Her Wings

Earlier this week I started to build the wings of a very large painting I am doing of my daughter. When I started to cut the chicken wire to shape the wings, I wasn’t sure if I was doing it the right way, but I forged ahead regardless. You see, I didn’t go to art school so I have no formal training in anything I do. I just do it. Sometimes it works . . . other times it doesn’t. This time, it did.

Let me give you a little back story about the painting to which I am referring.

Last year, I started to paint angels. Partly, because my mind is grappling with the fact that my daughter is one. Initially, I painted angels which were non descript. No characteristics which belonged to my daughter. In a sense, I was circling around the truth of her being in heaven, without getting to the center immediately. It’s a hard concept to accept even if you have seen your child’s dead body. I think painting angels has brought me closer to accepting the truth. In little steps.

Mid January of this year, I decided I was going to confront myself, and my hesitancy to see Becca in the form she is now. To do this, I started a project that has blossomed into something so much bigger than just me accepting my daughter’s latest incarnation. I’ve found it is also a way for others to join me in my grief journey. I think this is going to be something big.

The painting consists of three separate 4’x5’ panels, hung vertically on the wall, giving it the appearance of one big canvas. Each day, upon waking, it seems I have an addition to what I plan to do! Building the wings to project out of the panel was something I knew I wanted to add. Chicken wire was the best way to form strong wings, which would fold slightly at the top, and look like I picture my Becca’s.

So, I grabbed the staple gun and went to work. Now, I often feel Becca near me, but that day I knew she was there without question. I was listening to U2 and the song that was playing at that moment was “Walk On”. “I know it aches . . . and your heart it breaks . . . you can only take so much . . .” and I just lost it. The words felt as if they were coming directly from her. I sank down onto my knees, dropped the staple gun, and cried into my hands. That’s when I felt her presence envelop me. I could feel her wings wrap around me and I felt her warmth. My daughter was holding me because she knew I was working through something enormous. She’s the wise one now.

I didn’t get very far with the wings that afternoon. Crying hard really takes it out of me. I stopped, shut off the lights, and went upstairs. Thinking I’d cried all the tears I had in me. I was wrong. There are always more tears.

Laying in bed, I decided to send a few of the photos to my friend Teresa. She is running my angel project for me. She also knew my daughter. While we were discussing the pictures. and expressing excitement about watching it come to fruition, I started to cry again. I told Teresa and she did her best to comfort me. But, as I lay there I wondered why this was hitting me so hard. Then I remembered the other time I had made wings for my daughter. When she was five.
Becca desperately wanted to be Tinkerbell for Halloween. I couldn’t afford an expensive costume so I decided to make it myself. I bought green felt material and cut out a dress with the little points at the hem. The top of the dress resembled Tink’s attire, but instead of letting Becca go strapless,I sewed it to a white turtleneck. White tights with little green socks were on her feet. I pulled her hair up into a tight bun and gave her a wand. Her wings, though, her wings were the best part of the costume! I used two wire hangers and attached the curve that you hang them from to each other. On the longest part of the sides I pulled the metal out slightly to give them a more natural appearance. I stretched a white gauzy remnant material over them and voila! She had her wings.

Becca loved the costume. She loved the wings the most. At the Halloween party we threw she kept running around, tapping people with her wand, and asking them if they liked her wings, too! Even though I told her it would be uncomfortable she insisted upon sleeping in them that night. I remember peeking into her room after she was asleep. Her hands clutched the wand. The tight bun was coming undone. Her face was smeared with chocolate. But she lay flat on her back because that was the only position the wings would allow. My heart filled with joy just looking at her.

I’d forgotten about that day, until the wings I am building now, shook it loose. At one point during the party, I had seen her standing across the room from me, not moving. She looked at me intently, holding my gaze for nearly a minute, then flashed me with a huge Becca smile.In her eyes, I could see happiness and a thank you, and it was as if no one else existed. Time stood still. Just me and my girl. She was perfect.

I am building her wings for the wrong reason this time. She shouldn’t be dead. It wasn’t her time to become an angel. I desperately want to be back in the chaos of that day. Staring at my child while our souls connected without words. And, that’s why I was crying so hard. I needed to birth a memory. Birth is always painful.

Tomorrow, I am going to spend time working on her wings, again. They need to be huge so she can travel far. They need to be strong because I know she is doing a lot of flying where she is.

