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Dark Nights

Posted 2/8/2013

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  This seems a good companion to the piece on Spirituality. We have all experienced some of the dark nights; the expression usually is "dark night of the soul" which feels quite dramatic, but is real. Everything is worse at 1 AM, and, in the midst of cancer, the terrors loom large. When we were small children, it was the boogy man in the closet; the cancer can fill the room.

  Here is what does not help: lying there, letting your mind run wild, considering all your worst nightmares and being overwhelmed by sadness and fear. It rarely helps to get on the computer and start reading about cancer. Most especially, cancer chat rooms are busy at 1 AM with others who are in the throes of the same intense feelings, and nothing will be comforting. Here is what might help: get up, turn on a few lights. Maybe have a cup of herbal tea (or a shot of cognac), read something light. You likely will get sleepy and can return to bed fairly soon. If not, better to be up a bit than to be overwhelmed and miserable.

  This is an incredible essay by Susan Gubar from The New York Times; she writes beautifully about these moments. I give you the beginning and a link to read more. Do read the whole thing:

Living With Cancer: Waking in the Dark



A slant of light bifurcates the bedroom ceiling. Its source, a night light in the bathroom,

slices through the ceiling fixture, slivering all the way to the far corner over my side of the

bed. Before cancer, I slept through the night. Now, I wake in the dark because of the pull of

stitches, the pain of drains or the need to empty some bulb or bag attached to my body.


While I lie gazing at this shaft of light, I am pierced by what the poet Philip Larkin called the

"arid interrogation." When and where will the disease progress? Will I die in pain? Who will

be there for me? Regret and remorse crowd in as well: time misused, love not given amply

enough, opportunities squandered, acts of good will stalled or aborted. Next swarm the

worries about those I hold dear.

No poem better expresses my fear of extinction than Larkin's "Aubade." Its title identifies the

text as a song about daybreak, but it is the terminal break of "total emptiness forever" that

terrifies the poet:

-- no sight, no sound,

No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,

Nothing to love or link with,

The anaesthetic from which none come round.

Like me, Larkin must have found himself waking in the dark, afflicted by the dragging

minutes that turn into hours.



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