« The Kid | Main | Voyeur »

Thursday, 06 August 2009

Night Light

By Nikki Stern of 1 Woman’s Vu

My neighbor’s bedroom light shines directly into my window. It illuminates the distance between her house and mine startling the errant deer, managing to push around the edges of my blinds and through the slats. It’s probably no brighter than the light of a full moon, but it’s more disturbing because, unlike soothing silver moonlight, this light doesn’t move or dim with the passing hours. If anything, over time, its singular focus – my bedroom window – is more relentless than ever.

When my husband and I first moved into the house seventeen years ago, the light drove me a little nuts. “Why are they up so late?” I’d ask him querulously. “Don’t they have curtains?” My endlessly patient husband speculated that as retired people they were up late because they got to sleep in, or maybe as older people they might sleep less. Then he’d take me in his arms and gently suggest I close my eyes. Not long afterwards, the light would go out.

Now it seems to stay on all night.

My neighbor is a new widow. Her husband, an outgoing, robust man, died after being hit with a series of strokes which rendered him increasingly immobile, which left him increasingly vulnerable to more strokes. I learned all this during my mother’s deterioration, but of course I didn’t live with it day in and day out.

I’m also a widow with more than seven years’ experience, I guess you could say. My husband died suddenly in the 9/11 attacks. There was no preparation and no plan. While the shock never really wore off, it subsided to a point where I was able – am able to live with it although I don’t sleep as well as I once did. My parents’ more predictable deaths that followed presumably prepared me for their absence, except I learned that nothing prepares you for absence.

That’s something my neighbor might not have realized. Sudden loss, she decided, was much worse and she couldn’t understand how I managed to handle it. At least she knew the end was coming. But did she know what that meant?

Her days were incredibly busy. There was equipment to install, caretakers to hire, meals to cook, doctors to visit, arrangements to be for physical therapy. Occasionally, I’d watch this tall, athletic, good-humored woman load the wheelchair and then her husband into the car so they could take off, as she put it, to visit friends or their beach house or go out to dinner. The light was out well before midnight as I imagined her falling into bed exhausted.

Occasionally, we’d meet by the mailboxes or I’d stop by for coffee and we’d chat about his condition and her stress level. She seemed to realize she was marking time and she seemed to be okay with it.

When the house was converted to hospice and the physical therapists were replaced by quietly efficient round-the-clock nurses, she sat up in the spare bedroom with her husband and the light pattern became erratic, sometimes on until all hours, sometimes off. Eventually he died, peacefully and surrounded by family.

The house was alive with activity - children and grandchildren and friends coming and going for a week or two. Workers arrived to cart away the medical equipment and disassemble the ramps and railings that had been installed. Then, just as suddenly, everyone was gone.

At first, my neighbor seemed to welcome the quiet and spent her afternoons reading or napping on her deck. Sometimes I’d walk by with the dog to visit with her on a lazy summer day. We went out to dinner once, to a movie another time.

Lately though, she seems to be in a fog. Papers are piling up on her table. She looks exhausted, haunted and too thin. Last week, she told me, she was involved in three separate car accidents, one of them potentially serious and all of them caused by her inattentiveness. I’m concerned, which is why I’ve been stopping by nearly every day and why I have her daughter’s contact information.

We’ve talked about her getting away, although she’ll take what she’s going through with her. I know all about the fog, the deep hole she’s looking into, the dark pathway she’s got to walk. Everyone’s journey is different though remarkably the same.

The other night I found myself suddenly awake at 3AM and saw the glow from her light. I considered rolling over and going back to sleep. Instead I reached for my own bedside lamp and turned it on, as if sending a signal to a fellow traveler: I’m here too.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Your story was so thoughtful and told so tenderly. I especially liked the line "Everyone's journey is different though remarkably the same." Thank you for sharing your story.

My sister has recently entered into the after death maze, the soft fog shrouding her too.

Thanks so much. Turning your light on was a lovely thing to do.


First, let me express my sympathy to you in the loss of your husband.

Your story was told with a great deal of kindness and understanding toward your neighbor.

I agree with Mary, turning your own light on was a very compassionate thing to do.

What a transition that light has become, from an irritant to a symbol of compassion.

Very well written, very well told.

Very beautifully written - thank you.

thank you all

The comments to this entry are closed.