Fly high my baby girl. I know you are smiling because our souls are still connected.

I love you.

 

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Shifting

The morning I woke up after having the dream was the closest to feeling completely happy I’ve felt in a long time. My daughter didn’t feel eleven years, or another world, away. Her essence clung to everything around me. The warmth of her body hung heavy in the air. It’s as if she had just walked out of the room! I had been in her presence.

Details of the dream were difficult to hold onto at any length. Flashes of images, throughout the day, helped bring them into clearer focus. Over a few hours, I stitched the pieces together into a complete picture. Even remembering I’d been incredulous, during the dream, at being with my daughter again!

A six year old piggy tailed Becca came rushing into the room to see me! A pink and purple puffy jacket squished in my arms as I picked her up into a hug. I held her tight as I kissed her flush face and she giggled! Her sticky little hands held my face and she kissed me!! Somewhere in the dream I asked myself how this could be happening. I pushed it aside and concentrated on the joy of having my child in my arms!

My mother started to pack up Becca’s clothing which signaled to me that my parents trusted me to take care of her again. I don’t know why my child was staying with them but I was elated that I was able to take her home with me. The little voice, that seemed only interested in relaying bad news, told me that this wasn’t real. Not to be too happy because it would all be over soon. As I watched my daughter rushing around gathering her toys I told it to go away. Seeing my daughter so happy, so alive, was amazing and I didn’t want it to end.

But, as dreams always do, it ended.

As I am apt to do, I spent the day ruminating over and picking apart everything that happened in my dream. Why had my parents been caring for my daughter? Why wasn’t she living with me? Becca had been so happy to see me, as if she’d not seen me in a while, how long had we been apart? I’d completely forgotten about her pink and purple jacket . . . why had she been wearing that particular coat? How had I forgotten about it? Why did I remember it now? Had Becca chosen to appear to me as a six year old, and if so, what was her reason? Honestly, I drive myself crazy some days trying to figure things out! I can’t help myself.

My mind whirling with dozens of question I told myself to stop. Out loud I said: “Just stop.”

None of that matters. What matters is that you spent joyous time with your child! You had a beautiful visit with your daughter. A visit that is all too rare. Don’t lose sight of what is important here. So I stopped dissecting dream moments to find hidden meaning and instead put my attention towards the incredible joy in the experience.

To me, though this realization may seem small, it is truly monumental when applied to the entire journey through the aftermath of child loss. The change in perspective from one vantage point to another means a world of difference to the viewer. It’s like looking at the day to appreciate what we can see instead of trying to find what we know is missing.

When our child dies we are plunged into deep mourning. There is not one piece of our world that has not been touched by our loss. To know this truth is to understand why we spend a very long time focusing on the child’s death and not necessarily their life. I don’t believe it is a conscious choice we make to do so. It’s all part of the coming to terms with and eventually accepting that our child has died.

Very simply: we need to celebrate their life instead of only mourning their death. Easier said than done . . . believe me. But, as the years pass, how she died isn’t the first thought that comes to mind. Notice in the first sentence of this paragraph I wrote the world “only” before mourning. We will always mourn. The tragic fact that our child died before us will forever bring a great sense of loss and sadness. However, the beauty in the fact they lived and the memories we carry will begin to present themselves more often. That’s when the shift in perception changes our lives.

This shift can be difficult. It was for me. Being happy felt like a betrayal to my daughter. Still does. Not thinking about the unfairness of her death made me feel as if I was saying her death was ok. I’m not. Her death isn’t ok. How she died, because of someone else’s decision, makes me rage. All the things she missed out on are unacceptable. Some days I won’t be able to think about anything else but how my daughter was cheated. Her twenty three years (and six weeks) held so much more than the split second in which she was killed, though.

For myself, I have to concentrate on how my girl lived, not how she died. Just as in my dream, I need to tell the voice to go away and let me concentrate on the years filled with our life. Often, I repeat it to myself many times a day. It’s easy to slip back into mourning. Expect to slip . . . a lot. I still do and I am in the twelfth year A.D. (After Death) and I expect it to continue. Just don’t get mired there. Our children don’t want our lives to be completely about their deaths.

