled the words of Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote, “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
Finally I realized that the birds sang because they knew something I didn’t. They knew that light was coming soon. And it was coming whether I liked it or not.
And I did not like it. At all. The light was the last thing I wanted. Every bone in my body ached to stay in the dark, because that’s where I thought my daughter lived. In those early days, I reacted almost viscerally to the wise and loving assurances of so many other bereaved parents who had walked this harrowing road before me—the very notion that there would be joy again felt like the worst kind of betrayal of Hudson and her life. If my grief was a reflection of my boundless love for her, then my grief was the only way to stay connected to her. If I lessened my grip on my grief, even a little bit, it would mean the beginning of lessening my grip on my little girl and everything that she had been to me. And she had been everything.
After Hudson died, people would often tell me that they thought I was “strong” and “amazing.” I scoffed at the notion, because to me, I had no choice but to do what I was doing, even though I hated every minute of it. I felt like I was being forced to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even though I had absolutely no desire to move anywhere, let alone forward.
But then something unexpected happened. As I kept putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again, every single brutal moment of every single brutal day, I began to understand that while I did not have a choice in whether to move forward, I did have a choice in how to move forward.
I began to understand that the real betrayal of my daughter’s life lay not in moving into the light, but rather in staying in the dark. She didn’t live in the dark—only my pain lived there. And while I knew I would never be free of the pain, I also knew that clinging to it wouldn’t bring my daughter back to me. I began to understand that the best way to remember her and honor her life was to move into the light, taking her with me every step of the way.
Now I imagine my life as a giant blanket I’ve been knitting for forty years. And six years ago this May, fate ripped a hole in it so large that the blanket was no longer recognizable as mine. In the beginning, I thought that moving into the light and finding joy again would mean mending the hole, putting it back the way it was like nothing had ever happened. And I knew that there was no way I could ever repair that hole. And more importantly, I knew that I didn’t want to, because it’s the place I last saw her, the place I last touched her, the place I last told her I loved her and held her small, warm body next to mine. And so it’s also the place where I remain most connected to her.
But then I realized that I didn’t have to make the hole disappear in order to move forward. All I had to do was keep knitting.
Each and every time I put one foot in front of the other, I knit another stitch. Stitch after stitch. Row after row.
The hole never gets any smaller—instead, my life grows larger around it.
The hole never closes—instead, it’s become part of the fabric of my existence.
The hole never disappears—instead, it holds her place.
And with each new stitch I knit, I carry the strand that is Hudson with me. Her stunning color is woven into every forward step I take. And if I’d stayed there in the dark, no one else would have ever seen it.
Those birds were right. The light comes whether we like it or not, and even though it may not seem so at the time, it is worth singing about.
Mandy Hitchcock is a writer, recovering lawyer, and cancer survivor. She is currently re-writing (for the third time) her first memoir, and her essays appear in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, Modern Loss, and elsewhere, as well as in the forthcoming HerStories anthology ‘So Glad They Told Me.’ She lives with her family in Carrboro, North Carolina. You can find her at mandyhitchcock.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.