Leah Perrault’s sister, Abbie, 33 and a mother of three, died in April 2017. Photo courtesy the Perrault family

Leah Perrault: As the light shifts, darkness slowly lifts

By 
  • November 6, 2019

For more than 800 days, the Earth has been spinning its way around the sun, shining in spite of my sister’s death, but I struggled to see it. The sun and moon came and went, and I struggled to feel anything other than the sting of injustice at a world without her. 

Somewhere over this summer, the light in my world shifted. My eyes stopped being blinded by darkness and started seeing the stars again. 

I am convinced there is no moving on from the wounds that break our hearts; there is only shifting. The wounds wind themselves into our stories, bound up with grasping or grace. I took a deep dive into healing this spring and summer and let the Creator of the stars shine light into the darkest parts of my heart.

Having tried to fix myself and failed, I lent myself to hope instead. I showed up for counselling, took time to rest, did a lot of journaling. While I watched, I could see light and shadows. I felt emotions without understanding them. I waited.

When we settled back into life this fall, the universe had shifted somehow. I felt lighter and brighter and it took me awhile to realize it. The light had shifted without my realizing it in the moment. I sat with my journal and traced God’s touches — and my sister Abbie’s. Three moments weaved a constellation I hadn’t seen before.

Under the brightest, bluest prairie sky in July, I sang Ave Maria over the grave of a cousin we lost way too soon. And my heart was broken and being held together at the same time. Abbie was holding him and I was singing to his family, and somehow God was blowing in the wind.

Standing on a dock at dusk in August, I held a crying boy tight in my arms. He was shaking with grief at the loss of a parent and a friend, and we breathed deep into the light of a huge moon, so close we might have reached up to touch it. He sobbed that he should be getting over it, but the harder he tried, the more it hurt. 

“It’s a lie that you could get over it,” I said, looking straight into his eyes. “You get changed by it. Someday it will hurt differently, but only if we feel this pain now.”

I returned to work after vacation and discovered that the PTSD had retreated. I woke in the morning feeling rested. I sat at my desk and breathed deep without feeling fear. I looked at the September to-do list without crippling overwhelm. The details that have haunted me are taking their place as just small parts in the story of her life. I am finding comfort in feeling Abbie close. For the first time in two and a half years, I feel like I am more whole than broken. 

What kind of miracle is it that the same world that broke us could also heal? How is it that living through pain can transform it? Why does the most extreme darkness reveal the most marvellous purple light? There are still lots of hard days ahead, and I am slowly giving myself over more fully to the God who works this shift.

The empty chair beside me once threatened to pull my heart from my chest; now it is a reminder that you are right beside me. The sad, silent spaces you used to fill with sarcasm are becoming invitations for me to say the things you always teased me for holding back. Birthday candles burn for us this week, and instead of feeling completely lost without you, I feel you cheering me on to life. 

The light is shifting, and I can see your presence more clearly than your absence. Every dime you leave in the washing machine, every purple sky, every chocolate wrapper that finds its way to the floor of my pantry. Missing you still hurts, but now it also reminds me joyfully that you lived, and still live. 

From beyond the heavens, you are still changing me, still loving me, still here. Happy birthday in Heaven, Duck. I hope the stars are spectacular.

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatoon and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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