The life our child lived, and lost, is both an anchor and a balloon for us. On the hardest days the weight of their absence will drag us to the bottom of the ocean. On the best ones, the memories we carry will be balloons that lift us toward the sky.

Let the shift in perception happen. Allow yourself to be lifted more often. Your child will smile with you. And, together you will fly!!

An added note: The photo above was taken by a very dear friend, Kristina, who makes it a priority to put my Becca’s name wherever she visits. This started with people writing Becca’s name in the sand for me and has blossomed into a tradition very near to my heart. I’m blessed to have many different photos of her name around the world. She’s been seen in places she’s never even been!!

 

 

Whispered Messages

I am from a family of strong women. These strong women are creatively gifted. One of these women, in particular, seems to be another piece of me. A piece I didn’t know I was missing . . . but now, can’t imagine living without. This bit of writing exists because of a blog she recently wrote that made me consider, and write, a reply. Thank you, Linda, for knowing what I need when I don’t.

Growing up, my life was filled with rich imagination. Part of it, I think, was a way for me to escape the more difficult times in my childhood. There was another part, however, that knew (without any doubt) there were “others” in existence. Call them what you will: spirits, energies, beings, angels. Deep in my soul, I knew, we were not alone. Throughout my life, I’ve had instances when my inner voice has offered guidance . . . and I’ve listened. Other times, I turned away and learned well needed lessons. We all have this voice.

My cousin, Linda, asked in her blog if anyone else had heard these voices . . . and what they meant to them. Oddly, or appropriately, I’d been considering the return of my inner whisperings quite a bit lately. So, her question was a continuation of the conversation I’ve been having with myself that past few months!

I started my reply with a resounding “Yes!!” Then I went on to explain, my voice left me after my child was killed. It was no longer there. And I didn’t miss it. As it’s slowly returned, I’ve wondered why it went away in the first place.

One day, last year, I was walking through a store and I saw a sign that read simply “it is well with my soul”. I read it over a few times. I picked it up and ran my fingers over the words. And, I thought, it IS well with my soul. Then . . . I had the internal chastising all grieving mothers do: how can it be well with your soul when your child is dead? What kind of mother are you??

With a start, I realized, my soul is mending. Somewhere, deep inside, the broken pieces are starting to fit together. Hmmm, broken pieces. Is that why I couldn’t hear my voice for so long? My pain, rattling around my soul, like a muslin bag filled with shattered china teacups? Was the noise just too loud for anything else to rise above its volume? Maybe.

I also have to consider the fact, I turned my back on my inner guidance out of rage. Deep seated anger because it only whispered a small part of a bigger truth. Only half of the information I needed to know.

Around ten o’clock, on the night my daughter was killed, I had an ominous feeling settle on my shoulders. I knew something big was going to happen . . . but I didn’t know what. Feeling so strongly that my life was going to change drastically, I told my manager I wouldn’t be back to work. Four hours later, my child was killed on a cold dark stretch of highway. Why wasn’t I given THAT little piece of information? Why the bigger picture, but not the small part that would have saved her life? What kind of inner voice is that half assed??

How many bereaved mothers KNEW their child had died before they were told?

I am thankful to say that the inner whisperings of my soul, my heart, my guide, my ancestors, my kindreds . . . are with me again. I am also very grateful to have found, a piece of my family, that can help me on journey.

Grieving mommas, find other strong women, to help support you. This is a solitary journey, the loss of our child, but it’s one that can not be taken alone.

This Is Not Goodbye

“Now I’m the one going ahead . . . I’m not afraid . . . I can be brave, too . . . “ – Beth, Little Women

For a years, I’ve gone over nearly every aspect of losing my child. I imagine there are ones I’ve not thought of yet . . . but I have the rest of my life for them to find me. I’ve healed in some ways, not completely (never completely) and there are others which I’ve not inspected too closely. Simply, I’m not sure I will survive them. Yet, they stay visible in my peripheral vision . . . waiting their turn. This one, the one I’m attempting to write about, has been heavy on my heart since the moment I knew my daughter was dead.

Each detail of that night is like an autumn leaf that I keep pressed between the pages of the book of our lives. Most are worn from being held, in my hands, multiple times. If I turn to one page, in particular, one I’ve skipped past dozens of times . . . the leaf is in perfect shape. Vivid colors, the veins still strong. The smell brings me right back to the moment my boyfriend stepped out of the back of the police chaplain’s car.

I could tell by the look on his face that the young woman’s body was that of my daughter, Becca. As he held me, he told me they had allowed him to kiss her still warm forehead. I kept screaming, “I need to help her . . . I need to help her!” Later, he told me her spirit had ridden back with him in the car. I believe him. I asked him what she looked like. He answered, confused . . . lost.

When I think about this, anguish rises in soul and I can’t help but think I failed her at the most important time of her life. The end.

Mothers teach their children about life. I wasn’t given the chance to help her through her death.

When I took Becca to school, the first day of kindergarten, she and I both cried. She didn’t want me to leave and I didn’t want to go. But, I knew at the end of the day, she’d be home again. I could talk to her about all the new things. She would know I would be there to pick her up and she could trust that I wouldn’t leave her. Our time apart was more acceptable because we would hold each other again. This made the separations much easier on both of us.

Her death, I couldn’t hold her after and tell her everything was going to be alright. Lately, I’ve found myself wondering what that conversation would have been like.

“Mom, mom . . . what happened?”

“Come here,” I’d say, taking her in my arms, “you were killed in a car crash, honey.”

“But why? Why? How?” she would ask, confused, as I held her close to my chest.

“A drunk driver killed you . . . oh baby, I’m so sorry!”

“What do I do???? Where do I go? Do I have to leave you?? I can’t leave you, momma, the boys, I can’t go. I’m afraid. I don’t know what’s there!”

“I know honey, and I’m so sorry I can’t go with you. I don’t want you to either, but we don’t have a choice, my Becca.”

“But what do I do??? How do I go??? How do I leave you??”

“You have to be brave, sweetie. You have to be a brave girl. I know you can do that. I know you are strong enough to do this. It’s scary, I know, but just like when you went to school . . . I’ll see you again after, I promise.”

“Mommy . . . momma . . . I don’t want to go!!”

“You have to turn around and walk away, honey . . . “ even with these words, neither of us loosens our grip.

I take her face in my hands and look into her beautiful green blue eyes, “You have to go before all of us. I didn’t want it this way . . . but it’s what we have to do right now. I will always be your momma and you will always be my Becca. My only daughter. The one who made me a mother. I know you are scared, I’m scared to be without you . . . but our love will never fade. You are beautiful and smart and strong and brave. I promise I will be there with you one day. We will all be there. The boys will come. We will all be together again, I promise.”

I can feel her head shake slightly in my hands.

“Go now, my Becca, go and wait for us. Be strong. Soar through the heavens. Glide past stars. Dance in the winds that blow around the entire world. Play. Laugh. Visit us when you are lonely. And know, you are always loved. It’s been such a privilege to be your mother . . . you were my first true love, my girl.”

I would gently kiss her forehead and let my hands drop to my side, as my daughter turned away and bravely walked into her heaven.

In Her Presence

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the presence of my daughter around me. Tonight, I think, my soul was peaceful enough to allow her essence to reach mine. And, I felt complete.

The first year after Becca’s death I had dreams, which I now know were visits, from my recently deceased child. One of them, in particular, made my heart hurt even more than it always did. My daughter showed me how much energy it takes for their spirits to visit ours, especially when they are newly crossed to the other side.

In the beginning of the dream, she seemed full of light, her joyful self. As it progressed, though, she dimmed. Her colors became washed out. Curled up, she was exhausted, and very weakly, she explained that the energy she had to concentrate just to reach me shut her soul down for a while. I felt horrible at the thought of causing her more pain, more sadness, because I selfishly wanted her to visit me every night. I remember I kept telling her how sorry I was. Before she evaporated, she told me that even though I couldn’t see her . . . she would always be just on the other side.

Even, she explained, when she learned how to travel through the universe, she’d still be next to me.

Tonight, I know she was here. She’s still here, but for a moment, I could smell her. I could feel her.

When her scent enveloped me, I simply said, “Hello, my Becca”. And I smiled. I placed my hand, palm up, on the couch next to me and I felt a warmth solidness brush my skin. My daughter touched me. I touched her.

The moments before her appearance, I was sitting on the couch, with Cecily next to me. For those of you who don’t know . . . Cecily is my black lab shepherd mix. Near my feet was my other dog, Pepi. Under the huge window, Walter the cat, was on his back, his feet up in the air, relaxing. I was watching the moths fly around the light at the edge of my covered patio. I thought, they seem to be dancing. Light tinkling came from the half dozen wind chimes hanging just beyond my door. Past the edge of the patio, across a narrow dirt path, lay the dark woods. I was taking stock of how grateful I am at this moment. I thought, “I’m happy”. My animals surrounding me, nature everywhere I could see, I felt content. Almost everything was right with my world. Almost.

That’s the caveat grieving mothers often feel they must express when acknowledging joy in their lives. Yesterday, I even said to my sons, “I’m as happy as I can be without Becca.”. That meant a lot to them. It means just as much to me. But, that’s an different blog, back to this part of my story.

Immediately, after I thought how content I was, my mind snapped to, “I wish Becca was here, then it would be perfect.” And then, she was. I thought, I think I feel her presence. At the same time, her smell washed over me. Not the Victoria Secret perfume she loved, but the smell that clung to her when she came rushing through the door as a child after a summer’s day of play. Sunshine and innocence. The scent of her laughter warmed my skin. She was tangible. Touchable. So, I lay my hand down and felt her pudgy little girl fingers touch my own. The moment was perfect. For a minute, my world was completely as it should be. Then she was gone.

The past six months have been full for me. Both, with wonderful things, as well as difficult ones. All the “noise” has kept my soul from being still. Like static on a radio station. I believe the chaos, that had been in my life, prevented me from being able to receive the gift of her presence. Whether it’s good or bad, continual activity seems to interfere with souls coming together. The signs of their presence can be so very small . . . if we are distracted by the minutiae of every day life, we might miss them.

When my soul is at ease . . . it’s more open, and able, to connect on levels that have little to do with ugliness of life. Pain, it seems, is a part of every soul’s journey. Yet, it brings gifts with it’s arrival. Not everyone loses a child, but none of us get through life without pain disrupting it’s flow. It is the human condition. Joy and pain.

Tonight, I was blessed to feel utter joy. Blessed to feel my daughter, again. Has she learned how to visit me without it depleting her entirely? Have I been too busy, too distracted, to feel her presence? Did the planets, in my world, have to align in order to open the path? I don’t know. Maybe the right amount, in my life, is calm enough to allow the meeting. My peace was her beacon.

So, as I write this, I’m happy. Tears are streaming down my face. All of the animals are within touching distance from me. The moths are still dancing. The leaves, caught at the edge of the light, sway back and forth.

And, the wind chimes sound like my little girl’s laugh.

I love you, my Becca.

As We Sleep

A few months have passed since my daughter has come to visit me in my dreams. I find myself going to sleep earlier in the hopes she’ll finally appear as I slumber. When she doesn’t, I don’t awake with the immediate realization my dreams were empty of her presence. I just feel the normal ache that one feels when their hands haven’t touched their child’s skin in years. The profound need to hold our child close again never really leaves us . . . but at moments like this, it’s amplified a thousand times over.

I’ve often talked about the first time Becca came to me in a dream. She stood at my front door and begged to be let in. I stood a room away, watching through the door, as my daughter’s voice broke with sadness. They didn’t want me to see her, the way she looked, after the crash. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to hold my daughter again. I needed to help her and she needed me to hold her. We needed each other after the tragedy that had happened.

There should be a place, an in between space, where Heaven and Earth overlap. Always lit with the slanted late afternoon sun that casts a golden glow over everything. The smell of new growth in the dirt is heavy, it mixes with the scent of silvery strands, and somehow we know we’ve been here before. Here we can sit next to our deceased loved one. Laugh and cry, and say good bye, until it’s our turn. Maybe we can only reach this place as we sleep.

This first dream I had of my girl was this. But not quite as comforting. As she walked around the table toward me, I could tell her neck was broken, so I reached out my arms to draw her close. One of her hands steadied her head because she wasn’t able to hold it up anymore. I gently laid it against my chest and I felt her both arms circle my waist. She wanted my help. She asked me to fix it. Sorry. She kept saying I’m sorry, mom, I’m so sorry.

I had to tell her I was sorry, too, because I couldn’t fix this. Everyone around us looked at her as if she was something unnatural. As if I should be horrified at the sight of her. I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why the others were. We stood together, holding each other, swaying back and forth, crying. At this moment, I can’t remember exactly how this dream ended. Maybe it’s written somewhere in one of the many journals I’ve kept. Or maybe the ending doesn’t matter at all. She was there. I held her. We cried because we both knew the life we’d had together was over.

This dream was the absolute hardest one I’ve ever had. About her, about anything. I’ve called it a dream through the first part of this piece of writing because that is what most people would believe them to be. I believe, this was a visit from my dead child. That was the first time she’d been able to get to me. Some time had passed before she had. I’ve wondered why. Because her death was so violently traumatic and instant and unexpected? Was her soul confused at what had happened? Did it take her a while to learn how to move through her new world to find me? I imagine it was something like this. I am so glad she did. And still does.

As I said initially, it’s been a while since Becca’s come to visit me. Some nights my last thoughts are: please visit me baby . . . momma misses you so much . . . please please please.

I miss my girl more than any words can express. The ache is wider and deeper and more full than a few sentences can hold. It’s scream that continually pounds in my chest. A loss that no words can adequately convey. There is nothing I can say to a mother who has not lost a child that will make them feel, even for the smallest slice of a second, the pain that has taken permanent residence in my soul.

When I am sitting across from another bereaved mother, and the haunted part of me sees the same in her eyes, I ask Becca to lead her lost child back to her. Show them how, my sweet girl. Help them sink into their mother’s dreams and let their souls touch for a while. Lead the way, my Becca.

But when you’re done . . . please come back to me. I know there is so much to see where you are, I understand. Tonight though, tonight . . . please come to momma. I miss you.

I need you.

In The Darkness

There are days, when I wake up and think, “It’s going to be a good day. I’m going to do the best I can.” Then I go about doing just that. My best may not be very much . . . but it’s what I have to give.

Then there are the days that I wake up and think, “Why the hell even bother”. On those days, I may still try . . . but the attempts are hollow. Today is one of those days. Why effing try.

Bereaved mothers seem to have a greater need to help others. To feel as if they have a “mission” to fulfill before they leave to join their child. Or children. There has to be a meaning to our being alive and our child, not. Doesn’t there?

So, many of us fill our time with projects, foundations, and non profits to keep ourselves busy. Often naming them after our deceased child in the attempt to keep their names alive. In order to keep their dreams alive . . . we usually choose to pursue something our child was passionate about. Whether it be soccer or theatre. Or a small shop that gives away free clothing, in a non humiliating store front, in memory of a little boy. We know our child would have made a difference in this world, had they survived, so we pick up their mantle and carry it as far as we can.

Doing this, working toward a better world to honor our child, helps on some of our hardest days. The darkest days, though, those most bleak and black times even this doesn’t seem enough to carry us along. I’ve had times when I feel enraged that I am working so hard to make a too often times ugly world, better. To what end? For what purpose?

No matter how many times I donate my artistic abilities to help someone raise money for their organization . . . my daughter isn’t coming back. I can help single moms with easy stuff, formula or diapers, but this won’t bring Becca home to me. My “good deeds” are not being tallied somewhere so that when I earn enough, I can cash them in for my child’s return. Again, why bother?

There are days when the reason to continue is obvious. Hugging my sons. Hearing a thank you for some small kindness. Knowing my presence helped make a part of someone’s journey easier. Or less lonely. We are all in this life together. This is the biggest reason I can find: we are meant to lift each other when we see struggles. Some days, this isn’t enough.

Today is a dark day. I don’t feel needed, or particularly wanted, so what’s the point? I know this is the small voice that is weak and scared. And angry. I’m aware we all have this voice. Somehow, in grieving moms, it cuts more deeply in our souls. We tend to listen more closely to it than other moms, I think.

I wish I had some inspirational words to share here. Something about finding the “silver coffin lining” in our child’s death. Today, I can’t find the words. I’m angry. I’m lonely. I’m unsure of what life holds. I’m afraid of the next loss I’ll have to face. Yesterday, I felt a security. This evening, I don’t. It’s what our life is now.

I can say this: as the dark days cast their shadow across our lives and we feel hopeless, just as surely as we know they will appear, we can count on the good days being sprinkled into the mix. Just hold on during the inky black moments . . . and wait for the pin prick of light which will reveal itself within the darkest times.

Then walk toward that.